The battle is on: Divorce -v- COVID. Janice Spence, head of Family and Matrimonial, looks to see if it’s possible to progress your divorce during these uncertain times.
I’m facing recurring questions from clients contemplating separation and divorce
The press is full of stories and editorials reflecting on how many more divorces and separations there will be following the period of lockdown. It is difficult to say with any certainty that this will be the case.
Divorce and separation arise out of complex situations. The press would have you believe that people “up and leave” after lengthy periods at home such as at Christmas and on summer holidays. This is a simplistic view and not always correct. Very often, this is the crescendo that a person reaches having contemplated separation for many months and even many years beforehand.
If you are at that point following the lockdown and you feel that you do want to seek advice you may find the following questions and answers helpful:
Will I be able to access legal advice during and after lockdown?
Thankfully the legal profession has been in a position to work from home throughout this period. Many firms, like ours, have invested heavily in IT to ensure that we can reach clients and react to clients’ needs to offer reassurance.
Our solicitors may not yet be in the office full time but they are at the other end of the phone or computer. A phone call can ensure a meeting as soon as possible; by Zoom, by Skype or simply by phone. My preferred method is over some video facility as I do feel that it is important to meet you face to face in the first instance. Please phone me on 02892601421 and press option 2 to come straight through to my desk or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
What can I do if the Courts are not open?
Courts in Northern Ireland are open. All of the administrative offices, whilst only on a skeleton staff, are processing applications and listing urgent cases. At the moment, it is just those urgent cases where liberty or injury is at risk. However, as the summer continues we are hopeful that cases of all types will be dealt with.
We have already dealt with several emergency Non-Molestation Orders, urgent contact disputes, care cases and divorces over the past 3 months. As a Law Society Council Member, I sit on many Committees including the Family Committee and I have assisted throughout the pandemic in moving justice on. I intend to continue to do so.
What if I cannot sell my house or get a mortgage?
As of 15th June 2020, the housing market is back up and running. This does not mean that things will return to normal overnight but rather the market will have a short period of readjustment. In Lisburn and the surrounding areas, it looks like the market is still buoyant with estate agents reporting an increase of new homes on the market and a steady stream of enquiries and requests for viewings.
Typically for anyone who is selling in a matrimonial situation the concern is that the house perhaps has to sell as part of the agreed financial settlement. Whilst we cannot be over-optimistic it does look like the housing market has remained, thus far, largely unaffected by Covid-19. Only time will tell if that remains to the case.
We are all concerned about what will happen at the end of the furlough scheme and whether there will be a financial downturn in the last financial quarter of the year. Caution must be exercised when considering valuations of homes, investments and pensions. At all times independent financial advice should be sought.
Lenders will now be in a process of reviewing their products. If you are contemplating purchasing a new property on your own please urgently get into contact with your preferred bank or building society immediately and ask for your application to be dealt with as soon as possible.
It will greatly assist and speed up the process of transferring the matrimonial home into your sole name if you have frontloaded your case by making formal financial enquiries with regards to your mortgage application.
Can I access Court if we cannot agree or can I issue a Divorce Petition?
Even at this stage, at the start of July, the Courts are only dealing with urgent matters as indicated. In situations whereby you need to initiate proceedings, those proceedings can still be progressed. If you need to make a divorce application or indeed a financial application we can do this for you. We can lodge it with the Court but we will have to wait for the Court to issue it and assign a hearing date in due course.
I believe that by doing so is that you will at least be first in the queue, as opposed to at the very end of that queue should you decide to issue those proceedings later in the year. Staff are working in the Courts but on a skeleton basis. It is however hoped that the Northern Ireland Court Service will be able to utilise all of the Courthouses across the province shortly to ensure more members of staff get back to work to be able to assist with cases and deal with pending proceedings.
These are only a few of the questions I am being asked repeatedly.
I hope this assists.
If you have any other questions or wish to obtain advice confidentially please do not hesitate to contact me on the details below:
Phone – 02892601421 and press option 2
Email – email@example.com