The Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’) has published its latest annual statistics for divorces in England and Wales, for 2019.

The headline finding from the statistics is that the number of divorces increased by a huge 18% from the previous year. There were 107,599 divorces of opposite-sex couples in 2019, increasing from 90,871 in 2018.

The ONS does warn, however, that the scale of this increase partly reflects that divorce centres were processing a backlog of casework in 2018, which is likely to have translated into a higher number of completed divorces in 2019.

Nevertheless, the rise in the number of divorces may be significant, resulting in the highest number of opposite-sex divorces recorded since 2014, when 111,169 divorces were granted in England and Wales. It is also the largest annual percentage increase in the number of divorces since 1972, following the introduction of the Divorce Reform Act 1969, which made it easier for couples to divorce upon separation.

The statistics also show that there were 822 divorces among same-sex couples in 2019, nearly twice the number in 2018. This perhaps reflects that more time has passed since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2014.

Other findings from the statistics were that unreasonable behaviour was once again the most common reason for opposite-sex couples divorcing in 2019, with 49% of wives and 35% of husbands petitioning on these grounds (it was also the most common reason for same-sex couples divorcing, accounting for 63% of divorces among women and 70% among men), and that in 2019 the average (median) duration of marriage at the time of divorce was 12.3 years for opposite-sex couples, a small decrease from 12.5 years in the previous year.

Kanak Ghosh, of the Vital Statistics Outputs Branch at the ONS commented:

“Same-sex couples have been able to marry in England and Wales from March 2014. Since then, we have seen the number of divorces of same-sex couples increase each year from very small numbers in 2015 when the first divorces took place, to more than 800 in 2019, reflecting the increasing size of the same-sex married population in England and Wales.

“While we see that 56% of same-sex marriages were among females, nearly three-quarters of same-sex divorces in 2019 were to female couples. Unreasonable behaviour, which includes adultery, was the most common ground for divorce among same-sex couples this year as almost two-thirds of couples divorced for this reason.”

You can find the ONS statistical bulletin here.

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A multi-disciplinary group of family law experts has recommended that in any dispute between parents over arrangements for children the rights of the children be put first, and that the court should be the last resort in resolving the dispute.

The Family Solutions Group was formed earlier this year, with a brief to give fresh and focused attention to improving the experiences of, and opportunities for, separating families away from the Family Court. The Group’s report What about me?: Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation, has just been published.

The report observes that the current processes for resolving disputes over arrangements for children (in or out of court) tend to operate largely for parents. The group proposes the creation of a framework of directly accessible community-based services for children and young people whose parents separate, offering them information, consultation, support and representation.

The group also recommends that there be a presumption that all children and young people aged 10 and above be heard in all issue-resolution processes outside of the courtroom.

As to court proceedings, whilst the group acknowledges that the need for swift and unimpeded access to the Family Court is rightly recognised as vital for some families, particularly where there are safety concerns, the group nonetheless reframes how we should consider the arrangements for issue resolution in and out of the court system. Significantly, it encourages all involved in such disputes to recognise the fact that many parental disagreements about children following separation are not legal disputes, and that a legal response may indeed be unhelpful for many families.

Commenting on the report the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane said:

“It is thought that about 40% of all separating parents bring issues about their children’s care to the Family Court for determination, rather than exercising parental responsibility and sorting problems out themselves. This figure is both startling and worrying. Where there are no issues of domestic abuse or child protection, parents ought to be able, or encouraged, to make arrangements for their own child, rather than come to a court of law and a judge to resolve the issues.

“The number of these private law applications continues to increase, and the trend is that more and more parents see lawyers and the court as the first port of call in dispute resolution, rather than as the facility of last resort as it should be in all cases where domestic abuse or child protection are not an issue.”

You can read the full report here.

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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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Remote hearings, via telephone or video link, have become the norm for family courts, since the introduction of social distancing restrictions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Obviously, this has been a huge new departure for the family justice system, and it is essential to ensure that the hearings are delivering effective justice, and working as well as possible.

Back in May we reported here upon an early inquiry into the effectiveness of remote family court hearings, which was commissioned by the President of the Family Division and carried out in April by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.

