The world has changed for all us all in the last week or two, including for us divorce lawyers. Restrictions imposed upon movement and contact with loved ones mean it is tempting to think that we can do nothing whilst we are in coronavirus “lockdown”. Some things however don’t change – if your relationship is over and you want to move on you may still want to progress with a divorce. Ironically, it may be that with a little more time on your hands you can make the first move, or with changed priorities you may reach an agreement with your spouse that may have been difficult under ‘normal’ circumstances.
In fact, the divorce process can progress pretty much as normal and now might be the time to get answers to your questions, consider the financial consequences of a split and understand your legal position.
As a firm operating a remote working model for the last 20 years’ we think we’re in a pretty strong position to continue to provide the same level of service to clients. Our 23 lawyers, based at home, conduct most of their client contact via telephone, email and Skype calls. We can and do meet our client’s if that is what they want, however in today’s world where we are specifically prevented from doing so by government guidelines this does not impact upon our work and our ability to represent our client’s at all. For us providing an exceptional service to all our clients continues as normal.
Our (previously) unique way of working has meant that we provide prospective clients with initial advice, take formal instructions, issue divorce proceedings and progress the matter all the way to Decree Absolute using remote technology. The coronavirus has therefore had very little impact on the way we work and the way in which we are able to help our client’s. For us it is “business as usual”.
So, how does this normally play out and where might you need extra help?
Stage 1: Initial call – an opportunity to explain about your situation, explore your options and learn what the legal position is.
For some people this means checking that they are able to get a divorce (that they have grounds for divorce), deciding when and where (if they live outside the UK) to divorce and understanding the process and time frame for divorce.
Stage 2: Deciding to go ahead – having understood what’s involved including the cost of divorce, making a decision to start the process. For some people this is actually the first stage, although they may revisit stage one, when they look more closely at the divorce paperwork or when they realise they should also reach a financial agreement, before finalising their divorce.
Stage 3: Appointing a solicitor – with Woolley & Co this is as simple as saying you want to go ahead (and you can do that by telephone or email), at which point we provide full details of our terms of business and details of how we will progress your case.
Stage 4: Making the application – an application can be made online by you or your solicitor on your behalf (provided you reside in England or Wales). The process is relatively straight-forward although there are some questions and elements of the form which consistently trip people up.
Stage 5: Get up to date advice on finances – many people we speak to are not aware that a divorce does not automatically finalise how your finances will be divided. It is essential that these are discussed with your solicitor and guidance provided on your best course of action. Given the economic impact of Covid-19 the advice might be different now than it would have been say 6 months ago, so it is worth getting up to date advice.
If you are unable to agree how finances can be divided you may be able to negotiate with the help of your solicitor, but if you cannot reach agreement you can apply to the Courts for their judgement. Proceedings are still being issued and the courts are now hearing applications remotely (via telephone of video conferencing) so that the parties do not have to attend court in person. Colleagues have already experienced these remote hearings and report that they are often more straight-forward and less time consuming than a traditional Court hearing.
Stage 6: Decide what’s best for your children – a divorce does not finalise the arrangements for you as parents. Instead you are expected to agree with the other parent how you will share parenting responsibilities and the associated costs of this. If you cannot agree couples are guided towards mediation but if this is unsuitable or does not produce a result an application can be made to the Courts for a decision. This route remains open, even in these changed times, although it is fair to say that the time from application to hearing might be significantly altered.
If your relationship has broken down or you have issues with regards to seeing your children the current situation is not a reason to put off dealing with it. You may already be separated and therefore need help with the next steps or may be at the point whereby you have realised your relationship is simply not working. None of us know how long this “lockdown” may last and therefore rather than putting up with an unhappy environment which will inevitably impact upon any children now may well be the ideal time to deal with it.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that relationships will be put under increased levels of strain by the current situation. We know from many years’ experience that families spending time together at Christmas results in an influx of new divorce enquiries in January. Our lawyers are here to help – if you require the assistance of an experienced family lawyer we can deal with your concerns without any delay or requirement to temporarily halt certain aspects of your case. It’s hard, but you don’t have to face this alone.
Family law solicitor King’s Lynn