Relationship breakdowns during a pandemic
The pandemic has been an unprecedented event which came about without warning, and has changed how we all live overnight. Sadly, for some couples, lockdown may have pushed them further apart where the relationship was already suffering difficulties. It is important to think about whether the current circumstances have impacted the relationship, and whether it could be saved once some form of normality has resumed or if the relationship has irretrievably broken down. Louise Gidley, Head of Family at Battens, answers some frequently asked questions:
1.Can couples still apply for a divorce or civil partnership dissolution during the pandemic?
Although there have been some changes in how the work is processed you can still very much commence divorce or civil partnership proceedings during the pandemic. The process (if undefended) is paper based and there is usually no reason for you to attend court in relation to the divorce or civil partnership dissolution process only (this excludes the financial process if matters cannot be agreed and are placed before the court by either party). Some differences may be that you cannot see your solicitor face to face in their office and may have to give instructions over the phone or over a video platform such as Zoom or Skype. There have also been delays in the Court processing paperwork during the pandemic due to staff shortages meaning that the process is generally taking much longer to progress. If either party needs to make an application in respect of financial matters then any Court hearings and/or mediation sessions may be virtual but your solicitor will be able to guide you through the process should that be necessary.
2.What steps will a solicitor take you through when applying for a divorce or civil partnership dissolution?
A solicitor will advise you on the grounds for a divorce or civil partnership and look at what factors may apply to your case that you can rely upon to commence proceedings. A solicitor will then advise you on the process and what to anticipate at each stage. A solicitor will also advise on the financial implications of any divorce or civil partnership and explain how the Court applies the law so that the client is aware of the potential outcomes to expect.
3.Has the coronavirus pandemic impacted the timescales for divorce and dissolving civil partnerships?
If so, how? As set out at question 1 the pandemic has impacted timescales for divorce and dissolving civil partnerships. It is impossible at this stage to detail how as it will vary court to court but we are generally seeing a 3-6 month delay in paperwork being actioned by the court at the moment.
4.Why is it important to seek expert advice during the divorce and civil partnership dissolution process, rather than taking a DIY approach?
It is important to seek expert advice at the outset of divorce and civil partnership dissolution to ensure that the client understands the implications at each step and that they take the correct approach to ensure they protect themselves and do not leave themselves exposed, particularly financially. Every case is different and a solicitor will offer bespoke advice to each client’s individual case which they will not get by taking a DIY approach. It is also worth bearing in mind that it is usually more expensive for a solicitor to unpick a DIY approach that has gone wrong than to consult a solicitor at the beginning and instruct them to deal with the process on your behalf. The pandemic has also had an economic impact and is likely to have affected the value of the family home, share prices, value of a business which needs to be borne in mind and why it is important to get legal advice at the earliest opportunity. However, there is no obligation to seek expert advice and it will be down to each individual to decide on the best method for them.