In September the Observatory carried out a follow-up enquiry into remote hearings, in which it surveyed some 1,300 people with an interest in the family justice system, including parents, family members and professionals.

The survey found that most professionals (86%) felt that things were working more smoothly than in April, and some even reported benefits to working remotely, such as not having to travel to court and not having to have hostile parties face each other in court.

However, they shared concerns about the difficulties of being sufficiently empathetic, supportive and attuned to lay parties when conducting hearings remotely, although more than three quarters (78%) felt that most or all of the time fairness and justice had been achieved in the cases they were involved with.

On the other hand, a majority of parents and relatives (88%) reported having concerns about the way their case was dealt with, and two thirds (66%) felt that their case had not been dealt with well. Two in five (40%) said they had not understood what had happened during the hearing.

There was agreement between professionals and parents that family justice is not simply administrative adjudication but is dealing with personal and often painful matters which require an empathetic and humane approach, and both expressed concern about the difficulty of creating an empathetic and supportive environment when hearings are held remotely.

Lisa Harker, director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, commented:

“We cannot put the lives of thousands of children and families on hold while we hope for face-to-face practice to resume, and it’s clear that judges, barristers and other professionals have put in enormous personal effort to keep the system moving during very challenging times.

“But equally life-changing decisions must be reached fairly for all involved. The family court is often dealing with incredibly vulnerable people, from victims of domestic abuse to mums being separated from their babies, and they must be supported to fully participate. Our consultation showed great concern among professionals for the experience of traumatised parents facing the system. It also highlighted that many of the issues could be solved with relatively simple measures.”

It is now clear that social distancing restrictions will be with us, in one form or another, for many months to come. Remote hearings will therefore remain the norm for the foreseeable future, and it is for everyone involved in the family justice system to ensure that they work as well as possible.

If you have concerns about how your case will be dealt with, then Family Law Café can put you in touch with an expert family lawyer who can advise you, and work 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 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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As any Family Law Café customer will know, technology can be a blessing, reducing the stress involved in family disputes, by ensuring that you can request answers to questions and have access to documents, whenever you wish, and wherever you are.

But technology can also be a curse if its user is not careful, as a High Court judge recently discovered.

Mrs Justice Judd was dealing with a very sad child care case in which the child’s brother had died after suffering a catastrophic head injury. A fact-finding hearing was fixed, for the court to decide who, if anyone, was responsible for the injury.

The hearing was a ‘hybrid’ one, as are many hearings during the pandemic, taking place with some parties in court and other parties taking part remotely, via video link.

The child’s mother appeared in court. In the course of her evidence she complained of feeling unwell, on one day with back pain and blurred vision, and on the next day she said she had developed a cough. The hearing was stopped, and the mother allowed to go home.

The judge then returned to her room, and her laptop was brought to her. The judge then had a conversation with her clerk on the telephone, in which she made pejorative remarks about the mother, suggesting she was feigning illness to avoid answering difficult questions.

Unfortunately, the conversation was heard by the parties who had been taking part in the hearing remotely, as the video link on the laptop was still open.

The mother asked Mrs Justice Judd to recuse (i.e. excuse) herself from the case on the basis of bias. However, Mrs Justice Judd refused. The mother appealed against that decision.

The Court of Appeal allowed the mother’s appeal, finding that Mrs Justice Judd’s remarks about the mother would lead a fair minded observer to conclude that there was a real possibility that she was biased.

Accordingly, the case was remitted back for rehearing, before a different judge.

The case is obviously an example of when a judge should recuse themselves for possible bias, but it also has a moral for all of us: when using technology, make sure that anything that is private or confidential remains just that. Whatever technology you use for such matters should be kept secure, and if necessary password-protected. And remember to log out of secure sites like ours when you have finished using them!

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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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The Ministry of Justice has announced a ‘major overhaul’ of how the family courts deal with domestic abuse.

The overhaul is in response to a report by a panel of experts which looked at the risk of harm to children and parents in cases involving disputes between parents about the arrangements for their children. The panel raised concerns that victims of domestic abuse and children were being put at unnecessary risk.

