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Weightmans sees surge in divorce enquiries during 2020 – will Divorce Day 2021 bring the same spike?

Divorce Day 2021 may not see surge in enquiries to family law experts after busy 2020

Emma Collins, family law expert and Partner at national law firm Weightmans, argues a surge in family law enquiries in 2020 indicates the UK might not experience the same spike in couples looking to separate following Christmas and New Year as it has in previous years.

Divorce Day, the first working Monday of a new year, is known as one of the most popular days for seeking legal advice, as couples who were unable to resolve their issues over the festive period separate. In 2021, it will fall on Monday 4th January.

Weightmans opened twice as many new family law cases in January 2020, compared to December 2019. However, Emma believes a surge in enquiries the firm received in 2020 against a backdrop of Brexit uncertainty and the disruption caused by Covid-19 could offset a similar spike in January 2021.

Weightmans received 361 new family law enquiries during the first six months of this financial year (May to October 2020), more than the total number it received during the entirety of its last full financial year (May 2019 – April 2020). Weightmans expects enquiries for the full financial year to be more than double those for the previous year.

Emma said: “2020 was a perfect storm for the family law arena, with both the Covid-19 pandemic and Brexit putting significant strain on families across the UK. It has been a year like no other, so we cannot say the usual rise in cases we see in January is guaranteed.

“Ordinarily, legal professionals cite how the unique aspects of the festive period, with imposed family-time, in-laws and financial pressure, result in contemplation of how happy an individual may feel. Reflection can trigger a time of conflict, stress, and disappointment which, for some, ultimately ends in separation or divorce.

“However, because of Covid-19, this Christmas and New Year might not offer the same unique break for reflection. In 2020, relationships have been severely tested by lockdown restrictions, economic anxiety, health worries and childcare and home-schooling obligations. The rise in new cases we have seen as a result could mean the spike expected in January has actually been more evenly distributed throughout an unprecedented year.

“There is also Brexit to consider. For some families, the UK’s departure from the European Union has brought forward the difficult decision to separate. Many with an EU connection to their divorce or children litigation flocked to start proceedings before the transition period ended on 31 December 2020 to take advantage of current legal rules.

“This has resulted in cases that may have otherwise taken longer to arrive at a solicitor’s door have been expedited and issued before the end of the year – potentially helping to offset the spike in cases usually recorded in January.

“Looking ahead, many couples could consciously delay divorce proceedings brought in England and Wales until later in 2021. ‘No fault divorce’ is expected to be implemented in the Autumn. This means the dissolution of a marriage does not require a showing of wrongdoing by either party – which could be an appealing prospect for many couples.

“Whether we’ll see an influx of cases on Divorce Day remains to be seen. But, following a difficult year for many families, and the prospect of regulatory changes in 2021, there is a big possibility January 4th will be just another day”.

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