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No fault divorce route finally opens up for couples

The no fault divorce route is to finally become available to couples.

After years of campaigning and lobbying, the government has finally committed to introduce the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act on 6 April 2022.

Although the date is later than had been widely anticipated, it is now a firm commitment, not just a proposal or a date to work towards.

Nigel Shepherd, who was the former chair of Resolution, has led the call for no fault divorce for many years. Commenting on the government announcement, he said: “ Whilst any delay is disappointing, we do now have certainty over the introduction of this important reform and will be able to advise clients accordingly.”

It is believed that the delay is to allow for the necessary IT work to the HMCT’s online divorce system to take place.

Richard Johnson, specialist divorce lawyer at Atherton Godfrey, said: “No fault divorce is long overdue. The no fault concept will minimise opportunities for conflict, reduce the emotional cost of separation and minimise the impact on any children the couple have.

“Although we would have preferred the Act to become law much sooner, we appreciate that the new process can only work in the way it’s intended if the IT system is fit for purpose.

“At least we are now in a position that we can advise clients about the no-fault route if they wish to divorce.”

Mr Shepherd added: “We have met with the Ministry of Justice on a regular basis … and have received assurances that the government remains fully committed to bringing the Act into force. We will continue to work with them as the date for implementation approaches.”

Under current laws, even if both parties agree to the divorce, one must take the blame for the marriage breaking down, unless they have been living apart for more than two years.

If you are considering divorce or separation, talk to us. We are experienced family law specialists and can give you the expert advice you need. Call 01302 320621 for a confidential discussion with one of our friendly team.

 

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Divorce lawyer joins family department

We are very pleased to welcome specialist divorce lawyer, Richard Johnson to our family law department.

Richard brings with him a wealth of experience in helping separating couples, and will further strengthen the services we can provide.

Richard, is a qualified Fellow of Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and has been dealing with family disputes for over 20 years.

He has joined Atherton Godfrey after working with a leading firm of solicitors in Wakefield, where for the past 12 years, he has dealt solely with family disputes.

Richard is an experienced divorce lawyer, and handles all aspects of relationship breakdown, including divorce and linked financial matters, as well as disputes regarding child residence and contact, non-molestation orders, occupation orders and property disputes between unmarried couples.

 

 

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Marriage or civil partnership – more choice for couples

A change in the law now offers mixed-sex couples up and down the country the option of forming a civil partnership instead of getting married.

The change, which offers couples a more modern way to formalise their relationship, comes after Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan won a 5-year legal battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court, in their bid to open up civil partnerships to all couples.

Previously, the law only allowed same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships. These were first introduced as a means of providing same sex couples with the same legal rights as married couples.

During 2013, more than 5,600 same-sex couples formalised their relationship in this way. However, the number fell sharply to only 861 when same-sex marriage became legal.

It was this imbalance that prompted the legal battle to allow mixed-sex couples the right to choose between civil partnership and marriage in the same way that same-sex couples could.

As a result of the change in the law, mixed-sex couples were formally allowed to conduct their civil partnership from 31 December, 28 days after the minimum statutory notice period.

One couple taking advantage of the new law said they had both previously been married, and they strongly objected to having to repeat vows to one another that they knew hadn’t worked the first time.

Whilst another felt that their union was more about the equality of a partnership than a marriage.

Don Bird, family law solicitor at Atherton Godfrey, welcomed the change and commented: “Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as common-law marriage. Unfortunately, couples who just live together, regardless of the number of years, simply do not have the same legal protection as married couples. This change in the law removes that discrimination and provides legal and financial security throughout the relationship as well as protection in the event the relationship ends.”

Why a civil partnership instead of marriage?
A civil partnership is a legally recognised relationship that offers many of the same benefits as marriage, in terms of pensions, benefits and inheritance. However, there are no religious aspects and couples do not exchange vows.

When it comes to ending a civil partnership the dissolution process is similar to marriage, except that adultery cannot be used as a reason.

The government estimates that around 84,000 mixed sex couples will form civil partnerships during 2020.

Marrying or entering a civil partnership?

If you are planning to formalise your relationship, either by marriage or a civil partnership, and would like to know about protecting your interests, contact us for a confidential chat about your options. Call 01302 320621 or email info@athertongodfrey.co.uk

 

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Year on year increase in private law children cases

Private law children cases are at an all-time high, according to figures released by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, or Cafcass as it is often known.

Cafcass is an independent organisation charged with the task of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children going through the family courts. Their primary aim is to ensure that each child is given a voice and that all decisions are made in their best interests.

Private law children cases cover arrangements for the children where parents are separated or divorced, usually about where the child will live or with whom they will spend time. Arrangements for grandparents can also be included.

During the period 2014-15, Cafcass recorded 34,119 cases, which was a 27% decrease on the previous year. Since then, each year has seen a year-on-year increase of between 3.1% and 10%. As a result, during the 2018-19 reporting period a total of 43,908 cases were recorded.

During July alone, a total of 4,369 new private law cases were received – an alarming 18.7% or 688 cases higher than July last year.

Figures for the first quarter of 2019-20 already show 15,559 cases, indicating that the current financial year will very likely see yet another increase.

