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Post-lockdown divorce rates will rocket in the coming months. As the UK looks to slowly ease out of lockdown, many of us may be sadly contemplating separation or divorce. The weeks of being quarantined with your partner can suddenly bring existing problems within your relationship, to a head.
But these are unexpected and unusual times, placing extreme pressure on a lot of relationships. For some, lockdown will have highlighted existing difficulties, but for others there may be a chance of repairing the cracks through counselling or reconciliation.
Post-lockdown divorce rates will rocket once families are easily able to separate. China witnessed an 80% rise in divorce filings as soon as their quarantine lifted!
Being on top of each other – especially when you’re both working from home and managing childcare – is bound to fray relationships. Rather than dive immediately into divorce after lockdown, try to see if you can repair your relationship first.
However, living in such close quarters can also reveal parts of our spouses that we can’t ignore anymore. If there’s sadly no way back and divorce is the only next step, it’s good to understand all your options first from mediation to the collaborative process to court proceedings when necessary. You’ll need to prepare for the financial and emotional impact, too. Early support and advice can remove those worries about the legal process and future uncertainties.
There can inevitably be delays when it comes to divorce proceedings especially during lockdown, although many courts have continued to operate under restrictions. As post-lockdown divorce filings rise, there could be additional delays at first.
On average, the divorce process takes nine months from filing an application. Sometimes, financial issues can take longer to resolve, particularly where financial circumstances are more complex. It’s best to constructively address these issues with your solicitor from the outset to help minimise the amount of time it might take to resolve everything.
Separation is one of the most stressful and upsetting processes you can go through. It can, however, help you avoid the added stress of going to court. Both mediation and the collaborative law process offer an alternative way of resolving disputes, enabling both sides to keep control of the process and reach an agreement rather than having a decision imposed on you by the courts.
Mediation involves both couples attending meetings with an impartial and trained mediator who facilitates to reach an agreement. On the other hand, the collaborative process can help you both come to an agreement using specially trained solicitors. Each spouse has their own solicitor, but all negotiations and discussions take place in a series of ‘fourway’ meetings. Everyone has to agree not to issue court proceedings and focus on reaching a positive outcome. If an agreement can’t be reached and one side wants to issue court proceedings, you and your estranged partner will then have to find new solicitors.
In any divorce proceedings, the wellbeing and security of children is paramount. It can be common for parents to fight over custody of the children. You may argue over where they live and how much time to spend with each parent. In some cases, the child’s safety and welfare can also be a concern.
It’s best to address these points in mediation and to try and reach agreement rather than through court where possible. Always take legal advice and support to ensure you’re making the best decisions and choices for the whole family.
You’ll also find yourself negotiating with your ex-partner on financial matters such as the house and mortgage, pension, investments, and child maintenance. Not only should your solicitor ensure that assets are apportioned fairly but any agreements reached must be finalised in a financial order to give you certainty and protection. Without this order there’s a real risk that financial claims can be reopened in the future.
Make sure to read our article about divorce and pensions to check you’re getting what you’re entitled to.
When court is the last resort, make sure you take legal advice at the earliest possible stage so you can build a relationship with your legal team.
Most people use a legal team when it’s time to go to court, but it is possible to handle the process yourself. If you decide not to have legal representation make sure you’re well prepared and carefully follow all directions that the court gives.
A pre-nup is a written agreement made before entering a marriage or civil partnership and sets out how assets should be divided should your relationship breakdown. Provided that the pre-nup complies with various legal requirements and adequately provides for both parties’ needs, there is a good chance that its terms will be followed by a court.
You need to know, however, that if you go to court, a judge may decide to not follow your pre-nup arrangements – particularly if children are now involved. If you have a pre-nup in place and need to take your divorce to court, it’s best to employ a solicitor’s help.
A specialist family solicitor can support and guide you throughout any legal process in which you may be involved.
Even if you do not feel that you want full representation throughout or you have concerns about the costs, taking initial advice at the outset will be invaluable. It can help you take the important first steps and gain insight into the process, what the possible outcomes might be, and the route you might take to achieve those outcomes.
Many solicitors offer an initial fixed fee appointment or short free-of-charge conversation to start with. This can help you decide what you want to do. Remember, we also have vetted experts on our MoneyMagpie forum who can help with general questions you may have.
It’s really crucial to review and update your Will following your post-lockdown divorce proceedings.
Divorce doesn’t revoke a Will in the same way as marriage. However, any provisions within the Will where a former spouse has been appointed as executor or trustee will be treated as though the ex-spouse died on the date of the Decree Absolute (the date of your official divorce), and the appointment will fail. Similarly, any gifts left to an ex-spouse will pass as if the ex-spouse had died and any appointment of an ex-spouse as guardian for children will be deemed to have been revoked at the date of Decree Absolute.
Hopefully most couples will be able to work through the stresses and strains caused by this unusual lockdown. Where post-lockdown divorce is inevitable, working through the nine steps above should help make your divorce as straightforward as possible.
Suzy Hamshaw, Senior Associate at Gardner Leader, has practised family law for 20 years and is a member of Resolution. She offers guidance and advice on the requirements and key things to consider before filing for a divorce. At this difficult time, Gardner Leader is offering a free 30-minute telephone consultation for anyone needing initial guidance.
If you’re still considering a post-lockdown divorce, these articles may help guide your decision and help you prepare.