• Zep Bellavia

Lockdowns driving divorce increase

One of the many unfortunate consequences of the 2020 Covid pandemic has been a worldwide increase in marriage and relationship breakdowns.

Here at Bellavia & Associates we have seen a considerable spike in the number of divorce cases being handled by our expert team.

Relationship experts believe that even couples who had no obvious problems before the pandemic have become susceptible to break-ups, as Covid restrictions take away well-established routines that previously offered comfort and stability.

For others, lockdowns and social distancing have created a perfect storm; laying bare relationship problems that might otherwise have remained hidden for many years.

Online searches for divorce are soaring, with Citizens Advice recently reporting a 25% increase in views of its divorce guidance webpage, when comparing the first weekend in September with the same period last year.

The financial impact of Covid-19 is also likely to be playing a major role in break-ups, as people find themselves unemployed, furloughed or on lower pay.

In the US and Canada, there have been particular spikes in newlyweds (those married for a year or less) seeking divorce advice.

The end of a marriage is a painful time for all involved but the current process – which effectively means one party must be at fault – can make the situation even worse.

Adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, or separation for either two years (if both parties agree to the divorce) or five years (if a spouse disagrees with divorce) are the current ‘five facts’ of the process to prove irretrievable breakdown.

Inevitably, blame is apportioned in one way or another via this process.

However, legislation was finally introduced during the summer to bring an end to the ‘blame game’ and allow ‘no fault’ divorces in England and Wales.

The introduction of ‘no fault’ divorce is not about making divorce easier or downgrading the importance of marriage; they recognise the world has changed and divorce should not be made any more painful than it already is.

When I wrote about this in April last year, I warned that with Brexit dominating the legislative programme the proposed new divorce laws were unlikely to come to fruition during the life of the then current parliament.

That is exactly what happened, with the Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act not being passed by Parliament until June this year. By the time the Court Service creates the regulations and systems needed to put the Act into effect, the likelihood is we will not see the new law in action until Autumn next year.

It is a timescale that has a little doubt attached to it, particularly as a consultation on changes to the Family Procedure Rules (which govern the way in which the family courts in England and Wales operate) opened this month and does not close until March.

One change to the FPR we already know about will encourage encouraging parties in a divorce to engage ‘reasonably and responsibly’ in settlement negotiations. This means any financial settlement offers which are made ‘without prejudice save as to costs’ (known as Calderbank offers) can be taken into account as ‘conduct’ when a court is considering making an order requiring one party to pay the costs of another party.

Whatever your reasons for seeking a divorce, it is vital to take legal advice you can trust about what matters most to you – your children, your home and your financial security.

Our experienced team will take time to understand your situation and talk through your options. We’ll explain your rights and those of your estranged partner and we’ll do our best to make your divorce as stress-free as possible.

In uncertain times, you can be certain of Bellavia & Associates.

Zep Bellavia is the Managing Director of Newport-based Bellavia & Associates.

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