Family Law FAQs

Category: Family

You ask, we answer!

We’ve been inundated with questions during the Covid-19 lockdown, especially those to do with Family law – divorce, children, finance issues and domestic violence. We believe that a lot of other people out there may be looking for answers to similar questions. So our fantastic Family Law team have put together a list of Family Law FAQs to give you some clarity.

As with everything, we always encourage you to call us if you think we can help. The contact details for our lawyers are at the bottom of this article.

Family Law FAQs – Contacting Us

By Eleanor Barber

Things are slowly returning to normal, and along with video appointments and talking to clients on the phone, we are now able to again offer face to face appointments at our office (social distancing measures have been taken). We are still available during normal office hours Monday to Friday, to assist you on all family law matters, so just give us a call or drop us an email.

Family Law FAQs – Children

Should I send my children to my ex-partner during the COVID-19 lockdown?

By Eleanor Barber

Government guidelines specifically allow children to move between the homes of separated parents during the current lockdown. This is because the government recognises the potential emotional harm to children of having parental relationships disrupted. However, that does not mean that it is always appropriate for contact arrangements to continue. Indeed, in some circumstances it may be appropriate for this to be replaced by indirect contact – telephone / facetime / skype.  For example, a household isolating due to a confirmed case of COVID-19. It absolutely would not be appropriate for a child to leave or join that household. Equally, if the child has a serious underlying health condition which places them in a high-risk category then a more cautious approach would be reasonable. This is also the situation where one of the people living in either household is in a high-risk category.

The expectation and starting point is that contact will continue. And the bottom line is that any decision to refuse movement between houses must be objectively reasonable in all circumstances.  A parent who opportunistically uses the COVID-19 crisis as a way of preventing contact with the other parent without clear and objective justification is likely to face heavy criticism. The actions may even encourage the parent who has been denied a relationship with their child to seek a Court Order for a change to the primary care arrangements. 

My Court Order is being breached, what can I do?

By Eleanor Barber

The Court system is still up and running, but hearings are being conducted predominantly by telephone, rather than in person.  If there has been a breach to an existing Court Order, it is possible to issue an application for enforcement of that Order and ask the Court to list a telephone hearing.  Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to seek an urgent hearing.  The success of an enforcement application will depend on the reasons for the breach. There will also be consideration by the Court as to whether the decision is reasonable in all of the circumstances.  If there is no good reason for changing the terms of the existing order, it’s more likely that a Court will enforce the Order.

I believe that my ex is placing my child at increased risk of contracting COVID-19

By Eleanor Barber

If you believe that your child is experiencing an increased exposure to COVID-19, which you are able to minimise if you were to care for the child yourself, you may wish to enter into communication with the other parent, either directly or through solicitors, to see whether it is possible to agree an arrangement whereby you offer to care for the child during the current health crisis,  to limit the child’s exposure to COVID-19.  This might be appropriate for example if the other parent is a frontline worker and relies upon the child attending school in order to be able to go to work. This is not a criticism of the other parent, who will be required to continue working, but recognises the potential harm to the child In those circumstances.

Through sensitive discussions, it may be possible to agree, for the benefit of the child, a temporary change of living arrangements to minimise exposure to COVID-19. Some parents are worried that a temporary change of living arrangement may subsequently support a more permanent change, but the basis of the change could be clearly agreed and recorded so as to support a return to the previous status quo at the end of the current crisis.   If the other parent is not willing to consider this arrangement and you are concerned that your child is being placed unnecessarily at increased risk, you could issue an application to Court for a Child Arrangement Order, requesting an early hearing to deal with interim arrangements. 

Family Law FAQs – Finances

I want to take advice about the division of finances, how can I do that during lockdown?

By Anne Shears

Generally for you and your spouse to be able to take advice from your solicitors in relation to the finances there does need to be an exchange of financial disclosure and it is possible to complete that process during this unusual time.

Most people have online or telephone banking and can obtain copies of bank statements that way. You can also call your mortgage company and they will send to you a copy of your redemption statement if you do not have online access. Most pension providers will deal with any queries or a request for a valuation over the telephone and, if not, your solicitor can write to the pension company on your behalf.

