The Covid-19 pandemic has forced couples and families into close quarters, disrupting routines and, in the case of some separated spouses, access arrangements. While some couples and families will thrive and be strengthened in this time of adversity, other family units might struggle. For couples in the process of separating, being thrown into close quarters 24 hours a day if both parties are working from home can be very stressful.
The following is some useful advice should you find yourself unsure what to do with child access arrangements or if you are in the process of or have decided now to separate from your spouse:
Child Access Arrangements:
For couples that are living apart but have children, the government has produced a Guideline on Access Arrangements During Covid-19. The link is here.
In summary, the Guidelines state that if you have children and are living apart the Government guidance is that existing child arrangements should continue, unless one of you is self-isolating. It is important at this time to be pragmatic and communicate. It is in your child’s best interests to continue seeing both of their parents regularly, unless there are genuine safety reasons not to. Please note that these guidelines are not specific legal advice but best practice guidance.
When court proceedings have already commenced:
For couples that are in the process of separation or divorce, the current crisis has probably called a halt to the proceedings with most cases being adjourned. Facing a lengthy backlog in court proceedings, some couples may turn to alternatives to try and move things along by mediation or negotiating settlement terms through their solicitors. The deadlock may even persuade parties to agree to a deal they can both live with and save themselves a huge amount of angst, time and money.
Commencing new proceedings:
If living in close quarters has caused couples to decide to separate, even though the courts are now closed for all but urgent cases, preparations can be made in advance of meeting your solicitor or mediator. You can attempt to resolve financial and child matters outside of court and have all of your paperwork ready for when normal business resumes. You can seek the advice of a counsellor over the phone to help become ‘emotionally ready’ to take the steps towards separation. You could make contact with your accountant to get your financial disclosure organised. When life gets back to normal, if you begin preparations now, you will be in the best position to commence separation or divorce proceedings without delay.
It is important for couples to recognise that separation and divorce is a shared problem. Either the couple agrees the division of finances and arrangements for the children or a judge will impose those solutions on them if the case goes to court. Consideration should be given to attending mediation or negotiating consent orders through your solicitor.
Mediation may not be the right solution for everyone and you can discuss the issues with your solicitor before commencing the process.
There are a number of benefits to the mediation process, some of which are set out below:
You can set the agenda with the mediator on terms most suited to your family situation which may not be available in the court process, the sessions can be organised at a time and place suitable for you and you can manage the pace of the sessions, you don’t have to wait months for the next court date and equally you can control the time you need to collate financial information and reflect on issues. This flexibility is particularly relevant during the current pandemic as access to the courts will be limited for the near future.
Mediation is designed to promote communication and an ongoing co-parenting relationship. If terms of separation are decided by the parties together with the help of the mediator, it is more likely they will stick to them rather than having court imposed terms of settlement. This is important as parents are going to have an ongoing relationship as their children grow up.
Mediation is a private and confidential process which means parties can be completely open and honest about the issues they want to consider.
- Costs and Speed
If successful, mediation can be cheaper and quicker than court proceedings. By setting the agenda and choosing the number of sessions you have, parties have much more control over the process than court proceedings. The mediator will also manage the process and ensure that mediation does not continue if it is unproductive or making matters worse.
While we may not be available for face to face meetings at the moment, our team is on hand to answer any queries on the phone or by email.
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