Covid-19: What does it mean for Family Law?

Gemma Windle, Family Solicitor Taylor Walton LLP

If you have read the news, opened your emails or had a conversation with just about anyone over the last two weeks you will have noticed that we have reduced our communication largely to the following two phrases:

  1. “These are unprecedented times”; and
  2. “Well, at least it’s sunny”.

While we lawyers do love sunshine, we also love precedents. Unfortunately, there are no precedents for Covid-19 and we are acutely aware of the seriousness of the situation and the confusion caused by the fact that circumstances are changing on a daily basis. I have therefore provided answers to some of the main concerns of our clients:

1. Will my child still be able to spend time with the parent with whom they do not live?

Yes. The government have confirmed that “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.

This exception does not extend to wider members of the family such as grandparents. It is expected that parents will make sensible decisions taking into consideration the health and welfare of themselves and others. There is no requirement for children to be moved between households and parents may agree between them that it is best for the child(ren) to remain in one home to reduce the risk of spreading the virus further.

The President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice, Sir Andrew McFarlane, advises that where there is a Child Arrangements Order in place and parents choose to temporarily vary the Order, they are free to do so but should record such an agreement in writing.

2. What if a child or parent is self-isolating? Can contact continue?

The President of the Family Division has made clear that in such circumstances the Courts expect contact to continue to take place either by video connection, or if that is not possible, by telephone.

3. I have recently separated from my partner, will I still be able to get a divorce?

We are able to continue to file documents and correspondence with the Court electronically and this includes divorce petitions. It is likely that there will be increased delays in processing divorce applications while the Courts navigate the change to working remotely but we hope that this will be a short term disruption.

In China there has been a spike in divorce rates during the “lockdown” period due to the strain of couples remaining in isolation together and it is safe to assume a that there will be a similar trend in the UK. It is hoped that, despite increased demand, the Courts will be able to maintain an adequate level of service.

4. I have a hearing listed in April, will the hearing still go ahead?

Maybe. The default position is that all hearings will be conducted remotely, by video link or telephone, where it is possible to do so. There will be circumstances which mean that it is not possible to conduct a hearing remotely and additionally, some non-urgent cases are being adjourned due to the judges’ availability. Unfortunately, it is likely there will be some disruption to the Court service at least short term. However, by and large, barristers, solicitors and judges have systems in place to enable hearings to continue remotely and we continue to work together to facilitate this.

Ultimately these are difficult times and disruption is unavoidable but we continue to work around the clock to ensure that things continue to run as smoothly as possible.

If you have any queries, please contact Taylor Walton’s experienced Family Team who will be happy to provide advice and assistance.