In an important development for anyone contemplating divorce the Government has announced that the new system of no-fault divorce will not now be introduced this autumn, but will instead be delayed until next spring.

In an answer to a parliamentary question upon the implementation of the reform Chris Philp MP explained on behalf of the Government that the original implementation timetable had been ambitious and that the necessary changes to the Courts Service’s online divorce system would not be completed before the end of the year. Accordingly, the reform will not come into force until the 6th of April 2022.

Whilst it is welcome that the reform now has a fixed start-date, the delay obviously has serious implications for those considering commencing divorce proceedings.

To recap, the new system will do away with the need to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, for example due to the other party committing adultery or behaving unreasonably. This removal of blame from the divorce process has been widely welcomed.

Instead, all that will be needed is for one or both of the parties to file a document with the court simply stating that the marriage has broken down irretrievably – the court will accept this as proof of irretrievable breakdown.

A minimum period of 20 weeks will then have to elapse before the court can make a conditional divorce order, and a further six weeks must pass before the court can make a final divorce order. No-fault divorces will therefore take a minimum of 26 weeks, longer than a quick divorce can take at present.

Obviously, those wanting to divorce without having to blame the other party for the breakdown of the marriage may now have to wait longer to get divorced, if they have not been separated for two years (under the present system you can divorce after two years separation, if the other party consents).

On the other hand, those who are content to use the present system will obviously have more time to do so, perhaps enabling them to get a divorce more quickly than under the new system.

If you are contemplating divorce you should seek the advice of an expert family lawyer. We can find you an expert lawyer that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has reported that the majority of its members expect to continue working from home when the Covid-19 pandemic is over.

The association has been carrying out a survey of its members on future working arrangements during its annual conference. Early findings indicate that at least fifty per cent do not expect to return to office working.

Many members have indicated a preference for spending half of their time working in an office and the other half working from home.

All of this raises two questions: will this be what we actually see when the lockdown restrictions end, and will it affect their clients?

As to whether it will actually happen, obviously only time will tell. It may be that whilst there is no initial rush to return to the office, gradually more people will return, attracted by the camaraderie and support that working in an office provides.

Of course it is not just the decision of individual lawyers. Their firms may be attracted by home working as a way of reducing the amount of expensive office space that they require. And once that space is gone, it is unlikely to be replaced.

Whatever, it does still seem likely that many clients will have to get used to the idea of their lawyers not being in the office five days a week.

Which brings us to the second question: how will those clients be affected?

The big difference will surely be in access to their lawyer. Whereas the historic model has been for lawyers to take instructions from, and give advice to, their clients primarily in the course of face-to-face meetings in the office, that will have to change. Obviously, clients will not be able to meet with their lawyers at home, and even where the lawyer does work partly in the office the opportunities for meetings will be fewer.

Clients rightly demand both advice and information about the progress of their case, and both could be adversely affected by lawyers working from home. Whilst many clients will have been prepared to accept problems with the service they receive during the pandemic, most will not expect such problems to continue after the pandemic is over.

Of course, none of this is a problem if the lawyers use an online platform which enables their clients to access their case file and ask questions whenever they want, 24/7. Which is where Family Law Café comes in…

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The Family Court has refused to publish in full the judgment in a financial remedies case involving the billionaire part-owner of The Daily Telegraph Sir Frederick Barclay. However, the judge did make part of the judgment public, to let the public know about Barclay’s ‘reprehensible’ behaviour.

The case concerned an application for financial remedies made by Barclay’s wife, in connection with their divorce. The case generated considerable media interest, and Barclay argued that no part of the proceedings should be published.

The media, on the other hand, argued that as Barclay is a public and political figure there was a public interest in the judgment being published in full, particularly as the judge, Mr Justice Cohen, had criticised Barclay for his conduct during the course of the proceedings.

Mr Justice Cohen said that Barclay had repeatedly ignored orders to produce documents and answer questions. He had also ignored an order to sell a yacht and produce the proceeds, instead applying the proceeds for his own use. Mr Justice Cohen described this behaviour as ‘reprehensible’.  

Mr Justice Cohen held that the judgment should not be published in full. The starting-point was that proceedings such as this were highly personal and should therefore be private. Whilst it was the case that Barclay had behaved badly, that behaviour was not sufficiently bad to warrant the publication of the entire judgment.

