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Can I divorce during the coronavirus COVID-19 lockdown?

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Can I divorce during the coronavirus COVID-19 lockdown?

A common question being asked of family lawyers during the current crisis is whether it is still possible to obtain a divorce whilst the UK remains on lockdown. The simple answer to this question is yes. However, depending on what stage the divorce proceedings have reached, you may experience some delay.

If you have not yet started divorce proceedings, then before you make any final decision, you should speak to a specialist family lawyer. First you should discuss the process and then obtain advice on all matters arising from the breakdown of your marriage, including in relation to children and financial matters.

However, if you have obtained legal advice and have either agreed with your spouse to divorce, or divorce proceedings are already underway, then it is still possible for the divorce to be concluded during the coronavirus lockdown.

The quickest way to start divorce proceedings is to submit the divorce application online. Most specialist divorce and separation lawyers, including all of those here at Birkett Long, have access to the online divorce portal. 

The portal allows us to submit an application on behalf of the party wishing to apply for a divorce (otherwise known as the Petitioner). Alternatively, if it is likely that the other party (known as the Respondent) may have trouble in responding to the divorce online, it is still possible to make a paper-based application. 

However, this is not ideal as several courts are closed at the moment or running at reduced capacity. There are fewer judges and staff available to deal with divorce and family law cases. Paper-based divorce applications are now taking much longer to be processed. We would recommend that, where possible, your divorce should be started online instead.

Provided the application for divorce (otherwise known as the Petition) is agreed by the other party, then the next step in the divorce process is to apply for the Decree Nisi. The other party agrees by completing the Acknowledgement of Service form on an undefended basis and in a timely fashion.

It is this stage of the process where divorce lawyers are experiencing most problems during the lockdown. This is because pronouncement of the Decree Nisi must be dealt with in open court. 

Pronouncement of the Decree Nisi

As a result of the lockdown, several courts have been temporarily closed or they are staffed but not open to the general public. Many judges are working from home which means that they are not sitting in open court to deal with these matters. This means that it is not always possible for the court to deal with the pronouncement of the Decree Nisi as the number of judges sitting in open court is limited. 

As a result, we are finding that Decree Nisi applications are not being dealt with promptly, or that they are being adjourned to be dealt with at a later date once the court reopens. This causes uncertainty and can be particularly problematic in relation to concluding the financial matters arising from the divorce. The court cannot make a final financial order unless the Decree Nisi has been granted.

If the Decree Nisi has already been granted and you wish to obtain the final order in your divorce proceedings (otherwise known as the Decree Absolute), then it is still possible to do so in the current circumstances. This is because the granting of Decree Absolutes falls under the category of work that must be done by the Family Court during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Granting of the Decree Absolute

Regardless of whether the divorce proceedings are being dealt with online or by paper, the court is still dealing with these applications fairly smoothly. However, there may be a delay in terms of the court notifying the parties and sending out the Decree Absolute certificates due to reduced staffing levels. 

Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may not wish to apply for the Decree Absolute on the earliest possible date, even though these applications are being dealt with by the court at the moment. You should speak to a solicitor about the pros and cons of applying for the Decree Absolute before taking this step to conclude the divorce. There may be a number of reasons why this should be postponed, especially if you have not yet resolved the related financial issues.

The Divorce and Family Law team at Birkett Long continues to be available to assist and advise those facing family law issues, separation or divorce, during the lockdown.

Whilst our offices are temporarily closed, our lawyers are all working remotely from home. We are available to communicate with clients, courts, other family lawyers and professionals by email, phone or by way of virtual meetings.  

If you have a question, I would much rather you ask it and we spend some time having a free chat, than not. I can be contacted on 01206 217378 or shelley.cumbers@birkettlong.co.uk.

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