Anthony Collins Solicitors: Christopher Lloyd-Smith on Family Law Post COVID-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on all facets of daily life, from hybrid working to click and collect, what we all do today is very different from how we did things two years ago.

As a family lawyer, I have seen massive changes in my working life since the pandemic began and whilst many have been imposed, a number of those changes have the capacity to greatly improve how I work, and family justice more generally, in the future.

Lockdown closed the family court. But just because the court was closed that didn’t mean separating couples weren’t having difficulties in resolving financial or children matters.

Whilst there were significant challenges for those in and waiting to engage in litigation what happened to many more was that, through necessity, couples and parents found other ways of resolving disputes. By hook or by crook, many who would otherwise have been in court managed to sort things out. This was therefore achieving the aim of the court, to ensure that routine financial and parenting disputes were resolved by the parties themselves and the court was increasingly used for those with more complex financial disputes or where safeguarding or welfare issues had arisen.

At Anthony Collins Solicitors we have seen this first-hand with the number of those mediating during lockdown increasing significantly once the court closed, with those numbers continuing even when the court re-opened. Alongside this consent orders are now the norm in most financial cases we deal with, with applications for financial orders now the exception rather than the rule. What we find is that the other avenues to resolving disputes (mediation, arbitration/private financial dispute resolutions, round table meetings and collaborative practice) likely take less time, cost our clients less and are far less acrimonious or a gamble than the court route. A real win for our clients

A second consequence of the pandemic was virtual meetings. These are now the norm, and it is undeniable that many clients prefer virtual meetings instead of battling into the city centre on public transport to see us. Or even worse, having to find and pay for parking (remember coins!). Similarly, it gives us lawyers and our clients far greater flexibility with court hearings and quite often saves them significant travel costs.

Finally, for many years organisations such as Resolution have recommended that there are better ways to resolve family disputes, limiting the damage and acrimony and providing better outcomes for families and especially children. Although delayed, 2022 should bring the long-awaited change in the law to allow for ‘no fault’ divorce meaning that blame no longer needs to be attached when a marriage ends. Alongside this as part of Resolution’s ‘Good Divorce Week’ at the end of November, Resolution highlighted the importance of putting children first on divorce and provided links to toolkits and tips to do this.

As the new Chair of Resolution in the West Midlands, my goal for the next couple of years is to continue to bang the drum that there is a better way for couples to separate and as family lawyers there are better ways to help our clients do this.

Christopher Lloyd-Smith, partner, Anthony Collins Solicitors

Chair, Resolution, West Midlands