The Family Courts and what to expect during lockdown

Posted on: April 17th, 2020

New Court Service Guidance

The Court Service has recently provided guidance on what its priorities are during the Covid-19 crisis. To help you understand what to expect in the coming weeks and months, set out below is a breakdown of what the court must do, what they would like to do, and what they will try to do.

Cases are now categorised by the different types of family work into “must be done”, “will be done”, and what they “will do our best to do”. 

The Court Service is still working although, like many people, it has had to make sudden and unexpected changes to its working model to incorporate remote hearings, working from home and staff changes due to illness.

Child Arrangement Disputes

If a case is urgent, which includes child abduction or allegations of harm, it will continue to be prioritised by the court in the usual way.   Do not be put off by the current pandemic if you think that a child is at risk of harm or that you need to make an urgent application for a Child Arrangements Order, Prohibited Steps Order or Specific Issue Order. There are provisions in place to assist parents who fall into these categories.

The allocation of “standard” Children Act applications continues, though this falls under the “will be done” category.  This means that the Court will continue to allocate matters to either the Magistrates, a District Judge or higher level of Judge if necessary.   We do have to be patient as this is going to be slower than it usually would be.  

Other private law matters, such as correspondence from the parties and applications for directions within proceedings, fall under the last “do our best” category.  This means that they are not prioritised by the Court and will take much longer than usual. 

Divorce and Finances

Divorce and financial matters unfortunately fall under the “do our best” category and will not be prioritised by the Court at this time.  The reality of this means that applications for financial remedy are unlikely to be listed at the present time, or will take longer than usual to be listed. 

That doesn’t mean that your divorce and resolving the financial aspects should be put on hold.  Coffin Mew remain open and the Family team are here to help progress matters outside of the formal court arena.  There is nothing to prevent parties using this time to exchange financial disclosure on a voluntary basis, negotiate a settlement outside of court or consider alternative ways of resolving a dispute, such as having a private Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing or Arbitration to keep matters out of court entirely.   Whilst the Court may have changed the way that they prioritise work at this time, Coffin Mew haven’t.  The Family team are continuing to work remotely and are available for phone/video conferences to ensure that our clients are impacted as little as possible by the current lockdown.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues covered in this update, please do not hesitate to contact Bryan or any member of our Family team.