ben white e92L8PwcHD4 unsplash 1Save for those hardy souls who lived through the hardships of the Second World War, none of us have ever had to contend with such life changing events as we’ve seen these past few weeks, and which will continue to dominate our lives for the foreseeable future.

Such is the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is perfectly legitimate to question whether we will ever return to “normal” and whether life will ever be the same. As we all adapt to the new “normal”, we are having to quickly come to terms with its impact on our daily lives.

Firstly – of course – there is the human toll the virus has taken on those who have already succumbed to it, and who may do so in future. Secondly there is the financial toll, which is biting upon those whose livelihoods have been lost, or are at risk.

Some of the more obvious immediate concerns include:

  • Job security – many employees have been furloughed and some have been made redundant

  • Business sustainability – business leaders are concerned about the short, medium and long-term viability of their businesses
  • Mortgage borrowing capacity – the worry that some lenders may be less willing to offer mortgages in the current financial climate
  • Asset values – volatility in the value of assets, such as investment portfolios, pensions and – of course – houses.

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Looking little further ahead (if one dares to do so), it is undoubtedly the case that there are going to be very challenging economic times ahead for the UK.

These are issues that many of us are working through right now. But for those who are currently in the midst of a negotiation or a legal process, the uncertainty and changing goalposts are an additional concern and a source of anxiety at an already pressured time.

For couples going through or contemplating divorce, these worries can be compounded by the emotional strain that inevitably accompanies the breakdown of a relationship.

Should I stay or should I go?

Some couples may choose to batten down the hatches and wait for the COVID-19 storm to pass. In the right circumstances, that may well be a viable option.

For many other couples however, home life may already be (or may become) intolerable, or – in worst case scenarios – dangerous.

Refuge, a UK domestic abuse charity, reported this week that its National Domestic Abuse helpline has seen a 25% surge in calls since the government lockdown began. I rather suspect that this is merely the tip of the iceberg. Indeed I would urge anyone who is trapped in an abusive relationship to try to contact the police, domestic abuse charity helpline, or a solicitor (and ideally a combination of all three). Phone numbers can be found in the linked BBC article above.

Put simply, delaying divorce may be harmful, both in terms of one’s mental health as well as physical well-being. Doing nothing and waiting for the storm to pass may be a bad choice in certain circumstances.

Practical things that you can do right now

If you’re reading this article, then some of the issues I’ve highlighted may be resonating with you right now. If there is a positive message to be taken from the current climate, it is that my colleagues and I are working tirelessly to provide ongoing advice to both new and existing clients, to ensure that they are safe, appropriately housed, and able to make informed decisions about their future in a world which is certainly far less certain.

Here are some things you can do right now that may help you move forward, both practically and mentally:

  1. Understand that you’re not alone. Unhappy marriages can be incredibly lonely places to be, even more so in this current situation where outside contact and networks are limited. Often people will struggle on for months or years before discussing their situation with anyone – including friends and family. Whatever you’re going through, there will be others who have gone through the same thing. However complex your situation, there will be a way to resolve it. There is help available if you need it – it’s up to you to take that first step.
  2. Know your options. It’s impossible to make an informed decision without first understanding all the options available to you. Speaking to an experienced family lawyer will provide clarity on your situation. Initial legal advice on divorce can be useful in helping you “see the wood for the trees”, remove any anxieties caused by the unknown and put you in a much better position for decision-making.
  3. Get your house in order. Whatever you eventually decide to do, getting on top of your finance admin and having a complete understanding of your financial position will help you move forward. You may be asked for a full disclosure of assets, and up to date valuations will be required so negotiations can be conducted on an informed basis.
  4. Find the right advocate. Preliminary work you do now will save you time later on, ensure your energy and resources are directed in the right areas, and ensure you act in a way that puts you in the best position for later on. Chambers and Partners UK and Legal 500 are the UK’s leading guides for the legal profession, with rankings for all top family law firms based on independent research and client feedback.

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Practical things your lawyer can help you with right now

  1. Negotiating a fair level of ongoing financial support for a separated spouse and any children
  2. Ensuring mortgage/rent and utilities are paid
  3. Making sure that children are spending time with each parent – whether in accordance with previous agreement or court order
  4. Providing robust advice regarding financial issues to suit your best interests. This may include the withdrawal of any existing offer or the acceptance of an existing offer which may have been rejected only a short time ago, but which has now become attractive
  5. In the right circumstances, to “wait and see”, with a review at a pre-agreed date

One of the more pleasing aspects of being a family lawyer in the current climate is that the term “open for business” means precisely that.

The Silk Family Law team is operating a full service for all our clients and will continue to do so, throughout this current crisis. We are working tirelessly (and innovatively) to provide timely and supportive advice to existing and new clients, using video conferencing where necessary.

Alongside our colleagues in other disciplines (financial advisers, accountants, surveyors and estate agents to name a few) we will go the extra mile to help you face the future with greater confidence and resolve whatever that future holds.

If you’d like to discuss your situation in complete confidence, you can contact us today either online or by calling 0191 500 0777.

Photos courtesy of Siavash Ghanbari, Ben White, Anh Nguyen and Chris Liverani on Unsplash.