We have all shared our first week of living under the government’s rules on staying at home and away from others. A glorious start to Spring, with beautiful clear blue skies, but with it comes an uncertain and unprecedented new and challenging way of life for those living in the UK and elsewhere during the COVID-19 crisis.
The breakdown of marriages and relationships can be difficult at the best of times, but we are now in completely uncharted territory.
Many of those involved in a family breakdown will be having to address issues of co-parenting, separating homes and moving forward with the divorce process during this very difficult time of uncertainty.
For those of you who were finalising a financial agreement or were in the process of productive discussions regarding how to divide your assets prior to the lock-down and its resulting financial uncertainties, time will undoubtedly bring more unwelcome uncertainty for you.
Discussions can continue or begin. For some, this will be important for a sense of moving forward, of being able to make decisions and to communicate or attempt to communicate with the other parent. Decisions, even in these difficult times, can be made for both now and in the future - both decisions about your children and decisions about property and finance at the end of a relationship or marriage.
Guidance was given on 24 March 2020 by The Rt. Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice for families with Child Arrangement Orders.
Face-to-face discussions may be off-limits for now, but with modern technology this is no longer a problem. Continuing to communicate, for some, may be important in working towards a resolution.
Family mediators and legal advisers continue to offer meetings by way of online platforms and video, and this can enable separated families to continue to make decisions about their family’s future.
Whether there is a court order in place or contact is agreed informally, if it is possible for the arrangements to continue safely, then they should. Parents should communicate clearly with each other that they believe this is possible. Communication with the other parent is important and relationships can and should be maintained. Importantly, all parents should comply with the guidance and keep their children, themselves and the public safe.
Tips to managing this stressful time
If you are able to discuss matters with the other parent, then you should try and make alternative arrangements, such as contact over video calling and regular telephone conversations. This is age dependant as young children may not enjoy speaking on the phone, however, older children will have more to say.
Children love receiving post from a parent, and a letter or a card can be so welcome. Ensure that the message is neutral and written to the child reminding them how much you love and miss them.
Children are just as confused by what is happening as adults, and it is important to allow them to spend time with the person they do not live with.
Finally . . .
Family mediators can’t legally advise either of you, but we can give you both broad information about what the law says.
The real focus of our involvement is to facilitate the conversation between the two of you so that you are able to reach agreements that make the best of the situation.
We will always recommend that you take legal advice on the solution that we / you have worked out . . .whether you do so or not will remain your choice.
Mediation can get into the heart of the issue quickly, it enables you to find your own better solutions and it is, of course, a lot cheaper.
As your mediator, we can’t impose an outcome but we can help you to be mindful of what your alternatives are likely to be. It is then often easier for parties to view the full range of options and reach best-possible conclusions for an issue that may currently seem impossible to solve.
Legal Aid is available, subject to financial eligibility, and if you are on a low income, universal credit or in receipt of benefits, we are able to assess you.
Stay safe and this will pass.