“The Italian Job” …..re Spousal Maintenance

SHOULD THE UK COURTS FOLLOW THE ITALIAN SUPREME COURT ON SPOUSAL MAINTENANCE?  Vijaya Sumputh, Solicitor, Family Law specialist at Curwens asks whether this case will have any effect.

According to “The Telegraph”, Vittorio Grilli, the former Italian Economy and Finance Minister (2012-2013) and his former wife Lisa Lowenstein, an American businesswoman, divorced acrimoniously in 2013.  Vittorio was ordered to pay his former wife the monthly sum of €2M to maintain her lifestyle but that was not the end of legal proceedings as Lisa then returned to Court to make Vittorio pay her debts.

The Court of Appeal in Milan rejected her claim for maintenance payments for life on the grounds that her Income Tax Returns were incomplete and Vittorio’s income had since reduced, so Lisa took the matter to the Supreme Court in 2014.

In May 2017 the Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome ruled that divorcees do not have the right to automatic indefinite maintenance payments.   The Judges stated that divorce should be modernized and not be seen as “set up for life”.  They concluded that divorcees who have independent means or the capacity to work, should not expect to receive maintenance payments indefinitely. They stated that divorced parties are not all entitled to maintain the same “tenor of life” as when married and, if possible, they need to learn to be self sufficient.

The Judges further recommended that keeping up payments indefinitely can be “an obstacle to starting a new family”  and have called for the divorce law to reflect modern relationships.

Now that the Italian Family Law system has rejected the idea that divorced spouses are guaranteed their previous standard of living, it is likely that many Italian divorcees will want to challenge their divorce settlements, however, the Italian Family Court will have to be incredibly careful not to discriminate against the financially weaker party and unfairly disadvantage those without the means to gain financial independence.  While they may no longer guarantee life long maintenance payments, they must guarantee provision for those who lose their earning capacity because of their commitment to marriage.

Given Italy’s trend, it will be interesting to see if other justice systems will also be tempted to reform the reasoning behind divorce settlements.

In contrast, only a few months ago, in a UK divorce case, Mills v. Mills, the former husband asked to end indefinite maintenance payments under English Law.  The parties were married for 13 years. The wife said that in the early years of the marriage, she ran her own beauty business and financially supported the family while the husband finished his studies, after which they both then worked together to set up his business as a surveyor. The parties have one son, who is now at university.

Towards the end of the marriage, the wife suffered serious health problems and had to reduce her working hours. The parties separated in 2001 and divorced in 2002. They reached an agreement that the family home would be sold, the wife would receive £230,000.00 from the sale to buy a new home for herself and their son, and husband would keep his business assets. Additionally, the husband agreed to pay the wife spousal maintenance of £1,100 per month. In 2014 the husband applied to court to end those payments and the wife cross-applied to increase them. The judge disagreed with both of them so they both appealed.

The Court of Appeal found that the original judge had erred in not increasing the maintenance to cover the wife’s shortfall, despite knowing that she could not meet her basic needs and the husband could afford it. The appeal court increased the maintenance to £1,440 per month indefinitely.

This shows that in the UK, maintenance payments continue to be set for a limited period of time or until one party dies, marries or enters into a civil partnership but the Court calculates maintenance payments based on the financially weaker party’s income needs and earning capacity, considering a range of factors such as their age, the length and living standard of their marriage, their health and caring commitments. While each case is specific to its own facts, the Court’s objective is always to enable a party to make a transition to independence where possible. On the facts of the Mills case, the wife was not able to make that transition

At Curwens we are regularly faced with the issue of claims for maintenance, acting for either the person making or challenging the claim.   We provide expert advice on what is a reasonable amount to expect to be awarded or agreed.  We will also guide you through the procedure and explain the financial risks where agreements cannot be reached.  It is therefore essential that you obtain expert legal advice on your position.

Vijaya (Asha) Sumputh

vijaya.sumputh@curwens.co.uk

Family Law Solicitor – Curwens LLP.

Vijaya offers both fixed fees and flexible pricing for all family law services. For an initial consultation, call Vijaya direct on 0208 884 7221 and she will be happy to help you with all your family queries.

www.curwens.co.uk                                                                                      CURWENS LLP

D-I-V-O-R-C-E – who gets what?

