Category Archives: Family

How could legal aid rules affect future family law cases?

Legal issues concerning many aspects of family life have made the news lately. Arguably the most prominent involves the leading judge Sir James Munby, whose recent opinions on a case involving a vulnerable teenager shone a light on social care cases. In an unusual step, Mr Munby spoke about how if a girl would be forced out of care, the consequences would be dire.

The growing frustrations expressed even by those in high-ranking positions with the High Court suggests that changes are afoot throughout the legal sphere. Many of them centre around changes to Legal Aid, which is set to be pared back for many people.

Those most likely to be affected by any cuts are people with social care, custody and divorce cases to fight. The current scheme has enabled many poorer claimants to attend court cases by providing them with the necessary funding for proper legal representation. In scaling down Legal Aid, there could be a very real possibility that those people may be left with few options.

Self-representation

Mr Munby himself has tackled the government over their proposals to cut Legal Aid. His pleas had fallen on deaf ears, with the government’s initial decision from 2013 proving final. Since then, a string of stories about the impact of those cuts have surfaced. Aside from potentially putting an obstacle in front of poorer claimants, there is another knock-on effect.

Some of those going to family courts to resolve divorce proceedings, social care cases and the like are often left with little choice but to represent themselves. Rather than hiring family law experts, claimants are looking to go to court unassisted. This carries a number of risks, not least the possibility that many going down this route are likely to be ill-prepared.

Whilst self-representation is unorthodox, this won’t deter family law courts from turning down cases. Presently, there is no legal framework stopping claimants from representing themselves. It is a last resort, but for someone to go down this route, they need to do plenty of research and must argue their case in a controlled manner.

New approach

As more people look to represent themselves, divorce law specialists may need to change their approach. Regardless of how deep cuts to Legal Aid may be, trying to attract clients who seek a more cost-effective solution might benefit from receiving general legal advice rather than fully-blown representation in court.

With laws changing, there seems to be a shift in attitudes too, particularly when it comes to divorce. The most recent figures issued by the Office for National Statistics reveal that divorce rates in England and Wales are falling. Perhaps this is down to couples solving their problems or looking at alternatives, but whatever the reason, law cases of this nature will likely change.

As for the courts, whether social welfare cases are done on an individual basis or centred around a major event such as the Grenfell Tower fire, they seem certain to deal with a high volume of people trying to reach settlements.

They will need to change their approach as well, making sure that those representing themselves act in accordance with court etiquette. Also, they need to ensure that those claimants won’t end up being short-changed due to their lack of legal nous.

 

The Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill – what is domestic violence?

pui uroOf the 27 proposed bills included in the Queen’s Speech delivered on 21 June 2017, the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill was perhaps the one that piqued family law practitioners’ interest the most.

The bill, it is claimed, will protect victims and ensure that they have the ‘confidence to come forward and report their experiences….’. The bill also proposes establishing a Domestic Violence and Abuse Commissioner, acting as an ‘independent watchdog’, who would stand up for the interests of victims and survivors of domestic abuse. The Commissioner would monitor the response of the authorities and help keep victims safe from domestic violence perpetrators.

Furthermore, it is proposed that there would be potential for longer sentences for those convicted of domestic violence against children, as well as those cases involving an aggravated offence, potentially allowing judges to hand out tougher sentences.

The proposal will also include a clear definition of ‘domestic violence’ so that victims can easily identify themselves as victims of domestic abuse and take action accordingly. Currently, domestic violence and abuse is defined as:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse:

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional”

Whilst many of us are familiar with identifying physical and sexual abuse, there are many who would not be able to identify themselves as victims where such abuse is of broader psychological, emotional or financial nature. For example, where a spouse or partner prohibits restricts the other from financial independence, may be considered as abuse and/or domestic violence. Further examples might include perpetrators restricting access to money, where financial activity is controlled or monitored through bank accounts or even where one party is asking the other to account for each and every penny spent – all such similar scenarios might be considered variations of financial abuse.

These different forms of abuse can often be extremely subtle, leading to difficulties with victims identifying themselves as suffering from domestic violence. Financial and psychological abuse is most effective over prolonged periods of time and typically, tends to worsen once the perpetrator has established a position of trust and authority.