Financial disclosure forms can be completed over email with our solicitors and any questions can be answered over the telephone or in a video call.  The financial disclosure forms (generally a Form E is used) can be exchanged by email with your spouse’s solicitor and you can each then take advice and (hopefully) negotiate a settlement.

What happens once we do reach a settlement?

By Anne Shears

There is no change to the procedure relating to an Order reflecting the settlement being sent to the Court.  A Consent Order will be drafted by one of the solicitors and, once signed, it is sent to the Court to be considered by a Judge. The Court will then write to both solicitors’ firms with a sealed Order or with any questions raised by the Judge which can be addressed in the usual way.

What if a settlement cannot be negotiated? Can I still make a Court application in relation to the finances?

By Anne Shears

Yes, you can make an application if you need to.  There is a requirement to attend an initial meeting with a mediator before making an application and mediators are conducting these through a video call. If mediation is not going to be suitable, then an application can be made to the Court and hearings are taking place remotely by phone or video call.

What do I do if I am worried about my spouse hiding assets or spending all our money?

By Anne Shears

It is still possible to make urgent applications in relation to the preservation of assets and these will be given priority by the Court. Again, hearings will take place remotely by telephone or on a video call.  There is a duty for both parties to provide full and frank financial disclosure during proceedings and lockdown has not changed that duty.

Family Law FAQs – Divorce

I want to start divorce proceedings but can I still do this during lockdown?

By Gemma Stevens

Yes, the Courts are still working including at the Divorce Centres albeit that the process may take longer during lockdown because there are less staff dealing with matters due to the current crisis. Our lawyers are continuing to work from home and can assist you in the preparation of your petition remotely, we can arrange a telephone appointment at a time convenient to you to discuss your situation and help advise you. Our firm continues to offer our fixed fee initial interview at a cost of £150.00 plus vat.

The firm also offers a fixed price divorce, costing £600.00 plus vat if you are the ‘Petitioner’ (this does not include the court fee currently £550.00) and if this is taken up, the initial interview fee is included in the fixed fee divorce cost.

I started my divorce proceedings before lockdown, will they carry on?

By Gemma Stevens

Yes the Courts will continue to process petitions issued before the lockdown albeit there may be delays on account of the current crisis. Once lockdown is over there is likely to be a backlog for the Court to work through as staff begin to return to work so whilst the process may take longer, it can and is continuing throughout this period. Our lawyers are continuing to work from home and will continue to progress your case as and when we receive notifications from the Court and we can continue to correspond with your spouse remotely. If you started your divorce proceedings yourself, but feel you now need some help we can arrange a telephone appointment at a time convenient to you to discuss your situation and the costs of assisting you. We can fix these costs in some circumstances so that you have certainty about what you will pay.

Family Law FAQs – Domestic Violence

I am scared at home in isolation with a violent partner I and don’t know what to do?

By Gemma Stevens

This is a worrying time for us all but not more so than for those people already living in volatile or abusive homes who find sanctuary in being able to leave their homes to find support and advice from those around them. So what happens if you cannot leave? What if you have to isolate in a home where you are at risk? The pressures of lockdown will pose a greater risk to those in abusive relationships and we have seen in the press that this isolation is leading to a spike in domestic abuse related crimes. You can still get help and you can still get to a place of safety. PDAS and First Light are domestic abuse services operating in Plymouth and Cornwall. These centres can provide support and assistance to you. or call 0800 4582558 or 0172562286 (Plymouth Domestic Abuse Service) or call 0300 777 4777 (First Light)

You should call 999 in an emergency as the police are still responding to emergency calls and life threatening situations. Our lawyers are continuing to work from home and can assist you in the preparation of an urgent application to the Court remotely, for a Non Molestation Order in the event that you are at immediate risk of significant harm. We can arrange a telephone appointment at a time convenient to you to discuss your situation and help advise you. Our firm continues to offer our fixed fee initial interview at a cost of £150.00 plus vat.

What now?

As we mentioned earlier, despite our office being closed because of the Coronavirus restrictions, all of our Family lawyers are still working as normal from home. Please use the details below to contact them.

Eleanor BarberEleanor Barber
Tel: 01752 827026
Email: [email protected]
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Anne ShearsAnne Shears
Tel: 01752 827015
Email: [email protected]
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gemma stevensGemma Stevens
Tel: 01752 827038
Email: [email protected]
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