This month, I’m grateful to my colleague, Vijaya Sumputh, a specialist Family Law Solicitor at Curwens for her timely advice on the way some family assets are dealt with in divorce :

“According to a recent article in the Guardian, divorce enquiries are expected to rise more than 300% at the beginning of the year.  As Family Law solicitors, in this situation, we’re often asked the big question :  Who gets what?

The process of dividing the marital assets on divorce or family breakdown can be  emotional and complicated. What our clients want is a clear idea of what they may end up with at the end of this process, for example:

  • Who gets the matrimonial home?
  • Who gets the engagement ring?
  • Who gets the family pet?

Sadly, it’s not always possible to give a definitive answer to these questions, particularly in the early stages.

The Courts approach each case on its own individual set of facts – what might be right for one family, may not necessarily be right in all cases. The law in England and Wales is based on a discretionary regime which means there is a vast range of settlement options available in different circumstances.

There is no hard-and-fast rule, which is why it is important to take legal advice so that you have a better idea of the range of likely outcomes in your case.

Who gets the family home?

Often the family home is the biggest matrimonial asset and potentially the most emotionally significant one. Whether the house will end up being sold (and the net proceeds of sale divided) or transferred to one of the spouses, very much depends on the family’s needs.

In some cases, the family home may be kept by one spouse if that spouse is the primary carer for the children. Unless there is sufficient net equity in the property to re-house both spouses in a mortgage-free property, priority will usually be given to the spouse who needs to have the children living with him or her.

In some cases, the family home is kept by one party until a defined point in the future (such as when the children are all over 18) when the former family home can be placed on the market for sale at a price to be agreed by the parties (or if they can’t agree, as determined by a Court).

If, however, there are other assets that a Court can take into account, then one spouse may be able to retain the house permanently and pay other funds to the other person to “buy out” their interest.

When making any financial order, the court will look at a number of factors such as the length of the marriage, the age of the parties, whether they are working and what their earning capacity is, whether there are children, what each party’s needs are and what assets are available to meet those needs. It’s complicated, so do take legal advice.

Who gets the engagement ring?

The answer to this question can vary depending on whether the engagement ring was a family heirloom or perhaps inherited by one party. More often than not, engagement rings are retained by the wife to be passed down to one of the children.

As a general rule, the courts prefer chattels to be divided by agreement but if no agreement can be reached, the court can simply order all chattels to be sold and the proceeds divided.

Who gets the pet?

The family pet is mostly regarded as a member of the family but as the Courts will usually treat family pets much in the same way as any other chattel, we strongly encourage the parties to agree who will have responsibility for continuing to care for (and pay for) their family pet! ”

Vijaya Sumputh  –  0208 363 4444  –  Vijaya.sumputh@curwens.co.uk

www.curwens.co.uk

WHAT IS FAMILY MEDIATION?

The start of a new year is often a tricky time for families – has this been a stressful Christmas period? Has spending too much put pressure on family finances and inevitably on relationships? Has the extra time off work meant there’s been time to reflect on the reality of marital issues?  In the new year, couples often make new year’s  resolutions and one of those could be that they should face up to their difficulties and get professional help to resolve them.  Before they rush off to Court, specialist family lawyers always recommend looking at mediation.    Amanda Thurston, Head of the Family Law Team at Curwens Solicitors explains :

“A recent “fly on the wall” documentary followed a family mediator helping couples agree the terms of their separation or divorce. From whether to sell the family home, to how much maintenance to pay, or how often one of them can take the children on holiday, splitting up a family can be a minefield.

So how does Mediation Work?

The first thing to remember is that mediation is voluntary, so both parties need to agree to try it out and also which mediator to approach. The Mediator will then usually want to speak to each party individually before setting up meetings for everyone to attend. Each party gets the chance to raise the issues or concerns they have and the Mediator will try to get the other party to listen to them before expressing their own views. The Mediator will also help the parties discuss the family finances and agree on what information and documentation they each need to provide to help with the negotiations.

These meetings can be stressful if agreement is not easily reached on a point, but the Mediator is specially trained to deal with those situations. They can even do “shuttle mediation” with each party in a separate room if the parties’ relationship has got to the stage where they can’t even be in the same room as each other.

Between the mediation meetings each party should ideally obtain independent legal advice so they know what terms would be reasonable to propose or accept.