Physical violence does not always follow other forms of domestic violence or abuse. Many perpetrators find they do not need to resort to physical abuse if for example, psychological or financial abuse is effective in controlling their partner.

The Office of National Statistics states that 53% of unsuccessful prosecutions in domestic violence cases were due to victims retracting their evidence, not attending hearings or not supporting the case.

It is widely recognised that domestic violence and abuse remains under-reported. The Crime Survey for the year ending March 2015 showed that 4 in 5 victims of domestic violence do not report abuse to the police. The lack of reporting to the appropriate authorities is often as a result of control and fear, lack of confidence that the relevant authorities will take action against the perpetrator and lack of understanding about what is considered as domestic violence and abuse.

In December 2016, Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, called for a bar on victims of domestic violence being cross-examined by their perpetrators in court. Munby urged for reform following an investigation by The Guardian, which revealed that women faced questioning in family proceedings by the men who had abused then. Following the post-LASPO austerity drive and cuts to public funding, victims and perpetrators alike are frequently finding themselves unrepresented in the family court. Sir James Munby proposes a complete ban on cross-examination of victims by perpetrators in family cases, in accordance with the provisions in criminal proceedings, but such proposals would require changes in primary legislation. In addition, Sir Oliver Heald, Minister for Courts and Justice, has confirmed his commitment to review the availability of legal aid by April 2018.

The introduction of the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill comes as a welcome relief to many charities and organisations dealing with victims of domestic abuse. It is anticipated that the bill will bring about a greater awareness and understanding of domestic violence, which is all too often associated only with physical or sexual abuse, but it is clearly one, small step in a long journey to address the difficulties that victims face.

This article was written by Pui Uro, solicitor and partner at Hunter and Uro Solicitors in London and Bedford.

6 out of 10 separations ignore the law and go straight to court – why it is important to mediate

phil hunterSince 06 April 2011, following the breakdown of a marriage, all couples were supposed to have considered mediation before turning to the court to settle disputes relating to their children or family finances. There has long been provision for exemption to this rule, including cases involving domestic violence or child protection issues, which would still go directly to court. This ADR step became mandatory in private law applications, following the implementation of the Family and Children Act 2013, making attendance at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) mandatory from April 2014.

Following a recent Freedom of Information request, National Family Mediation obtained data illustrating that 60% of separated couples still ignore their MIAM obligations. From some 89,886 private law applications to the family court, only 35,627 had correctly followed the MIAM process.

NFM conducted some very similar investigations two years after the 2013 Act came into force, which demonstrated that in the region of 22% of private law applications complied with the MIAM obligation. This was an improvement itself on the 2015 figures (7%) and so the trend is certainly moving in the right direction.

Nevertheless, NFM, who conduct over 35,000 MIAMs a year, queried whether solicitors are encouraging clients to exempt themselves from mediation and whether the courts are properly monitoring applications or using their powers to direct separating couples to attend a MIAM.

Certainly, there will be circumstances wherein ADR of any sort is sadly not suitable or available for a party in a particular case. This might, for example, be on grounds of geographical location or the urgency of the application in hand – exemptions will also be appropriate for some parties.

The benefits of mediation are widely familiar to all practitioners. For the uninitiated, in cases with successful mediation outcomes, agreements between parties are generally achieved quicker and at a lower overall cost to the parties. However, MIAM, mediation and in fact ADR in general, will not serve as a panacea to all disputes and the courts will always be required to operate as an institution of last resort.

NFM’s Freedom of Information request, processed by the Ministry of Justice in May 2017 also demonstrated that almost 73% of financial remedy applications did comply with the MIAM requirement (36,461 from a total of 50,261). Clearly, private law children applications are the stumbling block to improving the overall MIAM compliance picture.

In June 2017, CAFCASS reported their largest monthly increase in private law instructions for over three years, up 12% to almost 4,000 instructions to the month end. The latest data from the Family Court Statistics Quarterly further demonstrates the continued rise in private children law applications, which is up over 20% in just two years – (2015 Q1: 10,547, 2016 Q1: 11,515, 2017 Q1: 12,796).

