Making the break

For those relationships that were already in difficulty, has lockdown left you looking to start a divorce?

Woman taking wedding ring off symbolising divorce

For all the upsides of spending time together in lockdown, the pressures of living, working and home-schooling under one roof may have made it a particularly challenging time. For those relationships that were already in difficulty, you may be looking to start a divorce now that restrictions are gradually being eased.

Going through a divorce can be tricky under any circumstances, more so with the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic and its effect on family finances.  So, is now really a good time to start the process? We answer your questions:

Should I proceed with a divorce now or put things on hold?

The courts are open and divorce petitions are still being processed, although it is taking longer for the paperwork to be processed by the courts due to reduced staff numbers.  If you have had sufficient time to reflect and you are certain that you want a divorce then don’t put things on hold – the backlog in the courts will increase significantly over the coming months.

How do I start the process and how long will it take?

You will need to complete a divorce petition and lodge it at court. The spouse starting the divorce has to rely on one of five facts as the basis for the divorce: adultery; unreasonable behaviour; two years separation and you both agree to a divorce; or five years separation or desertion. You will need your original marriage certificate and to pay a £550 court fee at the start of the process. If you can, you should speak with your spouse to agree who should start the process and agree as far as possible the content of the petition.

The divorce process itself usually takes around six months to conclude, however it is taking longer than this at present due to the backlog in the courts.

How do I begin the process of resolving our finances?

The best starting ground here is to try and have an open and honest discussion with your spouse to obtain a clear picture of the family finances. This may not be possible, and there are other ways to begin the process such as mediation or solicitor negotiations. Whichever route feels right for you, it important that you provide an honest and complete account of your finances before negotiating the terms of a settlement.  Once an agreement has been reached it must be embodied in a consent order and sent to the court to be approved.

Our assets have gone down in value. Should we put the financial settlement on hold?

The pandemic has led to a fall in property and business values, as well as investments and pensions which are now likely to be worth less than what they were last year.  If you are unable to obtain an accurate valuation of your assets, you have the option to instruct an expert to value the assets. Instead, you may decide to wait and allow some recovery before starting the negotiations. If you are the financially weaker party, you may not want to rush into agreeing a financial settlement. However, it is important to take early advice from a specialist family lawyer to talk you through your options.

My spouse is making it difficult for me to see my child. What are my options?

Unlike the financial settlement, arrangements for your child (or children) do not need to be set out in a court order.  If you are unable to agree arrangements, mediation or a family lawyer can help you negotiating the child arrangements.   The court only needs to get involved if you cannot agree where the child shall live and how much time they should spend with both parents.  In this event either of you can make an application to the court for a child arrangements order.

If you have further questions about the beginning the divorce process, please contact our family team on 020 8944 5290 who will be happy to help.

Please note the contents contained in this article are for general guidance only and reflection the position at time of posting. Legal advice should be sought before taking action in relation to specific matters.

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