Coronavirus and Family Law: child contact, Court hearings etc

Coronavirus and Family Law- Child contact, Court hearings etc

Coronavirus poses a serious risk to the health of our loved ones. But there are additional worries:

  • Can you see your children
  • Will your Court case go ahead
  • Money worries – some action you can take
  • Domestic abuse and domestic violence

Time to consult an experienced family lawyer – we can assist you with remote advice by phone or Skype. In the meantime I will answer some of your most urgent questions in this blog. But first, a reminder of the coronavirus rules.

How to stay safe and reduce the spread of infection

The Government has issued social distancing rules to limit the spread of coronavirus:

  • Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (but only if you cannot work from home)
  • Stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home

You can spread the virus even if you don’t have symptoms. Those at increased risk of severe illness are advised to be particularly stringent. This group includes those who are:

  • aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
  • under 70 with an underlying health condition – a list of these conditions is here.

For those with possible coronavirus in their household

Here are the stay at home rules.

Should you send your children for contact? Can you see your children?

You have a Court order or an agreement setting out the child arrangements. This sets out the contact routine, or that the children live part of the time with you, part of the time with their other parent. The Government says: Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homesThis doesn’t mean children must move between parents’ homes, it just means they can. 

In normal times, no one should break a Court order, and if they do, the other parent can ask the Court to enforce it. The Court may agree there was a ‘reasonable excuse’ for breaching the order. But otherwise the penalties are unpaid work, compensation, fines etc. However if you both act in good faith and do your best to reach a sensible arrangement in the current crisis, the Court is unlikely to object.

But what if someone has coronavirus symptoms

If either household has a member with coronavirus symptoms, then the stay at home rules apply. Try to reach a common sense agreement between you. For example, during the fourteen day quarantine period have contact with the children by FaceTime, Skype, or phone instead.

What if someone is vulnerable

If someone in either household is in a vulnerable category, you need to protect them against infection. This could mean the children can’t move between households safely. Make alternative arrangements, for example contact by FaceTime, Skype, or phone. This is hard, I know, but taking this precaution could literally save someone’s life. This is a particularly tricky area. Consult an experienced family lawyer.

Remote contact with a young child – how to make it work

How about each household having a stock of age appropriate books, games, art materials, crafts. This will help make remote contact a constructive and creative play session for younger children.

Be flexible

One or both of you may now have full time child care responsibilities, and be struggling to work at home. You may be unable to travel on public transport because you fear infection. Try to rethink your arrangement for as long as the crisis lasts. For example, alter the arrangements for transporting the children to and from contact. If you can’t agree this between you, consider mediation (which can be offered remotely) or collaborative law.

What can I do during contact visits

Obey the social distancing rules: stay indoors with the children.

Try to adapt amicably

The top rule in dealing with child contact at the moment is to come to an amicable agreement: try to smooth things over, stay calm, find a middle ground – if only in the interests of the children.

Money worries

If you’re worried about debt, take a look at StepChangeIf you’re worried about your job and wages, take a look at the guidance for employees on gov.uk. If you’re self-employed or a member of a partnership and have lost income, take a look at guidance on gov.uk.

Child support

If the paying parent’s salary evaporates because of the current crisis, they will need to inform the Child Maintenance Service and be reassessed. If you have agreed payments between yourselves, perhaps you could agree a lesser amount, or a payment holiday, on a temporary basis. This is a difficult time for both households, you’re both facing unusual financial challenges. Try to agree something if you can. Otherwise consult an experienced family lawyer and/or consider mediation (by Skype) or collaborative law.

Maintenance

Similarly with maintenance paid by one former spouse to another. If there’s a Court order, you must keep to it, and make an application to the Court for a variation order. If you don’t keep the maintenance payments going, your ex can make an application to the Court for an enforcement order, which can include payment of the arrears. In these financially precarious times, consult an experienced family lawyer and/or consider mediation (by Skype) or collaborative law.