In private law matters regarding children, the court has a duty not to delay under s.1(2) CA 1989 and so the idea of referring parents that are in dispute back to a MIAM attendance is not a particularly attractive proposition, but should the court “gatekeepers” be doing more to ease the congestion of cases currently faced by the court?

In the face of an ever-increasing demand for court services, at odds with court closures and the reduced resources available, is it right that the appetite of gate-keeping staff for a rigorous application of the MIAM obligations should be questioned? Decimating court resources will inevitably impact on the court service provided. This has now led to a prioritisation of the work that the court service can provide. The wider picture appears to reflect CAFCASS’ recent statement on the “Guidance of the use of Professional Time to Benefit Children” and the reduction in services being provided in the future.

Tacitly, it may be that MIAM compliance is overlooked by gate-keepers, simply attempting to operate a “light touch” service that their reduced resources will only currently allow. Solicitors and mediators alike, should continue to work hand in hand and bang the proverbial drum extoling the benefits of mediation to parties in dispute.

This article was written by Philip Hunter of Hunter and Uro Solicitors in London and Bedford.

A cheating partner: the worst kind of betrayal

In the hectic modern world, a stable home life is something we all yearn for. We want to find our life partner, get married, and presume to take their faithfulness for granted. But it’s not always so. After all, where would arts and music be without marital infidelity?

Same Old Scene

It may make for a great soundtrack, but a cheating lover can be a heart-breaking and trust-shattering experience for the partner who’s spurned. Worst of all, when the cheating happens in secret but a faint aura of suspicion pollutes the kitchen at breakfast time, it can build into a devastating relationship breakdown. So what do you do? Ignore it or confront them?

Innocent or Not?

Your partner is working later than usual and going on long trips. A colleague calls after hours and they chat and laugh more than is strictly appropriate. Your partner is defensive and protective over computer passwords. What’s going on? One way to find out is to hire a private investigator.

Love Is the Drug

At Insight, our highly trained private investigators are used to making discreet enquiries anywhere in the world. We can undertake surveillance, either in person or electronically, to find out what’s going on. Loved-up couples always leave a trail, allowing a private eye to put together a portfolio of evidence. You can then approach your partner, certain in the knowledge that they are at fault.

Dance Away

Happily though, there’s often a perfectly satisfactory explanation for their behaviour. Your partner’s motives are entirely honourable and you feel like a fool. But you’ve got your evidence and you never had to broach the subject. So you can put your suspicions aside and get back to living, loving and enjoying your relationship, trust renewed.

More Than This

At Insight Investigations we have over thirty years’ experience of investigating a whole range of situations. So whether you suspect your partner of cheating or you already know and want concrete proof, contact us today.

The most popular divorce questions

Other than how much a divorce costs, which really does depend on the specifics of the case, here are the most poplar questions that we receive about divorces that we thought we would share?

Can we get a ‘quickie’ divorce?

Enticing as that prospect may sound, the answer is no. All divorce proceedings must go through a court and there are certain timescales that have to be adhered to. It is appropriate that this is the case because there needs to be time for the divorcing couple to reflect on the action their taking to make sure that this is a step they definitely want to take. Putting financial settlements to one side, a typical divorce can take between 4 and 6 months.

Can we get a divorce because our marriage has simply run its course?

Once again, the answer is no. There have been calls to introduce a ‘no-fault’ divorce arrangement but at the moment, nothing has been passed. There is a requirement to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down because of adultery, long-term separation of two years or more and you both agree to the divorce, separation for five years or more irrespective of agreement, desertion or unreasonable behaviour.

Do we have to go to court?

If you both agree to the divorce then there should be no need to attend. The court can deal with matters in your absence as long as all the necessary documents and paperwork are in place. Of course, if the divorce is contested then you will need to attend. In these circumstances there is a good chance you will need a solicitor specialising in divorce / family law to check over the documentation and ensure the agreement is legally sound.

Are financial settlements split 50-50?

No. This is probably one of the most complex areas of divorce law and it will depend on a lot of factors. Seeking proper legal advice on this matter is imperative.

Jonathan Guy is a chartered marketer, writer and public speaker with regular blog posts on his website regarding areas of digital marketing. Website jonathanguy.co.uk. Twitter @jonathanmguy.

