Coronavirus advice and where to find it
Coronavirus advice, and where to find it
The Coronavirus brings particular problems for families, especially those that have recently suffered a breakup, or are involved in court proceedings, whether in relation to divorce, finances, child arrangements or any other family matter.
Here is some general advice that may be helpful for anyone in this situation. Note that things are changing rapidly, and therefore some of this advice may be superseded by events.
We will split the advice into categories, depending upon your particular situation.
The general position, as stated by the Lord Chief Justice (‘LCJ’ – the Head of the Judiciary of England and Wales) is as follows:
“The default position now in all jurisdictions [including family] must be that hearings should be conducted with one, more than one or all participants attending remotely. That will not always be possible. Sensible precautions should be taken when people attend a hearing.”
You can find the LCJ’s guidance here.
As to the Family Court specifically, the President of the Family Division has issued guidance of his own, which can be found here. This guidance confirms that the default position is that hearings should be conducted remotely where possible, and gives some details about this.
No attended hearings will currently take place in Devon and Somerset unless there is genuine urgency and a remote hearing is not possible .
For at least the next three weeks all judges in Devon will be working from home remotely and will not be coming in to court.
Obviously, mediation usually involves direct contact between the parties and the mediator. However, here as well arrangements are being made for mediation to take place via video conference, where possible.
Divorce proceedings normally take place entirely online and should not therefore be affected by the virus, unless there are staff shortages at the relevant divorce centre.
Of course, it may not be appropriate to finalise a divorce before a financial settlement has been reached, and financial remedy proceedings are likely to take longer whilst there are restrictions upon the operation of the courts.
Sometimes an application is urgent, for example where the welfare of a child is at stake. The President’s guidance referred to above has this to say about urgent applications:
“Even where a case is urgent, it should be possible for arrangements to be made for it to be conducted remotely. The default position should be that the hearing is conducted remotely. Where a case is genuinely urgent, and it is not possible to conduct a remote hearing and there is a need for pressing issues to be determined, then the court should endeavour to conduct a face-to-face hearing in circumstances (in terms of the physical arrangement of the court room and in the waiting area) which minimise the opportunity for infection.”
Domestic abuse cases often of course fall under the category of ‘urgent’. The above guidance still applies.
And it may of course be that the requirement to stay at home will mean that some victims of abuse will find themselves trapped with their abusers. For anyone in this situation support is available 24/7, via the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, on 0808 2000 247. We are also of course able to help.
The current situation is likely to cause particular problems for single parents. The single parent charity Gingerbread has a page on its website providing specific Coronavirus information for single parents, which you can find here.
Managing relationships at home
Obviously, being restricted to home for an extended period may put a strain on any relationship. For anyone worried about this, the relationship charity Relate has set out some advice and tips for healthy relationships during the Coronavirus outbreak, here.
Obviously, the requirement to remain at home and any travel restrictions that are be introduced could have a serious effect upon arrangements for children. Those arrangements may have to be temporarily adapted to the new situation. If so, you should try to discuss and agree matters with the other parent. If you are unable to reach agreement, then you should seek the advice of a family lawyer.
Please be accommodating respectful and generous. The shutdown will not last forever. Video conferencing is much better than telephone calls. A good option is Zoom. It is possible to have a free personal account and you can record meetings. Here is a link https://zoom.us/
Other options are Skype and Facetime.
Children are likely to find the whole situation worrying and it is important for them to know that their loved ones are safe and well and to maintain some form of contact if possible.
The virus is having enormous effects upon money matters, with people losing their jobs, interest rates dropping and the value of savings and other assets plummeting.
If you can no longer meet your maintenance commitments then you may need to apply for a reduction. You should also notify the other party if you can no longer afford to pay.
As to the effect of any reduction in the value of assets upon any financial settlement, you should seek the advice of an expert family lawyer. You may also need to consult a financial advisor and/or an accountant. Settlements that have not been finalised will take into account the current value of assets. It is possible that a significant change in the value of assets may warrant settlements that have recently been finalised being reopened, but this would be unusual – take legal advice if you think it may apply to you.
International travel restrictions
Many families these days have an international element, for example with parents living in two different countries. The present restrictions upon international travel may mean that international child contact arrangements will have to be suspended, and that international family disputes will simply have to wait until this crisis is over. Again, you should seek the advice of an expert family lawyer for further information.
What we are doing
Finally, a word about what we are doing in response to the virus at Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors.
We are open for business and we will continue to provide existing and new clients with advice (including upon all of the matters referred to above), representation and service, whilst at the same time prioritising the health of our employees and their families.
Our legal team will be working from home – but we will be able to meet with clients through videoconferencing (Skype). We will resume face to face meetings when the governmet advice suggests that it is safe enough to do so. This will hopefully be sometime in March.
Our switchboard will remain fully operational. The email addresses of our lawyers can be found on our contact page. Clients are encouraged to email where possible.
Please be patient
The most important thing is that everyone is safe and well and that we all support the Doctors and Nurses, delivery drivers, supermarket workers, warehouse workers and all those who are working tirelessly to keep the nation safe and well and provisioned.
Please follow government advice and save lives.
The Courts will only deal with matters of genuine urgency. So be realistic in your expectations.
We will get through the current crisis and when we do there will be time enough to sort out family problems properly.
In the meantime please be patient and keep well.