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Coronavirus and what it means for your divorce
31 Mar 2020
The coronavirus pandemic is impacting on all of our daily lives, but it brings another level of uncertainty for couples splitting up. With the UK courts moving to a remote system to deal with hearings, there will be implications for divorcing couples.

Philip Cowell, a Partner with FBC Manby Bowdler’s Family Team, says: “The current situation may impact on couples who are in the midst or outset of a divorce or separation. A key consideration for many will be how they deal with their finances and arrangements about any children in the family.”

Here, he provides some answers to support divorcing couples.

How will COVID-19 affect our marital assets?

Coronavirus is having a substantial impact on financial markets and therefore it is also affecting asset values. It means what might have been in the matrimonial pot last month may now be significantly less. It may significantly be affecting the value of pensions. This means you should be wary of concluding any agreement about finances in the current climate, and certainly not without appropriate advice from an expert.

My wife/husband wants to seek a financial resolution but I’m worried I won’t get the best deal, what should I do?

When asset values slump it can put the financially stronger party, the ‘payer’, in a more advantageous position than the ‘payee’. Now might seem like a good time therefore for the ‘payer’ to seek financial resolution. If you are the ‘payee’ and worried you won’t get the best deal, you might want to try and slow the process down and a third party expert may be able to help. You should always seek expert advice before concluding any agreement, especially in the current circumstances.

We can’t agree on how to split our assets will we still be able to use an expert to help us?

If a couple’s finances are complex, it’s often a good idea to appoint a third-party expert. In light of current lockdown restrictions a divorcing couple may find it more challenging to appoint the relevant experts. However, like our teams, most lawyers are continuing to operate and can continue to progress your matter and negotiate on your behalf.

I’ve lost my job, will I still have to pay maintenance to my ex-partner?

If you have already divorced but you and your ex-partner remain connected financially, you may be concerned about income streams and your ability to meet ongoing maintenance payments, particularly if you have lost your job.

Usually, if there is a material change in circumstance, you can make an application to vary maintenance. Whether the impact of coronavirus will be deemed such a change is likely to vary from case to case. If you lose your job or find that you can no longer afford to pay the same level of maintenance to your ex-partner, you should write to them and explain the situation.

You should give sufficient notice and outline what the anticipated drop in maintenance payment will be. It is then down to the ‘payee’ to enforce the maintenance order. Where possible, given we are in extraordinary times, both parties should try to be as reasonable as possible.

We’re already living apart and our children spend time with us equally, how does this work in lockdown? 

You can find our page dedicated to your questions about childcare arrangements here.

I’m a victim of domestic abuse, what are my legal options during a lockdown?

There has been a significant rise in the number of people reporting physical and emotional abuse in their homes during the pandemic.

One of the legal options open to you could be a non-molestation order which could protect you or your children from being threatened, harassed or harmed by your abuser or through third parties.

Another option could be an occupation order. This is where a court order prevents the person committing the abuse or alleged to have committed abuse from entering the family home and it also makes clear who can remain in the family home. This can be applied for alongside a non-molestation order.

There are a number of other options available so please do contact us if we can help. The national 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline is on 0808 2000 247. If your safety or the safety of a child is at risk, you should contact the police. If it is not safe to speak when you make the call, you will be asked by the operator to press 55 to confirm it is a genuine emergency.