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Divorce lawyers say inquiries have surged as wealthy clients rush settlements while assets devalued

Divorce lawyers have seen a huge surge in enquiries since the UK was put on lockdown to tackle the coronavirus, with anxious couples struggling in quarantine.

On Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told everyone they ‘must stay at home’ to slow the spread of Covid-19, setting out just four instances when people can go outside.

Living in close proximity with their other halves 24-7 is reportedly taking its toll on some marriages.  

Interestingly, Laura Naser, senior associate family lawyer at Penningtons Manches Cooper, said they have been contacted by a number of high net worth clients who had previously stayed in unhappy marriages due to the financial loss they would suffer if they left. 

Divorce lawyers have seen a huge surge in enquiries since the UK was put on lockdown to tackle the coronavirus, with anxious couples struggling in quarantine. Pictured: stock image

Divorce lawyers have seen a huge surge in enquiries since the UK was put on lockdown to tackle the coronavirus, with anxious couples struggling in quarantine. Pictured: stock image

‘For many, their enquiries are to divorce now while their asset base is lowered and before the markets bounce back,’ she told FEMAIL.

‘This is particularly attractive to those whose divorce was a matter of timing and it is opportunistic for them to finalise a financial settlement on divorce if they think their non-cash assets, such as a business or shares, may be managed back to value post-crisis. 

‘For others, it’s with concern about settlements they have agreed before the downturn and their ability to now afford the settlement terms.’

She said they are viewing the current financial crisis as an opportunity to agree an advantageous divorce settlement. 

Hardeep Dhillon, consultant solicitor of family law at Richard Nelson LLP, said UK searches for ‘I want a divorce’ have increased by 154 per cent in interest on Google since the UK went into isolation. 

He added: ‘We would expect this to be reflected in the number of enquiries lawyers see in the coming weeks.’

Katie Spooner, partner at Winckworth Sherwood

Katie Spooner, partner at Winckworth Sherwood

Katie Spooner, partner at Winckworth Sherwood, said her law firm has increased calls from ‘anxious and stressed’ spouses, while UK-based divorce coach Sara Davison has seen a 40 per cent increase in enquiries in the past couple of weeks. 

She told FEMAIL that, in the immediate wake of the Prime Minister’s address to the nation imposing stricter measures on UK citizens to try and minimise the spread of Coronavirus, they are already seeing the impact this is having on family life. 

‘In only days, we have had increased calls from anxious and stressed individuals who are confined to living, for all intents and purposes, in quarantine with their partners, and possibly children who many are having to home school,’ she said.

‘The measures are putting a huge strain on relationships, particularly if there was already tension and/or issues between couples. This is only being heightened by the financial impact of restrictions on people’s businesses and incomes, and the uncertainty they face as a result. 

‘Our counterparts overseas, such as in the US and China, have seen a surge in divorce enquiries following the periods of isolation their countries have faced and are continuing to face, and early signs suggest the UK will follow a similar pattern.’

Coronavirus UK: Lockdown measures in full

Boris Johnson tonight announced a lockdown plan to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the UK as he told the nation to stay at home. 

People will only be allowed to leave their home for the following ‘very limited’ purposes:

Shopping for basic necessities as infrequently as possible.

One form of exercise a day.

Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person. 

Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary. 

Meanwhile, the PM has announced a ban on: 

Meeting with friends. 

Meeting with family members you do not live with. 

All weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies but excluding funerals. 

All gatherings of more than two people in public.  

The PM said the police will have the powers to enforce the lockdown measures through fines and dispersing gatherings. 

To ensure people comply the government is also: 

Closing all shops selling non-essential goods. 

Closing all libraries, playground,  outdoor gyms and places of worship.

Parks will remain open for exercise, but will be patrolled.  

For many couples, self isolation has thrown them into a completely different way of living, changing the dynamics of their relationship entirely and introducing a whole new set of complications and concerns. 

While some may find that working through the uncertainty brings them closer together, Ms Spooner warned others will not be as lucky and will be forced to face underlying issues that may have been bubbling under the surface. 

‘For those, they should consider consulting a specialist family lawyer as soon as possible to consider their options and discuss what may or may not need to be done while they remain in isolation with their partner, and the steps to take once the current restrictions are lifted,’ she said.

Divorce coach Ms Davison said a spike in divorce rates due to coronavirus is ‘inevitable’.

‘In the last few weeks alone, I’ve seen a dramatic increase in inquires – I’d say as much as 40 per cent overall,’ she told FEMAIL. 

‘The vast majority of these are those who were already on the fence and thinking of filing for divorce, and now the thought and harsh reality of being at home with their partners has pushed them to breaking point. 

‘For those that were planning to leave, but now can’t, this is an extremely challenging time and they are looking for coping strategies. There are also those who had agreed to separate but haven’t yet organised the logistics or filed for divorce – being locked down together is causing enormous strain and pressure just to keep the peace.’

Ms Davison added that she has also seen a marked increase in enquiries from high net worth clients looking to take advantage of the economic uncertainty presented by the pandemic.

‘Some have stayed married due to the financial loss they would suffer if they broke up the family, but are seeing the financial crisis as their long awaited opportunity to leave and take advantage of the dip in wealth for a divorce settlement,’ she explained.

‘The rise has been reflected in sales of my online products such as Breakup Breakthrough, an online video course which coaches you through how to cope better with your breakup. Sales have increased by 30 per cent.’

