Over the weekend a national newspaper reported upon a case in which a husband was aggrieved that the court awarded his wife nearly half of his pension pot, including the contributions he made during the years before they were married, and despite the fact that she ‘never bothered’ to save for a pension herself.

The report also suggested that the law regarding the division of pre-marital assets is about to change, which would help people retain assets built up before marriage.

So what exactly is the law now, and is it about to change?

Matrimonial property

The courts do distinguish between ‘matrimonial property’, i.e. assets acquired by the parties during the marriage as a result of their own efforts (which will usually include the matrimonial home), and ‘non-matrimonial property’, which includes assets acquired before the marriage, inheritances and gifts, and assets acquired after the parties separated.

As a very general rule, the court will only divide matrimonial property between the parties, unless the essential needs of one of the parties can only be met by including non-matrimonial property. Accordingly, if the needs of both parties can be met from the matrimonial property then each party can usually expect to retain any assets they owned prior to the marriage. (In the case referred to in the report above it may have been that the court could not meet the wife’s pension needs without including the pension that the husband had built up prior to the marriage.)

The practical effect of this general rule is that non-matrimonial property, including assets acquired prior to the marriage, is more likely to be retained in higher-money cases.

Of course there is a major proviso to this: it is not always easy to separate matrimonial and non-matrimonial property. Very often the two become mixed over time, so that it becomes impossible to quantify what is and what is not matrimonial property. If in doubt the courts are more likely to say that property is matrimonial, rather than non-matrimonial.

Law reform

The newspaper report made mention of both the Government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, and Baroness Deech’s Divorce (Financial Provision) Private Members’ Bill.

The Government’s Bill will just introduce a system of no-fault divorce, without changing the law on division of assets on divorce. Baroness Deech’s Bill, as its name implies, is intended to change the law on division of assets, including essentially preventing the court from awarding one spouse a share of assets that the other spouse acquired before the marriage.

However, as the Baroness’s Bill is a private members’ bill it is unlikely to be passed. The law on division of assets is therefore likely to remain the same for the foreseeable future.

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The above is of course a very brief summary of what can be a very complex area of law. For more detailed advice you should consult an expert family lawyer. Family Law Café can put you in touch with such a lawyer – for further information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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When a couple get divorced they will obviously need to sort out what happens to the contents of the former matrimonial home. Unfortunately, this can often be a fraught process, as they argue over who should have what. Here are a few tips that might help make things easier.

1. Difficult as it might be, every reasonable effort should be made to agree the division of the contents with your spouse if you possibly can. If you can’t agree with them direct, then try to agree through lawyers or via mediation. To help you reach agreement, it may be useful to prepare a schedule, setting out the items and their values (see point 3).

2. If you can’t reach agreement, then the court can sort out who has what, but this can be very expensive and time-consuming.

3. It may have cost a considerable amount of money to purchase the contents originally, but their current (second-hand) value is the value that the court will use, and that should be used in any negotiation. Unless you own antique furniture or other items of special value such as paintings, the current value of the entire contents is therefore likely to be minimal. Accordingly, you will not usually want to spend a substantial sum on legal costs arguing over the division of the contents.

4. If you do have valuable items then if they are not divided equally (see the next point) the party who receives less may be entitled to financial compensation.

5. As with other property, equal division is the starting point (save for personal possessions, which each party should keep), although there may be other considerations, in particular if one party is to have any children living with them then their needs should be taken into account, for example they will obviously need to have the children’s beds.

6. If there are single items over £500 or collections over that amount the court can take them into account as assets. To establish what valuable items are worth a jointly instructed expert can be appointed by the parties or the court.

7. If agreement cannot be reached and there are no items of sentimental value, consider selling the items and dividing the proceeds, rather than going to the expense of getting the court to sort it out.

8. Lastly, all of the contents should usually remain in the matrimonial home until agreement is reached as to their division, or the court has decided the matter. If your spouse starts removing items from the matrimonial home without your consent then you should inform your lawyer immediately.

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If you require further advice regarding the division of the contents of the matrimonial home then you should consult an expert family lawyer. Family Law Café can put you in touch with an expert – call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Cafe surrounds and supports the customer with both legal and pastoral care, end to end, from top barristers to case workers to therapists and mediators, to help the customer get the best possible result with the minimum stress. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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A ‘successful’ divorce should surely be the aspiration for anyone whose marriage has broken down. So what is the secret to achieving a successful divorce?

