COVID-19 lockdown effect on relationships and divorce


With the COVID-19 outbreak and the government issuing a plea for the nation to stay at home and observe a COVID-19 lockdown, only leaving the house for essential trips (such as to obtain food or medical supplies), families are now living together nearly 24/7 with nowhere else to go.  Many who work as family practitioners are already forecasting a big boom in divorce numbers when restrictions on movement are eventually lifted.

If that is going to be the case then those involved in the profession can only hope that such a rise in cases will be because those relationships were sadly already beyond repair and that this current predicament and enforced 24-hour a day cohabitation has not been the catalyst.

The COVID-19 lockdown really is a time for people to be kind and patient with each other. However it is easy to see how relationships in households around the country will become fraught when it’s hard to ‘find space’ and you’re living under a whole range of different pressures and worries. If a relationship has broken down, one of the many concerns parties may have is whether the profession and the courts are going to be able to deal with the necessary legal process to formally end the marriage or civil partnership.

Before this crisis began the family courts were heading towards meltdown. However as this crisis has unfolded, we have seen that some courts are better prepared for an online world than others but the majority are still functioning as best they can. Recent guidance issued by the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane permits the use of FaceTime  to facilitate video conferencing. Other courts are conducting hearings by telephone as their online capabilities are not a modern as they might like them to be.

Even with remote working, the aim for all family solicitors is to try and help their clients resolve disputes without needing to involve the court in lengthy proceedings. The alternatives to Court are:

  1. Arbitration – akin to court proceedings but parties set their own timetable, decide what relevant documents are required to help resolve the dispute and have hearings conducted in private, which in this current crisis can be done via video link.
  2. Private dispute resolution hearings –  primarily conducted in financial proceedings but it is less adversarial as the appointed ‘Judge’ aka a privately appointed independent lawyer, should try to conduct the process in a less contentious way and give indications that are reasoned and balanced to encourage settlements and avoid contested expensive trials.
  3. Mediation – many mediators have the ability to conduct virtual meetings between parties so that negotiations and discussions can still be had, without the stress of the parties sitting in the same room as each other.

If anyone is experiencing a relationship breakdown and wants advice on divorce/ending a civil partnership during the COVID-19 lockdown or other family law issues please do not hesitate to contact the family team at Barker Gotelee. We are still working hard to assist all our clients, old or new, and can offer confidential meetings remotely during this crisis.

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Ipswich.

Suffolk Family Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email bg@barkergotelee.co.uk