MSB bolsters What the new lockdown restrictions mean for Family Law

As the Government announces the new three tier lockdown rules, every area in the country will be classified as being on medium, high or very high alert. Where does this now leave you and your family law matter?

Court hearings

On 19 March 2020 the President of the Family Division set out guidance on how the family court would operate following the ‘lockdown’ and confirmed a default position that all family court hearings would take place remotely. The majority of all court hearings are now all taking place remotely, either via telephone or video conference call. The guidance indicated that an in-person hearing should only take place where fairness and justice require it, and it is safe to conduct one.


What happens if someone in the household has Covid-19?

Should the child, on someone in their household, test positive for Covid-19 or dis symptoms, they should be self-isolating as per government advice and should not be transferring between households.

If you have a legally binding shared care order and someone in your household has symptoms or tests positive, the Government has published guidance that you can only leave your accommodation in limited circumstances. One of these exceptional circumstances includes where a legal obligation requires you to change address, such as if you are a child whose parents live separately, and you need to move between homes as part of a shared custody agreement. If this happens, you should provide full details of each address where you will self-isolate on the public health passenger locator form.

Children travelling between separated parents’ homes as per the court order

Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.

The President of the Family Division issued advice about compliance with child arrangement orders during the current Covid-19 crisis. This states that whilst children can be moved between separated parents, it does not mean that children must be moved between homes.

The decision about whether a child is to move between parental homes is for the child’s parents to make in the best interests of the child after an assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.

Despite the Government guidance, there has been widespread reports of parents refusing to comply with child arrangements orders (CAOs) requiring children to be moved between households.

Where does this leave you?

Parties can attempt to resolve matters at mediation. This requires both parties’ consent, but can be a quicker and more cost effective way of resolving the dispute.

At MSB, we regularly advise in relation to contact disputes and often resolve matters with the other party without the need to go to court.

If the other party has breached a legally binding CAO and refuses to negotiate, you can apply for an enforcement order.

Unmarried couples

The number of couples who are living together has dramatically increased in recent years to 3.3 million families in 2017. This increased even further following the Government lockdown. Many people in relationships may have decided to move in together sooner than intended in to avoid breaching the rule on mixing only within your household. Whilst this is an exciting time for couples newly moved in together, many are unaware of the limited legal protection they have if their relationship breaks down. Unmarried couples who live together do not have the same rights as married couples or those who have entered a civil partnership. There is no ability to share property unless it is jointly owned. The financial orders available under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 do not apply to cohabiting couples.

Further, the Government has again imposed restrictions on weddings and civil partnerships. From 28 September 2020, capacity at a wedding or civil partnership reception or celebration (including the couple and guests) must be no more than 15. Whilst these restrictions have led to the postponement of many celebrations, this may allow more time to reflect upon entering into a pre-nuptial agreement.

Where does this leave you?

Try and have an honest conversation prior to moving in together as to how the financial arrangements between you will work; will you both contribute towards the bills and the mortgage? Having this clarity from the outset may save stress later down the line.

Enter into a cohabitation agreement. This can be entered at any time during the relationship and can provide unmarried couples with the clarity they need. A cohabiting couple can enter into an agreement setting out arrangements that will apply while they are living together, as well as establishing rights on the breakdown of the relationship. A cohabitation agreement can deal with ownership of the property, how the rent / mortgage will be paid, and division of household items in the event of separation.

Ensure you make a valid will. The intestacy rules do not make any provision for an unmarried partner.

Should you require any advice, please contact our Private Family Department.

We have a broad range of expertise that can help you