Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Contents

Divorce and coronavirus

In this section you'll find information and updates related to coronavirus that are relevant to the law on divorce.

The UK's response to coronavirus is changing regularly and often very quickly. While we'll continue to make every effort to keep this page up to date, there may be short periods where what you read here is not the latest information available. Where possible we've tried to provide links to official sources, so you can check the current situation.

How family courts are functioning

England & Wales

The family court has set out the priority issues that will still be dealt with while social distancing measures are in place. This includes urgent divorce applications and decrees absolute. For the full list, see GOV.UK – under the most recent 'HMRC operational summary', scroll down to 'Family' and open the latest 'Family Courts Business Priorities'.

They will also still process applications for child arrangements. They suggest that their online child arrangements service is used, but where a matter is urgent you should instead contact your local court.

Paper applications can still be made on Form C100 for a Child Arrangements Order, Prohibited Steps and Specific Issue Order, if there are no serious safety concerns. For full details, see GOV.UK – under the most recent 'HMRC operational summary', scroll down to 'Family' and open the latest 'Family Court C100 (child arrangements) guidance.

Courts are making use of phone and video hearings. If a particular hearing can't be carried out in this way and it's urgent, it'll be held in a priority court and tribunal building (i.e. one that's not been closed due to the pandemic).

Scotland

See Scottish Courts and Tribunals

Northern Ireland

See Judiciary NI and Department of Justice.

Child access arrangements

The pandemic has worried many parents with Child Arrangements Orders in place about how to continue access arrangements without breaking rules on social distancing and the lockdown. However, the President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice has published guidance for parents in this situation.

In short, this guidance points out that the UK government's Stay At Home Rules already make it clear that where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents' homes.

That doesn't necessarily mean that parents must stick to the Child Arrangements Order – the guidance further makes clear that parents can agree to temporarily alter the existing arrangements to protect the health of either parent or the child. Any agreement is best recorded in writing so as to avoid possible disputes later, and could be done via email or text.

However, if the parents can't agree, one parent is still able to change the arrangements without the agreement of the other.

The deprived parent could later challenge the other's actions in the Family Courts. The courts will need to be satisfied that the parent who made the changes did so reasonably and sensibly in the light of the official advice to stay home, rather than simply looking to deprive the other parent of contact.

For that reason, the parent making changes without agreement should be particularly careful about following social distancing rules and ensure that the other parent gets regular video contact with the child. This would go a long way to show afterwards that coronavirus-related health concerns were the real motive for making changes.

Domestic abuse

If you are exposed to domestic abuse during the lockdown, the help provided by the charity sector and the police is still available. If you're in immediate danger dial 999. If you dial on a mobile you can press 55 while on the line so that the police know to help you without you needing to speak to them.

More is available on GOV.UK about support for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

'Stay at home' instructions will not apply to you if you have to flee your home to escape domestic abuse.

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