Covid-19 has caused a spike in divorce – here's how to cope

Lockdown has caused a spike in people filing for divorce. But splitting up involves some arduous administrative tasks. Here's what to do.

B

eing trapped at home with a partner during lockdown has clearly proved hellish for many couples. The number of people inquiring about a divorce rose by 42% between 23 March and mid-May, according to Co-op Legal Services.

“Concerns about finances, employment, coupled with the fact that households are having to spend an increased amount of time together can add strain on relationships,” says Tracey Moloney, Head of Family Law at Co-op Legal Services. 

If you are emerging from lockdown with divorce on your mind there is much to consider. “Negotiating a divorce at times of economic stability is difficult enough. As asset values fluctuate in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, the task of figuring out a fair split is made harder still,” says Lucy Warwick-Ching in The Financial Times. “Whether you are simply contemplating divorce or have come to the end of the road in your relationship, there are numerous financial and practical aspects to be considered in deciding to untie the knot.”

One main issue is splitting what you own. In most divorces all assets accrued during a marriage are divided equally. The easiest way to proceed is to agree to divide assets by percentages. 

“For example, cash from the sale of the family home can be split as a percentage of the sale proceeds rather than a fixed sum of money to ensure both parties share in the upside or downside of the property market,” says Warwick-Ching.

When splitting your assets don’t forget about your pensions. “Pension pots are usually the most valuable asset, apart from the family home, yet only seven in ten divorce settlements take them into account,” says Kate Palmer in The Times. 

This means women typically pay a huge price for their divorce when they retire. The average 65-year-old divorced woman has a pension plan worth £26,100, compared with £103,500 for a divorced man.

“Women contemplating divorce must ensure that they are aware of their own and their husband’s pension savings and likely outcomes in retirement,” says Philip Way, a partner at law firm Mills & Reeve. “Many women have found that, in keeping the house and not looking carefully at pensions, they have put themselves in a poor position for the long term.”

Weighing up the value of the family home versus pension savings is particularly difficult at present. Stockmarket falls may have affected your pensions, but on paper the family house is still holding its value. You could wait in the hope that the pension will recover, but in the meantime the value of your house could fall. 

“Not being able accurately to predict the future makes it impossible to identify the perfect time to start divorce proceedings,” says Sarah Coles from Hargreaves Lansdown in The Financial Times. 

If you do decide to go ahead with your divorce, then Covid-19 shouldn’t cause any delays. Throughout lockdown “divorce proceedings have been going ahead over video conferencing calls while the courts have been closed”, says The Daily Telegraph. Most proceedings don’t need a court hearing, however, and the Ministry of Justice has not noted any slowdown in the time taken to process divorces.

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