Court hearings about the children or the family finances or domestic violence

The Court wants all family hearings to go ahead and most will go ahead remotely with the use of technology.  The Court has issued guidance, COVID 19: National guidance for the Family Court 19th March 2020 with the aim to “keep business going safely“.  Hearings should be by email, telephone, video or Skype if at all possible. This will be a learning curve for the Courts and will take a week or two to settle down.

The guidance covers how to arrange telephone and video hearings. There is a list of the type of hearings that must now go ahead remotely. The guidance lists who is responsible for making the arrangements for the remote hearing. A Court bundle must be submitted – a PDF by email.

If it’s not clear whether your hearing can go ahead remotely, it will be necessary to have a remote directions hearing. This hearing will make the necessary plans.

Domestic abuse/violence

If you are the victim of domestic abuse or violence, the Courts and the police are there to protect you. Here are some things you can do right now:

  1. If you ever feel in immediate danger, contact 999 immediately
  2. Domestic abuse or violence is a crime and you should report it to the police. Various organisations offer help and support. The gov.uk site has a list with links
  3. Phone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, or visit their website
  4. Consult a family solicitor in strictest confidence. You may need the protection of a Court injunction:
    1. A non molestation injunction prohibits an abuser from using or threatening violence against you, or harassing, pestering or intimidating you. The police can arrest the abuser if they breach the order
    2. An occupation order will say who can live in the family home or enter the surrounding area

Coronavirus and Family Law: Child contact, Court hearings etc

Contact Family Lawyer Joanne Houston on 01962 217640 for an initial consultation on Coronavirus and Family Law: Child contact, Court hearings etc. In this 20 minute session she will review your situation and how you can achieve your objectives.

JUST FAMILY LAW are specialist divorce and family lawyers. We offer Pay as you go costs. We offer Collaborative law solutions tailored to your family’s needs.

The topics covered in this blog post Coronavirus and Family Law: Child contact, Court hearings etc are complex. They are provided for general guidance only. If any of the circumstances mentioned in this blog apply to you, seek expert legal advice.

image for Coronavirus and Family Law: Child contact, Court hearings etc, A woman looking out the window (Unsplash) by Kate Williams on Wikimedia

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How to Fill in a Form E Financial Statement on Divorce – pt 2

How to Fill in a Form E Financial Statement on DivorceLast week’s blog Form E Financial Statement on Divorce – pt 1 set out the documents you need to gather together. This week I’m guiding you through the Form E Financial Statement, explaining the tricky bits and pitfalls. However there’s no substitute for taking advice from a family law expert.

You need to answer the questions thoroughly and honestly. Why? See my blog  Financial disclosure on divorce, 10 things you need to know.

1.13 Child support

If you’re not sure about your position see my blog What are your child maintenance options? Here’s a link to the online child maintenance calculator

2.10 Capital Gains Tax

Here’s a link to an overview of Capital Gains Tax. If you have any doubts about your tax liability you should consult your accountant. Also please see our blog Does Splitting up Affect Tax in the UK.

2.11 Details of all your business interests

Providing information about your business doesn’t mean it’s automatically up for grabs in the divorce. See my blog How to Protect Business on Divorce

2.14 Other assets

“You are reminded of your obligation to disclose all your financial assets and interest of ANY nature.” If you wonder why this warning is necessary take a look at my blog Financial Disclosure on Divorce – 10 Things You Need to Know

3. Financial Requirements Part 1 Income needs

Print off the checklist from the Advice Now website, fill it in and attach it to the form.

3. Financial Requirements Part 2 Capital needs

Often for accommodation. Consider your reasonable housing needs and do some market research. Also note your potential mortgage capacity and show your net capital requirement.

