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Family and divorce

Coronavirus self-isolation – what does it mean for you and your family?

With social distancing measures in place, the prospect of self-imposed confinement and spending extended amounts of time with members of the same household is a source of worry and concern for some. Our Family team outlines some of the issues below.

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The government is telling us to stay at home, to only go outside for food, health reasons or essential work, to stay two metres away from other people and wash our hands as soon as we get home. Grandparents draw parallels to life during the war, however, for the majority, having such liberties curtailed is unfamiliar territory.

The obvious and immediate consequence of the government’s social distancing measures is that everyone will be spending a lot of time at home and with members of their family/friends who reside in the same household. Whilst there are many positive aspects to this, for example, the opportunity to spend quality time with these individuals, for some people, the prospect of self-imposed confinement and spending extended amounts of time with members of the same household (for an indefinite timeframe) is a source of worry and concern.

Parents

For working parents, there is the concern as to how to balance work with childcare, keeping children entertained and educated whilst also managing workloads; the pressure being even greater for single parents who have previously relied on external help to assist with this balance. For parents who have shared-care arrangements, the government has provided some guidance to parents who find themselves in this predicament and has confirmed that as of 24 March 2020 where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes. The guidance and Collyer Bristow’s summary of the guidance’s key points can be found here: President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justices’ Formal Guidance. Although the government has provided guidance, co-parenting during this period of self-isolation has its own unique challenges and Collyer Bristow provides some helpful tips of how to deal with co-parenting during this time: Challenges of co-parenting and coronavirus.

The Family team at Collyer Bristow are very well placed to advise on these challenges and the best way forward.

Mental Health and Litigation

People struggling with their mental health during the coronavirus is another serious concern. In recognition of the unprecedented challenges facing the public in light of the government’s self-isolation measures, the Public Health England has published new Government guidance for the public on mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus during this difficult time; some of the keys points include:

  • maintaining relationships with friends and family via telephone, video calls, or social media and talking about your worries with friends and family
  • Helping and supporting others
  • Looking after your physical well-being and advice to try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, drink enough water, exercise inside where possible and outside once a day
  • Trying and manage your media and information intake if this is a source of anxiety
  • Trying and keep a daily routine, with regular sleeping patterns
  • Making sure that you do things that you enjoy

Where estranged, divorcing or unhappy families are forced together by the current circumstances everyone’s mental health and wellbeing could well suffer. It can be a time of great uncertainty and distress for families anyway but these issues are magnified at the moment.

We appreciate that this is a difficult time for all, especially for people on their own but also for estranged couples having to self-isolate within the confines of the same property. We have provided a few tips below to assist estranged couples who find themselves in this difficult situation:

  1. If possible, have a conversation and set down guidelines for interaction, e.g. who will pay the bills, do household chores, be responsible for purchasing and cooking food, how communal space will be shared etc…
  2. If things are very acrimonious, it might be worth considering drawing up a timetable providing times for access to main areas of the property e.g. the kitchen, living room so that interaction can be limited.
  3. Where there are children, if co-parenting is working for you, it’s fine to continue as you have been doing. If the situation becomes increasingly difficult, it might be worth considering dividing the time that the children spend with each respective parent whilst the other parent absents themselves, elsewhere in the house

If you are in the initial stages of divorce proceedings or are contemplating separation or divorce, you have more than likely reached the decision that your marriage is over, so the notion of having to self-isolate with your spouse under these circumstances will be a hugely challenging one. For some in this position, it will mean waiting until this period is over before taking the next steps. For others, it may not be practical or possible to wait. If you fall into this category, there are options available to you and the family team at Collyer Bristow is able to help you sensitively get this process started and advise you as to the next steps. 

Domestic violence

An even more serious side-effect of self-isolation is the effect it has had domestic abuse. According to government figures, an estimated 1.6 million women and 786,000 men in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse last year, but these staggering figures are set to rise as the pandemic has meant more people who are at risk from abuse are forced to stay indoors with their abusers. Activists have pointed to the evidence that domestic abuse has already increased elsewhere in the world. The police have also recognised that it puts some people in a very vulnerable position, “being stuck at home due to social distancing is a “very daunting prospect” for victims of domestic abuse”. It has also been noted that this may lead to new domestic abuse cases, with the police commenting that “health concerns and job losses may also add pressure, causing some people to experience abuse for the first time”

An important message for domestic abuse victims is that there is an exception to the self-isolation rules for them. The home secretary Priti Patel made clear on 29 March that Domestic abuse victims are allowed to leave home to seek help at refuges despite rules to stop coronavirus spreading.

To people at risk of domestic abuse (which in addition to physical violence can includes harassment, intimidation and threating behaviour) we would suggest the following:

  • If you or someone you know is in danger, you should call 999 for immediate police assistance. Depending on the severity the abuser may be bailed and not able to return to the property.
  • It is important that you recognise that you are not alone, even if you do not feel that you have friends or family who can assist. There are many confidential helplines and organisations which you can contact for assistance and many of which are accessible 24 hours a day. Details of a few are included here: The National Centre of Domestic Violence (0800 970 2070); National Domestic Violence helpline open 24 hours (0808 200 0247); Refuge open 24 hours (0808 200 0247 (24 hours)
  • The charity Refuge has also issued some tips to people who are at risk, including “keeping your mobile phone charged and with you and, if a partner becomes violent, try to avoid the kitchen, garage or anywhere that might have potential weapons.”
  • You also have legal remedies available to you in the form of protective orders in the Family Court. If you are experiencing domestic violence or abuse in any form, you may apply for further protection in the form of non-molestation order to stop an abuser from acting in a particular way towards you. Once this order is made, it is a criminal offence to breach such an order. If you wish to have a violent individual excluded from the family home or from parts of it another alternative available to you is to apply for an occupation order which can provide for this exclusion.

Please do call or email us if we can assist with any of these issues.

Christina Pippas – Associate
christina.pippas@collyerbristow.com
+44 20 7468 7219

Tanya Roberts – Partner
tanya.roberts@collyerbristow.com
+44 20 7470 4430

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Christina Pippas

Associate

christina.pippas@collyerbristow.com