Commenting on the report, children law expert, Alison McIlroy said: “This increase demonstrates that family issues are getting ever more complex.”

It’s also worth noting that in private law a single case may involve several children and various different types of application. Therefore, the number of cases is not an accurate reflection of the number of children caught up in the family court system.

If you are experiencing issues regarding arrangements for children and need guidance, our family law experts are here to help. We offer a free initial consultation and Legal Aid is still available in certain circumstances.

For a no obligation discussion about your options please call 01302 320621.

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Common law marriage: is it fact or fiction?

Common law marriage has not existed in the UK since the 17th Century, yet around half the population is under the belief that co-habiting couples have the same legal rights as married couples or those in a civil partnership.

Although married or civil partner couples remain the most common family unit, cohabitation is by far the fastest growing family unit.

A recent social attitudes survey carried out by The National Centre for Social Research found that 46% of the public believe that cohabiting couples form a common law marriage.

Despite publicity and campaigns aimed at increasing awareness of the issues cohabiting couples face, this figure has remained practically the same for the past 14 years.

According to the survey, households with children were even more likely to believe that common law marriage exists.

Anne Barlow, professor of family law and policy at the University of Exeter, stated: “The number of opposite sex cohabiting couple families with dependent children has more than doubled in the last decade. Yet, while people’s attitudes towards marriage and cohabitation have shifted, policy has failed to keep up with the times. The result is often severe financial hardship for the more vulnerable party in the event of separation, such as women who have interrupted their career to raise children.”

A poll commissioned by Resolution back in 2013 revealed that 75% of MPs believed that legal rights for cohabiting couples were unclear and 60% said there was a need for greater legal protection for unmarried couples when they separate. Despite this recognition by MPs, there has been no legislation and no change in the law.

Graeme Fraser, Resolution cohabitation chair commented: It’s time for the government to grasp the nettle and introduce at least some basic legal rights. Otherwise millions of cohabitants continue to be at risk and could be left with a nasty shock if their partner passes away or their relationship comes to an end.”

Whether you are co-habiting, married or in a civil partnership, our expert family law solicitors will be able to offer you the advice and guidance you need for complete peace of mind. Call 01302 320621 or email info@athertongodfrey.co.uk

 

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No glad tidings for some as hundreds file for Christmas divorce

Being able to spend time with a partner or spouse over Christmas is something many couples look forward to, particularly with today’s hectic lifestyles.

Not everyone though finds Christmas to be a time of glad tidings. In fact, 455 people filed an online divorce application between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. And 13 found the holiday period so stressful that they ditched the turkey and crackers to apply for a divorce on Christmas Day itself.

Many couples will wait until after the holiday period though and today is known as ‘Divorce Monday’, a day when law firms typically see a surge in people who plan to break-up after having to ‘endure’ the Christmas holidays.

David Kirkman, family law solicitor at Atherton Godfrey, commented: “Christmas can be something of a balancing act – trying to keep expenditure under control and trying to keep everyone happy. That along with spending extended periods of time together can naturally be the source of friction between couples.

One of the problems with online divorce applications is that they can often be completed in the heat of the moment and regretted later, proving very costly as the payment has already been made. My advice would be to take time to cool off before making such a serious decision.

Another issue is that many people do not know their rights on divorce and may end up losing out financially. “

There are many myths surround the divorce process. For example:

I’m his common law wife so don’t need to worry financially
Married people and those in civil partnerships have financial claims over such as child maintenance, property and pensions. Unmarried couples have far more limited rights and in some cases, no right to claim anything at all.

They were cheating, I’ll get everything
As unfair as it may seem, adultery or unreasonable behaviour doesn’t make any difference as to how assets are divided following divorce. Only a criminal offence such as murder of the spouse, or actual bodily harm resulting in a prison sentence is likely to have a bearing.

I can get a quickie divorce
According to newspapers, Cheryl Cole was got a divorce in 14 seconds – a bit of a headline spinner. Choose who you are, it generally takes between 6 months and a year to end a marriage.

We are consciously uncoupling
This may be fine for A-listers, but it is not possible to divorce on this basis in England and Wales. Until no fault divorce is approved by parliament, if you are divorcing within 2 years of marriage, one party has to be ‘blamed’ in the petition, even if the separation is perfectly amicable.

Grounds for divorce
If the marriage has irretrievably broken down you must be able to prove one of the following:
• Adultery
• Unreasonable behaviour
• 2 years separation – with consent
• 2 years desertion
• 5 years separation – without consent

Considering divorce?
Take time to find out exactly where you stand and what you are entitled to. You can speak to our friendly experienced team, in complete confidence and without obligation – contact 01302 320621 or email info@athertongodfrey.co.uk

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Rising number of babies being taken into care

The number of newborn babies being taken into care in England is rising, according to a recent study.

Research, led by Professor Karen Broadhurst at Lancaster University, revealed that the number of babies removed from their parents has increased by 136% over the last nine years.

Almost all the 16,849 cases identified in the study resulted in care orders being granted to the local authorities.  The babies were then placed for adoption, put into foster care or placed with extended family; very few remained with their birth parent.