If terms can be agreed between the parties, the Mediator will provide a written Memorandum of Understanding. This is not yet legally binding – but is evidence of what you have discussed and agreed. You can then take it to family solicitors to be made legally binding if you wish.

If the mediation breaks down, the Mediator can sign a form for the Court, to allow one of the parties to start Court proceedings.

Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAMS)

There is currently a requirement in place that you must at least attend a MIAMS before starting most Court proceedings regarding children and/or finances, to find out whether Mediation would be suitable for you. (There are certain exemptions in place – for example if it is an urgent case)   The MIAMS is a one to one meeting with a Family Mediator who explains all the alternative routes available to you to try and resolve the dispute without starting Court proceedings. The aim is to ensure you are fully informed about all your options and you understand what would work best for your situation.”

 

If you would like more information on Mediation, please contact

the Curwens Family Law Team:

Royston                   Amanda Thurston              01763 241 261

Hoddesdon              Kristina Nickoli                    01992 463 727

Enfield                     Vijaya Sumputh                   0208 363 4444

 

www.curwens.co.uk

Curwens have offices in Royston, Hoddesdon and Enfield.

 

“The Archers – what next for Helen and her children? The Family Lawyer’s view “

Those of us who are Archers fans have been glued to our radio sets recently, following the latest stressful storyline – stressful for the characters and fans alike – involving the trial of Helen Titchener (aka Archer).  Although it is fiction – and exciting fiction at that – there are lots of issues that have been thrown up by this storyline such as abuse, controlling behaviour and custody disputes which all too often happen in real life.  Although Helen’s barrister, Anna Tregorran, eventually triumphed spectacularly in both Courts (Criminal and Family) we have to remember that it was scripted and a lot of dramatic licence was taken, so I was delighted to spot an excellent article written by four real life barristers from 42 Bedford Row who specialise in Family Law.

http://www.42br.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Archer-v-Titchener-FINAL18-09-16-1.pdf

Thank you Jennifer Kotilaine, Pauline Troy, Emma Romer and Eilidh Gardner for a very helpful explanation of what could happen to a real life “Helen”.  They give their opinions about might happen to the children in a disputed case like this and what the future might hold for Helen.  http://www.42br.com

Meanwhile, to lift the spirits – something good has come out of all this. An Archers fan, Paul Trueman, was inspired to help all the real life “Helens” out there and so set up  The Helen Titchener (nee Archer) Rescue Fund  – We’re raising money for Refuge because for every fictional Helen, there are real ones. 

Since February 2016, Paul’s fund has raised £168,975. His JustGiving page is still open for donations

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/helentitchener?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=fundraisingpage&utm_content=helentitchener&utm_campaign=pfp-tweet

Finally, in traditional voiceover style, if you or anyone you know have been affected by Helen’s storyline, experts at Refuge (www.refuge.org.uk) are ready to help.

Family Solicitors

 

 

Tenancy Deposit Scheme

With so many more people becoming landlords nowadays, it’s all too easy to fall foul of the very strict rules and regulations in this area.  It’s a very good idea to take proper legal advice from a Landlord & Tenant specialist, like Adrian Boulter at Curwens.

This briefing explains what a tenancy deposit scheme (TDS) is and what a landlord’s obligations are under a TDS.

What is a tenancy deposit scheme?

A landlord under an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) must protect a tenant’s deposit by using an authorised tenancy deposit scheme (TDS) operated by an approved scheme administrator.

A TDS has two main objectives:

  1. To ensure that, when a tenant pays a deposit, it will be protected and returned to the tenant at the end of the AST, except when the landlord has a legitimate claim on it.
  2. To resolve disputes between landlords and tenants using dispute resolution rather than via the courts.

There are two types of TDS:

  • A custodial TDS requires a landlord to pay its tenant’s deposit to a scheme administrator, who holds the deposit until the tenancy ends.
  • An insurance TDS where the landlord retains possession of the deposit, but secures it by paying a fee and insurance premiums to the scheme administrator.

What are a landlord’s obligations under a TDS?

Within 30 days of receipt of the deposit a landlord must:

  • Comply with the “initial requirements” of the TDS.
  • Give the tenant certain prescribed information. This information should be provided directly to the tenant. It is not sufficient to merely identify the TDS and let the tenant make their own investigations.

