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Divorce Post the Coronavirus Pandemic – An Update

Now more than ever, many people are considering a divorce and need to know what this process might consist of during a worldwide pandemic.

It has been recently reported that there was a 122% increase in divorce enquiries during July to October last year[1] and seeking out this service at a time when we are all isolated at home means that it is crucial to make the process as straightforward as possible.

Fortunately, the recent implementation of an online divorce portal means that one practical element of the process has become much easier.

What has changed?

The online divorce portal was introduced by HMTCS in January 2020, a convenient but unrelated precursor to the national lockdown that followed in March.  This meant that those at home who were considering a divorce did not have to worry about travelling to sign forms and complete applications in person at the start of the lockdown, as had been done before. Instead, the entire process can be completed without leaving the house.

It has also led to a smaller waiting time at each stage of the process when using the online portal. This may be due to ongoing cases that are still on paper, but this will hopefully continue even when the majority of petitions are made online in the future.

What challenges still exist?

It is a welcome change, as we are seeing how the modernisation of court processes can make the experience much more streamlined as well as ethically better (no paper means a healthier planet!) However, it is also vital to be aware of the massive backlogs in court cases that may have an impact on your divorce process. Despite the newly innovated service, there are still many elements connected to obtaining a divorce which are lagging behind.

If the parties have agreed the financial arrangements beforehand they will simply be completing each stage of the divorce application without attending any court hearings. However, if there are any disputes regarding these factors, then these may have to be settled in court. Currently, there are long waits between the first appointment hearing and the financial dispute resolution hearing (FDR). The entire process from application to final hearing may take over a year to complete.

Therefore, it is vital that these disputes are settled before the final stage of a divorce, if they are not then it can cause issues further down the line and it is much harder to settle these factors after the divorce has been granted. We advise any financial matters to be settled before the Decree Absolute is applied for. This means that although it can be a matter of months to obtain a divorce using the online portal, in reality it can take far longer.

How can we help?

We can make this process much easier. For many people, it may not be clear what the roadmap looks like for a divorce. Even if a clean break is involved, there are still unexpected factors which can be confusing for anyone not familiar with the legal framework of these proceedings.

Therefore, we provide a range of options that may suit your various needs. In order to avoid court proceedings, many couples opt for mediation in order to settle any disputes outside of court. This should not be seen as a fast-track to a divorce, as the mediation may need to take place over a series of sessions. However, it can be far less costly and stressful than attending court proceedings, especially if these go as far as a final hearing. Mediation can currently take place virtually which is extremely helpful during this time.

If a financially related dispute does result in a court hearing, then it is vital to have access to legal advice and preferably also to have legal representation in this instance. With an experienced solicitor, the stress and effort of these proceedings will be greatly lessened.

In all of these cases, it is clear that the pandemic has added a degree of uncertainty. Some disputes may directly result from the parties sharing the same living space or not having access to contact time with their children. Not to mention, remote court hearings and online applications may be a complicated prospect to those unfamiliar with the system. The online portal will hopefully lead to divorces becoming even simpler and quicker, yet it is more important than ever to seek the support of a trained professional when considering a divorce.

For further information or to book an appointment, please feel free to contact us by email (mail@goodmanray.com) or telephone (020 7608 1227) – we look forward to the opportunity to assist you.

[1] https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20201203-why-the-pandemic-is-causing-spikes-in-break-ups-and-divorces

 

Author

Isaac Beckett
Paralegal

 

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