Everyone’s aware that even the strongest marriages have faced their challenges during lockdown. If you are set on separating, there’s no need to delay if your mind is made up, although you may have heard that the Courts are struggling to cope with an increased case load. This may be true, but don’t despair.
Whilst there has been a mixed reaction to the way that matters have been dealt with by our justice system my experience has been that ordinary directions or case management appointments in, for example, financial matters on divorce, are dealt with fairly easily on a remote basis. Indeed the Ministry of Justice is keen for most proceedings to be agreed outside of Court as much as possible. This also helps reduce your costs.
Most hearings can be dealt with remotely, on paper, by telephone or video conference. So, “whether you are simply contemplating divorce or have come to the end of the road in your relationship, there are numerous financial and practical aspects to be considered in deciding to untie the knot,” wrote journalist Lucy Warwick-Ching in The Financial Times, earlier this month.
Invariably I begin by advising my clients to look at all the assets they have acquired during the marriage and divide these assets by percentages.
“For example, cash from the sale of the family home can be split as a percentage of the sale proceeds rather than a fixed sum of money to ensure both parties share in the upside or downside of the property market,” writes Warwick-Ching.
Remember your pension
“Pension pots are usually the most valuable asset, apart from the family home, yet only seven in ten divorce settlements take them into account,” Kate Palmer reminded us recently in The Times.
This is why seeking professional advice is essential.
According to The Times women in particular typically pay a huge price for their divorce when they retire. The average 65-year-old divorced woman has a pension plan worth £26,100, compared with £103,500 for a divorced man.
There are many commentators who would say that it is essential to time the right moment to sell a house – usually most couples’ single biggest asset, alongside the pension – but in my experience Financial Orders can consider these factors.
What will be interesting for Family Law practitioners is to see whether the way that financial matters are currently being dealt with will change in the future. I think a lot of practitioners have felt that case management hearings are more efficiently dealt with either on paper or by telephone and would like this to continue. There is likely to be an ongoing costs saving for our clients in most of these types of cases, as we are not briefing barristers to attend Court for half-a-day and sometimes a day only to spend a lot of that time waiting for the Court.
Clients are also realising the advantages of arbitration over the Court process as the Courts become slower and more backlogged in dealing with regular matters. There is a huge backlog of cases going through the system which will take a very long time to process.
Before lockdown the Courts were already straining at the seams, so one can only imagine what the effect might be now.
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The above is accurate as at 20 July 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.