Before we answer that question we must first of all ask another: what exactly is a ‘successful divorce’?

What is a successful divorce?

What makes a divorce ‘successful’? Well, that may be a matter for each individual. Some may simply measure it by how big a financial settlement they achieved, or by how little the divorce cost.

But we would say that there is more to a divorce being successful than just money. Yes, a satisfactory settlement is important, as is keeping the cost to a minimum. But there are at least two other factors: making sure that the whole process is concluded as quickly as possible, so that you can get on with your life, and making sure that it is as stress-free as possible, so that you can recover emotionally as quickly as possible (marriage breakdown is stressful enough anyway).

All of which really points in one direction: agree matters if you can! By doing so you will (by definition) have achieved a satisfactory settlement, and you will have reduced the cost, stress and time taken to reach a conclusion.

But even if you can’t agree matters, then a measure of success is still possible. Yes, you might have to ask the court to sort things out, but you can still take steps to ensure that the court proceedings are concluded as satisfactorily, cheaply, and quickly as possible.

The most important thing

Of course, there is no one thing that will guarantee a successful divorce. But there is something that is perhaps more important than any other, and a clue to what it is was contained in the opening paragraphs of a recent High Court judgment.

In the case FRB DCA Mr Justice Cohen began his judgment with the following:

“I have been hearing over some 15 days cross-applications by the parties for financial remedy orders.  As this judgment will make clear the scope of this case has encompassed almost every issue that can arise within a matrimonial finance case.  In some ways that is hardly surprising.  I know of no other case where the breakdown of a marriage has engendered litigation on the scale witnessed in this case.”

He then said that the total legal costs incurred by the parties in what he called a “gladiatorial combat” between them exceeded £10 million, and went on to explain that the differences between the parties was in part reflected by the animosity that at least the husband felt towards the wife.

Animosity. That is perhaps the most important thing to avoid, in order to achieve a successful divorce. We realise that it is easy for a lawyer to say this, but it really can’t be emphasised enough: you should make every effort to put animosity to one side when you sort out your divorce.

A little animosity is quite natural and common when a marriage breaks down. But it can also be really destructive, as this case demonstrates. Remove the animosity, and you have taken a great step towards achieving a successful divorce: you can then just concentrate on what really needs to be sorted out, you will not be distracted by attempting to ‘score points’ over the other party and, above all, you will be far more likely to achieve an agreed settlement.

If you want to read Mr Justice Cohen’s full judgment, all 227 paragraphs of it, you can find it here.

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Of course, there is one other thing you need to achieve a successful divorce: an expert family lawyer, who will adopt an approach aimed at settling your case amicably, whilst simultaneously looking after your best interests. Family Law Café can put you in touch with such a lawyer – for further information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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Everyone is of course seriously concerned about the Coronavirus, and the restrictions that it is putting upon our lives. But what if you are contemplating divorce proceedings, or are in the midst of existing proceedings. How will the virus and the Government’s response to it affect you?

We are still here for you

Family Law Café continues to provide a full service, and we intend to do so for the duration of this emergency.

If you are an existing client then you can contact us as usual.

We are still taking on new clients, who can get in touch with us as outlined below.

And our service is online, so you can access it without having to leave your home. For further details of how our service works, see this post.

Expect delays

The courts are continuing to function. However, court hearings are now being conducted remotely, where possible.

In view of this, and possible court staff shortages as a result of the virus and the measures taken in response to it, you can expect cases to take longer.

Divorce proceedings can proceed entirely online, unless they are defended.

Children arrangements

Obviously, the restrictions upon movement will affect children arrangements between separated parents. The Government has, however, made clear that where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.

Of course, special care will need to be taken, and in some cases existing arrangements may have to be suspended. If you cannot agree matters with your (former) spouse, then you should seek legal advice. The President of the Family Division has issued guidance on compliance with child arrangements orders, which can be found here.

Financial remedies

You should also seek advice if you are concerned about the effect of the reduction in value of assets as a result of the financial instability caused by the virus.

Settlements that have not been finalised will normally take into account the current value of assets.