Saving on the costs of divorce

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports a reduction in the number of marriages ending in divorce (from 45 per cent in 2010 to 42 per cent in 2012). However, this still suggests that many of those marrying today may one day find themselves heading to the divorce courts rather than living happily ever after.

The ONS indicates that the statistics are in line with declining marriage rates. It attributes this to the fact that ever more couples now choose to co-habit rather than marry.

With so many marriages still ending up in divorce, demand remains strong for the services of divorce solicitors. Unfortunately, the fees associated with matrimonial matters can be substantial. A survey carried out by Aviva (previously Norwich Union) as far back as 2006 indicated that the legal costs per divorcing party were £1,808, representing an average cost of just under £4,000 when both parties are considered.

Whilst inflation has remained low in the intervening period, stable demand has ensured that legal fees have continued to represent a significant element of the overall cost of the divorce process. This unwelcome financial burden merely adds to the significant stresses associated with marital breakdown, depleting the funds available to the parties when the divorce is complete.

There are, however, a variety of services specifically designed to keep divorce costs to a minimum whilst allowing couples to reach an appropriate agreement. These include DIY divorces and a managed fixed fee service.

DIY divorces

Some firms will now offer a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) divorce service. Whilst specific offerings vary, this is essentially a fixed fee, self-help service. Options may include the provision of essential forms and documentation, together with expert assistance in completing and checking forms prior to submission. Most DIY services will provide some level of support and guidance throughout.

Managed fixed fee divorces

If the divorce is not contested, a managed fixed fee divorce may be appropriate. These services provide access to expert divorce lawyers and specialists who will work with clients in the preparation of the relevant documentation. Managed fixed fee services will also offer advice and assistance throughout the process, dealing with the other party’s divorce solicitor and the courts.

Both of these services can provide advice on settling issues relating to property and finance and can assist in negotiating child custody, access, contact and residence arrangements where there are children involved.

Whilst it is always wise to request a detailed, itemised quote before work commences, both service types described above will offer a fixed fee service as standard.

Modern fixed fee services can serve to mitigate the costs and stress of divorce. The aim throughout is to ensure that the divorce is handled as efficiently and constructively as possible, resulting in a positive outcome that works for all parties.

This article was written by The Co-operative Legal Services Family Law solicitors.

If you would like advice on divorce or other Family Law related issues please visit their website. They offer fixed fee divorce advice and transparently priced options and can work with you to give you the help you need.

Divorce settlements: tips and pitfalls

Almost every element of the divorce process is either complex or painful and reaching a financial settlement can be one of the most difficult tasks. There are a number of things that you can do, however, to make a settlement easier to achieve and to minimise the emotional impact on all concerned.

Listen to divorce solicitors

If you have failed to reach an amicable agreement and have enlisted the services of a legal adviser, listen to what they are telling you. Divorce specialists will offer you objective advice that is not driven by the emotional aspects of your divorce. It is important to heed this advice. Whilst you will naturally feel inclined to question every detail, it is essential that you strive to reach an acceptable settlement rather allowing any desire to exact revenge or settle scores to dominate your thinking.

As difficult as this may be, you should try to separate your emotions from the need to finalise a settlement. Sympathetic as they may be, family law solicitors and divorce specialists are there to offer legal advice rather than for your emotional well-being. Talk to family, friends and perhaps a professional counsellor about your feelings and allow your solicitors to deal with the practical elements of your divorce settlement.

Be honest and understanding

Honesty with both yourself and your solicitor is an essential factor in reaching a divorce settlement, as is trying to understand your former partner’s perspective. People deal with a divorce in very different ways and may reach various stages of the process at different times. For example, you may have started to feel anger whilst your former partner is still in denial.

It is essential that you at least try to consider what may be occurring in their lives and that you thus allow adequate time in order to achieve the best results for all concerned. Try to temper your own feelings of anger or frustration and remain as civil as possible when contact is necessary. This will reduce the emotional impact on children and adults alike. It is also likely to elicit a more reasonable response from your former partner.