The new measures announced by the Ministry included:

– Giving an automatic entitlement for special measures in the courtroom for victims of domestic abuse going through the family courts, such as separate waiting rooms, separate building entrances and protective screens to shield them from their alleged abuser in court.

– Giving judges stronger powers to prevent abusers repeatedly dragging a victim back to court over child arrangements.

– Trialling an investigative, problem-solving approach in private family law proceedings, in order to reduce conflict. This could see judges decide what evidence to investigate, rather than both parties presenting their cases against each other.

– Reviewing the presumption of ‘parental involvement’ and whether the right balance is struck between the risk of harm to children and victims, with the right of the child to have a relationship with both parents.

Commenting on the measures Dame Vera Baird QC, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales said:

“This panel of experts has dug deep to understand, and address, the serious harm to domestic abuse victims and their children caused over many years by the presumption of contact, and the intensely adversarial process present in the family courts.

“With children’s voices rarely heard in these proceeding and even more rarely heeded, victims and children are in need of better protections from abusive perpetrators.

“I welcome the report, its recommendations, and the implementation plan which will help to address these, and other concerns. It has my full support. And I call on the government to action this as a matter of urgency.”

You can read the report here.

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If you would like to know more about protecting yourself from domestic violence and abuse, Family Law Café can put you in touch with an expert family 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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The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, under which a system of no-fault divorce will be introduced, has passed through both houses of parliament. The Bill now just requires the Royal Assent before it becomes law.

However, the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC has warned that the new law is unlikely to be implemented until autumn 2021, as “time needs to be allowed for careful implementation”. This will include the making of the necessary rules and procedures to give effect to the law, which will obviously be quite different to the present system.

All of which begs the question: what do you do if you want to commence divorce proceedings? Do you proceed under the present law, or wait for the new law to come in?

At the moment, in view of how far the new law is still away, the answer must generally be that you should proceed now, unless you will have to wait anyway for the requisite period of separation to elapse. (If you can’t or don’t want to issue divorce proceedings now on the basis of the other party’s adultery or unreasonable behaviour, you have to wait until you have been separated for two years if the other party consents to the divorce, or for five years if they do not consent.)

However, as we get closer to the introduction of the new law, then more and more people will no doubt prefer to wait, rather than have to apportion blame for the marriage breakdown under the present system.

And if you believe that your spouse will defend divorce proceedings, then it may be more appropriate to wait, as defended divorce proceedings will not be possible under the new system.

If you want further advice as to whether to commence divorce proceedings 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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Just like most other areas of society the family courts have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the lockdown and need for social distancing have meant that many court hearings have had to be conducted remotely.

The President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane has now published details of how the family courts will operate for the remainder of the pandemic, in a document entitled The Road Ahead.

Perhaps the most important point that the President makes is that it is likely to take much longer than many had hoped for the family courts to get back to normal. Sir Andrew makes it clear that he does not expect this to happen before the end of the year, and perhaps not until next spring.

This means in particular that, whilst all court buildings should be open again by next month, court hearings will continue to be predominantly conducted remotely.

Many people have raised concerns about the fairness of remote hearings, particularly where a party or witness does not have a lawyer. The President made it clear that in such cases consideration should be given to the hearing taking place in court, or to there being a “hybrid“ hearing, where (for example) a parent or witness gives their evidence in court, but the rest of the hearing takes place remotely.

The President has also set out a series of guidelines to ensure that remote hearings are as fair as possible. These include keeping the hearing to a reasonable length, and including short breaks; advocates ‘meeting’ with their client both before the hearing to explain what is going to happen, and after the hearing to ‘de-brief’ their client; ensuring that parties can give instructions to their lawyers during the hearing; and, where the hearing involves a litigant in person, the judge should ‘check in’ regularly with any litigant in person to ensure that they are hearing, understanding and following the proceedings.

The President however makes it clear that remote hearings should always be conducted with the same degree of seriousness and respect as fully attended hearings.

You can read The Road Ahead here.

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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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The Coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown is having a significant impact upon how the family justice system is operating. As we explained in an earlier post, one effect is that court hearings are now being conducted remotely, where possible.

