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I am agreeing a financial settlement with my ex-spouse. Should we carry on negotiating despite COVID-19?

No. Before continuing any negotiations, you need to strongly consider whether now is the best time to settle. There is a myriad of uncertainty due to the pandemic, with unemployment rates increasing, volatility in the stock markets and difficulties regarding placing valuations on assets. This could all lead to the financial settlement being unfair to you and cause you financial difficulties in the future.

Any financial settlements reached following marital separation should be embodied in to a Court Order, to prevent future claims from your ex-spouse. As a general principle, although maintenance orders are always variable, financial orders in respect of capital (e.g. house, cash, investments, pensions) are final and it is very difficult to set aside a Court Order. The question will be whether or not the pandemic is judged as a Barder event, which broadly means something viewed as unforeseen. It would be challenging for you to argue that the effects of COVID-19 are unforeseen given the widespread expectation of an economic crisis. The Court previously found against a husband who wanted to revisit an Order that he said was unaffordable following the 2008 financial crisis, with one Judge commenting that a 90% drop in the Husband’s share price was a “natural process of price fluctuation”.

Even if you informally agree a settlement with your ex-spouse, and you do not have this reflected in a Court Order, your ex-spouse may still rely on this agreement within future Court proceedings and argue that you should be held to it.

It is, therefore, very dangerous to be reaching any financial settlements at this time with your ex-spouse without careful consideration and legal advice. Further, even if an agreement is reached, market volatility can mean longer implementation times, especially when a settlement relies on the sale of property.