Divorcing during Covid 19

Posted: Tuesday June 2 2020

By: Rachel Roberts

One of the questions that we are often currently faced with from clients is whether they should get divorced and reach a financial settlement at the present time. The answer to that is very individual, multi-faceted and careful consideration needs to be given to this before a decision is made. Of course, if one party wants to move forward with the divorce then even the most reluctant spouse may have little choice but to do so. Equally, for parties in abusive relationship, there may simply be no choice but to end the marriage.

Divorcing during Covid 19

In terms of whether it is possible to get divorced, the Family Court has been keen to say throughout that it is aiming to “keep business going safely”, and it is now working remotely, using a variety of means to conduct remote hearings, including telephone and video conferencing. If parties manage to reach a negotiated financial settlement, I am finding agreements are being approved by the court fairly quickly.

For parties that cannot reach an agreement and need to follow the court process (called an application for a financial remedy), some hearings are going ahead via remote means, and often good progress can be made through the early stages of the process, essentially the fact finding and negotiations stages. If a case does not settle and needs a final contested hearing where a Judge will impose a decision, these are often but not always being delayed owing to some practical difficulties that can arise, such as dealing with the cross examination of witnesses via video links. Inevitably, we can probably expect a backlog of these cases when courts can conduct hearings in person.

There are other options outside of the court process that can be considered (remotely at present), such as private negotiation hearings and/or arbitration, which I have found to be effective and timely. These do come at additional costs that can unaffordable to some people and even where affordable, they require both parties to be willing to engage in them.

Setting aside the practical difficulties above, if you are considering separating and/or debating starting to negotiate with your spouse, there are a few other factors that you may wish to consider:

  1. It may be very difficult to get an accurate valuation of assets, and particularly property and businesses. Estate agents are at least now open for business, but until the property market has started to move again properly, it is difficult to know what the longer term impact of Covid 19 will be, and therefore, valuations might be somewhat speculative. If you want to retain the family home or business and pay a lump sum to your spouse, you might well feel reluctant to do so until we have a clearer picture of what will happen to the property market/general economy moving forward. On the other hand, if a house is simply being sold and the proceeds split equally, there may be no reason to delay;

 

  1. The value of other assets such as stocks and shares are very changeable, so again, it may be difficult to reach an agreement based on a certain value with any confidence that this value will hold for any period of time. Equally, if you want to retain a share portfolio, the current lower valuations may work in your favour!

 

  1. Many people have uncertainty over their future income sources and this can impact on levels of maintenance, and mortgage raising capacity which can making understanding how you can meet your future needs very difficult.

 

You can see therefore that the current uncertainty has the potential to both benefit and disadvantage people. A key point for anyone considering a financial settlement at this time is to understand that if they reach an agreement which turns out to be financially disadvantageous to them, they will almost certainly be bound by it.

So for many people there will be reasons to be cautious, but the longer lockdown goes on, the more we are finding clients wanting to move things forward, so they can move on with their lives.

# Divorcing during Covid 19

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Stowe Family Law Rachel roberts Huddersfield Office