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Covid-19 lockdown regulations proved to be very challenging for many families during the initial 2020 lockdown periods, but for couples who had already separated or were contemplating separation or divorce the latest pandemic restriction have acted like a pressure cooker on many relationships as tensions rise and finances fall, whilst stress and anxiety levels reach an all-time high.
The novelty of extended couple and family time has most definitely run its course for many and the harsh realities of the consequences of the pandemic are resonating a lot more this time around. The festive season has always increased pressures on couples and families but decreasing bank balances and rising tensions as well as the pressures of Christmas have certainly had a negative impact on many couples struggling to maintain a domestic status quo.
Disagreements with regard to adherence of lockdown rules:
Sara advises – Separated parents should take a sensible approach to disagreements of this nature. They should consider the their own specific circumstances. For example, where one household has a vulnerable person living there, it may not be wise for children to move between houses. However, parent must not use lockdown as an excuse to withhold contact without good reason as this causes unnecessary hostility and will inevitably have an impact on the welfare of any child involved. If a parent has serious and warranted concerns for withholding contact, they may unilaterally vary a court Order. However, if that decision is challenged, a court will want to see that the parent acted reasonably in light of their individual situation. They should also consider making up for lost time with the other parent.
Sara advises – Financial issues create can create a “pressure cooker” environment at the best times, let alone during a pandemic. Whilst one parent is feeling the impact of reduced pay or job losses, not paying maintenance or assisting financially with the upbringing of the child will inevitably impact on the other parent who may be experiencing similar difficulties. Separated parents should work together to try to find a middle ground where possible, perhaps agreeing a temporary reduction in maintenance until their financial position improves, or deferred payments.
Sara advises – The UN has described the worldwide increase in domestic abuse as a “shadow pandemic” alongside Covid-19. Anyone who is a victim of domestic violence is still able to seek help throughout the lockdown. The police are at hand to assist and refuges and helplines remain operational. Most solicitors also remain operational and can assist with an immediate injunction. For those suffering financially, legal aid is still available in some circumstances where domestic violence is an issue. The government website also offers further advice. There is a ‘codeword scheme’ available for those experiencing abuse. You can attend a participating pharmacy (those with and ‘Ask for Ani logo on display) and ask for an ‘ANI’ which stands for Action Needed immediately and is pronounced like the name Annie. They can offer a private space, provide a telephone and talk you through what support you might need from police or other domestic abuse services.
Sara advises – This lockdown has proven to be more difficult for many families. The pressures of juggling all of the above and not really knowing when it will end means that we are seeing more couples seeing no way out and turning on each other. Divorces have been on the rise for some time and the family courts are feeling the pressure of disputes involving children, finances and domestic violence issues. The bleak reality that there is no clear end date to the current situation is exacerbating domestic situations and many did not expect the situation to run for so long and are at the end of their tether.
“Sometimes early intervention can save a situation and get a couple back on the right track, but if a relationship has irretrievably broken down it is my job to ensure that we come to an acceptable resolution for our clients by removing the emotion and dealing with the facts of the situation. Contacting a family lawyer is not always the end of the road for couples, sometimes it is the start of a new beginning”.
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