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We are well into a third lockdown and, although we have no timescale for when the restrictions will come to an end, there is the hope of a light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccination programme continuing at a pace.
Life in lockdown is difficult for everyone. For those who are back to working from home and home schooling their children, this brings many challenges. These pressures can be compounded when people are going through a relationship breakdown. Both parties may be at home together 24/7, either because they are working from home or because one or both parties have been furloughed or made redundant.
Lockdown advice has primarily been to stay home. With people unable to leave their homes, we have had to adapt how we operate, along with many other businesses. Online shopping, Click and Collect, and home deliveries have become the norm for the retail industries with High Streets left empty.
Here at Pinney Talfourd we have continued to help clients in these difficult situations since the first lockdown in March 2020. Microsoft Teams and Zoom have been instrumental when face to face meetings have not been possible and we have successfully adapted our means of communication with our clients to provide support and advice.
We often refer our clients to mediation as a constructive way to resolve issues with the benefit of an independent person to facilitate an agreement being reached. Mediators have also had to adapt and offer remote mediation sessions. Mediation is available for children and financial issues and, where appropriate, is a much better alternative to court proceedings.
Going to court
Where court proceedings have been unavoidable, the family courts have also had to adapt to a very new way of working. Before the pandemic, telephone or video hearings were virtually unheard of in family courts, everything was dealt with by the parties and their legal representatives attending the court building. Now, many hearings are conducted via telephone or video. At the start of the pandemic some cases were cancelled whilst the courts adapted their practices, causing a backlog which is yet to clear. This is still having an impact and is likely to for some time.
There are cases that in the interests of justice should be heard with the parties present. For those cases, the courts have had to adapt to comply with social distancing guidelines and extra cleaning of the court rooms and waiting areas.
What does the future hold?
Are remote court hearings here to stay? Certainly, where hearings are procedural in nature or no one is giving evidence, it would seem preferable for hearings to be heard remotely. This saves clients the time and stress of attending the court building and it has also significantly reduced wasted time in waiting at court for your case to be called. In our experience, remote hearings have been starting on time. This can avoid a client having to take a whole day off work to attend court for a hearing listed for 1 hour.
The shift to remote working that many people have made is likely to have an impact on the way people work in the future when we are back to whatever normal will be. We will no doubt still offer our clients remote appointments where they prefer or if they find it difficult to come into the office. However, we are also looking forward to being able to see our clients in person when the situation allows!
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This article was written by Catherine Loadman, Partner in the Family Law Team. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of January 2021.