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Divorce and Separation following COVID 19

Divorce is difficult for anyone in any circumstances but the strain COVID-19 has placed on married and unmarried couples is significant and with so much uncertainty surrounding employment, house prices and pension values at present, a common question we are faced with is, “is now a good time to get divorced?”

The answer is rarely straightforward, even in normal circumstances but the summary below gives an insight into the current difficulties:

Income/Maintenance

Over the last 3 – 4 months, a significant number of people have lost jobs, been placed on Furlough or been forced to close or limit their business operations as a result of COVID-19. For many of us, income has reduced and that in turn has an impact on the ability to pay maintenance (child or spousal). What cannot be overlooked is the Court’s ability to also consider availability of capital and we have seen in cases in the recent past that Judges often consider the savings, investments or other capital sums whenever arguments regarding affordability to pay maintenance are raised.

Pensions

The impact COVID-19 has had on pension valuations will largely depend on the type of scheme we are considering. We have seen examples of money purchase/defined contribution schemes falling in value by up to 25%, only to appear as though they are now recovering back to pre-COVID-19 levels. For final salary/defined benefit scheme, there is a mixture of both reductions and (curiously) some schemes have even seen increases in values as a result of the virus.

Property

For the vast majority of home owners, the biggest concern will be the impact of COVID-19 on property valuation. With the market effectively being placed on hold for a number of weeks there was serious concern there would be little chance of recovery and house prices would plummet. There was then speculation that the ‘freeze’ on property transactions would likely cause a bottle neck effect, with hoards of buyers waiting in the wings ready for the market to reopen, thereby encouraging competition and increasing values. Having now reopened, the housing market appears to have maintained itself at a steady rate and I have seen first-hand in my own cases, agents valuing properties at the same rate post COVID-19 as they were pre COVID-19. How long this will be the case remains uncertain but for now at least, the housing market seems healthy.

Summary

The reality is that whether or not COVID-19 has had a significant impact on your finances is likely to be dependent on your individual circumstances. My advice to anyone considering Divorce or Separation is to seek advice from a lawyer first to discuss your options and consider what steps could and should be taken. If you would like to speak to us, please contact one of our family law experts on 01295 270999 (Banbury Office) 01869 252 161 (Bicester Office) 01788 579 579 (Rugby Office).