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Children’s arrangements

As the UK went into lockdown, our schools and workplaces closed and some of us faced the challenge of working from home. Parents had to quickly figure out how to balance this with looking after their children. We could no longer rely on childminders, nurseries, nannies or extended family.

Parents, and that includes separated parents, had to try to work as a team. For separated families, it was not the time to count how many nights the children had spent with the other parent or to argue that the school closures should be treated as school holidays.

We encouraged our clients to open a dialogue and to be receptive to new arrangements. Where one parent had to self-isolate due to heightened risks in their workplace, their own health concerns due to caring for elderly grandparents, we suggested that in the meantime, they have more non-direct contact by increased phone and video phone calls.

The situation has been stressful for all, including children. They should not be involved in issues relating to their day to day care; this is for adults to resolve.

An agreement cannot always be reached directly. The court should be a last resort. Parents need to be aware that the court will have the children’s best interests in mind and are more likely to be sympathetic towards parents who have put their children’s health and well-being first and attempted to compromise.

Financial settlements

We simply do not know what the full impact of the coronavirus outbreak will be. The value of assets, including family homes and pensions, may come crashing down. The value of businesses, to include small family businesses, may fall but in other circumstances, could be going from strength to strength. Depending on the circumstances, we may advise clients to delay reaching a settlement or alternatively, look to finalise an agreement, as quickly as possible.

Once an agreement has been reached, it can be extremely difficult for negotiations to be re-opened. What if an agreement was reached just before the lockdown? Let us say that a husband decided to keep the family business valued at £1m and his wife was going to keep the house and investments, with a value totalling £1m. The plan may have been for the husband to take dividends to put down a deposit on a new home and use income from the business to pay the mortgage. Due to the lockdown, the business may now be worthless.

So much depends on timings, and it is crucial that expert legal advice is taken.

Whilst we would hope that an agreement in relation to the children’s arrangements and financial issues can be negotiated, this is not always possible. In such cases, before court, mediation needs to be considered.

Many mediators have continued to offer services during the lockdown. In mediation, separated couples/parents meet with a trained mediator specialising in family law to talk through areas of disagreement. The mediator helps facilitate and manage difficult discussions in an attempt to find a resolution that is acceptable.

Collaborative law is another option which should be considered to try to resolve disputes.

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