However, Mr Justice Cohen found that the public did have an interest in knowing about Barclay’s behaviour, and therefore he did set out details of that behaviour, in his judgment dealing with the issue of publication of the full judgment.

Lady Barclay was awarded lump sums totalling £100 million, payable in two instalments of £50 million. Barclay was also ordered to pay all of her legal costs, to the tune of some £1.8 million.

The moral of all of this is clear: you can ask the court to keep your financial affairs private, but do not expect full protection if you do not behave yourself in the proceedings!

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The landmark Domestic Abuse Bill, which we have mentioned here previously, has at last passed through both Houses of Parliament and been signed into law as an Act of Parliament.

The Act includes a raft of provisions designed to raise awareness of domestic abuse, and better protect victims.

To recap, the Act’s provisions include:

1. The first statutory definition of domestic abuse, incorporating a range of abuses beyond physical violence, including emotional, coercive or controlling behaviour, and economic abuse.  

2. New protections for victims of abuse, including Domestic Abuse Protection Notices, which can be given by the police to provide victims with immediate protection from abusers, and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, which courts can make to help prevent offending by forcing perpetrators to take steps to change their behaviour, including seeking mental health support or drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

3. The establishment of the office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner, who will oversee the provision of domestic abuse services in England and Wales.

4. New protections and support for victims ensuring that abusers will no longer be allowed to directly cross-examine their victims in the family and civil courts, and giving victims better access to special measures in the courtroom to help prevent intimidation – such as protective screens and giving evidence via video link.

5. A provision placing a duty on local authorities in England to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation.

Commenting upon the passing of the Act   Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said: 

“This law will fundamentally transform our response to tackling domestic abuse by providing much greater protections from all forms of abuse.”

And Claire Throssell MBE, Survivor Ambassador for the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, said:

“As a survivor and domestic abuse campaigner, the new act is a chance to make sure survivors are safe, protected and loved. The vital changes to the family court are long overdue and everyone accessing them deserves better. It is high time the family courts are safe and supportive, protecting victims and survivors instead of shielding perpetrators.”

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If you are a victim of domestic abuse you should seek expert legal advice, at the earliest stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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We have written here previously about the efforts of Tatiana Akhmedova to recover the divorce settlement she was awarded from her ex-husband Russian oligarch Farkhad Akhmedov – see, for example, this post.

To recap, in 2016 the High Court ordered Mr Akhmedov to pay to Ms Akhmedova the sum of £453 million, believed to be the biggest divorce award in this country. Since then, Ms Akhmedova has been attempting to enforce the award.

The latest round of this battle took place in the High Court in London in November and December last year, and the judgment of Mrs Justice Knowles has just been published.

Ms Akhmedova was alleging that Mr Akhmedov had done everything he could to put his money out of her reach, with the assistance of the parties’ son, Temur.

And Mrs Justice Knowles agreed. She said that Ms Akhmedova had “been the victim of a series of schemes designed to put every penny of the Husband’s wealth beyond her reach.” That strategy, she said, “was designed to render the Wife powerless by ensuring that, if she did not settle her claim for financial relief following their divorce on the Husband’s terms, there would be no assets left for her to enforce against.”

Temur had confirmed in his oral evidence that the Husband would rather have seen the money burnt than for her to receive a penny of it.

Temur, said Mrs Justice Knowles, learned well from his father’s past conduct and had done and said all he could to prevent his mother receiving a penny of the matrimonial assets. She found that he was “a dishonest individual who will do anything to assist his father, no doubt because he is utterly dependent on his father for financial support.”

Mrs Justice Knowles found that Mr Akhmedov had transferred money to various trusts, a company and Temur, with the intention of putting his assets beyond the reach of Ms Akhmedova. Accordingly, she ordered the trusts and company to make payment to Ms Akhmedova, and Temur was ordered to pay her some £75 million.

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The Court of Appeal has given guidance upon the approach that the Family Court should take to allegations of domestic abuse when dealing with disputes between parents over arrangements for their children.

As we mentioned here in this post, the court was hearing four linked appeals by mothers involved in proceedings relating to their children, in which the mothers had raised issues of domestic abuse.

As the Court of Appeal pointed out, allegations of abuse are often made by one or both parents in children cases. In fact, it is estimated that at least 40% of such cases now involve allegations of domestic abuse.

When allegations are made, the court must decide, usually at an initial ‘fact-finding’ hearing, whether they are true and what effect, if any, they should have upon the arrangements for the children.

