Louise Halford and Robin Charrot set up Evolve Family Law in 2015. They both have many years of city centre family legal experience in large commercial firms and wanted to offer an alternative: solicitors who listen and guide, who are not hide bound by big firm procedures, who are approachable and accessible and who are specialist enough to know the law and their stuff but aren’t divorce divas.
Parental substance misuse is an extremely serious issue and it is not uncommon for one parent to allege that the other parent has a drug or alcohol issue when a couple splits up. Why? Well sometimes the parental substance misuse, be it drugs or alcohol, is mentioned in passing as ‘no big deal’ with an acknowledgement that the parent is great with the kids. In other families, there is a genuine concern for the children as the parental substance misuse has gone beyond recreational use and was the reason behind the relationship breakdown. Finally, sometimes allegations are made that are untrue as a means to stop contact or the alcohol or drug use is blown out of all proportion to the reality as a justification to stop the children seeing the other parent.
The issue of drug and alcohol testing in divorce and children cases has hit the headlines with reports in the Daily Mail that James Stunt allegedly provided false samples for drug testing during his divorce from Petra Ecclestone in an attempt to disproof accusations of parental substance misuse.
If one parent uses drugs or alcohol it can have an impact on their ability to look after their children or impact on how much time they should spend with the children. Many parents, despite the trauma of a split, are able to sort out child care and contact arrangements with the help of a solicitor, mediator or therapist, working around the parental substance misuse.
As an example of parental substance misuse, if a mum of teenage boys knows her boys want to see their dad, she can minimise the risks posed by her ex and his alcohol issues by insisting that the children aren’t driven in a car by their father and that a relative stays in Dad’s house when the boys stay over. In a different scenario with a toddler, the risks and issues may be very different.
Where drug or alcohol abuse is denied or parents can’t reach agreement on the impact, if any, the drug / alcohol use should have on the child care arrangements the parents may have to ask the Court to decide how much time the children should spend with each parent and under what conditions.
Many parents are wary about raising parental substance abuse allegations in Court proceedings or alternatively parents are worried that allegations of alcohol or drug usage will automatically be believed and will result in them losing all contact with their child. That is why it is important to get early professional advice on your options. As an example the Court may question why a parent allowed lots of unsupervised contact if there are very serious allegations of parental substance abuse or why, in a different scenario, a parent hasn’t seen their child for months, making the parent child relationship harder to repair. Sometimes it pays to take things slow and at other times it is vital that a parent pushes for contact notwithstanding the allegations of parental substance misuse.
For information or advice about children law and child care arrangements where there are allegations of drug or alcohol misuse please give me a call on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email me at email@example.com
A heterosexual couple, Charles Keidan and Rebecca Steinfeld appealed to the Supreme Court to decide whether none same sex couples should be allowed to enter into civil partnerships.
Why? Most straight couples wouldn’t think about a civil partnership ceremony when they have the opportunity to get married. For homosexual couples the rate of civil partnerships is falling as same sex couples now have the option of marriage as an alternative to registering a civil partnership.
So why is the option of civil partnership so important to Ms Steinfeld and Mr Keidan? The press report that the couple have an ‘’ideological objection to the concept of marriage‘’. I can understand that. In my job, as a family solicitor I meet many couples who are wary of marriage and ‘’tying the knot’’, either as a result of a parent’s bitter divorce battle or because it is their second or third marriage, with all the complexities of step children and grandchildren or joining finances together. Most couples just accept that if they are in a heterosexual relationship the only available legal stamp to a relationship is that of marriage. Is that fair when a homosexual couple have the choice of civil partnership or marriage?
The Supreme Court has answered the question, with all five judges saying that the current civil partnership legislation isn’t compatible with human rights legislation. Put bluntly you can’t treat couples differently based on their sexual orientation. It was that philosophy that eventually led to a change in the law to allow same sex couples to marry.
Prior to the Supreme Court decision being published the government had announced a long consultation process on the future of civil partnerships. The suggestion was that, after consultation, civil partnerships could be scrapped altogether, having fulfilled their purpose as the first legal stepping stone in the recognition of same sex relationships.
Why not extend civil partnerships so that they are available to all couples? Since 2014 heterosexual couples who don’t want to get married have said that they are discriminated against because, unlike homosexual couples, they don’t have the choice of entering into a civil partnership to legally recognise their relationship. What is so important about the legal recognition of a relationship? There are many, not just the perceived benefits for children of having a stamp of authority on their parent’s relationship but financial benefits, such as inheritance tax breaks.
