The Coronavirus is impacting every aspect of our daily lives, in ways which would have been inconceivable just a few weeks ago.
For those in the middle of litigation about their family finances or child arrangements on separation or divorce, the uncertainty surrounding whether their court hearing can go ahead at all, after months and sometimes years of planning and expense, is a huge added stressor. For those at the earlier stages of separation, or discussing the prospect of separation, the thought of being left in self-isolated limbo is equally stressful.
But you do have options. We have set out below what these are. Family Justice continues, just differently than it did before.
If You Have An Existing Family Court Case Concerning The Division Of Your Finances Or Arrangements For Your Children
The Family Court has directed all lawyers to make urgent arrangements for cases to be dealt with remotely (i.e. by video link or telephone) and if possible by using Alternate Dispute Resolution procedures (ADR). The reality is that unless your case is categorised as an emergency situation (which most financial and private law children cases will not be) there is likely to be a significant delay in dealing with your case due to the impact of Coronavirus on the Court system.
So what are your video-link ADR options? There are many:
- Video-link Arbitration: You can use this in a finance or children case. This is in many ways the same as a Court hearing. You select an experienced barrister to act as the arbitrator, and you both pay for their time, and the arbitrator will hear your lawyers make your case and, if necessary, hear evidence from each of you, before making a final decision, called an arbitral award. This is then converted into a Court Order and is binding on you both.
- Video-link Private FDR: This is only available in a finance case. It is the same as a court FDR, where you both attend with barristers and solicitors and each argue your case at a confidential hearing and the Judge then indicates what he/she thinks the likely outcome would be. You then negotiate with the help of your respective legal teams to attempt to reach a deal. The difference with a private FDR is that the part of the Judge is taken by an experienced barrister, or a retired Judge, whose time you pay for.
- Video-link with The Divorce Surgery’s One Couple One Lawyer process: For some time we have helped many couples in the middle of court proceedings who want to get out of them and cut to a solution, often due to the toll it is taking on them both emotionally and financially. Our process is a simple one:
- For a short period (6-8 weeks) we take you out of the court process. If you have solicitors you can absolutely keep them in the background but they are not involved in our process.
- We have short screening meetings with each of you by video-link (which we do not charge for), to ensure you are suitable.
- We then send you a fixed fee quote for the entire process. Our fees start at £4,750 plus VAT per couple.
- We can speak to your solicitors if you would like us to, but once you are in our process we want to engage with you more than anyone else.
- We cover cases nationwide: it doesn’t matter where you are based, provided you want advice on the laws of England and Wales.
- We help you both to get the necessary information together and then we arrange a video conference Advice Session for you both with the barrister of your choice.
- At the Advice Session your impartial barrister will tell you both, together, what he/she thinks a Judge would consider fair in your circumstances. The meeting is confidential and lasts 2-3 hours.
- After the Advice Session you receive a detailed and confidential written advice (about 15-20 pages long) so you both have a complete record of the advice you have been given. That is the end of our process.
- Many, many couples then go on to reach a fair settlement, knowing what a Judge would do. Couples do so either directly between the two of them, using video-link mediation or video-link settlement meetings with their solicitors.
- Once you have reached an agreement, we can also convert it into a Court Order for you both, again for a fixed fee.
- The key difference between our process and Private FDRs is that we only have the couple as part of our process. This hugely reduces cost, as you are only paying for one lawyer between the two of you, rather than up to five lawyers (a barrister and solicitor on each side and the lawyer judge). But we think it has even greater benefits. By being in the video call without lawyers present (apart from the barrister advising you both) we find couples are more able to listen to the advice, and take charge of their own choices, knowing that, if they want to, they can take the written advice back to their own solicitor to discuss before they reach a final deal.
If You Are At The Start Of The Process Of Separation
Again this is a challenging time. Facing the prospect of self-isolating together if you have reached the conclusion that your marriage is at an end is a tough prospect.
You must move at your own pace. For some, that will mean putting all talk of separation on hold. But for others, the prospect of making no progress is hugely stressful. Please don’t be despondent, you still have a variety of options.
- Video-link Divorce Coaches: many divorce coaches have operated by video link for some time, and there are online resources which require no face-to face at all. These services are not regulated to provide you with legal advice, but can be a good place to start.
- Video-link mediation: many mediators also operate by video-link. They can help you negotiate directly, but again cannot give you legal advice.
- Video-link solicitors: many family law firms have urgently put in place measures so they can continue offering advice to clients via video link. This way you will get legal advice, although you will each need a separate solicitor as solicitors cannot advise couples together.
- Video-link with The Divorce Surgery: our One Couple One Lawyer process is set up so couples can share one barrister to advise them both impartially. This is actually the default process in many European countries. We have been operating by video-link for some time, as many clients, even before the Coronavirus, wanted the convenience of not having to come into our offices. Our process is short (6-8 weeks), fixed cost and will leave you both in a position where you know what a Court would consider fair in your circumstances, so you can go on and reach a fair deal, either directly between the two of you or with the help of a divorce coach, a mediator or two solicitors.
We are in uncharted waters. But life carries on, and Family Justice carries on. Please don’t despair. There are so many options, and it may be that through this crisis we can focus on options away from Courts, which will mean we all divorce better, more constructively and without spending a disproportionate amount of money on legal fees.
Please contact us if you would like to discuss this at all. We are more than happy to help. And stay safe everyone.
Harry Gates and Samantha Woodham
0203 488 4475