4.2 Brief details of the standard of living enjoyed by you and your spouse/civil partner during the marriage/civil partnership

This is only likely to have consequences in very high value divorces where there’s a significant excess of resources. See my blog A Guide to “Needs” on Divorce – Christina Estrada’s Extraordinary Essentials. In this case the Judge described the couple’s standard of living as “stratospheric”. The starting point for the division of capital is equal shares. But division can be unequal:

  • where needs cannot be met, or
  • in high value divorces where there’s been a “stellar” contribution by one party.

Stellar contribution, otherwise known as special contribution, is considered in my blog Special Contribution on Divorce: How to Get a Bigger Share of the Assets.

If you married an established millionaire there’s a chance you won’t get an equal share of their fortune on divorce. However if you give full details of your lavish lifestyle this might justify a share not simply based on your needs.

4.4 Bad behaviour or conduct

This goes way beyond unreasonable behaviour and adultery.  An argument for a bigger share on this basis is unlikely to succeed unless for example it’s a question of:

  • “wanton” or “reckless” expenditure, or
  • your ex destroying your ability to earn an income by injuring you or burning down your business.

4.5 Other circumstances

It’s important to give careful thought to answering this question. It could justify a greater share of the capital or a maintenance order.

5. Order sought

Take advice from a family law expert to find out what you can hope to achieve in a financial settlement.

Statement of Truth

Wondering why the contempt of court warning is necessary? Take a look at my blog Financial Disclosure on Divorce – 10 Things You Need to Know

How to Fill in a Form E Financial Statement on Divorce – pt 2

Contact Family Lawyer Joanne Houston on 01962 217640 for an initial consultation on How to Fill in a Form E Financial Statement on Divorce. In this 20 minute session she will review your situation and how you can achieve your objectives.

JUST FAMILY LAW are specialist divorce and family lawyers. We offer Pay as you go costs. We offer Collaborative law solutions tailored to your family’s needs.

The topics covered in this blog post How to Fill in a Form E Financial Statement on Divorce are complex. They are provided for general guidance only. If any of the circumstances mentioned in this blog apply to you, seek expert legal advice.

image for How to Fill in a Form E Financial Statement on Divorce, Vic, Iceland, by Unsplash on Wikimedia

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6 Things You Need To Know About “Common Law Marriage”

common law marriage partner1.   There’s no such thing as common law marriage but there are steps you can take to protect yourself. Couples who live together have only a fraction of the protection afforded to those who are married.

2.   Unless your home is in joint names, and there’s a declaration of trust, there’s no automatic right to a share, or a fair share. If the worst comes to the worst it may be possible to come to an agreement by negotiation, mediation or collaborative law (or even by going to court) but it’s a legal minefield.

3.   Update your Wills regularly. If your partner doesn’t leave a Will you may end up with nothing and face a complicated and expensive application to the court with no guarantee of the outcome you expected.

4.   Children of separating cohabitees are treated the same when it comes to arrangements for where they’re going to live and who they’re going to see, and the Child Maintenance Service (the Child Support Agency) can help if the absent parent isn’t paying up. But there are significant differences when it comes to lump sum payments, property orders and extra maintenance, and there are special provisions under Schedule 1 of the Children Act.

5.   Nowadays pensions are of utmost importance. Would you be entitled to your late partner’s pension? It’s not guaranteed so don’t leave anything to chance, find out now.

6.   A cohabitation agreement offers some protection but will need regular updating and won’t be binding in court proceedings, particularly if there’s a change in circumstances such as the arrival of children. It also won’t cover for example your entitlement to your partner’s pension if your partner dies before you.

Phone me on 01962 217640 for a free 20 minute consultation on these important issues.

JUST FAMILY LAW are specialist divorce and family law solicitors offering personalised legal solutions.

Visit our website just-family-law.com

The topics covered in this blog post are complex and are provided for general guidance only. If any of the circumstances mentioned in this blog might have application to you, you should seek expert legal advice.

Pair of Mandarins by Francis C. Franklin on WikiMedia Commons

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