An update from our Family Law Team
The current situation we are in as a nation is unprecedented and the family problems it will cause are still unfolding, and solutions being considered. There is not, as in more normal times, always clear legal or practical precedent as to how to address these issues, and not every problem will be something that can be easily fixed.
However the Family Department at Butcher and Barlow is well resourced, and we have a great deal of experience and both legal and practical knowledge to help all our clients get through the coming weeks and months in the best way possible.
The additional stress people now face will make it more important than ever not to become embroiled in direct conflict with former partners or other family members, but to discuss your options carefully with your representative. We will do all we can to support you and to ensure that you and your family are able to get the legal and practical help that you require.
We have provided some information and guidance below that we consider will be helpful. However, Butcher & Barlow is still able to provide the high quality legal service that you have come to expect from us and therefore please do not hesitate to get in touch with your legal representative, ideally initially via email, to discuss your concerns.
How your case will be affected
The changes to day to day life that the current outbreak will cause are still unfolding, and advice from government is being updated daily. In the coming weeks, we will be reviewing all our cases, and discussing any specific issues with each client.
There are some broad points that we can make in different types of family cases.
We appreciate that this is worrying time especially if there are difficulties around arrangements for children, and the current restrictions are likely to raise more questions than normal about how best to deal with disputes.
The government has now issued guidance that children under 18 should continue to move between parents as normal and that transporting children for this reason is an acceptable exception to the “stay at home” rule. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others
Advice about self-isolation is also going to potentially cause disputes, and clearly if someone in a household has symptoms, a 14 day self-isolation is advised.
The courts do consider there to be a general duty on any separated parent to try to support their child’s relationship with both sides of their family where it can be done safely, and to be creative and thoughtful in avoiding deadlocks or impasses over practical plans if possible.
Parents with care o
f children are likely to be expected to go to extra lengths to ensure that children use technology like Skype or FaceTime to keep in touch with other family members especially if they are self-isolating.
It could be very stressful for all involved to have to discuss these issues, but it will not help children, nor any case you might need to bring to court if there is no alternative, if discussions become heated or unpleasant. The best advice is to avoid such arguments and speak to your solicitor about setting out the position through them.
The courts are likely to emphasise this more and more in the coming weeks, because services that help parents get around problems are going to be stretched or cease altogether. Contact centres are closing or offering restricted or telephone only support. Mediators are unlikely to offer face to face services.
Counselling and other services will also be affected, and CAFCASS (the Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service) who provide advice in children’s cases are already saying the will not offer face to face meetings with children or adults, and that their service is being affected generally.
If parents cannot agree a plan of action, even to temporarily get through the coming weeks by agreement, and the courts have to make decisions, they will not have access to all the help and information they will normally have. They may have to make quick and summary decisions to move things on.
It would be easy to say that at “times like these” parents should set aside differences, and courts will be quick to do so. Where practical solutions exist without rely on the court or other services they will be more important than ever.
It is important that children and their parents are safe and concerns around safety will still need to be respected however.
These decisions can be hard to manage, and we will do all we can to advise our clients fully about their options in each case.
The current situation is going to be difficult to assess if you are involved in discussions or a court case around resolving finances on separation.
It seems likely t
hat house sales will be affected and prices fluctuate in the short term. Assets relying on stocks and shares will be affected, particularly pensions. Incomes may be uncertain.
It has always been the case in finances cases that the court has had to have some thought about the future earning capacities of the parties and their practical needs, especially in divorce, and that may be hard to do in the short term future, as much as everyone will be hoping that as soon as possible, the economy will be able to function normally.
There may be discussions to be had about delaying resolving financial cases until the position is clearer, although it is not clear when that might be. We will discuss your case in detail with you over the coming weeks so that you can make informed choices about the best options.
You may have a court hearing coming up, in which case we will keep you advised as to what steps will now have to be taken. The decision as to whether a hearing will take place, and if so whether it will be face to face at court, or via telephone or video conference, is one for the court, but the court are under strain and decisions might be taken at the last minute.
It unfortunately likely that some hearings will be delayed and that most will now have to take place remotely using applications like Skype, or Zoom. We are monitoring the situation and working with courts and other legal professionals to make sure our cases are disrupted as little as possible.
If you are asked to participate in a hearing without attending at court, we will give you information about any software that will be used and work with you to ensure you are familiar with it and can use it easily.
We will also provide some contact details and a telephone number to call in case there are technical problems.
Normally at court, advocates and others come in and out of various discussions, privately with their clients and with each other, before attending in the court room for the hearing itself. We will have to be flexible to be able to make this work, and there may be technical difficulties, but we will plan for each hearing with you and have several options available.
One particular point to make about family court cases is that they are private, to protect children and others who may be involved. At court there are many signs warning people attending hearings about this, and that it is a criminal offence to try to record a court hearing without permission. Anyone trying to record a hearing in a court room would be fairly obvious.
With remote hearings using technology, this may be less obvious, but the rules still exist. Making online posts, sharing documents, or recording hearings or discussions about family cases, without leave of the court, is criminal offense and you are highly likely to be prosecuted. Please do discuss these issues with your solicitor or representative if you are in any doubt as to what is permitted.
Butcher & Barlow remain available for advice and guidance on any existing or new matter and please do not hesitate to get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or directly with your legal adviser.
To view Butcher & Barlow’s own working practices, please visit www.butcher-barlow.co.uk/news