This can obviously be a difficult task, balancing on one hand the safety and welfare of the child, and on the other hand the ‘right’ of the child and parent to have a continued and full relationship.

The guidance given by the Court of Appeal focussed primarily upon the issue of coercive and controlling behaviour.

Coercive and controlling behaviour involves one party seeking to restrict the other, over a period of time. It can take many forms, such as the abuser preventing the other party from spending time with their family and friends, or controlling them by restricting their access to money.

Emphasising the importance of such behaviour, the Court of Appeal said that the courts should prioritise consideration of whether a pattern of coercive and/or controlling behaviour is established, over and above the determination of any specific factual allegations.

The Court of Appeal stated that where one or both parents assert that a pattern of coercive and/or controlling behaviour existed, that assertion should be the primary issue for determination at the fact-finding hearing. Any other, more specific, factual allegations should be considered because of their potential relevance to the alleged pattern of behaviour, and not otherwise, unless any particular factual allegation (such as an allegation of rape) was so serious that it justified determination irrespective of any alleged pattern of coercive and/or controlling behaviour.

The guidance was welcomed by Lucy Hadley of the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, although she expressed concern that it did not go far enough, saying:

“…we are severely disappointed that the Court of Appeal did not call for an end to the ‘contact at all costs’ approach, which is putting women and children experiencing domestic abuse in danger … We fear this judgment has not recognised the urgent need for wholesale reform to make the family courts safe for survivors. We will continue to fight for a change to the presumption of parental involvement in domestic abuse cases – for good.”

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If you are a victim of domestic abuse you should seek expert legal advice, at the earliest stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Last week the Ministry of Justice published its latest statistics for cases dealt with by the Family Court, for the quarter October to December 2020.

The headline from the statistics was that there were 68,634 new cases started in Family courts in October to December 2020, which was up 6% more than the same quarter in 2019. This was due to increases in most case types: domestic violence (21%), financial remedy (8%), matrimonial (5%) and private law (3%) cases.

On the other hand, the annual figures paint a rather different picture. Annually, there were 264,091 new cases started in Family courts throughout 2020, which was very similar to 2019, when 266,059 new cases were started.

Perhaps the most important figure, however, was the increase in domestic violence (abuse) cases. The number of domestic violence remedy order applications increased by 19% compared to the equivalent quarter in 2019, while the number of orders made increased by 20% over the same period. There were 35,984 applications and 39,427 orders made throughout 2020, up 20% and up 17% respectively from 2019.

These statistics confirm fears of an increase in the incidence of domestic abuse during lockdown, as couples are forced to live together.

The statistics also showed an increase in the average time for divorce proceedings. The mean average time from petition to decree nisi was 30 weeks, and decree absolute was 56 weeks – up 2 weeks and 4 weeks respectively when compared to the equivalent quarter in 2019. The median time to decree nisi and decree absolute was 20 and 39 weeks respectively.

However, once again the annual figures paint a slightly different picture. Throughout 2020 the mean time from petition to decree nisi was 28 weeks and 53 weeks to decree absolute, each down 3 weeks respectively.

A statistician commented on the figures:

“The impact of Covid-19 continues to be seen across family court activity this quarter, with noticeable recovery as work levels return to pre-lockdown levels (seen in the number of new cases started and disposed across most areas since the first lockdown period). The negative impacts on timeliness measures continue, with work progressing to address the impact to the family justice system.

“Domestic violence remedy levels remain high, with substantial increases in both new cases starting and cases with a final disposal – up 21% and 38% respectively compared to quarter 4 2019…

“It may be some time until improvements as a result of recovery measures taken begin to show, particularly relating to timeliness measures as outstanding cases are dealt with. Nightingale courts continue to be used to help cope with demand and help the court system to run as effectively and safely as possible during the coronavirus outbreak.”

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The Government has added some important new laws to its forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill, designed to further protect victims of abuse and ‘clamp down’ on perpetrators.

The laws include making non-fatal strangulation a specific criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in prison. The Government says that this act “typically involves an abuser strangling or intentionally affecting their victim’s breathing in an attempt to control or intimidate them.” This is certainly something that many victims of domestic abuse complain of.

The announcement of the new offence follows concerns that perpetrators were avoiding punishment as the practice can often leave no visible injury, making it harder to prosecute under existing offences such as Actual Bodily Harm.

