The prospect of dealing with a marriage breakdown, in ordinary circumstances, can be one of the most difficult life experiences that anyone may have to face. In these extraordinary times, families are experiencing previously unheard of restrictions in terms of their movement, behaviours and interactions, and we anticipate a significant increase in those couples requiring advice on family law issues, as has already reportedly been evidenced elsewhere. With the additional financial pressures associated with the pandemic, how can couples on the brink of separation best manage the current situation?
Any separation is always improved when a degree of civility and mutual respect can be maintained. If there are children involved, endeavor to shield them as much as possible from the adult issues and avoid drawing them in to any disagreements or disputes. It is important for parents in this situation to remember to prioritise what is best for the children, over and above their own needs, and to put their welfare at the heart of any decisions that are going to be made. For those that live separately already, the Government has issued well publicised guidelines as to how best to manage the movement of children between homes throughout this time. If children are unable to move between households, due to ill health, for example, efforts should be made for contact to be maintained remotely by phone calls, Skype or video calls, if appropriate.
With regards to the family finances, it remains to be seen how the current pandemic will affect longer term income positions, as well as the value of investments including valuation of the family home, so it may be prudent to reassess the situation when the public health situation improves. In the short term, think about pragmatic steps which may be taken to alleviate any immediate cash-flow problems, such as discussing things like mortgage holidays with your mortgage provider if income is an issue, but be cautious about what may be left and what you may need after this crisis abates. Take advice, if needs be about the various support schemes the government is proposing, including loans to small businesses, and help for the self-employed and employees who are temporarily furloughed due to the ongoing situation.
For any couple facing separation, attempting to keep conflict to a minimum and avoiding escalating disputes is always best. However, if you are concerned about your own or your children’s personal safety, urgent advice should be taken from a specialist family lawyer who will talk you through your options. Access to the courts for emergency matters continues at this time, with the courts facilitating remote hearings in a variety of ways to ensure that access to justice can continue for those who need it most. If you require advice or assistance in relation to any family law matter, please contact our Partner, Naomi Devlin or another member of our family law team in confidence by ringing our Belfast or North Down offices on 028 9043 4015 or 028 9181 1538 or by emailing: [email protected]
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