AS LOCKDOWN EASES THE TRUE IMPACT THE THREE-MONTH CONFINEMENT HAS HAD ON PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS AND FAMILY LIFE IN THE UK IS STARTING TO EMERGE.
Amy Fallows Associate Solicitor specialising in family law with leading legal firm Cartmell Shepherd Solicitors, has seen a surge in cases from cohabiting and married couples wanting to split.
Amy, who is also a part-time Deputy District Judge in the county court and family court, says the easing of lockdown measures has brought people out of the woodwork who want to separate from their partner.
“What we have seen is that with the lockdown easing, inquiries have increased.
“For some their relationship might have already been in trouble before lockdown and this was the final straw.
“For others they might have decided during lockdown that this wasn’t the life they wanted,” she said.
Amy explains why it might have taken until now, with many parts of society opening up again and others due to reopen on July 4th – for these problems in relationships to emerge.
“While people were in full lockdown they might have chosen to brave it out because there were no other options, or if children are involved maybe it’s because the children were also at home and would have witnessed everything.
“With conveyancing moving again, some people have now started to look at moving out of their homes – whether that is moving on from a marriage or moving away from cohabiting and they are wanting advice on what are their rights, whether that’s around finances, the home, or children.”
Amy advises on all aspects of family law; divorce, cohabitation, children, domestic violence and care proceedings.
Through her extensive experience she also has a particular specialism in divorce, children, and finance.
Amy says there are several key areas which are coming to the fore as couples split as lockdown eases.
“The transfer of properties is a really important issue,” said Amy.
“People want to know can they force a sale of a house, can they force the other person to sell?
“It’s really important that people consider the legal detail of all those types of options and decisions.
“For example some people are so keen to get things sorted out that they are happy to give up their claim on a property in order to get out of a relationship because they know that’s what the other person wants above all else and they see that as a quick fix.
“But once you have agreed to that you have just given away your main advantage in any negotiation.
“Before you make any decision like that you need to get expert legal advice on what are your negotiating strengths, how can you achieve what is most important to you?
“For unmarried couples they need to think right from the outset of living together, how are they going to own their house? If they have a mortgage together then they need to consider, how is that payment going to be set up.
“Say for example one of them ends up inheriting money – and sadly that has been an issue during coronavirus because of the number of deaths.
“Say that inheritance is £80,000. If they choose to use that money to pay a mortgage on a co-owned house they have just gifted the other person £40,000 straight away.
“That £80,000 will be seen as a joint asset if they end up separating. So they need legal advice at the outset to make sure it is all set out in writing.
“Ignoring pensions is another mistake,” said Amy
“When couples put pensions to one side because they feel it’s too complicated for them to deal with and for ease they just want to split everything else 50/50 that might be a fair deal for the next 10-15 years, but it’s a really unfair deal for the 10-15 years after that.”
When children are involved, childcare arrangements are another major area where couples would benefit from expert legal advice.
Amy has a wealth of experience in legal issues relating to childcare aspects of family law and sat on the Law Society’s Children’s Panel.
A Resolution accredited specialist, she is also known for her ability to navigate sensitive situations relating to legal issues around childcare.
Amy said: “People are wanting to know what the arrangements for children will be when they separate and whether changes which have taken place during lockdown affect those arrangements.
“During normal times before the coronavirus outbreak, for example, maybe the children only saw dad at weekends.
“But maybe during lockdown dad has been sharing the parenting responsibilities 50/50 and seeing the children for half the week and wants to carry on doing that.
“Or a couple might have already separated before the pandemic and had arrangements in place for the children and, for whatever reason, decided to stop those arrangements during lockdown.
“That could have been for a range of reasons. Someone might have been shielding. One of the parents might have had contact with different people. One of the parents might just have felt vulnerable allowing the arrangements to continue during lockdown.
“A lot of people are looking to restart those arrangements now lockdown is easing and they want to know what the new arrangements look like.
“Children can get very settled living in a routine. They might have been living with one parent in lockdown, and maybe not seeing their dad, for example, and they might not want to go back to where they were before. They might not want to go and stay with dad anymore so it’s often about re-starting arrangements sensitively.”
Amy is a trained collaborative lawyer and is committed to resolving disputes with as little confrontation as possible.
“I am always trying to achieve what is best for the child and to find a way for everyone to reach an agreement, that’s always got to be the priority,” she said.
She is also known for her specialist knowledge where grandparents might be part of the solution in caring for a child in care disputes.
Amy said: “There are issues around vulnerable children at this time as they have not had the safeguarding support they would have had during normal times when they might have been going to school. Some children will have been removed and placed with relatives.
“I have done a lot of work on special guardianship orders where the grandparents become the guardians which again requires expert legal advice.
“As a family lawyer this is the side of lockdown which we see in our professional roles.
“Obviously there has been an upside to lockdown for some families in that they have been able to spend more quality time together, and parents have been more involved in their children’s learning.
“Like all these things there’s a wide range of experiences of lockdown depending on individual circumstances.
“Whatever those circumstances, for those people who need our expert advice we are only a phone call away and are happy to help.”
For any further advice on the above or if you need any advice on a family matter, please call and talk to our family law team on 01228 585716.