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Divorce & Separation During Covid-19

As we move into the 4th month of the Covid-19 pandemic in England, Tanya Bloomfield, Head of Family Law at Clark Willis, looks at the impact that it is having on divorce and separation.

Fundamentally, the ability to start the separation process has remained available throughout the pandemic but the restrictions on movement, financial impact and those self isolating because they have contracted the virus have caused a number of issues with the process.

The courts, already operating with a slight delay in dealing with applications and paperwork prior to the pandemic, have had those delays compounded. To address this, the courts  have been adapting their operations and embracing the digital world to a greater degree, for example accepting electronic applications and scanned signatures, to ensure that cases can be progressed as swiftly as possible. From the early days of the pandemic, the ability of the courts to progress matters and hold digital hearings has notably improved.

Our Family team has also continued to harness technology to support our clients with telephone or video call client meetings, remote working capabilities and even hosting Mediation meetings digitally through our dedicated Mediation service, meaning that we have remained fully operational during the coronavirus pandemic.

The effect on the economy, being furloughed or redundancy possibilities have caused increased concern over the financial implications of separations and what will happen in the short, medium and long term. For those people facing uncertainty, a degree of flexibility to revisit financial negotiations if there is a sudden change in financial circumstances of one party may mean a Separation Agreement may be appropriate until the pandemic is over and a full Consent Order secured through the court to finalize a financial break.

There are also added complications of how to manage children from separated households in light of the government guidance. Schools starting to return have added yet more considerations on childcare during the pandemic and the varied approach to this from individual schools and across different age groups means parents are having to be a little bit more flexible. With further changes to furlough arriving from July and the summer holidays starting, there may be more adjustments required.

The lock down has also been difficult for those couples already experiencing strain in their relationships and is likely to lead to a number of new separations as we emerge from current restrictive provisions. Considering separation comes with many questions about how to separate, what happens with finances and/or children and our specialist solicitors are still working during the pandemic and available to help you understand your financial position and options.

We have the largest Family Law team in Darlington, including Collaborative solicitors, Resolution members and qualified Mediators, so you can have peace of mind that you are receiving the best advice from expert negotiators.

We can meet with you confidentially by telephone, Facetime, Teams or Zoom. We will also explore whether you might be entitled to Legal aid. We also offer fixed fee initial consultations and pay-as-you-go services.

Contact us on 01325 281111, visit www.clarkwillis.com or email family@clarkwillis.co.uk directly for further information and to speak to a member of our team confidentiality.

Divorce Darlington

How to get Divorced – The Basics.

How do I actually get divorced?

You marriage has to have broken down ‘irretrievably’ meaning that there must be no prospect of reconciliation i.e. getting back together with your partner. You have to prove one of five facts on the application form and provide a statement in support of your application e.g. if relying on your partner’s unreasonable behaviour, you will have to list half a dozen examples which are timed/dated by way of illustration for the court. These are known as ‘particulars’.

How long will it take?

The process can take at least 6 months. There is an administration backlog currently within the courts (with the new centralised divorce units). Further, if you intend to sort a financial settlement this may prolong the finality of a divorce too as you ordinarily obtain a financial Court Order before you apply for to finalise your divorce. It is not unknown for a case to run for up to 2 years (if the finances are somewhat complex). The process may take longer if you or your partner are not resident in the UK or your marriage occurred overseas (out of/not in England and Wales).

What do we do about finances, the house and our debt?

You can agree arrangements between yourselves informally however this type of agreement would not be legally binding or enforceable by the Court. You can apply to the Court for a Consent Order where the Court will formally record your mutual agreement and can help protect each of you in the future. If matters are complex, protracted or disputed then Court proceedings can be issued to have the Court intervene to make the final decision.

To do either of the above, you and your partner will be required to provide full information regarding your current financial circumstances. This would mean current bank statements for each and every bank/building society account you have, interests in any properties or businesses, current pension provisions and liabilities such as loans, credit or store cards.  You will also be asked about your current outgoings and standard of living to determine your financial needs. This information will demonstrate what assets, income and liabilities there are available within the marriage/civil partnership for negotiation and settlement.

If we agree finances now, can my ex later come back for more?

Yes, unless you have obtained a ‘Clean Break’ Court Order. This is another good reason to have any financial arrangements formalised through the courts rather than informally agreeing matters between ourselves. Whilst things may be amicable at present this position may change in the future and one party may also have a significant change in circumstances, for example an inheritance or new relationships.

