Answering Legal Questions Around Coronavirus

The Coronavirus has impacted on everyone but in different ways.  We are in a period of the greatest unrest that perhaps the World has ever seen and therefore it is going to impact on families in various different ways and particularly on those that have difficulties, have separated, or are divorcing.

Learning to co-exist together at home during this time may prove very difficult for some relationships but during this time, Lloyd Platt & Company are here to offer advice and to troubleshoot on problems that are emerging.

We have set out below some of the questions that are presently being raised by clients and by others at this troubling time:-

  1. How will my contact agreement be dealt with?If I refuse contact, will I be in breach of a Court Order and what would be the penalties?

The very easy answer to this is that if giving contact at this time will put you or the children’s safety in jeopardy and create a risk, then it should not be undertaken.  The overarching issue right now is to protect vulnerable members of the family and if this means that there has to be a small interruption for contact, then so be it.  It is imperative however that, if there cannot be face to face contact for a period of time, and this will vary in each case, then do not feel under pressure from the other party to allow such contact if it conflicts with the Government messages.

In order to deal with the interim period, we would suggest that there should be contact via Facebook, Skype, House Party Zoom and other such entities, as well as email contact.  Do not interrupt the communication and actively encourage the children to speak to the other party until face to face contact can be resumed.

It is unlikely that any Court would impose penalties at this time for your decision not to allow the children to have face to face contact with the other party given the unusual and extraneous circumstances.  However, please note that if this goes on for any length of time and there is a concerted effort by the other party to interrupt contact generally or to alienate the children, then orders will certainly be made in due course.

  1. If I have reached settlement with my partner, will this still stand?

This question is being raised on a daily basis for parties who may have reached interim agreement in, say mediation, but it has not yet been turned into a Court Order, or stamped or sealed by the Court.  The short answer to this is that if it is not to be considered a binding agreement in the form of a Consent Order, then the agreement will not stand.  This means that the entire asset schedule will have to be redrafted in the light of present values.  Many practitioners are advising their clients to hold fire and not stumble into a further agreement since these may be unworkable.  If that is to the case, then parties will have to wait and see the way in which the markets are going, since no-one can at this time predict the financial movements with certainty.  Many are asking how long we should wait, but again this is something that no practitioner or accountant can safely answer because we do not know whether the markets will crash further or will recover after a three to six months period, if all goes back to normal.

  1. I have a Court Order to pay my wife a certain amount of maintenance per month. I am not in a position to do so as I have now lost my employment.  What can I do?

In the event that you have lost your employment, then you will not be able to meet the terms of the Court Order.  In the first instance you should either write directly to your ex partner and explain the position with evidence of your loss of employment, or allow your solicitor to write the letter for you.  It is unlikely in these circumstances and any solicitor would advise their client to issue an application for enforcement of any arrears since their application would be bound to fail.  However, if you immediately obtain other employment then you will have to comply with the Court Order.  So if you do not inform your partner that you have now obtained other employment and could meet the Court Order, they can be successful in such an application.  Communication is the key here, although it may well be that, if your wages have simply been cut by your employer, you can work out a formula of what payments you can afford to make so that your children do not suffer.

  1. I have recently instigated divorce proceedings and do not wish to be ‘holed up’ with my husband during this time. Will I be successful in an application to have him removed from the home?

The Courts in normal circumstances are most reluctant to make orders to have the other party removed from the matrimonial home on a permanent basis.  They will only do so if there is very strong evidence of physical or emotional harm, either to you or to the children of the family.  The evidence that you would need to produce are either police reports or medical evidence demonstrating this.  However, in these uncertain times with restrictions on movement and the necessity of isolation, it is highly unlikely that the Court would order one party permanently out of the home, particularly if there is nowhere for them to go, or they are in danger of losing their job.

Given that, extreme cases will certainly be dealt with on the basis that they are emergency situations, simply because you have formed the view that you want your marriage to end is not a reason for your husband to be ordered out of the home.  These are particularly difficult and strange times but most Courts would take the view that you are going to have to co-exist within the same home and it would be sensible to work out a regime so that you come into contact with each other at the least time.  Try and arrange a rota of who is going to use the bathrooms or kitchen so that you can try to avoid contact as much as possible.  Please note that simply because your partner has contracted the Coronavirus is not a reason to apply to Court to have them ousted.  Given the current Government policies you will be told to keep together in isolation for the requisite periods.

  1. I am desperate to get on with my divorce. Will there be any delays caused by the Coronavirus?

The answer to this is that there will almost certainly be delays to every scenario at this current time.  Give that the Courts will not be working other than remotely on a civil basis, then all non-urgent matters will be adjourned for a period of time.  In some cases for two to three months, in other cases awaiting a final hearing, for a longer period of time.  The Courts are not currently set up for volume remote working and in these circumstances those that would normally process, for example Decree Nisi or Decree Absolute, simply will not be able to do so.  Accordingly, there will be a delay to certain parts of the procedures and our advice is to be patient and understand that everything is currently affected.  Do not keep telephoning to your solicitors asking them to contact the Court regarding decisions by Judges, or applications that are not regarded by the Court as of the utmost urgency.  Everyone will have to work together at this time.

  1. My husband has stopped paying maintenance, saying that he can’t afford to make payments to me, but I know that he is still working and is not affected by this. What can I do?

In the normal course of events we would suggest that you write to your husband, either directly or through your solicitors, indicating that you are well aware that they are not in fact affected by the current Coronavirus.  You should ask that they think of the children and resume payment immediately, failing which your lawyers will make an application for interim provision and will ask the Courts to treat this as one of urgency if you are going to be without support.  It would be foolish for your husband to continue on this trajectory if indeed he is able to meet the payments.

Given that there is a backlog in the Court, albeit on urgent matters being dealt with remotely, we would suggest further that perhaps an intermediary’s advice should be sought to speak with your husband to encourage him to restart the payments.  At this time, perhaps the intervention of some religious connection might be very important.

  1. My husband has been absent from the home for the last six months, but in this last week keeps coming into the home and taking my toilet rolls and essential items, which are leaving me and the children short. What can I do about it?

Aside from the fact that this is an entirely selfish act on the part of your husband, particularly in depriving the children of essential items, you should immediately write to say that, as he has been out of the home for six months and in view of his current actions, that you will be putting an additional lock on the front door so that he cannot come back into the home to behave in this way further.  If you have a solicitor then we would suggest that you employ the services of your solicitor to write the requisite letter to make sure that he does not come back into the home, except with invitation from you.  It should be further noted that by entering into your home at this time, he could be putting you and the children at risk.

These are the foremost questions that we are being asked at the present time but if there are those of you that have difficulties and need proper legal advice in relation to your matrimonial or family issues, please do not hesitate to contact us here.  The most important message we can give at this time is for all of you to keep safe and to try to work together during this difficult time, even if you are going through matrimonial proceedings, but do take sensible advice and do not be encouraged any further to get into a warring position whilst we are undergoing such disruption.

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