Remote hearings involve one or more of the participants (judges, lawyers, parties and witnesses) taking part remotely, via telephone or video link.

As indicated, it is not possible for all family court hearings to be conducted remotely. This may be because the hearing is not suitable to be dealt with remotely, or simply because the required technology is not available to all participants.

But what is the experience of those who have taken part in remote hearings? Do they think that it is a good or a bad thing?

Last month the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew MacFarlane commissioned an urgent inquiry into the effectiveness of remote hearings used in the family justice system. The inquiry sought the views of interested parties, including judges, lawyers, Cafcass officers and parents. Well over one thousand people responded.

Most of the respondents had taken part in a remote hearing, dealing with various kinds of family cases. The hearings were of all types, including directions hearings, interim hearings and final hearings.

The respondents were asked whether they were broadly positive or negative about their experiences of remote hearings.

There was an even balance in positive and negative responses to remote hearings. This reflected the fact that many respondents felt that remote hearings were justified in some cases in the current circumstances, even when they raised serious concerns about remote hearings in relation to other types of cases.

As to the figures, 22% were positive, 21% were negative, and the other 57% said that there were both negatives and positives about remote hearings. Almost all felt that remote hearings were justified in the current circumstances, although not necessarily for all cases. Some felt that remote hearings were justified for some cases both now and in the future, and only a small number of respondents were against remote hearings in principle.

Notwithstanding the views of some, it does appear that remote hearings will be with us at least until the pandemic is over, and very possibly after that. All users of the family courts will therefore have to be prepared for the possibility of their case, or at least part of it, being conducted remotely (hearings that can’t be conducted remotely will still have to take place in court, subject to social distancing rules).

Of course, they will also have to be prepared to wait longer for hearings to take place, as the courts will not be able to conduct the same number of hearings as they do in ‘normal’ times. Even more reason than usual to try to avoid court by settling your case, and getting expert help as soon as possible.

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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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An enhanced version of the Domestic Abuse Bill has been introduced to Parliament by the Government. The Bill, which aims to strengthen protection for victims of abuse, had been introduced in the last Parliament, but failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the General Election.

To recap, measures in the Bill include: introducing the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse, which will include economic abuse; establishing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to champion victims and survivors; introducing new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders; and prohibiting the cross-examination of victims by their alleged abusers in the family courts.

As we reported here, the Government has already announced that Nicole Jacobs will be the first Domestic Abuse Commissioner.

Enhancements to the Bill include requiring local authorities in England to provide support and ensure safe accommodation for victims and their children, and improving on the ban on alleged abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts, by applying it to all family proceedings where there is evidence of domestic abuse.

Commenting on the Bill Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

“An astonishing 2.4 million people in England and Wales have suffered domestic abuse. That is unacceptable, and the reason why it is so important to shine a light on this crime.

“The Domestic Abuse Bill is a monumental step to empower victims and survivors, provide protection and tackle perpetrators at the earliest stage.

“Through this bill and bolstering law enforcement, we will be able to keep millions of victims safe.”

Family Law Café welcomes the re-introduction of this important Bill, and hopes that it will swiftly pass onto the statute book.

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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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As we have often advised here, anyone involved in financial remedy proceedings on divorce should make every reasonable effort to settle the case by agreement, to avoid the time, stress and expense of contested proceedings. However, it has not been compulsory to put forward settlement proposals, at least until shortly before any final hearing.

Until now.

A new rule due to come into effect on the 6th of July will impose a duty upon parties to financial remedy proceedings to put forward settlement proposals at a much earlier stage in the case.

Shortly after a financial remedies application has been issued, and after both parties have made full disclosure of their means, the court will fix a Financial Dispute Resolution appointment (‘FDR’). The purpose of the FDR is to provide the parties with an opportunity to negotiate a final financial settlement, with the input and assistance of a judge.

The new rule provides that where the case has not been settled at the FDR the court can direct that the parties put forward open settlement proposals, by such date as the court directs. If the court does not make a direction, then the proposals must be put forward within 21 days after the date of the FDR appointment.

