Covid pandemic affecting Northern Ireland relationships, matrimonial lawyer says

By Maurice Fitzmaurice

The Covid pandemic has led to an increase in enquiries about relationship breakdowns and ‘other associated issues’, a matrimonial lawyer says.

Pandemic lockdowns, furlough, home working, home schooling and even rows over isolating and vaccinations are behind ‘persistently high levels’ in the number of people seeking help over family problems, according to director at Curran Bowles Family Law, Clare Curran.

The concerns come against a backdrop of recent PSNI figures which show a rise in domestic abuse over the Christmas period.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency has not yet published divorce statistics for 2021, but anecdotal evidence suggests high levels of people whose relationships are under stress.

Ms Curran said: “In my work as a matrimonial/family lawyer we have seen persistently high levels of new enquiries on all manner of family law issues since relatively early on in the pandemic.

“It is clear from speaking to clients, that the pandemic itself, whether directly or indirectly, is having a negative impact on very many peoples’ circumstances - it has placed families under increasing pressure for various reasons throughout the last 18 months or so, whether due to health issues, job/financial insecurity, changes to every day routines and structures such as home working and school closures, or societal lockdown leading to increased isolation.

“We are even seeing couples reporting rows over differing views in vaccinations or adherence to lockdown rules as sources of contention between couples which have contributed to some relationships breaking down or rows between separated couples who are co-parenting for example.

“All of those issues I have mentioned, to varying degrees have had an impact, over a sustained period of time, on many people’s emotional wellbeing. That in turn appears to have resulted in an increase in families in crisis and people seeking legal help on issues around separation, divorce, disputes over children, as well as, worryingly, an increase in reports of domestic violence.

“Family lawyers generally report a spike in new enquiries in January each year which is perhaps attributable to people spending more time at Christmas at home together. The pressures of the festive period financially, as well as a tendency for people to put things off until the New Year can also be factors.

“But last year the January spike in new instructions persisted throughout the rest of the year and we have been receiving similar levels of new enquiries most months throughout that time.”

Ms Curran added that there are a number of options available if people’s relationships are in stress.

She added: “My advice if people are facing crisis, is that there is help available - there are various organisations that provide counselling and support such as mental health charities, and other specialist organisations such as Women’s Aid, Assist NI, the Men’s Advisory Project, the Rainbow Project, Relate, the NSPCC and Parenting NI.

“From a legal perspective, family lawyers can help those who need access to the family courts or advise on dealing with family separation - the family courts have continued to sit throughout the pandemic, albeit in a different way, and there is legal help out there for people who are considering separation or divorce.

“In particular it is important for victims of domestic violence to know that there is protection available, quickly where necessary, through the legal system - emergency action can be taken for those at risk by way of domestic violence for example and specialist family lawyers can advise as to what can be done, such as seeking protection from harm by way of emergency Non Molestation/Occupation Orders for example.”


What is inkl?

Important stories

See news based on value, not advertising potential. Get the latest news from around the world.

Trusted newsrooms

We bring you reliable news from the world’s most experienced journalists in the most trusted newsrooms.

Ad-free reading

Read without interruptions, distractions or intrusions of privacy.