It is possible that settlements that have recently been finalised could be reopened, if there has been a significant change in the value of assets. However, this would be unusual – if you think it may apply to you, you should seek urgent legal advice.

Get in touch

For further information and advice upon any of the above matters, contact us. If you are a new client, call us on 02 03 9 04 05 06, or click the ‘Sign up’ button at the top of the page, and complete the form.

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Family Law Cafe’s accessible team of legal experts from various disciplines expedites the customer’s case and keeps them informed and in control 24/7 through a unique and secure online portal. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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Who wants to have to visit their lawyer every time they have something important to discuss with them?

And who wants a service where they have to wait for their busy lawyer to be available before they can ask them a question?

And who wants to have to wait until their lawyer’s office is open, and then have to telephone the office, just to find out the current position on their matter?

Well, you no longer have to put up with any of these things.

Family Law Café offers a revolutionary new type of legal service for anyone with a family law problem (not just divorce!). Now you can run your case online, from the comfort of your own home.

When you sign up with us you get access to our unique secure online portal, from wherever you want, and whenever you want, 24/7.

Via the portal you can see the current position in your matter, check for important upcoming dates in your case calendar, read and review documents. You can even request an answer to any question, and the answer will be there once a lawyer has logged in and considered it.

And the online portal can also be made available (with your permission) to anyone that you may need to help you with you case, such as an expert accountant – no need to spend time and money copying a paper file to them.

With Family Law Café you can truly run your case from home, at a time that suits you. For further details of our service telephone us on 02 03 9 04 05 06, or click the ‘Sign up’ button at the top of the page, and complete the form. We will contact you back in a way, and at a time, that suits you and can discuss how we work and what we can offer you.

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Family Law Cafe’s accessible team of legal experts from various disciplines expedites the customer’s case and keeps them informed and in control 24/7 through a unique and secure online portal. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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You have just been served with divorce papers. Perhaps you expected them, perhaps you did not. They may make you angry, they may make you sad.

Whatever, it is likely to be an extremely stressful moment, and that stress could colour how you respond. But it is essential that, no matter how tempting, you do not respond in the wrong way.

Here are five typical things that you should NOT do if you receive divorce papers:

1. Lose your temper with your spouse – As we said, receiving the divorce papers may make you angry. This could be because you don’t believe that the breakdown of the marriage was your fault, because you are unhappy about allegations against you contained in the divorce petition, or simply because you don’t want a divorce. You may lose your temper and want to confront your spouse. Don’t. It will not achieve anything, and is only likely to make things worse. Remember that under our present divorce system one party usually has to ‘blame’ the other for the breakdown of the marriage – your spouse may have had no other option.

2. Tear up the papers – Yes, it does happen. But it is not going to stop the divorce. Without going into the details, your spouse will still be able to proceed with the divorce, and your actions may just have increased the costs of the divorce, which you may have to pay.

3. Ignore the papers – This also does happen, all too often. But it is not going to make the divorce go away. Again, your spouse will still be able to proceed with the divorce.

4. Stop paying for things – You may still be paying for things that your spouse benefits from, for example the mortgage on the matrimonial home, or the repayments on the car that they are using. Receiving the divorce papers may tempt you to stop paying these things. But doing so may cause you further trouble. Don’t have a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction – take advice first, and as quickly as you can.

5. Defend or cross petition without thought – This is often the first thought of anyone who doesn’t want a divorce, or who is aggrieved at being blamed for the breakdown of the marriage. Yes, in some (rare) circumstances it may be the best thing to do, but it may also be a huge mistake, which will only cause the divorce to drag out and be much more expensive.

Of course, what you SHOULD do if you receive divorce papers is take expert legal advice. Family Law Cafe can organise your response and sort out everything that needs to be done. For further information about what we can do for you call us on 020 3904 0506, or click the ‘Sign up’ button at the top of the page, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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Divorces are taking longer than at any time since December 2014, when the Ministry of Justice began publishing quarterly Family Court statistics.

The latest statistics, for the quarter April to June 2019, show that for those granted Decree Nisi in that period, the mean average time from the date of the divorce petition was 33 weeks, up 5 weeks from the same period in 2018, and the mean time from the petition to Decree Absolute was 58 weeks, up 3 weeks compared to the same period in 2018.

