The Telegraph recently reported that divorce enquires are up 42% since coronavirus restrictions started. Toby Atkinson spoke to The Telegraph to give his view on why the pandemic may be the final straw for so many.
The article states:
‘Normally, it only takes a fortnight of enforced proximity for divorce requests to spike: “Our peak times are usually after Christmas and the school summer holidays,” confirms Toby Atkinson, “[But] the additional emotional and financial pressures that lockdown has placed on many families are, frankly, enough to test the strongest of marriages.” The firm is now “anticipating a rush of new enquiries,” he adds.’
Toby comments that loss of income may cause extra financial problems for separating couples:
“The Covid-19 lockdown has obviously had a huge impact on people’s businesses and incomes. For many, this has brought an additional layer of stress and complexity to an already challenging process. Intelligent, creative and bespoke solutions will increasingly be required to help couples resolve their financial arrangements during these extraordinary times.”
Toby also gives his view on whether couples should wait for life to normalise again before going ahead with a divorce. He says:
“It depends entirely on a couple’s individual circumstances. There is uncertainty in relation to just about everything at the moment: the economy as a whole, the future of entire industries, jobs, investments and the value of people’s homes, so many will feel that taking the plunge and getting divorced in such an uncertain climate is just too risky. There will undoubtedly be others, however, who will see this as a perfect opportunity to get divorced during a recession when they believe the process is likely to cost them less. Often, a bad time for one party to divorce will be an opportune time for the other.”
Regarding the practicalities of instructing a lawyer during this time, Toby explains how well things are set up to work remotely:
“Working remotely has had little impact on lawyers’ ability to do their job. The Family Courts are still operating, and the court system has effectively been moved onto a remote platform. It is possible to start divorce proceedings, attend hearings by video link and telephone, and file documentation electronically. The High Court has been at the forefront of embracing the new virtual world, and the judges are doing all they can to ensure hearings go ahead via video conferencing applications in so far as is possible.”
However, Toby mentions that some non-urgent hearings have been deprioritised:
“The backlog in relation to processing divorce petitions and applications for financial remedy proceedings shouldn’t increase dramatically, as the courts are improving the online system for issuing both sets of proceedings. However, many non-urgent hearings were adjourned during the first few weeks of lockdown. In order to avoid further backlogs, there is strong encouragement from the judiciary for separating couples to ‘go private’ and either arbitrate or attend Private Financial Dispute Resolution Hearings, in order to bypass the slower court process. This brings the added advantage to couples of ensuring that details of their private family disputes are not laid bare in open court and reported by the media.”
Toby also highlights the recent increase in new enquiries and the increase in children-related issues:
“We received an initial flurry of new instructions in relation to contact arrangements for children during lockdown. We also saw a number of applications by ex-spouses of international families wishing to relocate abroad with the children during the lockdown, as well as abduction applications (where a child has been abducted to this country, and the other parent applies to the English court for an order returning the child to their country of habitual residence).
“Although there was a pause in non-Covid related instructions, ongoing matters continued, and new instructions are coming in. We are anticipating a rush of new enquiries in the coming weeks, much like we receive after Christmas and the long summer holidays.”
The full article can be read here (subscription required)
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