Can you still get divorced in lockdown?
Lockdown is enough to put a strain on any relationship so what should couples do if they want to file for a divorce in lockdown?
The answer is that a divorce is still an option for couples in lockdown, as many family lawyers are working remotely and the family courts are still open.
Phoebe Hill, Solicitor at the Stowe Family Law office in London explains the options open to couples looking for a divorce in lockdown and whether it is a good idea to start a divorce during a global pandemic.
Is it possible to start divorce proceedings during a lockdown?
Yes, you can still get divorced in lockdown. Family law firms like Stowe Family Law are working remotely and offering virtual consultations. The family courts are still accepting new divorce petitions.
Is it a good idea to start divorce proceedings during a pandemic?
Starting divorce proceedings at any time should not be a decision which is taken lightly.
This is particularly the case where relationships are under huge pressure and strain during the pandemic. Couples are not in their normal routine and under additional stresses including working from home, looking after children and financial uncertainty.
However, some of the enquiries we are receiving during lockdown have highlighted, for some couples, serious relationship issues which they can no longer ignore.
In these cases, it may be that a divorce is now the only foreseeable outcome, and, in those circumstances, people can move forward to start the legal process of ending their marriage.
We have found that some of our clients initially waited when the lockdown first occurred to start proceedings but are now wishing to progress matters as they acknowledge that the pandemic may be around for longer than first anticipated.
Other clients have separated some time ago and now have the time to focus on the process.
What advice do you have for couples who decide they want to separate but are currently stuck in lockdown together?
This can be an incredibly difficult time for many relationships, let alone if you have decided that you wish to separate but have to remain in lockdown together.
It is important to try and communicate with your spouse so that you can establish some ground rules as to how you are going to continue living together and agree on some form of routine.
This can include how are you going to share spaces such as the living room and kitchen? Who will look after the children? How will you structure homeworking?
You need to look after yourself and your mental wellbeing. Make sure you both take time out to have some space, for example, take a walk as your daily exercise, have a bath or chat to a friend.
If you do find emotions or tensions are running high, try and remove yourself from the situation if possible and acknowledge the pressure that you are both under having to remain within the household.
Ultimately, it is important to have respect for one another to make it work and to be kind to yourselves at this significantly difficult time.
What do you need to consider if you decide to divorce/separate during the lockdown?
Once you have come to the difficult decision that you wish to get a divorce, it is helpful to consider how to resolve short term issues, such as where will you both live, how will you manage your finances in the interim and any arrangements for the children. It may not be possible to agree on all these things, but it is helpful to consider what may work in your situation in the short term.
You also need to decide who will be the Petitioner in the divorce (the person who commences the divorce proceedings), you or your spouse.
To submit a divorce petition, you are required to supply your original marriage certificate to commence proceedings so it is worth locating that or letting your solicitor know at an early stage whether you need to request a duplicate copy.
Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on house prices and employment in the UK, any financial settlements in a divorce can include provisions to take into account the likely impact of the virus, for example, an agreement to delay the sale of the house.
I would suggest that you have an initial consultation with a family lawyer at an early stage who will be able to discuss your particular situation with you and help to answer any queries and alleviate any concerns.
Are the family courts still open?
Yes, the courts are still open to accepting divorce petitions and for court hearings which are being carried out by telephone or video conferencing.
What are the first steps to getting a divorce in lockdown?
It is really important to get legal advice about divorce as early as possible. At Stowe Family Law, along with other family law firms, we are able to offer initial telephone consultations. If you then decide to proceed, we can arrange a video call to discuss your situation in more detail and advise you on the next possible steps in relation to your divorce.
If you wish to file your own divorce proceedings then you can do so online by using this link https://www.gov.uk/apply-for-divorce
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If you would like any advice on divorce or other family law issues please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers here.