The past few months have been challenging for us all, and for so many reasons. Families – young and old – have been thrown together to cope with life in lockdown, juggling home-schooling, jobs, running businesses and running households. Lives have been put on hold, but as we ease somewhat tentatively out of lockdown, we reflect on the challenges faced.
Partners who had already agreed to part ways, but found themselves co-habiting during lockdown and forced by the circumstances to maintain a domestic arrangement for longer than they had foreseen have faced huge challenges during the pandemic, as did those who had reached the conclusion that a relationship was over but had yet to communicate or broach it with a partner.
At Bishop & Sewell, we have traditionally found that enquiries and discussions around divorce and separation tend to peak in January and September, following long periods of ‘family time’ over summer or Christmas. However, in recent weeks, our team has been dealing with a high number of enquiries from those seeking to understand the legal options and implications of a decision to formally separate.
When lockdown was implemented, there was a lack of specific guidance regarding child contact arrangements for children of separated families. Could they travel between homes, for how long and under what restrictions? Though the government sought to clarify to an extent, there remained residual space for some parents to exploit the situation, citing health grounds in order to justify stopping contact. We were pleased to help our clients and their families determine what was reasonable in their approach to these arrangements and ensure that the wellbeing of the children remained the foremost concern.
COVID19 has also led to families managing the needs and demands of elderly or sick and shielding relatives, and, sadly, those coping with bereavement and loss. Our private client colleagues have been supporting families and individuals with issues surrounding the (often lengthy) probate process, power of attorney and the execution of wills.
As we headed into lockdown, many organisations moved quickly to home-working. For many, working from home was something of a dream. No commute, no spending money on pricey coffees, fewer late nights, less of the office politics! During the past 12 weeks, however, working from home has become the reality and it has quickly become apparent that the grass is not always greener. Though some will have enjoyed spending more time with their families, in some circumstances, including those described above, households will have found this extremely difficult.
Recent reports suggest that many people are working longer hours, picking up additional tasks and responsibilities from their furloughed colleagues, which places huge stresses on families, especially single parents, or wherein both parents are working full time.
Divorced and separated households facing redundancy or furlough shoulder additional financial pressures and we have been asked many times as to whether this change in circumstances could or should affect maintenance obligations. We’ve also seen a notable increase in clients seeking advice with respect to challenging a previously negotiated agreement on the division of assets, assets which may now be more favourable to one party than the other following a downturn in, for example, property values and/or the stock market.
Business owners have certainly felt the pressure of the here-and-now but have also had to have one eye on the future and a potential recession. Throughout recent months, our corporate team has worked hard to ensure clients are provided with consistent, timely and expert advice on redundancies and furlough – a term scarcely used pre-COVID. Reports claim that the pandemic has led to a 50% rise in insolvency appointments, which is certainly (and unfortunately) borne out by the cases we are dealing with.
As the COVID19 alert level is lowered and life takes on some semblance of normal, we can, perhaps, take some strength from all that we’ve endured – the losses, the challenges, the stresses. As we move to the next stage of the pandemic, it is evident that there will be long-term consequences for our family lives, our work, our homes and property, and our businesses.
Whatever these challenges are, whatever 2020 and beyond brings, Bishop & Sewell is here. For our clients, for the families we support, for whatever the next chapter holds – we are here.
For initial advice or to arrange a meeting with one of our expert team, please email email@example.com or contact 020 7631 4141 and ask to speak to our Family team.
The above is accurate as at 25 June 2020. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case by case basis.