Who will the children live with?

Again, this can be mutually agreed between partners however, If this cannot be agreed amicably, parties can consider the assistance of a family mediator. As a last approach, an application may have to be made to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order to determine with who the child shall live and how much time is to be spent with the parent the child does not live with.

What happens if my partner won’t agree?

If your partner may refuses to sign and return the Acknowledgement of Service which is the document that they are sent by the Court following your application to the court, you will have to prove to the court that your partner has in fact received the papers but is just not co-operating. There are a number of ways of doing this, for example instructing a process server.

Your partner may indicate on the Acknowledgment of Service form that they do not agree with the reasons for the divorce that you have put on the application. Your partner has to state the grounds on which they disagree with your statement and they may wish to defend the divorce.

Your partner may also refuse to contribute towards the court fee of £550 for the application to be processed by the Court.

If your partner is hostile to the divorce they may also not provide all the relevant financial information documentation to enable each party’s financial circumstances to be determined and a fair financial settlement reached.  Financial proceedings therefore may need to be issued to run alongside your divorce.

All of the above may cause delay, additional legal fee costs and stress.

What next?

What is certain with every divorce is that each couple, their relationship and their attitudes to separation are unique and that whilst there is plenty of material to read and advice flowing on the internet, it is always beneficial to speak to a specialist legal adviser. There really is no substitute to a confidential discussion with a solicitor as to your own circumstances and what divorce may mean to you as a divorce is a very personal experience.

Our trusted Family law team have a wealth of experience in divorce, financial and childcare matters, include members of the specialist Resolution group (https://resolution.org.uk/) and also include trained mediators meaning that you can have peace of mind that your separation is in safe hands. Contact your local Clark Willis office at either Darlington or Catterick Garrison to make further enquires and see how we can help.

Pre nuptial agreements

Civil Partnership or Marriage?

The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc.) Act 2019 requires the Government to make provisions by the end of the year to make couples of the opposite sex eligible to form civil partnerships. The result being that there is more choice available to couples wishing to make a commitment to one another, irrespective of their sex/gender/sexual orientation.

Despite same sex couples being able to marry or covert civil partnerships to marriage, civil partnerships remain a popular option. The number of civil partnerships registered has risen for the third consecutive year despite the fact that same-sex marriage could take place in England and Wales from the 29th of March 2014. For those of you that like to delve deeper into the statistics, the Office for National Statistics demonstrate that a civil partnership is most attractive to men and to older couples.

So what is a civil partnership and how does it differ to a marriage?

Differences between Marriage and Civil Partnerships:

In relation to the ceremony a marriage is formed when a couple exchange a prescribed form of words, whereas a civil partnership is when the second civil partner signs the relevant document, with no words required to be spoken. A marriage is often taken in the form of a religious or even a civil ceremony, however a civil partnership is entirely a civil process. There is no requirement for a ceremony to take place. Marriages are registered on paper, in a hard copy register, but the details of civil partnerships are recorded in an electronic register. Marriage certificates include the names of only the fathers of the parties whereas civil partnership certificates include the name of both parents of the parties. There are grounds of annulment available if married that are not so if you enter into a civil partnership e.g. if at the time of the marriage the respondent was suffering from a venereal disease in a communicable form.

Marriage, is a historic institution that is recognised around the world as being legally binding. A civil partnership conversely is not legally recognised in some other countries, which can cause difficulties if you are emigrating or require marriage rights while abroad. You will also find the same restrictions on same sex marriage in various countries – with some placing it at a similar level to a civil partnership, while others do not recognise it at all.

Civil Partnerships give couples the choice to formalise their relationship and celebrate with both friends and family without getting married. Many people see civil partnerships as being more modern, therefore expresses more equality within the relationship, rather than the institutionalised, patriarchy that is deep-rooted within marriage.

From a legal viewpoint, these two unions share very similar characteristics but there can be subtle differences following a separation in so far as process and rights.

Whether you are entering into a same-sex, opposite-sex marriage or a civil partnership, you may wish to consider a prenuptial agreement or pre-civil partnership agreements. The solicitors in our friendly family team here at Clark Willis are happy to discuss with you your options and the best way to financially protect yourself.

From our offices in Darlington and Catterick Garrison we offer a range of personal legal services including Family, Property Sales & Purchases, Wills, Lasting Powers of Attorney, Probate & Trusts, Dispute Resolution and Personal Injury across County Durham, the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire. Visit www.clarkwillis.com or contact your local office for more information.