Covid-19 takes its toll on divorced and separated couples

Alex Carruthers HFC

Covid-19 takes its toll on divorced and separated couples

The tragic loss of life from Covid-19 dominates the headlines, but the pandemic is also having a deep impact elsewhere. Among those affected are divorced and separated couples: significant market turmoil has changed the financial circumstances of those with sizeable maintenance and capital obligations.

Against this background, newly unemployed divorcees and those who have diminished investment portfolios believe, with good reason, that they should not be bound by pre Covid-19 agreements to provide cash to the other party. Inevitably, some of them are seeking to challenge their divorce settlements.

There are further repercussions for divorcees and separated couples. Measures taken to mitigate the virus are affecting applications for interim maintenance, making them more difficult to implement since spending is significantly depressed.

After nearly two months, the UK lockdown has led to a predictable rise in enquiries from divorced and separated couples regarding custody. When Michael Gove stated on Good Morning Britain that children under 18 should not move between households, it caused such commotion that he was forced to backtrack only hours later. Despite his volte face, we have seen several examples of urgent children applications caused by lockdown, some of which require emergency injunctions.

Lockdown is also affecting trials and increasing the time taken in divorce proceedings. Notwithstanding interim technological solutions, such as telephone and video hearings (where different courts have varying attitudes to the security of applications such as Zoom), lawyers are having problems in gaining access to judges, who are prioritising only the most urgent work.

Despite media reports of an increase in online searches for divorce lawyers, those who are not yet separated do not want to press the divorce button when they cannot move out. Manifestly, enforced confinement puts increased pressure on relationships and more people will probably file for divorce post lockdown. Examples already exist of the extra tension breaking the camel’s back. The question now is: when to push the button?

Read Alex’s article in the Legal Diarist.