Knowledge is power

There is absolutely no point in burying your head in the sand if you need help to achieve a financial settlement. Both you and your former partner will need to go to different legal firms and you should make it your business to understand the relevant elements of the legal process and ask to questions when necessary. This will ensure that you feel more in control of a situation that can otherwise leave you feeling devoid of any sense of power in so many ways.

Don’t be influenced by the experiences or advice of those who lack legal qualifications. Many of them may well have their own agenda and everyone’s experience of the process is different. Instead, ensure that you take adequate legal advice, do your own independent research and be willing to take heed of the expert guidance you are given.

This article was written by The Co-operative Legal Services Family Law solicitors.

If you would like advice on divorce or other Family Law related issues please visit their website. They offer fixed fee divorce advice and transparently priced options and can work with you to give you the help you need.

Children Solicitors in Weybridge

Meadows Ryan are Children Solicitors based in Weybridge and serving Cobham, Esher and surrounding Surrey areas. We deal with access to children (“contact”), adoption, guardianship, wardship and other issues relating to children.

When a marriage or civil partnership ends or an unmarried couple split up, the welfare of their children is paramount. This is recognised in law, in the Children Act 1989.

During what is likely to be a difficult and stressful time, most parents would wish to put their differences aside to agree about arrangements for their children. However, consulting a solicitor experienced in family law will ensure that the child’s best interests are at the heart of any such agreement.

The courts are unlikely to interfere in a voluntary arrangement, as the law considers that these are more likely to succeed than those imposed by the courts. Mediation may also be useful in achieving a voluntary agreement.

However, if all else fails, it may be necessary to go to court to apply for a specific order where legal advice is essential. The most common orders are:

  • a residence order, which the court uses to set out arrangements for where the child will live, for example with one parent or partner, both parents (with the order specifying how much time the child will live with each one) or each partner, with a separate order for each parent or partner, saying how much time the child will live with them.
  • a contact order: if an absent parent is prevented from seeing, talking on the phone or writing to their children, the court can be asked to order contact arrangements.

Orders can also be made to allow contact between the child and other relatives, such as grandparents, and friends.

Any proceedings involving children are likely to be emotionally demanding, but we can help you by providing practical, professional advice designed to help you reach a solution that is in your children’s best interests.

Even if you feel that you have no alternative to going to court, our experience in family law may help to settle the problem before it goes that far, by exploring every option to work with your ex-partner to make joint decisions about your children.

Adoption

The adoption process makes a child legally the child of new parents, by transferring parental responsibility to the adopters.

Anyone aged over 21 can apply to adopt but joint applications can only be made by married couples and civil partners. Where unmarried couples adopt, only one partner can become the adopter. The child to be adopted must be under 18.

In many cases, adoption is used to give a child a new family when they cannot live with their own parents, for example when they are in local authority care. It may also be used to give a step-parent parental responsibility for a stepchild. International adoption, with families adopting children from outside the UK, is another type of adoption that has recently become more high profile.

The adoption process has significant implications for all those concerned as adoption orders cannot be reversed, except in extremely rare circumstances, so seeking legal advice is essential.

Our experience means that we can advise and support prospective adoptive parents and birth parents considering adoption as an option for their children, in all aspects of the process.

Guardianship

Thinking about the future wellbeing your children is an important part of being a parent, which is why it is important to make arrangements for their care in the event of your death.

Even though it is unlikely that both parents will die at the same time, making a will allows you to appoint a legal guardian or guardians for children aged under 18, who will be responsible for their upbringing if this should happen. Making such arrangements is particularly important for single parents.

Setting out your wishes in this way means that the person or people of your choice will look after your children, rather than the decision being left to your surviving family. The person or people you choose must understand what is involved, including financial responsibility, and be in full agreement with your wishes.

We can advise you on the issues involved in making your choice of guardian or guardians and assist you in drawing up a will that sets out your wishes.

We can also advise on Special Guardianship Orders (SGO), a new legal option intended to provide stability of care for children where adoption is not suitable. The SGO appoints one or more people as a special guardian, with parental responsibility for making day-to-day decisions on all aspects of caring for the child.

An SGO is particularly appropriate where birth parents, or others with parental responsibility, cannot provide the child with the long-term security of a permanent home but links between them need to be maintained. It will benefit children in long-term foster care or who are cared for by their wider family on a permanent basis.

