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

 

 

“It’s good to talk …….

Clare    Claire Pilsworth

Are you separated or thinking of getting divorced ?

If so, you need to explore mediation because it really does work – after all, you know the needs of your family better than anyone. This explanation comes courtesy of my colleague, Clare Pilsworth, a Family Law solicitor and Mediator

“Mediation is a process which helps people who are separating to discuss and agree on the best arrangements for their future. It works because it is a voluntary process and allows you to find a solution personally tailored to you. Mediation can be used to make arrangements for children, discuss finances or both (known as “All Issues Mediation”).

Our Mediators find out from you what’s most important to both of you and in your meetings, will help you both to make your own decisions about the best way forward for your family. This is possible because our Mediators:-

• are specially trained to guide you in your decisions
• provide a calm and confidential environment in which to talk
• help you to make informed decisions
• are Resolution Mediators – trained by the specialist national organisation of family law advisers.

Mediation is voluntary,  however, if you are starting Court proceedings in family matters you are required to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). This is a confidential meeting on your own, to find out about how you could sort out matters without using Court proceedings.”

If you’d like more information about Mediation to find out whether this would be a good choice for you, contact Clare Pilsworth on 01763 241261 or email clare.pilsworth@curwens.co.ukhttp://www.curwens.co.uk

Curwens LLP Logo HIGH QUALITY smaller

 

“Money, money, money – must be funny – in a rich man’s world…….”

We’ve all heard of pre-nups for the rich and famous but those of us who live more “ordinary” lives also should think about finances when going into a relationship and, sadly, if things start to go wrong – don’t let “heart rule head”.  I’m grateful to my colleague, Vijaya Sumputh, a Family Law expert at Curwens Solicitors, for her thoughts on this :

PROTECTING YOUR FINANCES FOLLOWING A RELATIONSHIP BREAKDOWN

Beginning a new relationship can often feel like entering uncharted waters. All you want to do is to live happily ever after with your new partner, but people often don’t consider what happens if the relationship ends.  A split can have a devastating emotional impact and financial uncertainty adds significant stress to an already difficult time.   A recent study suggests that as many as 2 million Britons are in debt because their ex-partner continued to spend after they’d separated – a “dirty separation trick” by a bitter “Ex”.

Married Couples

Here, the Court has the power under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 to split the debt between the two parties based on their financial needs and the Court may award more to the paying party including spousal maintenance to cover the repayments.

Unmarried Couples

There is no such protection for unmarried, cohabiting couples. In long term relationships, many couples set up joint bank accounts (even if marriage is not their immediate plan) to cover mortgage/rent and bills. This normally ends once the relationship comes to an end, because living with someone does not create a legal relationship.   So, if a couple has a joint debt and then splits up, both can end up being liable for the debt and one may be stuck with it if the other party doesn’t pay.  Unmarried couples must think about what happens to their investments if they split up – if the family home is to be sold, how will the proceeds be split ?

Protection

You can protect yourself by getting your solicitor to draft a “Cohabitation” or  “Living Together” agreement (also known as a deed) which sets out who pays what and what would happen to the assets if the relationship comes to an end, with a Declaration of Trust as to the ownership of the house.  You can also consider using Mediation or negotiation to resolve issues.

It may seem pessimistic to think about a relationship ending when you’re just starting out together, but on the other hand, a break up can be devastating emotionally, so a living together agreement helps with the practical issues, to reach a quick settlement.

If you think what I have described fits your circumstances, do give Vijaya a call for a no obligation chat on 0208 363 4444 or e-mail us at vijaya.sumputh@curwens.co.uk

“I’ll cut you off without a penny …!”



Sounds dramatic, I know, but it might have been said by the mother (Mrs. Jackson) to her only child (Heather) in the case of Ilott v Mitson when Heather ran away from home almost 40 years ago.  This case hit the headlines recently – “Your will can be ignored say judges” in The Daily Telegraph.  As ever, newspaper headlines only tell part of the story.

This is a sad tale of family life – children (especially teenagers) fall out with their parents all the time but generally reconcile. In this case, we are told that Heather ran away at the age of 17, married someone the mother didn’t approve of and, even after attempts at reconciliation over the years, there was no happy ending.  Mrs. Jackson didn’t have millions – the total estate was huge amount for most people – almost £500,000 – but she decided to disinherit Heather and leave it all to charity.  She had explained her reasons for her bequests in side letters  and she even went so far as to instruct her executors to fight any claim on her estate by Heather, which, in the end, they did.

Charities who benefit in this way are in a very difficult position – they are duty bound to honour the wishes of the deceased who was kind enough to want them to benefit but also they are fighting against a very unhappy family member – and having to pay the legal costs of that fight.

What is not clear from the sensationalist headlines is that this was first decided by a District Judge in a County Court in 2007 – he agreed with Heather’s case and allowed her claim in the sum of £50,000. It went on appeal up to the Court of Appeal first in 2011 and then again this year.

It is always open to family members and those who are financially dependent to challenge a will under the Inheritance Act (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975 [my emphasis] if they feel they have not been properly provided for.  Here, the notable point is that the judges felt that although the Claimant was a grown woman who had made her own lifestyle choices, she was in difficult financial circumstances. They felt her mother should have made some provision for her in the will, particularly as there was no “link” with the charities involved.  I think many parents might think this an odd outcome and quite hard on the charities themselves.

Our advice to our clients remains that they should think carefully about their choices and if they decide to leave their estate to beneficiaries who are not as expected, full details should be set out in the notes and also in a side letter.  This judgement also shows us that if you want to leave significant sums to charities, there should be some lifetime link with them – perhaps support with a regular donation.

It is open to the charities to take this case to the Supreme Court for a final decision, so we will have to wait and see on that but for now, as ever, I would say you should always get professional advice on your will.

http://www.curwens.co.uk

Disputed Wills

DISPUTED WILLS

Because I deal with the misery which follows when either someone hasn’t made a valid Will or it’s failed or hasn’t provided for the family, I know how distressing it is. I also know how easy it is to avoid a mountain of problems by making a properly drawn Will using a qualified Solicitor. All too often though, I meet with very distressed family members who simply can’t understand why their loved one did not take this process seriously and think enough of them to make a proper Will. It seems to be a taboo subject, for some reason. Unfortunately, fighting over an Estate can be extremely costly (running into thousands of pounds) and, apart from the money, the dispute usually destroys the family, ripping them apart while they argue over the Estate assets. People get very angry and hurt about how they see they have been treated by the deceased. I even heard a story about two sisters who wanted to argue over the fur coat that their Mother had left to one of them. They were seriously considering spending huge amounts of money on legal fees to fight about that because they really felt so hurt. Of course I would never advise anyone to spend legal costs arguing over just a fur coat but there are cases where those left behind have not been properly provided for, perhaps a second family with valid claims for financial support which the deceased should really have thought about. My advice would always be to make a will as soon as possible – certainly if you have children and dependants who rely on you for financial support.