Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division, has published a document – The Road Ahead – which sets out a framework for family court work for the next six months.
Previous optimistic views that the situation created by COVID-19 ‘would all be over by July’ have now been replaced with a more realistic view that courts may be back to normal by the end of the year, or even spring 2020.
Much of the family court work has been carried out remotely so far and Sir Andrew says that has created a “bedrock of experience”. Whilst family courts should be open to the public this month (July), strict social distancing rules will be adhered to, which in turn will reduce capacity. There is also a backlog of pre-COVID work that has led Sir Andrew to announce a “very radical reduction” in the amount of time courts can spend on each case, as well as cutting down oral evidence and only allowing cases to court where it is necessary to determine or dispose of the case. Much of the day to day work will, therefore, continue to be carried out remotely.
Where cases are to be dealt with remotely, courts will advise which platform will be used at least three days in advance of the hearing. Note that courts and judiciary do not currently support Zoom.
Family Matters has been successfully conducting online mediations and MIAMs for some time now and has found that they work well. Juliette Dalrymple, managing director, said:
“Clients like the structure and the fact that mediation can be carried out at a time that is convenient to them. There are now no geographical constraints and we can mediate with people who live some distance from each other. We have successfully undertaken mediations about children and finances and our practice and knowledge is expanding all the time.”.
One client said:
“I was really worried about doing online mediation regarding a financial settlement with my ex, but the mediator made it really easy. I was able to get ready in my own time and make sure I had all the paperwork in separate piles in front of my computer so it was easy to find. I felt much more comfortable doing it in my own home.”