People entitled to apply for an SGO include a local authority foster parent with whom the child has lived for at least a year and anyone with whom the child has lived for three out of the last five years.

Wardship

Wardship is a High Court action making a minor (a child under the age of 18) the subject of a wardship order.

The order ensures that the court becomes the legal guardian of the child, with the child’s day-to-day care carried out by one or more individuals or a local authority. As long as the minor remains a ward of court, all decisions regarding their upbringing must be approved by the court, for example a transfer to a different school or medical treatment.

Wardship is made only under special circumstances, for example where there is a risk that the child may be taken abroad. Wardship imposes an automatic prohibition on taking the child out of the United Kingdom.

Please contact us for further information on how we can help you.

See also our Brief Guides to Children Issues.

Family Solicitors in Weybridge

When it comes to family law, we have the expertise to provide sound advice during what are often testing times for our clients and their families.

In all areas of family financial work, we bring extensive experience to the table. We can advise you on divorce settlements, pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements, property disputes between unmarried couples and financial claims on behalf of children. We are also experienced in children matters and can advise on residence and contact, international relocation, returning children across international borders and disputes over schooling, naming or other specific issues.

Whether you need representation in complex proceedings or advice on how to negotiate your own settlement; whether you are already in dispute or you want advice on how to avoid conflict, we can help. Whatever the issue, we offer high quality tailored legal advice.

Family services at a glance:

  • divorce and civil partnership dissolution
  • financial claims on behalf of children
  • financial disputes between unmarried couples
  • financial settlements on divorce or dissolution
  • international child abduction
  • international relocation of families
  • pre and post-nuptial and pre-civil partnership agreements
  • residence and contact disputes

ContactChristian Abletshauser

For various guides on family matters – Click Here

Divorce Solicitors in Weybridge

Meadows Ryan are Divorce Solicitors based in Weybridge and serving Cobham, Esher and surrounding Surrey areas. We deal with divorce, dissolution of civil partnerships, separation, financial provision when a marriage breaks down and other issues arising from separation.

Divorce and separation

Even the most amicable separation or divorce is likely to be difficult and stressful at times. Worrying about the legal proceedings involved, the financial arrangements and what happens to you and your children can be an additional worry.

If you have not consulted a solicitor before, you may also feel anxious about seeking legal advice.

But independent legal advice can be crucial in helping to resolve issues within divorce, for example when you are not sure about whether you have grounds for divorce, your partner does not agree to a divorce or you have concerns about financial issues and how to divide your property, assets and/or liabilities.

As your solicitor, our job is to look after your best interests, and those of any children. We will give realistic, professional advice that is right for you and your circumstances, drawing on our knowledge of the law and our professional experience.

There are around 150,000 divorces each year in England and Wales alone and each one is different. Divorce law has been designed to be flexible, to meet the different needs of each couple and family going through the process, this can also make it very complicated.

So seeking expert legal advice will almost certainly save you time, money and anxiety and may be vital in bringing issues within divorce and separation to a satisfactory conclusion.

Financial provision when a marriage breaks down

When a marriage breaks down, financial issues are likely to be a significant concern for both parties, particularly where children are involved.

Proceedings to sort out financial matters take place separately to divorce proceedings, with both parties required to disclose their financial circumstances to the other, with the aim of achieving a satisfactory financial settlement without the involvement of the courts.

Our sensitive, conciliatory approach to family law issues means that wherever possible, we encourage clients to make mutually agreeable financial arrangements independently of the courts.

If this cannot be achieved, however, we will work with our clients to advise and support them through court proceedings, which include opportunities for both parties to consent to a financial order made by the court.

If the finances cannot be resolved voluntarily, the courts will make a binding order to make financial arrangements. Such orders may relate to maintenance for a partner and/or children, a lump sum for a partner (and children, if necessary), a property adjustment or transfer of property order (such as selling the house or putting it into one person’s name) or giving one partner a share of the other person’s pension fund.

By seeking our expert legal advice, we can work with you to help settle financial and property arrangements that make adequate provision for you and your children, no matter how complex the assets involved may be.

We have produced a straightforward guide to divorce and separation, which you can download by clicking here.

See further our Brief Guide to Divorce