Coronavirus Q&A: Family Law

May 13, 2020 | Christopher Dolton

coronavirus family lawQ. How is the outbreak affecting domestic abuse victims and their ability to access the help they need?

A. The Covid-19 lockdown has had a devastating effect on domestic abuse victims and their ability to seek help.

Refuge has reported a 25% increase in calls to the national domestic abuse helpline. A high number of deaths have also been reported and it is likely this will increase as isolation measures continue.

The government’s ‘You Are Not Alone’ campaign – to raise public awareness of domestic abuse and signpost resources – and investment in domestic abuse helplines is welcome but there is still much more to be done.

It is encouraging to see government guidance for emergency injunctions – which stop abusers harming or threatening victims – now acknowledges that victims may not be able to get time and space away from their abuser to fill in an application, provide a witness statements and attend a telephone hearing.

However, strict legal aid criteria leave many victims navigating the process unrepresented. Making non-means tested legal aid available for domestic abuse cases would allow all victims access to legal support.

The government should further relax the usual ’gateway’ evidence requirements during the pandemic so that solicitors – as well as doctors and other professionals – can certify an individual has experienced domestic abuse, allowing them access to legal aid. Doctors and other frontline professionals are simply too busy to provide evidence at this time.

The Covid-19 lockdown is an incredibly dangerous time for domestic abuse victims and now more than ever, they must be able to access the help and support they need.

Every effort must be made to put the necessary funding into refuges and accommodation – giving victims and their children a space they can feel safe in during this pandemic.

The national domestic abuse helpline number is 0808 2000 247.

Q. If I have a shared custody agreement, can I still take my child to see their other parent?

A. Yes, the government has announced that children under 18 who have separated parents are free to go between households.

However, this becomes more complicated if the child has to go into isolation because they or someone in their home are displaying Covid-19 symptoms, or if one parent is in an ‘at risk’ category.

Family Courts still encourage parents with contact orders to stick to those orders as far as they can, including by finding creative alternatives. For example, using FaceTime or other forms of remote contact if face-to-face interactions are not possible.

In all circumstances, parents should consider the welfare interests of their child and work together to find the best solution in line with the government’s isolation guidelines.

Q. How will the Covid-19 pandemic affect those going through the divorce process?

A. Divorces can still be issued online in the usual way. They can – in principle – proceed online all the way to decree absolute and if the couple has no children or money issues (not forgetting property and pensions) this may suit them very well; divorce itself is an administrative process, after all.

If the separating couple needs to ask the court to consider any aspect of their divorce, they could encounter delay. Courts are currently having to prioritise their work and some categories are deemed ‘essential’ while others are not. If the court can deal with a case it is likely to do so remotely – as long as this will not prejudice a fair hearing.

Divorce and separation are stressful processes and being forced by public health restrictions to live together with your soon-to-be ‘ex’ may not be easy. If separating couples need advice on any aspect of their relationship breakdown, they should contact a solicitor.

coronavirus family lawHow Elite Law Solicitors can help

Christopher Dolton is a solicitor in our Family Law and Divorce team and can provide specialist legal advice in relation to all aspects of Family Law.

If you have any queries relating to any of the issues mentioned in this article, please get in touch with Christopher by calling 0800 086 2929, emailing info@elitelawsolicitors.co.uk or completing our Free Online Enquiry Form.

The content of this article is for general information only. The information in this article is not legal or professional advice.

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