The President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane last week issued his Road Map indicating that as social distancing restrictions will remain in place for many months it is unlikely that anything approaching a return to the normal court working environment will be achieved before the end of 2020 or even the spring of 2021.
Implications and considerations for children, families, separating and divorcing couples
Save for a dip in the first weeks of lockdown, the volume of children applications being made to the Family Court has continued at pre-COVID rates. Applications for domestic abuse injunctions have either remained at usual levels or have, in certain inner-city areas, significantly risen. It is anticipated that, once social services are able to function more normally and once more children come out of lockdown and return to school, the volume of child protection cases may surge. Prior to COVID 19, the Family Court was already attempting to process an unprecedented level of applications relating to children.
The reality to be faced is that the Family Court must now, for a sustained period, seek to achieve the fair, just and timely determination of a high volume of cases with radically reduced resources in sub-optimal court settings.Sir Andrew McFarlane, President
Accordingly, the Family Court will now be moving from working almost totally via remote hearings to a situation where at least some, and increasingly more, hearings will be either fully attended by all parties or ‘hybrid’ (where some of the parties attend and the remainder engage with the court process remotely). Much will depend upon the availability of a COVID-safe working environment in courtrooms and court buildings. Such resources will be in short supply and it is expected therefore that a good deal of the day to day work of the court will still have to continue to be undertaken remotely during the coming months.
What does this mean for separating and divorcing families?
The President urges parties, legal advisers and the judiciary to consider all forms of non-court dispute resolution. Across all our Surrey and Hampshire offices Moore Barlow has a family team of 18 lawyers skilled in out-of-court negotiation, mediation, collaborative law, arbitration and parenting coordination – https://www.moorebarlow.com/life/family-and-divorce/.
The firm has risen to the challenges of the pandemic and continues to provide a fully supportive service to its family law clients, working by video conferencing and other means.
For those families whose lives cannot be put on hold indefinitely, Moore Barlow offers a range of options:
- Divorce proceedings using the Court’s online service;
- Obtaining a final financial Consent Order using the online system;
- Out-of-court resolution through cost effective negotiation, mediation, collaborative law, arbitration and parenting coordination; and
- Emergency applications to Court and decisive action when required.
Karen Barham is a full-time mediator and parenting coordinator and says: “I describe myself as a ‘peacemaker’ and a ‘deal broker’; I have continued to be busy during lockdown working by telephone and virtual meetings which can also include the parties’ lawyers. The need to find workable solutions for families doesn’t go away; it behoves us to find ways to continue to assist our clients at their time of need”.