Another change is that the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour will be extended to include abuse where perpetrators and victims no longer live together. This change follows a Government review which highlighted that those who leave abusive ex-partners can often be subjected to sustained or increased controlling or coercive behaviour post-separation.

Lastly, so-called ‘revenge porn’ laws will be widened to include threats to disclose intimate images with the intention to cause distress. Those who threaten to share such images will face up to two years in prison.

The reforms have been welcomed by interested parties.

Dr Nicola Sharp-Jeffs OBE, Founder & CEO of the charity Surviving Economic Abuse said:

“We’re absolutely delighted the government is criminalising post-separation abuse via an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill.

“By doing so, victims will receive the recognition they need and deserve. Post-separation abuse is a devastating form of coercive control and the economic abuse elements of this can continue for decades.”

And Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, chair of the domestic abuse charity Refuge said:

“This is a significant moment for women experiencing domestic abuse who have been threatened with the sharing of their private intimate images and we are thrilled that the government has recognised the need for urgent change. Our research found that 1 in 7 young women have experienced these threats to share, with the overwhelming majority experiencing them from a current or former partner, alongside other forms of abuse.”

The Bill is in the final stages of its passage through Parliament, and it should not now be long before it becomes law.

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If you are a victim of domestic abuse you should seek expert legal advice, at the earliest stage. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more 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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Last week the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane announced that the new Financial Remedies Courts (’FRCs’) are now ‘live’ across all areas of England and Wales.

For the benefit of those who don’t know, the term ‘financial remedies’ refers to all family court proceedings relating to financial issues. These primarily consist of proceedings relating to the financial settlement on divorce, but also include other types of proceedings, including claims for financial provision for children.

Note that financial remedies does not include child support maintenance claims, which are dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service.

Until recently, financial remedy applications were all dealt with by the local family court. However, in 2016 it was suggested that a national network of specialist courts be set up to deal with financial remedy cases. A pilot scheme was then set up in 2018, to test the idea.

The pilot has now been successfully completed, and the President says that “the FRCs should henceforth be regarded as an established and permanent part of the Family Court.”

But what does this mean for anyone involved in a financial remedies case?

Well, the big thing is that word ‘specialist’. This means both that FRCs are particularly ‘geared’ to deal with financial remedy cases and, in particular, that the judges dealing with the cases will be specialists in financial remedy work.

This in turn should mean that financial remedy cases should in future be dealt with more efficiently, and with better, more consistent, outcomes. Such consistency should also make it easier for lawyers to advise clients, thereby making it more likely that cases can be settled without having to go to court.

Lastly, it should be noted that there are still two types of family-related financial cases that are not currently dealt with by FRCs. These are trusts of land cases (usually involving property claims following the breakdown of cohabitation) and Inheritance Act cases, where a claim is made against the estate of the deceased, often by a family member.

However, the President has expressed the hope that both of these types of case will, in due course, also be dealt with by FRCs.

Whatever type of financial remedy case you are involved in, you should seek expert legal advice. We can find you an expert lawyer that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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The biggest divorce news of the week is of course that Kim Kardashian has reportedly filed for divorce from Kanye West. This latest celebrity divorce has already filled huge numbers of column-inches in newspapers and magazines across the world.

Our fascination for celebrity divorce seems to know no bounds. But can we actually learn anything useful from them? Anything that may be of relevance to ‘ordinary’ people going through marriage breakdown?

Well, sometimes we can, especially when (to the obvious delight of newspaper editors) the divorce gets ‘nasty’. Hopefully, Ms Kardashian and Mr West’s divorce, if it goes ahead, will not fall into this bracket, but sadly many celebrity divorces do, just as do many divorces involving ‘ordinary’ people.

Watching the awful spectacle of a nasty celebrity divorce play out in front of the world’s media must surely act as a warning to all: don’t let this happen to me.

And you don’t have to let it happen. You are in control. There are many things that you can do to avoid an unpleasant divorce. We have given much of this advice here previously, but it merits regular repetition.

Put the animosity of the breakup behind you – Obviously, many marriage breakdowns involve considerable animosity, and a simple mistake that parties make is to carry that animosity over to the divorce proceedings.

This can take many forms, from making irrelevant allegations against the other party, to seeking unrealistic outcomes. All of which will, of course, simply add to the stress, cost and time that the case will take to resolve.

Obviously, it is easy to say that animosity should be left behind, but hard to do it. However, all parties should try.