Ms Naser, author of The Family Lawyer’s Guide to Separation and Divorce – How To Get What You Both Want, admitted her firm has also seen an increase in enquiries – and a surge in clients who, for some, have seen their personal wealth decrease by the hour.  

HOW TO CORONAVIRUS-PROOF YOUR MARRIAGE 

Sara Davison, aka The Divorce Coach

Sara Davison, aka The Divorce Coach

Sara Davison, aka The Divorce Coach, shares her tips on how to avoid divorce and relationship breakdown amid the Covid-19 crisis: 

BE KIND: This may sound basic but it’s a fundamental foundation and one to keep reminding yourself of when tensions mount. Make an agreement now to keep being kind to one another – whether you’re a couple or a family – and create a safe space for each other to express any concerns without blame or repercussions so you can work together to tackle and dissolve any issues, tensions or concerns. A safe space might just mean agreeing not to get angry or frustrated with each other while you have these discussions.

DON’T LET IT FESTER: Being in close confinement together means the tiniest of resentments can quickly become magnified. Try to keep open communication and a constructive dialogue. If you feel resentment building over something, however small, tackle it head on and work with your partner to try and address it and resolve it.

CREATE OWN SANCTUARY: We all need our own personal space and calving this out has never been more challenging. Whether you’re a couple or a family of five, find some time to think about and discuss your needs with your partner and how you can support each other to prioritise each other’s needs. It might be a candlelit bath, holing yourself up with a boxset or even waking early at 5am and downloading a meditation – taking some time out for personal space and self-care is essential and healthy.

WORK OUT A PLAN FOR FINANCES: Money is one of the biggest causes of arguments and with so much economic uncertainty, these pressures can lead to chronic stress. Talk honestly and openly about your finances and map out a worst-case scenario so you both know what the difficulties and expectations are. Help is available if you’re struggling so make sure you research and equip yourself with knowledge now. If you are both on the same page you can work together to find a way through this.

RESPECT EACH OTHER’S WORKLOADS: For many people working from home is an entirely new concept. Unless you’re used to it, it can be really difficult to find discipline or space to concentrate when you’re not in an office environment. If kids are soon taken out of schools, trying to calve out time to work with children interrupting or being noisy can make this impossible. It’s a good idea to work out a routine with your partner enabling both of you to get the essential work done. Perhaps one of you works better in the morning vs the afternoon? Or perhaps this is better shared in terms of priorities – either way be fair and share childcare respecting and prioritising each other’s needs.

EMBRACE IT: Universally, we are together in an unprecedented crisis. As frustrating as this can be, embracing it and trying to make the best of it, brings out the best in humanity. Try to remember what it was like when you were growing up before mobile phones and Netflix. Get the board games out and get stuck into a game of Monopoly or Pictionary. It’s also a good time to clear out the home or tackle a wardrobe detox – both excellent for a mental refresh and kind to the planet. It’s a good time to nurture too, cooking and eating delicious and healthy food will keep you and your family’s minds and bodies strong and healthy.

KEEP THE FLAME ALIVE: Remember that everyone is having a tough time and love and romance is never more important during times like this. Again – keep kindness in mind and find small ways to show your affection and love for each other. It might be breakfast in bed, or a romantic dinner when the kids are in bed – but create a romantic space to spend quality time together and enjoy each other away from daily chores or worries.

KEEP IN TOUCH WITH LOVED ONES: One of the biggest concerns for many is their parents or elderly relatives – especially whilst we’re unable to see them in person. Make sure you keep in touch regularly with video calls which will really help reduce anxiety for them and for you and keep your support team connected.

KEEP MOVING: Not only is exercise a great way to release stress and get the endorphins pumping so we feel good, it also improves our ability to sleep which reduces stress. With lockdown restrictions this is more challenging but by no means impossible – drive to a secluded area for a walk, get out in the garden or download an fitness routine on YouTube which can also be a giggle!

For more information about Sara and her work, visit www.saradavison.com

She added that she expects to continue to see an increase in these types of enquiries to vary previously made financial settlements and ongoing maintenance obligations, while people’s businesses and incomes have been reduced or wiped out entirely by the Covid-19 economic impact. 

‘I personally hoped to see some reconciliations from the “war-time” spirit of the current crisis helping people to re-focus on what is important in this time of rallying together and showing compassion for one another,’ Ms Naser added. 

‘This last week has actually been a large increase in enquiries from separated parents following the announcement of the strict social distancing measures and the conflicting guidance given by Michael Gove, which he then promptly back-tracked from, about whether children can move between homes of their separated parents.’

It’s the same story across the pond, with leading Manhattan family-law experts claiming divorce filings are skyrocketing, with a 50 per cent rise in enquiries from potential clients. 

New York-based divorce attorney William D. Zabel, a founding partner of Schulte Roth & Zabel, told Page Six: ‘We’ve had an increased amount of calls in the past week from people seeking representation for divorce proceedings, a 50 percent increase, and I have been hearing the same from my colleagues at other firms.’

Divorce rates in China also continue to soar as couples in self-isolation together reach breaking point, with one office in South West China witnessing 300 couples applying for splits in a period of just three weeks and one registry in Xi’an receiving 14 requests in one day.  

Currently, the biggest annual peak in divorce enquiries comes after Christmas when people are spending more quality time with their partners – coined as ‘D-Day’. 

The second peak is after the summer holidays when couples have spent long periods of time together on holidays away from the distraction of daily routine and school runs. 

Follow Laura Naser on Instagram – @thefamilylawyer.

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Written by Angle News

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