As we begin to emerge from the lockdown many people are wondering how family cases might be dealt with going forwards.
Will it be possible to have a meeting with a family lawyer to discuss your case?
Yes, meetings are and have been taking place throughout the lockdown on a remote basis by telephone or video link. In the future it will be possible to have face to face meetings - provided social distancing rules/guidelines are followed.
Can Divorce proceedings be issued?
Yes, it has been possible to issue divorce petitions and progress the divorce to Decree Absolute throughout the lockdown and this will continue even if there is a second wave. We are also able to use the online Divorce portal which means that the divorce process can move much more quickly than the postal route.
How do we go about discussing/agreeing the arrangements for our children?
In the same way as happened before the lockdown. Mediation meetings are taking place by video link or telephone. Collaborative meetings can also be arranged on a remote basis. Solicitors can negotiate on your behalf.
What about financial negotiations linked to a divorce?
The process remains the same - financial disclosure documentation can be collated and exchanged. Estate Agents are able to value properties. Experts can be instructed to value businesses. Pension Reports can be obtained. Meetings are taking place by video link and in due course they will be able to take place on a socially distanced basis. For many people a video meeting saves travel time - it's just a question of ensuring that everyone has a copy of all the relevant documentation which just requires additional planning. Alternative Dispute Resolution options of Mediation, the Collaborative Approach and Family Arbitration are available and being used on a remote basis. When agreement is reached a Consent Order can be prepared, signed and lodged at Court using the online portal.
What about Court cases in the short to medium term?
There is going to be considerable delay with Court Hearings. Before the pandemic there was already a delay due to a high volume of Court cases. Urgent Applications have been dealt with on a remote basis during the lockdown but they have mainly been Directions Appointments. There have been a handful of contested hearings in cases involving risk of harm. There were numerous cases in the listing system prior to lockdown which have been put on hold - the Court is going to prioritise cases where children or vulnerable adults are involved. Going forwards the Courts will also need to comply with social distancing rules/guidance and as a consequence the number of cases that can be dealt with in each Court Building at any one time will be reduced. Non urgent cases (as defined by the Court) - puts Financial Remedy cases at the back of the queue with private law children matters marginally ahead.
Originally published 2 June, 2020
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.