There were also significant regional variations highlighted in the research which showed that babies born in Yorkshire and the Humber were twice as likely to be subject to care proceedings as those born in London.

Sir James Mumby, retired president of the Family Division of the High Court expressed concerns about the regional variations and said they showed significant differences between the way the courts and local authorities behaved.

Professor Broadhurst, who first highlighted the alarming rise back in 2015, noted that around 35 babies in every 10,000 live births are likely to be taken from their parents. Many will be removed within hours of birth, because they have been identified as being at risk of significant harm.

However, there are questions around first time cases and whether there has been sufficient time to establish the likelihood of significant harm. Professor Broadhurst said: “For infants whose family is new to the court, pregnancy provides only a short window for the assessment of parenting capacity and support for change”.

Commenting on the findings, Michelle Lawton, children law specialist at Atherton Godfrey, said: “Removing the child is a severe form of intervention. However, authorities do have a duty to safeguard the child and often have to act swiftly.

If you are notified that the local authority is going to issue care proceedings, you should get legal advice immediately.

If you have parental responsibility, whether as a parent or as an extended family member, you will be able to claim legal aid so you don’t have to worry about paying for legal advice or the cost of a solicitor to go along to the court hearings with you.”

If social services become involved with your family, contact us for a confidential chat about your options.

#JUSTICEWEEK18

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Why cutting legal aid is false economy

The scope of legal aid, which has been a lifeline to many thousands of people since it was introduced, was vastly reduced with the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

The cost of legal aid had been running at just over £2bn each year, significantly higher than the European average of £97m. Despite very loud protests from the legal profession, at least £320m was cut from the budget – but this is a prime example of false economy.

Removing legal aid for a wide range of legal issues has meant that many, often vulnerable people have avoided taking early legal advice. Instead, they have delayed getting help until the situation escalated to the point where it could no longer be ignored; by which time it was much more serious and far more costly to resolve.

Law Society president, Christina Blacklaws, commented: “Without early advice, relatively minor legal problems can escalate, creating health, social and financial problems, placing additional pressure and cost on already stretched public services.

Anyone who can’t afford to pay for early legal advice may struggle to identify solutions, meaning simple issues spiral and can end up in court bringing unnecessary costs to the taxpayer.”

In the case of family law, which was severely hit by the cuts, the lack of legal aid for relationship breakdowns has resulted in a vast reduction in mediation referrals, which in turn has put pressure on the courts and the public purse.

The Law Society is calling for legal aid to be reinstated for early advice for housing and family cases. Christina added: “The benefits of early advice are clear. We are calling on the government to ensure justice is accessible to those who need it.”

Legal aid is still available in some cases for:

  • Birth injury resulting in child disability
  • Community care disputes
  • Debt problems
  • Education disputes
  • Discrimination claims
  • Criminal offences
  • Asylum and immigration
  • Mental health representation
  • Welfare benefit appeals to higher courts
  • Council tax reduction appeals to higher courts

If you have a legal issue and want to know if your circumstances are covered by legal aid, contact us on 01302 320621. More details can be found at www.gov.uk/civil-legal-advice  or call 0345 345 4345

#JUSTICEWEEK18

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No fault divorce – change is finally on the way

The government is expected to launch a consultation on the merits of ‘no-fault’ divorce within the next few months.

This is a move welcomed by many divorce lawyers who have campaigned long and hard for a change in the law of divorce in England and Wales.

As the law currently stands, the only way a person can get a divorce within two years of separating is to prove that the other person has either committed adultery or that their behaviour means it is unreasonable for them to live together.  Allegations such as these can increase acrimony and hurt, making an already difficult process harder.

The demands for change have intensified since the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Tini Owens.

Mrs Owens (68) had petitioned for a divorce after moving out of the family home in 2015. She told the court that she was ‘wretchedly unhappy’ and that her husband’s behaviour made her feel unloved and untrusted.

When the judge at first instance rejected her application, Mrs Owens took her case to the Court of Appeal, who upheld the ruling. Her only option then was to take her case to the Supreme Court.

Although the Supreme Court was sympathetic to her plight, it was, albeit reluctantly, bound to apply the law as it currently stands.  Now the government is consulting on a change to the law that will remove any need to make allegations about the other person.

David Kirkman, specialist divorce solicitor at Atherton Godfrey commented:

“There can be little doubt that the current law on divorce is in need of reform.  There is a large gulf between contemporary British attitudes and the law which was made in the 1960s.

What animates most family lawyers to demand reform is not the ‘intellectual dishonesty’ of the current system as it works in practice; it is the effect on the separating couple and their children.

Family law should be focused on the future, for the sake of everyone involved.  It is deeply unhelpful to require one person dredge up past grievances in order to obtain a divorce that both people agree should happen.

Everyone benefits if separating couples can find a non-confrontational and constructive way to sort out finances and child arrangements.  Changing the law on divorce could help this happen.  There is a wide coalition of bodies calling for reform, including Resolution and the Marriage Foundation.  It seems the government is listening and change is finally on its way.”

If you are considering divorce, make sure you are know what your legal rights are – contact our family law team on 01302 320621.