The statistics also show a decrease in the number of divorce petitions issued. There were 28,144 divorce petitions issued between April and June 2019, down 13% from the same quarter in 2018. Financial remedy applications also decreased by 5%, but private law children applications (primarily for child arrangements orders) increased by 3% compared to the equivalent quarter in 2018.

Private law children applications are also taking longer. In April to June 2019, it took on average 28 weeks for private law cases to reach a final order, up 3 weeks from the same period in 2018.

Elsewhere, other statistics published by the Ministry of Justice revealed that more family cases are being resolved by mediation. In the quarter April to June 2019 mediation starts increased by 22% and outcomes increased by 13%, compared to the same period last year.

You can find the Family Court statistics here.

If you would like advice about taking divorce proceedings, Family Law Café can help. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Family Law Cafe surrounds and supports the customer with both legal and pastoral care, end to end, from top barristers to case workers to therapists and mediators, to help the customer get the best possible result with the minimum stress.

Image: Calendar, by Dafne Cholet, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

 

According to various media sources, American singer, songwriter, and actress Miley Cyrus is preparing to divorce her husband, Australian actor Liam Hemsworth. Some of the reports suggest that the divorce will be the ‘smoothest of all time’, and could be completed by the end of October, thanks to a prenuptial agreement that the couple entered into before they were married last December. Apparently, the document says that the couple, who do not have any children, will simply retain their own property, and make no financial claims against each other.

So, can a prenup make a divorce quicker and smoother? It is certainly possible, but there are a couple of caveats.

Prenuptial agreements are not legally binding in this country, but the divorce court will usually give effect to them where they are freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of the implications of the agreement, unless it would not be fair in the circumstances to hold the parties to the agreement, for example because it failed to meet the needs of one of the parties, or of any children. This means that even if the terms of the prenup are fair when it is entered into, it may no longer be fair when the marriage breaks down, due to the circumstances of the parties having changed.

Obviously, if the prenup is given effect by the court then that can indeed make the divorce quicker and smoother, by doing away with the need to have a time-consuming argument over financial and other arrangements following the divorce.

If you are considering entering into a prenup, or if you would like further advice on the subject, Family Law Cafe can help. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Family Law Cafe’s accessible team of legal experts from various disciplines expedites the customer’s case and keeps them informed and in control 24/7 through a unique and secure online portal.

Image of Miley Cyrus at the Capital Pride Festival, Washington DC 2017, by Ted Eytan, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Several newspapers are today carrying a story about a wife who is apparently unable to obtain a divorce, despite her husband being jailed for seriously assaulting her. The story goes that her husband, who is currently serving a three years and three months prison sentence at HM Prison Manchester, commonly known as ‘Strangeways’, is preventing the divorce by not consenting to it. But is it really the case that a husband in this situation can prevent a divorce?

We don’t have all of the relevant facts of this particular case, so we cannot comment upon it in detail. What follows are a few basic principles.

As the law on divorce currently stands anyone wishing to take divorce proceedings must prove that the other party has committed adultery, that the other party has behaved unreasonably, that the other party has deserted them for two years, that they have been separated for two years and the other party consents to a divorce, or that they have been separated for five years. It will be noted that the consent of the other party is only required for a two year separation divorce, although in other cases the other party can seek to defend the divorce.

Clearly, a serious assault of the type suffered by the wife in the reported case would amount to unreasonable behaviour. The husband could seek to defend the divorce, but as a court has already found him guilty of the assault then it would be extremely unlikely that any defence would be successful.

Of course, if the reform of the divorce laws to introduce no-fault divorce goes ahead, then all of this will be academic – there will be no need to prove adultery, unreasonable behaviour, etc., and the other party would not be able to defend the case.

There is one other matter that could be delaying the divorce: that the husband is refusing to acknowledge receipt of the divorce papers. In that case, the wife only needs to prove that he has received them, and she will be able to proceed with the divorce.

In short, if a wife has suffered serious abuse at the hands of her husband then she should be able to get a divorce. The husband could seek to delay the divorce, but it is very unlikely that he could prevent it.

As we said, we cannot advise specifically upon the case in the newspapers. However, there does appear to be a moral to take from it: obtain expert legal advice before issuing divorce proceedings. Family Law Cafe can help you find that advice. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area.