Concentrate on what is important – The important things in a divorce case are firstly sorting out arrangements for any dependent children and secondly sorting out the financial settlement.

But all too often parties will get side-tracked by other matters, or by matters that they think are relevant to children or finances, but actually are not. And this is where our next point comes in:

Follow advice – Take the best legal advice you can, and follow it. Your lawyer will tell you what is important or relevant, and what is not, and will ensure that you concentrate on the issues that really matter.

We can find you an expert lawyer that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

Consider mediation – Lastly, remember that court proceedings are not the only way to resolve a family dispute. Try to resolve the matter by agreement, and if that is not possible, consider using mediation as a way of resolving matters.

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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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The family courts are, of course, open to all, irrespective of means or social status. However, a new piece of research indicates that the users of the courts are not spread evenly across all strata of society.

The research was carried out by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, which aims to support better outcomes for children, by improving the use of data and research evidence in the family justice system in England and Wales.

The research examines trends in demand by parents in England for the family courts as a means of resolving disputes over arrangements for their children.

The research found that separated parents in England who depend on the family courts to resolve such disputes are likely to live in the country’s most deprived areas. It also revealed a clear north-south divide in the number of applications being made, with rates being consistently highest in the North East, North West and Yorkshire and Humber regions, and consistently lowest in London and the South East.

The figures showed that in 2019/20, 30 per cent of applicants lived in the most deprived 20 per cent of the wider population, whereas just 13 per cent lived in areas in the least deprived 20 per cent.

The research also showed that in 2019/20, application rates in the northern regions ranged between 79 and 81 per 10,000 families with dependent children, but were just 44 per 10,000 in London and 59 per 10,000 in the South East.

And despite these findings, there was also evidence of a ‘justice gap’, due to the abolition of legal aid for most private law family matters (i.e. cases not involving social services) in 2013, with a reduction in the proportion of applications brought by people living in the most deprived areas.

Commenting upon the research the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane said: “The body of individuals who come to court with private family law problems are disproportionately represented from areas of which that are the most socially deprived… More cases come from the north of the country than the south. Should we be targeting our resources, attempt to engage with people before they come to court in a more specific way that meets the needs of those groups? I think so. Knowing something about who they are from this research is helpful.”

And the Observatory says: “It is critical that policy makers consider the role of deprivation as a factor in private law cases and its interaction with other factors such as conflict, domestic abuse and other child protection issues. This will be an important step in informing, and possibly reshaping, the response to private law need in both the court and out-of-court context.”

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Family Law Café 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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We wrote here in January about a case in which the husband was seeking rent from the wife in relation to her occupation of the former matrimonial home.

As we explained then the husband was appealing to the Court of Appeal against a ruling that the wife was not liable to pay rent of £5,000 per week (a total of £600,000) to the husband in relation to the period that she occupied the property before it was sold.

The Court of Appeal has now handed down its judgment. It found in favour of the wife, and therefore dismissed the husband’s appeal.

The appeal revolved around the interpretation of a consent court order that was drawn up in 2016, setting out the terms of an agreed financial settlement between the husband and the wife.

The order provided that the wife was to receive a lump sum settlement of £11.5 million, £6.5 million straight away, with the balance due when the house was sold. However, the sale was delayed, and did not take place until 2019.

The order did not specifically state that the wife should pay rent to the husband, but the husband argued that it would be ‘absurd’ not to imply a term into the agreement requiring the wife to pay rent – the parties would surely have agreed this had they known that the sale would take so long.

The Court of Appeal disagreed. The matter turned solely upon what the consent order said. As it did not say that the wife should pay rent, she was not obliged to do so.

The case demonstrates the need to be specific when drafting court orders. Care should be given to take into account all reasonable possibilities, and to provide for them accordingly, either by agreeing the matter with the other party, or by requesting the court to include a suitable provision in any order.

It may now be that a rental clause will be sought in any similar agreement, as a matter of course.

But that obviously means that this would have to be taken into account when negotiating the amount that the occupying spouse should receive from the settlement. As Lady Justice King, giving the leading judgment of the Court of Appeal, pointed out, the only way that the wife could pay £600,000 would be from her lump sum, thereby reducing the lump sum by a “very significant sum”.

Clearly, whichever side you may be on, you will need to obtain the best possible legal advice. We can provide the advice you need, by finding you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more 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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