April 2020

Dealing with relationship breakdown during times of uncertainty

Anyone who has experienced relationship breakdown understands how difficult a time it can be. For couples and families going through the process at the moment, there is the added challenge of the coronavirus pandemic, which has undoubtedly made an already-stressful time worse.
Whether you have already started to take action or are considering the options the challenges being faced may seem impossible to overcome if you are all required to be under the same roof with Covid-19 restrictions. However, family lawyers are ensuring that they do all they can to keep families and individuals supported.

Couples already going through the process
The UK lockdown has required court staff to consider safe working, with home working required wherever possible. Whilst urgent cases involving domestic abuse and child protection are taking place remotely via video links, many proceedings will experience delays.
Georgina Rayment, Head of Family Law at Ipswich-based law firm, Prettys, advises that it is now more important than ever to continue constructive dialogue in order to ease tensions and conflict between separating partners.
Challenges for co-parenting
For parents who share care of the children, the rules on social distancing and mixing households have raised questions and concerns.
Government guidance has clarified the issue, stating that children under the age of 18 who move between households to spend time with respective parents are permitted to carry on doing so, for as long as it remains safe.
Although this works in the favour of parents, grandparents may lose out on valuable time with their grandchildren, particularly those who fall in the vulnerable categories outlined by the government.
Similarly, should an individual in one household fall ill with the virus (or need to shield), guidance would restrict movement between the two homes in order to limit the risk, meaning one parent would then be unable to spend time with their child.
In these cases, video calling (whether by FaceTime/Skype/WhatsApp or other means) is playing a vital role in keeping families connected as well as keeping a sense of familiarity and routine for children who may be struggling to come to terms with their parents’ separation.
Keeping communication constant
A common theme under the current circumstances is the importance of communication.
This is something Prettys have been advocating for many years. Being creative about the means and varying methods of communication is the key to progress, even where face to face dialogue is not possible. This allows couples to keep a dialogue of constructive communication focussed on the individual issues, which can in turn help to achieve a more consensual separation.
This is particularly important during the pandemic, as families may face difficult obstacles such as income loss, financial difficulties and childcare changes, which can all add to the tensions of separation.
Moreover, couples in the process of finalising financial agreement should think carefully about their income and assets, now and in the future. Assets may be impacted by Covid-19 – the housing market is affected; businesses are trying to stay afloat, and people are concerned about job security.
Being able to sensibly discuss damage limitation possibilities and best timing of implementation and actions will lead to better outcomes and less spent on legal fees.
Georgie Hall, Head of Private Client at Prettys, confirms she is having more discussions with clients advocating against impulsive decision-making for immediate outcomes. It may be that some couples will do far better understanding the longer term financial consequences before binding themselves to agreements.
Separation is never easy but is particularly stressful in the context of a global pandemic.
Despite the challenges, couples and families should know that there are options available. Courts and lawyers are doing what they can to work creatively to reduce conflict and improve outcomes.