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Lockdown divorce: everything you need to know

Divorce queries have rocketed during lockdown. If you're one of the many at the end of your tether, Haywards Heath based family lawyer Gilvia Tisshaw has the answers to all your questions.

January is always peak time for thoughts of going single, and add in the pressures of lockdown and it’s no surprise many couples are coming to the end of the road.

If you’re at the stage whereby if they make one more snarky pass agg remark you just might just walk into the garden and SCREAM, you may have gone beyond daily irritation to Who are we? What is this? Why are we here? 

Muddy spoke to family law specialist Gilva Tisshaw, of Legal 500-ranked Tisshaws Family Law, to find out what to do next. Read on for your guide to consciously uncoupling like Chris and Gwynnie or at least, without breaking too much of the wedding china.

Help! I’m thinking about leaving my partner.  What now?

Separation can be a difficult and confusing time and just a little knowledge can make a big difference. Seek legal advice – this can be in the strictest confidence if needs be. If you just up and leave, this could impact on your future housing and could put you in a vulnerable position.  Family and friends can offer excellent support, but the benefit of independent advice cannot be under estimated.  Look at a few family law firms and see who you think you may be more comfortable with, and see if they offer fixed fee appointments.  Getting help from a counsellor is also a very good idea.  They will be able to offer you emotional support and help your thought process as to what you really want. 

What is the difference between a mediator and a divorce lawyer?

Mediators are often divorce lawyers who have received specialist training to undertake mediation work, although many mediators do not have a legal background and are highly skilled.  Both parties can agree to appoint a mediator who will help them work together to find a solution with regards to their separation, including resolving matters relating to arrangements for their children, and to reach a financial agreement.  If the parties are able to reach an agreement and have legal advice from a family lawyer, a consent order can be drawn up and filed at court for the court’s approval, although in respect of children, this is not always necessary.  I always tell clients that it is better to reach an agreement rather than have an order imposed on you by the court.  If mediation is not successful, the mediator will issue what is known as a MIAM form to enable you to issue an application to the court.  A family lawyer will be able to help you draw up a consent order or issue an application to the court.

What are my rights around custody of children?

The term “custody” is no longer used within the context of matters relating to children.  We now refer to child arrangements orders.

It is recognised unless the contrary is shown, that the involvement of each parent in the life of the child will further help a child’s welfare.  When parties separate, it is often the case that one party may threaten the other that they will never see their child again or that they will take the child away from them. This is a fear that a lot of parents’ face. Married parents both have parental responsibility for a child and if the parents are not married the father will also have parental responsibility if they are jointly registered on the child’s birth certificate.  It is very important to the parties to try and work together to try and reach an amicable agreement with regards to whom the child will spend time with. There is not an automatic presumption that the children will always live with their mother. If parents cannot reach agreement, then meditation should be actively encouraged and if the children are older, their input into arrangements is very important. A parent with parental responsibility has a right to be involved in decision making with regards to the child’s education, medical treatment, religious upbringing and other important factors. If the parties cannot reach agreement at mediation, then an application can be made to the court for the court to make an order. 

Do I have to get divorced?  Can’t we just separate?

If both a husband and wife agree, you can separate and not proceed with a divorce. In certain instances, particularly when people are of more senior years, it is not always beneficial to divorce.  A financial agreement can still be formalised by having a deed of separation. Alternatively the parties may wish to be judicially separated, particularly if they have religious reasons for not wishing to divorce. 

What if I want a divorce and they don’t?

At the present time to proceed with the divorce, you have to establish that a marriage has irretrievably broken down and in order to do so, you have to be able to show that one of five grounds is applicable.  If the person who wishes to remain in the marriage has not behaved unreasonably and has not been involved in a sexual relationship outside the marriage, you cannot proceed with the divorce at the present time.  After 5 years, the consent of the other person is not needed. 

What if they want to divorce and I don’t?

A marriage breakdown is a very difficult time.  Often the person seeking the divorce is trying to emotionally adjust but the other person has not had the opportunity to do so and a request for a divorce can just sometimes come out of the blue.  Time must be given to that person to come to terms with what has happened.  In the future, they may agree that the divorce is most appropriate way forward. It is important to consider counselling to assist in the decision making progress.

Is there such a thing as separating and divorcing “in a good way”? Can we really “consciously uncouple” like Gwynnie and Chris?

Experience has taught me that each marriage and relationship is different.  It is an emotional rollercoaster.  If parties can separate and divorce amicably, then it is to be commended. This can be achieved with the assistance of counselling, mediation, hybrid mediation (where parties meet with a lawyer) through collaborative law and through solicitors. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of getting support as emotions can often cloud judgment.  You will need to be in the right place to deal with matters and some people may take longer to get there than others.  Reaching an agreement between yourselves and seeking advice on that should always be the main objective but it is equally important to get an agreement which is right for you and your family.  Information can empower.  Working together not only benefits the separated parties, but also their children. 

If you require help and guidance, Tisshaws offer an initial consultation for up to an hour for £50 including VAT. 

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