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Relationships and divorce during COVID-19

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By Sarah Houston

Families and couples will be all too aware that we are now entering an unprecedented 12th week in lockdown. As the mandatory self-quarantine measures introduced in March have forced couples to spend more time together, some have relished in this opportunity. Sadly, for others it has exacerbated existing marital problems. Incidents of domestic abuse have also intensified.

Given the apparent sensitivities of the pandemic and, despite this really being a time for people to be caring and considerate of one another, it is all too easy to understand how relationships could become fraught, owing to the lack of space, anxieties and many uncertainties confronting us all.

In China, for example, they have witnessed a significant increase in divorce petitions being issued post lockdown and the media are forecasting a surge in separations and divorce rates here in the UK too.

If couples have found themselves in a situation where lockdown has essentially confirmed that a relationship or marriage has sadly failed, it is still possible to initiate divorce proceedings during lockdown. Like many other family lawyers, TWM Solicitors continues to work remotely offering virtual meetings and the family courts remain open and are accepting new divorce petitions, whilst conducting hearings remotely by telephone or video conference.

However, aside the backdrop of a global pandemic, we would always first advise that any decision to start divorce proceedings should not be made casually. Equally, some couples may have already separated pre-lockdown, and have now decided to proceed with a divorce.

It is also worth mentioning here that the current divorce laws are currently undergoing significant reform and a second reading of the proposed Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was debated by MPs in the Commons yesterday (8 June 2020). It has been announced today (9 June 2020), that the Bill passed its second reading and so it is expected that the new legislation will remove the need to apportion blame as part of divorce proceedings and modernise existing laws, which have not maintained pace with societal transformation. At present, we do not know when exactly the new legislation will come into force, although it is hoped that it will be some time this summer.

If you find yourself wishing to separate, but cannot physically do so due to lockdown, then it is important to ensure that you attempt to communicate as effectively as possible with your spouse, in order to establish your agreed next steps whilst you continue living together. This would include a consideration of how spaces can be shared at home, how the children will be cared for, in terms of contact arrangements when lockdown eases, including applying structure around remote work arrangements. Having made the tough decision to obtain a divorce, it is also advisable to agree the short term plans, such as where you would both live once lockdown eases, how you would manage your finances in the short to medium term and carefully contemplate any arrangements for the children.

Once you have established who would be the party to commence divorce proceedings (the Petitioner), you can agree to submit a divorce petition. An initial consultation with a specialist family lawyer at TWM Solicitors can assist you in guiding you through the legal process, even if you choose to handle matters without legal representation. A specialist family lawyer can advise you about your rights and present all the options available to you in relation to finances and children. Therefore, in order to promote a speedy resolution and reduce acrimony, do consider that it is important to obtain expert legal advice about your situation as early as possible.

If you would like to get in touch to discuss your personal situation and see how we can assist you, please do not hesitate to contact any of the TWM Family team by direct email or direct phone for a discrete initial consultation. Alternatively, you can call any of our office reception numbers.

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