THE pressures of local lockdowns, changing social restrictions and unclear guidance has lead to a rise in family breakdowns according to new data from a Wirral law firm.
Family lawyers at Jackson Lees have seen a sustained increase in new enquiries relating to family disputes since lockdown measures were introduced, with a year-on-year increase of 26% recorded in September alone.
The firm says the majority of enquiries are coming from couples wishing to start divorce proceedings and a rise in disputes relating to “parental alienation”, where estranged parents are denied access to their children.
Over the last three months, Jackson Lees has recorded a 20% year-on-year increase in enquiries relating to separation, divorce, financial issues and children, including parental alienation, with parents claiming that social distancing restrictions are being used by ex-partners to block access to their children.
In addition, the firm says a rise in divorce enquiries has continued throughout this phase of the pandemic with a 26% overall increase.
Jenniffer Brunt, head of family law at Jackson Lees, said: “During the first three months of the pandemic when the whole country was in lockdown, we saw a clear spike in the number of cases being opened for divorce.
“This was a trend that was mirrored across the country and was the result of the intense pressures of lockdown exacerbating underlying issues in relationships causing problems to become unsolvable.
“However, we continued to see a month-on-month increase in enquiries post-lockdown, even during the summer months which are traditionally quieter.
“Worryingly, we’ve also seen a significant rise in the number of parents getting in touch who claim they are being denied access to their children. In many of these cases the parent says their ex-partner is citing restrictions on household mixing as a reason to prevent visits.
“In reality, Government guidance does permit the children of parents who are separated to move between their households.
“Whether this rise in disputes is due to confusion or a deliberate misinterpretation of the rules isn’t clear but, regardless, it is another worrying sign of the detrimental impact that lockdown restrictions are having on families.”
With many areas including Merseyside and Manchester now subject to Tier 3 restrictions meaning residents are unable to socialise outside of their household or support bubble, Jennifer says she expects the increase to continue.
She added: “As we move into these tighter restrictions and families once again face the prospect of being cooped up at home together and unable to socialise normally with friends, together with some confusion about what is and isn’t allowed, we really do have a recipe for disaster on our hands.
“The financial stress caused by job insecurity and the end of the national furlough scheme is undoubtedly playing a role in creating friction among families, which is not helped by the limits on seeing anyone outside your own household.
“If the rate of enquiries continue at this pace, we’ll be looking at a 40% year-on-year increase each month, demonstrating how the pressure of local lockdowns and the overall impact of the pandemic continue to make their mark.”