Image: HMP Manchester by Mikey, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

As now seems to occur at this time most years, there is speculation in the  media that the end of the summer holidays will see a rise in the number of people getting divorced.

Such speculation is becoming as common as the idea of ‘divorce day’, the first day of the first working week after the Christmas/New Year break, when more people are supposed to instruct lawyers to start divorce proceedings than any other day of the year.

But is there any truth in it?

Possible reasons put forward for an increase in divorces at the end of summer are similar to those put forward for divorce day, including the holidays forcing families to be together, thereby highlighting problems in relationships, and disappointment at family holidays not being as wonderful as expected. Another possible reason is that children go off to university at the end of the summer, forcing their parents to live on their own for the first time in years. It has also been suggested that people are more likely to meet someone new in the summer holidays!

Whether there is any truth in any of this, we don’t know.

The simple fact is that marriages can break down at any time, and if your marriage has broken down, the timing is likely to be immaterial. The important thing is to seek expert legal advice, as soon as you can. Family Law Cafe can help you find that advice. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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Family Law Cafe’s accessible team of legal experts from various disciplines expedites the customer’s case and keeps them informed and in control 24/7 through a unique and secure online portal.

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The Law Society, the professional body that represents solicitors in England and Wales, has raised concerns about the Government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which is intended to introduce a system of no-fault divorce.

The Society says that whilst it welcomes the Bill and supports the introduction of no-fault divorce, it considers that “there are still important details that need to be addressed to ensure that the Bill is clear, fair and accessible to those who need to use it.” (For a brief overview of what the Bill will do, in its current form, see this post.)

In particular the Society is concerned that the Bill proposes that the 20 week period of notice before a divorce order can be made should run from the start of proceedings. The Society believes that this is unfair on the respondent, who may receive the divorce papers long after the start of proceedings, whether due to court delays, interference from the petitioner in delaying receipt by the respondent, the simple length of time of delivery if abroad, or other administrative reasons.

Instead, the Society proposes that the 20 week period should not begin until the respondent has been served with the divorce application.

However, supporters of the Bill in its current form point out that if such an amendment were made respondents could deliberately avoid service, or even suggest that they will only accept service if the petitioner agrees to their terms regarding financial matters, or arrangements for children.

Clearly, this matter requires careful consideration.

You can read all of the Law Society’s concerns about the Bill, and its proposed amendments to it, in its written evidence for the Divorce, Dissolution & Separation Public Bill Committee, which can be found here.

Family Law Cafe will be watching with interest to see what, if any, significant amendments are made to the Bill as it passes through parliament. The Bill has just gone through committee stage and is now due to have its report stage and third reading, on a date to be announced.

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Family Law Cafe surrounds and supports the customer with both legal and pastoral care, end to end, from top barristers to case workers to therapists and mediators, to help the customer get the best possible result with the minimum stress.

Image: Law Society, Chancery Lane, London by The wub [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Ministry of Justice has published its latest statistical bulletin presenting statistics on activity in the Family courts of England and Wales, and providing figures for the latest quarter (January to March 2019).

The bulletin shows that in that period there was an increase in the number of divorce petitions, alongside an increase in timeliness of divorce proceedings. Divorce petitions were up 6% compared to same period in the previous year. As to timeliness, the average time from the date of petition to the pronouncement of the decree nisi was 33 weeks, up 6 weeks from the same period in 2018, whilst the average time from petition to decree absolute was 59 weeks. The Ministry of Justice says that these represent the highest figures so far for the periods covered by the bulletin, and are a result of divorce centres processing a backlog of older cases.

The eleven divorce centres, which now deal with all divorce cases, have been heavily criticised for being inefficient, including by the former President of the Family Division Sir James Munby. In February we reported here that delays at the country’s largest divorce centre at Bury St Edmunds reached ‘unprecedented levels’ in 2018. As we said then, longer divorces cause increased stress and suffering for people going through what is already one of the most difficult times in their lives. It is therefore imperative that these problems are resolved. How that might happen is not clear, although the current President Sir Andrew McFarlane recently hinted that the centres might be phased out and replaced by an online system.

You can find the statistical bulletin here.

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Family Law Cafe provides a genuinely tailored technology-based service, allowing customers to be as involved or as removed as they wish, and to benefit from as much or as little support as they require.

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