Family Law Cafe welcomes the new rule, in so far as it may lead to more cases being settled sooner. However, parties should obviously only be compelled to put forward settlement proposals once they have sufficient information to ascertain their entitlement, including information about the other party’s means, and valuations of all relevant assets.

If you are involved in financial remedy proceedings Family Law Cafe can assist. 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. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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A High Court judge has urged a couple involved in a long-running divorce dispute over finances to try to settle the case to avoid further costs, which already run into the millions. Concluding his judgment in Goddard-Watts v Goddard-Watts Mr Justice Holman said: “I … most earnestly urge the parties to enter into serious negotiations and find an early basis for settlement, so that the vortex of profligate spending and mutual destruction finally ends.”

But how do you avoid such destructive litigation? How do you keep your divorce costs to a minimum?

Well, here are five things that you can do:

1. Obviously, and as Mr Justice Holman suggested, you should try to settle matters by agreement, if possible. This means both putting forward reasonable proposals, and responding to any reasonable proposals that the other party may make. In another recent case, a husband was criticised by the judge for failing to respond in a timely fashion to a settlement proposal made by the wife.

2. Do not be unnecessarily confrontational. Obviously, there can be a lot of animosity surrounding a divorce, but you should endeavour to avoid confrontation when trying to sort out the divorce settlement. Unnecessary confrontation can seriously diminish the chances of agreeing matters. Yes, there are times when you must ‘stand up for yourself’, but in general you should put your feelings to one side and adopt a constructive approach.

3. Consider mediation. If you are unable to reach agreement with your spouse through negotiation, consider going to mediation. Mediation is a process whereby an independent trained mediator will help the parties try to reach an agreement. (Note that mediation is completely voluntary, and not all cases are suitable, for example, most cases where there has been domestic violence.)

4. Be realistic. Many cases fail to settle simply because one or both of the parties have unrealistic expectations as to their entitlement. Of course, it is not always easy to know what is realistic and what is not. That is where our last recommendation comes in:

5. Get a good lawyer, and follow their advice. This is where we can help. Family Law Cafe can put you in touch with an expert family lawyer who will be able to advise you on your entitlement, and who will help you to reach an agreed settlement, by adopting a constructive, non-confrontational approach, wherever possible. 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. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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Five initial steps to take (or consider) to protect your financial position

Obviously, the breakdown of a marriage can be an extremely difficult time, not least because of the effect that it has upon your finances, and even your home. This can be especially so if your spouse, the main ‘breadwinner’, has just left you without making any financial provision.

What can you do in such circumstances to protect your financial position and your home?

Well, there are many things that you can do, but here are five steps that you either should or could take, or that you may consider:

1. Maintenance – If your spouse was the main breadwinner and has made no financial provision for you, then you may need to apply for maintenance. If you have dependent children then you can apply for child support maintenance via the Child Maintenance Service. You may also be able to apply to a court for maintenance for yourself, even if divorce proceedings have not begun.

2. Your home – What you can do to protect your home depends upon a number of things, but if it is owned then you may be concerned about paying the mortgage, or your spouse attempting to sell or remortgage the property. If your spouse is not paying the mortgage and you cannot afford to do so then you should contact your lender immediately, and explain the position to them. They may be prepared to agree to a ‘mortgage holiday’, temporarily suspending the mortgage payments. If the house is in joint names then your spouse will not be able to sell or remortgage it without your agreement, but if it is their sole name then you may need to protect your right to occupy the property at the Land Registry – this can help to stop your spouse from selling the house.

3. Joint accounts – Remember that your spouse will still have access to joint bank accounts. You may therefore wish to consider closing the account, or asking the bank to freeze it, to prevent your spouse from withdrawing money from it.

4. Change passwords – You may very well have online access to financial services such as banks, and other sites that use your financial details, such as online shops. Obviously, if your spouse is aware of your passwords, then they may be able to access and use these sites without your permission. You should therefore give consideration to changing your passwords to prevent this from happening.

5. Consult the right lawyer – Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you need to obtain the best legal advice that you can. Family Law Cafe can put you in touch with an expert family lawyer who will be able to give you the advice you need, and help you to take any steps necessary to protect your finances and your home. 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. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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