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Separation and relationship breakdown during a pandemic

View profile for Karen Johnson
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Separation and relationship breakdown during a pandemic

Separation is difficult at the best of times. It gives rise to many issues and questions which need to be addressed and resolved. Not knowing where you stand, adds to the stress and strain and can make things feel so much worse. 

Imagine yourself standing in a strange and uncertain world, unaware of where you can go or how you can get there, surrounded by conflicting and confusing information and with the only certain knowledge that staying where you are or going back is not an option. Now add a pandemic to the mix and it is easy to feel completely overwhelmed.

What should you consider when thinking about separation?

1)   Can the relationship be saved?

As family lawyers, we appreciate that by the time people come to speak to us, they or their partner have often already made the decision. However, we are under an obligation to consider with you whether reconciliation might be possible.

The pandemic has caused so many problems including money worries, stresses about job security, loneliness and isolation. It can be very easy to take those stresses out on those around us and communication can become more difficult. If you are unhappy in your relationship but think that the problems have become worse or arisen during the pandemic, then it may be a really good idea to consider some counselling. Many counsellors are offering their services online because of the pandemic

2)   Occupation of the family home

If you are married, then regardless as to whether the house is in joint or sole names, you are both likely to have a right to occupy the property. This means that you will both be able to continue to live in the property unless one of you agrees to leave or a court order is made requiring one of you to leave.

If you are going to continue to live under the same roof pending the divorce and resolution of the financial issues then you should seek to address the practical living arrangements, particularly with regards to sleeping, eating, cooking and cleaning.

If you are married but the house is in your partner’s sole name, then it is a good idea to register a matrimonial home right notice with the land registry as soon as possible.

3)   Communication

Stay civil with each other and do not get drawn into arguments with name-calling, or worse. We know that this is often easier said than done, but arguments are rarely constructive. They will often inflame the situation and can negatively impact not only your own mental health but also any children living with you. 

Animosity is also likely to increase the risk of applications being made to the court for orders. This can include injunctive orders and orders requiring one of you to leave the home, allegations being made to the police and involvement from Social Services. 

Conversely, constructive communication can significantly reduce the issues in dispute, keep legal costs to a minimum and result in an outcome that you are both happier with.

4)   Children

The general presumption is that it is in a child’s best interests to have an ongoing relationship with both parents so long as it is safe. Both parents are considered equally important and, in most cases, will have equal rights and responsibilities.

5)   Interim finances

The starting point when looking at finances on relationship breakdown is to preserve the status quo whilst the financial issues are being resolved.

In terms of income, this would usually mean that you both continue to contribute to the outgoings as you have been unless there has been a change of circumstances which means that is no longer feasible (for example, lost employment or having moved out of the family home). 

With regards to assets, these should be preserved where possible. It is likely that you will both be required to provide full and frank financial disclosure so that you can make decisions and be appropriately advised. Disposing of, or concealing, assets is not allowed and is not only likely to make coming to an agreement more difficult but would also undermine any agreement or order made if you were subsequently found out. 

6)   Get legal advice

Getting legal advice at an early stage is so important. That advice should be specific to your circumstances, rather than ‘John Doe who is a friend of a friend of your mother’s aunt's brother-in-law’. It will help you to identify your options so that you can make decisions as to how best to proceed and allow you to plan for the future.

The current pandemic has certainly made many aspects of our lives more difficult and has given rise to additional issues which have to be considered. However, getting the legal advice you need from us has never been easier. Recognised once again as a top tier for family law in the independent Legal 500 directory, our family lawyers are available for appointments by phone, video and in person so you can be sure to get the best advice, when and where you need it.

If you would like to know more about how we can help, call me on 01206 217305 for a free 15 minute chat or email me at karen.johnson@birkettlong.co.uk.

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