“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.

 

Still not networking ?

Curwens LLP Logo HIGH QUALITY smaller                                                                                                             NEM new profile pic March 2013

It does surprise me just how often I go to open networking events, such as those at the North London Chamber of Commerce and find that I’m the only solicitor in the room.

That’s fine for me, because I make plenty of business connections which  develop into business relationships – and that takes time, as we know – but what about the thousands of other businesses who are struggling to make connections ?  I do wonder how others are getting to meet fellow business people in their local communities.

I’ve noticed that the networking meetings list is growing, particularly in North London and Hertfordshire, with a whole range of events (often in pubs!) which gives us the opportunity of meeting informally and testing out the potential for another conversation at another time.  Those of us who are in the Chambers of Commerce, BNI, Athena or similar much more focussed networking groups know the value of follow-up after that first introduction – whether just over a cup of coffee or a longer one-to-one meeting.

People will do business with people they get to know, like and trust and who are willing to help them, so I’m always encouraging our younger solicitors to develop that approach with people they meet.

Don’t be afraid of rejection. They do say “you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your handsome Prince“. So if you don’t hit gold first time round, keep trying and keep the mind-set to ask about the other person first. You never know who you’ll be able to help and who in turn will help you improve your own business connections.

My suggestion to anyone who is looking for more business but is not yet attending networking events is to take a deep breath, grab a pile of your business cards and get out there (with a smile, a firm handshake and an open mind) to widen your network…..and don’t forget to follow-up / follow-up / follow-up!  I’m not an expert, but if you’re still thinking about trying networking and want to talk it over, just give me a ring – 0208 363 4444.  I’m happy to help !

“What’s in a name…..?”

Quite a lot, really, in these days of badges and qualifications.  When you have a legal issue and you don’t already have your own family solicitor you’ve used before, how do you know which firm is “up to scratch” – how do you choose the “right” law firm for you.

For law firms, start by talking to your contacts and get a personal referral. Yes, you can just do an internet search and start ringing round, but a personal contact is always the best “soft” way to go about this.

If you do have to rely on the internet, there are certain things you can look for that will give you reassurance, such as a recognised accreditation.  For firms of solicitors, the important badge to look for is Lexcel which is awarded by the Law Society.

Lexcel is the Law Society’s legal practice quality mark for excellence in legal practice management and excellence in client care. It’s not awarded lightly and, once it is awarded (following an independent audit) firms have to have an annual audit for it to be continued.

Other specific accreditations are available – here are a couple of examples :

Conveyancing Quality Scheme logoFamily Law Accreditation Scheme logohttp://www.lawsociety.org.uk

Try calling 2 or 3 firms and see how your call is dealt with.  You should be able to speak to someone with knowledge of your legal issue at least for 5-10 minutes (free!) so that they can assess whether or not they can help you and, if they can, how much it will cost – either as a set amount, such as for a property sale, or by hourly rate which is used in a family case.

It’s very much how you feel about your lawyer – you don’t have to like him or her but it will help, particularly in areas such as family law – but also, you have to feel confident and comfortable.  Unless you have an emergency situation, such as an injunction, take time to speak to more than one law firm and take time do consider the “best fit” for you.

If you need any help with this, feel free to give me a ring – Norma Morris – 0208 363 4444 – norma.morris@Curwens.co.ukhttp://www.curwens.co.uk