Divorce is a stressful time made increasingly difficult by the uncertainty of the Covid-19.
Since social distancing measures were put in place at the end of March, courts and solicitors have had to adapt quickly to continue providing services to those who wish to divorce.
Illness and isolation have reduced court staffing levels and operating restrictions have caused some courts to temporarily to close. However, some courts remain open as “priority centres” to conduct essential face-to-face hearings and other courts remain open only to enable staff and judges to continue work.
The court service has confirmed that they will “do their best” to deal with divorce and financial cases during the coronavirus crisis. However, divorce cases are not being prioritised and as such some applicants are facing some significant delays.
Divorce petitions in London and the South East are dealt with by Bury St Edmunds divorce unit. Applications can still be made to this court. Applications can also be made online. The divorce unit has this week reported delays of up to 14 weeks to consider applications for divorce petitions and up to 20 weeks to consider financial consent orders. This is a significant increase on the 4 weeks wait times seen at the beginning of March shortly before social-distancing measures were put in place.
In relation to the other important issues surrounding divorce such as arrangements for children or financial matters, the courts are still conducting essential hearings, but these are being done by telephone and video where possible.
In some cases, there is the option to arrange a private hearing. This is where the parties pay for a specialist to act as a private judge. That person may be a solicitor, barrister or retired judge. This enables the parties to continue with their financial applications, should it be advisable for them to do so.
Many mediators are still working remotely to enable parties to discuss and try to come to an agreement outside of court.
Solicitors are still open for business to advise and assist as usual. We are still actively involved in negotiations for child arrangements and financial settlements.
While online divorces are available to the general public, the facility to submit online financial agreements it still in its testing phase with only a select number of firms having access to it. Thackray Williams LLP are one of those included in the pilot scheme. Since the operating restrictions came into effect, we have found that applications submitted for online for consent orders have, on average, been considered within 6 days. This is infinitely quicker than the 20 week wait most London and the South East firms are experiencing for paper based applications.
As well as experiencing swifter response times, the online system allows users to track individual cases. This has been extraordinarily helpful as the standard response being received from Bury St Edmunds divorce unit is “Due to coronavirus we might take longer to answer your email. We are sorry but we cannot provide updates on how your case is progressing”. Applicants have the reassurance of knowing immediately that their paperwork has been received by the court and are not left worrying whether it has been lost or delayed in the post.
If you require any advice or assistance in relation to your family matter, we are here to help so please do not hesitate to contact us.