What sanctions are available if a landlord fails to fulfil their obligations under a TDS?

  • If a landlord fails to comply with the TDS, a tenant can apply to court even if the tenancy has ended.
  • The penalty for failing to comply with the TDS will be between one and three times the deposit.

If you are an inexperienced Landlord, you can see that dealing with this can be quite tricky and is a massive trap for the unwary.  If you need any help with Landlord & Tenant issues, contact Curwens’ expert, Adrian Boulter, on 0208 363 4444 or email him  Adrian.boulter@Curwens.co.uk

“I’ll see you in Court!”

Recovering a trade debt 

There is a lot to consider before starting court proceedings in England & Wales:

  • The court has to deal with matters “justly and at proportionate cost.”
  • Do a cost/benefit analysis before starting proceedings, including the cost of enforcement.
  • Check the other party is good for the money – there’s no point incurring the cost of litigation if you can’t enforce the judgment.
  • Don’t start proceedings if you don’t intend to see them through. Unless it’s a small claim (less than £10,ooo) you’ll almost certainly be liable for the other party’s costs if you discontinue the claim.
  • Be careful about always threatening to sue if you don’t mean it – don’t just “cry wolf” – the word will get round to your contacts and damage your reputation.
  • Recovery of your legal costs depends on:
    • who wins or loses;
    • your conduct as well as compliance with court rules and orders (for example, a failure to comply with a pre-action protocol can have cost consequences even for the party that wins);
    • when the matter ends (whether before or after proceedings have been started);
    • the financial value of the claim and the “track” the claim is allocated;
    • how the claim is concluded (whether by agreement or at trial).

Reaching a settlement

Litigation can be disproportionately expensive to the sums being argued about, the outcome is uncertain, the court is only able to offer a limited range of remedies and litigation often destroys any prospect of the parties resuming a commercial relationship so consider alternatives -for example:

Negotiation

  • It might be possible to recover the debt or agree an alternative future course of action by opening a negotiation with the debtor.
  • This can be done verbally or in writing (which includes e-mails).
  • Parties usually negotiate on a without prejudice basis.
  • The without prejudice rule generally prevents statements made in a genuine attempt to settle an existing dispute from being used as evidence of admissions against the party which made them.
  • This rule means that, if the negotiation or mediation fails and the business then issues court proceedings, any statements that the parties made in a genuine attempt to settle the dispute (whether in writing or orally) will not be put before the court in the proceedings.

Mediation

  • Mediation is a flexible, voluntary and confidential form of dispute resolution in which a neutral third party helps parties to work towards a negotiated settlement of their dispute.
  • The parties retain control of the decision whether or not to settle and on what terms. 

Doing nothing

You can always simply write off the sum but before taking this step, consider the:

  • Size of the debt.
  • Likely cost of recovering the debt.
  • Importance of the current relationship between the parties.
  • Likelihood of maintaining an on-going commercial relationship between the parties.

norma.morris@curwens.co.uk

http://www.curwens.co.uk

http://www.justice.gov.uk

 

 

 

COMMERCIAL LANDLORDS AND TENANTS

Landlord and Tenant law is a notoriously tricky area. It’s all too easy to get into difficulty. Whether you’re a Landlord dealing with a commercial lease or residential tenancies, chances are that, before too long, you will come up against a difficult tenants.

In the commercial world, Landlords will be faced with arguments about issues with the Lease – break clauses, service charges, late payment of rent, obligations for repairs and dilapidations. If you are the commercial tenant, you will be on the other side of this, looking to minimise your obligations under the Lease. It’s very important for anyone in this position to get the right kind of legal and commercial advice, particularly with regard to dilapidations where an experienced surveyor can carry out a valuation to help negotiate a settlement.

For residential landlords, whether you have just one property or a large portfolio, make sure that you take up to date advice on matters such as like enforcing Tenancy Agreements or evicting a non-paying tenant at the end of the tenancy. It’s so easy to make a simple mistake when dealing with a residential tenant because if your application fails, it can leave you out of pocket for the outstanding rent and the Court costs.  Even worse,  you could still be stuck with that tenant and have to start again.

For the unwary, this is a very easy trap to fall into.

Our advice is – take good legal advice!

https://www.curwens.co.uk/business-services/property/landlord-tenant/