It’s no secret that 2020 was a difficult time for most of us, with 2021 looking like it’s going to be another tumultuous year. From Brexit to Covid-19, family law is set to look a bit different this year, with everything from attitudes to practices changing dramatically.
To keep you informed, we’ve compiled a few trends in family law that we think will be important in 2021.
Remote court hearings
We’ve seen a rise in remote court hearings over the last year due to Covid-19; however, many solicitors and legal professionals see their shelf life lasting long after the (eventual) end of the pandemic.
The family courts moved quicker than most back in March 2020 and in a matter of weeks had most cases being seen remotely, either through telephone of video call. It is set to do so for the foreseeable.
There will, however, be guidance about the types of hearing where a remote option is not appropriate, such as final hearings in care proceedings.
Many cases are set to look like hybrid hearings, with some people appearing in person, with others calling in remotely.
The online portal
Solicitors are now able to file divorces through an online portal called My HMCTS. This portal has, in its short lifespan, already reduced wait times to approve a financial consent order from over three months to a matter of days. It has a similar record for reducing time spent processing uncontested divorces.
Post-Brexit international family issues
Before Brexit, divorces with different parties over multiple countries used a ‘first past the post’ system where whichever country had the proceedings filed in first would have priority and would deal with the divorce and financial consequences. This is no longer the case.
In cross-border cases in 2021 and beyond, we’ll be looking at competing proceedings in different countries. The English Court will apply a test to know which court is most appropriate to make decisions in individual cases of divorce.
There will also be big changes to cross-border enforcement of children orders as well as financial awards.
Unfortunately, 2021 looks like it could be a complicated time of uncertainty for international families.
No Fault Divorce
The long awaited ‘no fault divorce’ is said to finally come to pass in the UK in Autumn 2021, after legislation regarding it passed in June 2020.
While these new divorces will have a minimum ‘reflection period’ of 26 weeks, it will allow parties to divorce more simply if the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This means that couples won’t have to prove adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or go through a period of separation before divorcing.
A variation application is a proposed change to the terms of an order relating to children or spousal support, usually in the case of a change of circumstances. We usually see a large rise in variation applications in times of economic uncertainty and downturn, which unfortunately 2020 proved to be.
With the economy being hit badly by Covid-19, many people have seen their financial situation become less stable and so the number of variation applications has risen and looks set to remain high while the economy recovers.
Continued disruption to hearings
Despite moving more and more to remote hearings, there are still huge delays with cases in the family courts, which were already quite congested before the pandemic.
Due to the, at times frustrating, telephone hearings, many couples in 2020 decided to take the private arbitration route along with private FDR hearings.
Many see this trend continuing with disputes being settled by arbitration or private dispute resolution packages.
There was also a rise in ‘hybrid mediation’, where a lawyer would attend a mediation session to fast track the process.
Undergoing legal proceedings regarding family issues is rarely a simple and pleasant matter, let alone during uncertain times like these. Regardless of the recent changes or your own situation, our compassionate, professional team of family lawyers are here to listen to any concerns of questions you might have.