Families and COVID-19: Basic advice

COVID-19, or
the Coronavirus, is impacting the lives of all of us. For anyone with family
law issues, however, it brings particular problems. Here, therefore, is some basic
advice that we hope will be helpful, together with some links to further
information.

Please note
that this advice is subject to change, as the situation develops – please
contact us for the latest information.

Court proceedings generally

The general
position is that hearings should be conducted with one, more than one, or all
participants attending remotely.  Where
that is not possible sensible precautions should be taken when people attend a
hearing.

The
President of the Family Division has issued guidance in relation to the Family
Court, which can be found here. This guidance confirms that the
default position is that hearings should be conducted remotely where possible,
and provides more detail on this.

Divorce proceedings

Divorce
proceedings can take place entirely online, and if so should not therefore be
affected by COVID-19, unless there are staff shortages at the national Civil
and Family Service Centre in Stoke-on-Trent, where digital divorces are
processed.

It may not,
however, 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, so that may in turn
means that divorces take longer.

Domestic abuse and other urgent
matters

Sometimes an
application is urgent, for example where there is domestic abuse, or where the
welfare of a child is at stake. The President’s guidance referred to above says
this: “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.”

The
requirement to stay at home may well 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 can
also of course help.

Healthy relationships at home

Being
restricted to home for an extended period may put a strain on any relationship.
For anyone concerned about this, the relationship charity Relate has set out
some advice and tips for healthy relationships during the COVID-19 outbreak,
which you can find here.

Information for single parents

Single
parents may be particularly worried about the effect of the present situation
upon them. The single parent charity Gingerbread has a page on its website
providing specific COVID-19 information for single parents, which you can find here.

Arrangements for children

The
requirement to remain at home and the restrictions on movement could obviously have
a serious effect upon arrangements for children, where their parents live in separate
households.

The
Government has specifically stated that where parents do not live in the same
household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes. You can
find the Government’s guidance
on staying at home and away from others here.

If you feel
that arrangements should be altered because of COVID-19, then you should try to
discuss and agree matters with the other parent. If you are unable to reach
agreement, then you should contact a lawyer for advice.

The present
restrictions upon international travel may also mean that international child
contact arrangements will have to be suspended until the restrictions are
lifted.

Financial matters

The response
to COVID-19 is obviously having enormous effects upon financial matters, with
people losing their jobs, interest rates dropping and the value of savings and
other assets falling.

If you are
no longer able meet your maintenance commitments because you have lost your job
then you may need to apply for the maintenance to be reduced. You should also
notify the other party if you can no longer afford to pay.

With regard
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. Settlements
that have not been finalised will take into account the current value of
assets. Settlements that have recently been finalised could possibly be
reopened, if there has been a significant change in the value of assets, although
this would be unusual –if you think this may apply to you, you should take
legal advice as soon as possible.

What is Prince Family Law doing?

Lastly, what
is Prince Family Law doing in response to COVID-19?

The health,
safety and well-being of our clients and staff is our highest priority and we
are therefore implementing certain safety measures.

Business
will continue as usual, but where possible we will work from home. We have the
technological systems in place to advise our clients (both existing and new)
from home. You can therefore contact us for more detailed advice upon all of
the matters listed above.

Our offices
in Chesterfield and Sheffield remain open, but our receptions are closed, so please
do not attend in person.

We will
continue to take on new work, and advise our clients as normal, but all
appointments will be carried out by telephone/conference link rather than in
person.