Lockdown Separations – How to Move Forward Successfully

Separating from any relationship at any time can be tough, emotional, and challenging.

Whether there are children involved, or property and joint ownership assets, unpicking your connection with somebody you have been close to is difficult at best.

Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, this situation may feel even more fraught. Hastings and Rother have gone from a summer of the lowest cases in the country to being a hotspot for surging incidents over the winter, and this climate of tension has poured over into many of our personal lives.

In this article, the Elaine Parkes Solicitors team has drawn up some advice and guidance to help you navigate a separation during the lockdown, with the benefit of our experience of ways to smooth the transition during such a tumultuous period.

Should you need further assistance, or a professional consultation concerning divorce proceedings, Family Court issues or any aspect of separation, do get in touch with our teams in Hastings or Brighton for a private discussion about how we can help.

Five Short-term Steps for an Amicable Separation During Lockdown

Initially, we would recommend looking at what you can resolve, rather than focusing on the bigger picture.

Lockdown restrictions and tiers are reviewed in most cases every two weeks, so there is no telling whether some things, such as selling a house, may become significantly more straightforward in the weeks ahead.

Let’s take a look at the immediacy of the separation, and what actions may be possible to provide some balance and calm and ensure that the separation can begin to move forward:

  1. Mortgage payments are often a significant issue in a separation, and similar concerns may apply to joint tenancies if you live in a rented property. In either case, we would advise contacting your landlord or mortgage provider. Many lenders can offer mortgage holidays, and there are options such as housing benefit, temporary accommodation and rental breaks to help you cope financially.
  2. Childcare arrangements are another primary factor where you have children together. It’s best to think about this straight away to avoid confusion or worry on your children’s part. Even if just a temporary agreement about where they will stay, taking action will help restore some control if you and your ex-partner know what the arrangement will be for now.
  3. Consider any social distancing impacts. If either you or your partner is self-isolating or has underlying medical issues that impact your ability to move into separate homes, you may need to think about alternatives. In some cases, there is support available, and if you do need emergency housing or are at increased risk of COVID-19 for any reason, reach out to the local authority for housing support – or give us a call. We’ll recommend the safest courses of action.
  4. Apply for benefit entitlements. Benefits can range from housing to council tax relief, and there is a range of support options open to residents across East Sussex, particularly vulnerable people. A separation can be emotionally and financially draining, so it’s always wise to check what benefits you are eligible for and use that help when you need it most to tide things over until you have finalised the separation terms. For example, if you and your ex-partner live together and one of you is moving out, you can apply for single person Council Tax relief. Other benefits include Universal Credit and tax credits.
  5. Think about banking arrangements – many couples have a joint account, and this practicality can be something much more manageable to remedy than might appear. Banks will have procedures in place to assist, and it’s best to act now to split out your income, savings and benefits to avoid creating a jumble of mixed finances later on.

If you’re finding the separation overwhelming, remember that these things can take time, and there needn’t be a chaotic rush to eliminate the presence of your ex-partner from your life.

By making lists and dealing with one factor at a time, you avoid adding to the inevitable stress of a separation and systematically manage those things you can deal with.

Separation Delays During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Given that much uncertainty surrounds many aspects of our lives right now, throwing a separation into the mix can feel like a lot to handle.

However, it’s worth remembering that divorce and separation proceedings can still proceed – even if some of the final details may be postponed until the Family Courts resume standard capacity.

The Elaine Parkes team can assist with any aspect of your separation agreement or divorce proceedings; there are lots of things you can do while respecting social distancing guidelines and lockdown instructions, for example:

  • Divorce applications can be submitted online via an online divorce portal at any time – so there is no need to postpone the initial application.
  • Some courts are closed or at reduced capacity. Therefore online applications are a faster method of beginning proceedings, and by getting your affairs in order via online and remote services in the interim, everything will be finalised quicker.

While Family Courts are open in some cases, there is likely to be a backlog over the coming months. Alongside that, if you require a divorce, there is a fixed waiting period of six weeks and one day between the Decree Nisi being granted, and the divorce petition moving onto the Decree Absolute stage where the marriage is officially dissolved.

Therefore, the best way to successfully move forward is to seek professional advice, have a clear idea of the timescales involved, and resolve any financial complications since a formal separation cannot conclude until such matters have been settled.

Considerations for Separating Couples Cohabiting During Lockdown

If you find yourself living together as a separated couple, and are unable to move due to lockdown, you can still reach some initial agreements – but it is vital to document why this situation has arisen.

In this case, please speak to our team about distinguishing your living arrangements on your statement required to apply for the Decree Nisi (the court order that confirms you are entitled to get divorced), or drawing up a Separation Agreement to lay out your respective terms and agreements.

This statement is essential, since typically where divorce is necessitated, a court will ask for information about your living arrangements, which for a separating couple usually means living apart with minimal communication.

By creating a statement that identifies why you have remained living in the same property but as a separated couple – due to limitations on movements due to localised lockdown restrictions, for example – you can avoid any unnecessary queries further on in proceedings.

Such a statement might explore factors such as:

  • Eating separately.
  • Being responsible for your own washing.
  • Sleeping in different rooms.

For more advice with separations during a lockdown and access to resources and support to help you through this difficult period, get in touch.

The Elaine Parkes offices are based in Hastings and Brighton covering all of the surrounding areas.

You can get in touch via email or telephone to discuss your separation, with many remote and digital options available to keep things moving, even during lockdown – so that you can take control of the situation, and start working towards a fresh start and a positive future.

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