What Is Actually Happening With Divorces In Lockdown?

Are divorce rates actually rising? And can you even get a divorce in lockdown? Georgia Aspinall spoke to a legal expert to find out.

Woman taking off wedding ring

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

When divorce rates spiked in China in March this year, the UK looked on with cautious fear. The country had only been in lockdown for a month and registry offices were already reporting increases in couples seeking to formally separative. At the time, we were one week away from enforced lockdown, facing the prospect of the same gloomy fate.

Two months into lockdown, the stories of divorce cases rising have come in a steady stream. If you were to look from afar, you’d think we were all fighting like cats and dogs, forming socially distant queues at the registry office like it’s the first week of lockdown and no one has any toilet paper.

‘Law firms brace for surge in divorce cases,’ read one headline from the Evening Standard. ‘Coronavirus will spark rise in UK divorces,’ another from the Daily Mail stated.

But even the statistics feel uncertain. ‘78 per cent of people feel their relationships might crack under the strain of isolation’ reported We-Vibe when they researched couples' fears in quarantine. In that same survey, however, it transpired that 46% were actually considering separation less than they were prior to lockdown.

Google Trends data shows that searches for the term ‘get a divorce’ have decreased by over 60% since lockdown began. And according to legal experts, it’s just impossible to know right now whether divorces are truly spiking or not.

‘It is too early for us to know the statistics as they are reported annually for the previous year, so the figures will be revealed at the end of 2021,’ says Sarah Jane Lenihan, partner at Stowe Family Law. ‘Across our firm we have had a mixed approach from clients. There have been those who wish to put the matters on hold during this period, whether this has been due to ill health of a husband or wife, child or family member, for financial reasons or just feeling less antagonistic in the current climate. For others the lockdown has cemented their wish for a divorce particularly where they have been locked down with their spouse.’

Interestingly though, for those that do wish to divorce, lockdown hasn’t necessarily been the driving factor but as Sarah puts it ‘the final straw’. ‘Any negative feelings have been amplified in lockdown as there is no escape,’ she says. ‘Even those who are happily married have found their relationships under strain whether this is due to finances, employment or health. Not having the opportunity to spend time away from their spouse with friends or family has been extremely difficult and had led to arguments occurring which would not arise or easily be resolved in a more normal world.’

So, what to do if you do want that escape? After Mary-Kate Olsen filed for an emergency divorce in the US this week (which was later denied), those who are seeking divorce themselves are likely to have a lot of questions about what services are actually available right now. Here, Sarah explains exactly that…

How can you get a divorce in lockdown?

An application can be made online here, however my advice would be not to make any rash decisions during this difficult time and always seek legal advice before commencing an application. Most family law firms including Stowe Family Law have remained open during lockdown. We have always offered virtual consultations and have continued to do so during this period ensuring we are easily available to those needing legal advice during this difficult time.

What is an emergency divorce filing and can you get them in the UK?

Before the online divorce process we used to have to rush to the local court office with divorce papers for issuing in an emergency situation which may have been for example where there was a threat that the other spouse was issuing in another country and we wanted to secure the English Court to deal with the divorce. The most frequent reason for this is due to the English court system being known as the most generous divorce court in the world therefore by allowing a spouse to issue in another jurisdiction may lead to a less favourable financial settlement. The process is much easier now we have the online system.

How should I go about splitting assets in a divorce during lockdown?

I am advising clients to think very carefully during this unprecedented time to enter into any financial arrangement as values cannot be relied upon and future values of these assets are unknown whether this is a valuation of a business or pension or someone’s income position for example will they face redundancy and how long will it take them to find new employment.

I therefore believe there may be a delay in the resolution of matters until more is known in respect of the impact of lockdown on the economy. Some may attempt to take advantage of this to reach a settlement whilst values are low and therefore wish to rush matters through but it is my current experience that the Courts and experts in these cases are treading very carefully. The reason for this will be to avoid any chance that these matters maybe returned to Court in the future and therefore to ensure that once an agreement/decision is made, it is final.

How do I mitigate financial damage during a divorce?

My biggest piece of advice is to take legal advice on your situation. While everyone’s situation is so very different, it is difficult to provide a blanket response to this, however I advise taking things slowly and thinking carefully about your actions and the potential consequences. There are exceptions to this of course where someone may want to secure the English jurisdiction or where the individual or their spouse is at risk of harm action may need to be taken quickly.

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