It is without doubt that these are “unprecedented times” – a phrase that we are most likely to have heard over the last few weeks and will continue to hear amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has had a direct impact on everyone’s lives. It is particularly being felt in the legal system where law firms now have to work (in most cases) remotely and Courts are working in a limited capacity. In an attempt to mitigate the impact, Court Hearings are being heard remotely via video conference platforms, such as Zoom and Skype for Business, but they are also continuing to be held over the phone where appropriate. Even the Legislature – the UK Parliament – is not sitting to pass Bills, such as the No-Fault Divorce Bill that previously fell victim to the delays caused by Brexit (a distant memory now). Whilst the No-Fault Divorce Bill had its first reading in the House of Commons on 25 March 2020, no date has yet been set for the second reading.
The pandemic is also affecting financial settlements in Divorces. For example, parties may now need to revisit valuations of their assets, such as properties, pensions, businesses and shares. One cannot ignore the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the financial markets recently where, as at the time of writing, there has been an approximate 25% decline in the value of the FTSE100 since the beginning of this year. Actuaries may have to caveat their advice with reference to particularly volatile investment markets. The value of a pension, which has an underlying investment, may be impacted by the changes in the financial markets.
Parties who already have a Financial Order in place are also not immune to the pandemic. There are cases where, for example, one party may have lost their job and therefore unable to meet their financial obligations pursuant to a Court Order. There have not yet been any reported cases where Financial Orders have been set aside on the basis that the Court would consider the Covid-19 pandemic to be a supervening event. In such a case, one party would argue that Covid-19 has essentially undermined the settlement agreement reached between the parties and should not be adhered to.
It is almost impossible to set out an exhaustive list of Dos and Don’ts to consider in Finance cases, but we have set out below a brief list of considerations which can assist in these difficult times:
If you do envisage or find yourself in difficulty, please do take urgent legal advice. Our Family Team are available to assist with your queries before taking any action.
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