Family Law During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Our Family Law Team

Our Family Law Team remains fully operational during the lockdown period. The only difference that clients will notice is that we are no longer arranging face to face consultations. Instead, we are offering consultations via the Zoom digital platform. The technology is very ease to use and we can guide you through process.

We are also able to offer Family Mediation – both MIAMs and joint sessions, by Zoom.

We are experiencing some delays in case progression as some courts are closed and others are operating with reduced staff numbers. Stages of a case that demand the delivery of signed hard copy documents are also proving a little tricky to organise, but most problems can be overcome.

Court hearings

Although the situation with regard to court hearings was chaotic during the first few days of the lockdown, things have settled down now and the President of the Family Division has issued guidance to judges, court staff and practitioners in the Family Court, which has been updated on a regular basis.

The court will do its best to ensure that a case is progressed in some way, if at all possible. The vast majority of hearings are taking place remotely either via telephone or video conferencing. Each court has a slightly different preferred way of dealing with this and it is unlikely that the exact arrangements will be confirmed until the day before.

A small number of courts have been closed completely. If you have a hearing in one of those courts, you should check the court’s website on a regular basis. The most common website message seems to be “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”.

Some cases have been adjourned administratively, without a hearing.

Arrangements for Children

By far the most common enquiry we have received has been from separated parents who have been unsure as to what should happen with regard to the arrangements for their children.

The Government advice is clear “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”. Therefore, parents should continue to abide by any agreed arrangements or arrangements under a court order unless there is a risk to the welfare or health and safety of a child or another member of either household. Common sense needs to be applied.

The full guidance from the President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice can be viewed here

https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/coronavirus-crisis-guidance-on-compliance-with-family-court-child-arrangement-orders/?utm_medium=email&utm_source&fbclid=IwAR3XBGDhcsqT_rxojvrgKbX7II7z8y1raA8Q2YZvaQj6t_VB9jw7sSl_LIc

The Children and Family Court Advisory Service has also issued some helpful advice, which can be viewed here

https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/grown-ups/parents-and-carers/covid-19-guidance-for-children-and-families/?fbclid=IwAR3hIneeBFvhrM9Jii0OmeXChpmYtAuyba79iIvapNegsK3xppmJQ6w6-SI

If an urgent application needs to be issued in respect of a child, the new online digital system should be used, if possible. However only the parents of a child (or solicitors representing them) are able to use this system. It is a relatively new system and I used it for the first time in the last couple of weeks. I was pleased to see that it now appears to be possible to combine an application in respect of children with an application for a Non-Molestation Order by ticking the right boxes.

Domestic abuse

The National Domestic Abuse Helpline has seen a 25% increase in calls since the lockdown and the Counting Dead Women project has identified 16 domestic abuse killings in the UK during the period, which is more than double the number for the same period in previous years.

It is likely that the restrictions on movement have heightened domestic tensions and limited escape routes.

The government guidance is clear that domestic abuse victims are permitted to leave home to seek help. The government has launched a new campaign “At Home Shouldn’t Mean At Risk” which is being publicised via social media.

Anyone in immediate danger should call the police on 999 and press 55 on a mobile if they are unable to talk. The National Domestic Abuse Helpline number is 0808 2000 247.

For advice and help with all Family Law matters, please contact our Head of Family Law, Joanna Toloczko on 020 3861 5155 or at jtoloczko@meaby.co.uk