The government has said that it will take a four year consultation process to be able to make an informed decision on whether to scrap civil partnerships for all couples or to extend them to heterosexual couples. The Supreme Court has said that is too long for the inequality to continue. Why not just extend civil partnerships to all adults, especially as the number of ceremonies has fallen to just under 900 a year? Well, there will then be calls that the availability of civil partnerships for all hits at the sanctity of marriage and furthermore will reduce marriage rates. The option of extending or scrapping civil partnerships is fraught with political difficulties but the Supreme Court is clear that consulting over the choices shouldn’t take as long as envisaged by government and politicians.
As a family solicitor, I am in the fortunate position of advising on family law options and then allowing individuals the time and space to decide on whether cohabitation, civil partnership or marriage is the right legal option for them and their family. Whatever the status of a relationship from a lawyer’s perspective the important thing is that the family is protected, that can be in the form of a cohabitation agreement, civil partnership agreement or a prenup agreement or Will.
For advice on any aspect of family law please call +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
It is hard to believe that £500,000 was left in a Will, with a condition on the legacy that it was to be used to pay off the ‘’entire national debt’’. The legacy has sat in a bank account and the money has grown to a reported £400 million. However the national debt now stands at about £1.7 trillion. That is some shortfall.
You wouldn’t think that one simple word in the Will, ‘’entire‘’ has meant that the legacy has sat in a bank account for decades. As all accept that the national debt isn’t going to fall to the amount of the £400 million legacy (especially with bank interest rates) the government has asked the Court for permission for the money to be released for the benefit of the nation.
You may think that this case is exceptional. You’d be right to think that but in my experience as a solicitor specialising in preparing Wills and helping families sort out probate and legacies after loved ones have passed away, it is surprisingly common for mistakes to be made in Wills. Most people think their financial affairs are straightforward and so problems won’t crop up in their Will but I have reviewed homemade and Will writer prepared Wills that sadly won’t do what the person wanted and may cause a lot of extra grief when they pass away.
Examples of common Will wording mistakes are:
Leaving money to your ‘’children’’ – that may be fine in some families but if you have a step child that you haven’t formally adopted then he or she won’t get anything under your Will. This is a common and understandable mistake in wording as often step children are thought of in exactly the same way as natural children – but not under succession law;
Leaving money to named ‘’children’’ – that is ok provided that you don’t have any more children. If you do then unless your Will is changed the unnamed children won’t inherit anything. When I prepare a Will I aim to cover as many options as I can to make sure that a Will doesn’t have to be rewritten every 9 months or so;
Giving a specific legacy to a beneficiary – that is fine if you own the shares or property when you die but if the shares or property have been sold the beneficiary will get nothing. On the other hand if a property has gone up in value and other assets have been sold the beneficiary getting the house may end up with far more of your estate than you intended, creating an unfair result for other family and loved ones.
The morale of the tale? Get advice from a professional when preparing a Will. Not only can it save you and your family a lot of money when your estate is sorted out the cost of getting your Will drawn up a specialist solicitor can also save you money during your life as it may not need to be changed as often. What’s more the cost and speed of getting a professionally prepared Will is often a lot less than you might think and will give you and your family peace of mind.
For advice on Wills and estate planning or probate queries please call me on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or contact me by email at email@example.com
You’d be right to think that this simple question deserves a straightforward reply but very few law firms publish price information on their websites. Evolve Family Law is one of the first law firms to publish fixed family law fees so clients have an idea of costs before calling or emailing us.
The cost of divorce proceedings
If you want to start divorce proceedings and your husband or wife agrees to the divorce, then the costs will be £1,222. There are no hidden extras – that includes the VAT and the Court fees (payable to the government) of £550.
If you think your divorce might be a bit complicated, for example because:
You don’t know where your husband or wife is living;
Your spouse lives abroad;
It is possible that either you or your spouse could issue divorce proceedings in more than one country;
Your spouse won’t agree to a divorce or won’t complete the forms.
Give us a call and we can talk through your options and the costs based on our hourly rates. Again, unlike most other law firms in the North West, we are not shy about publishing hourly rates in our pricing guide.
The cost of getting an agreed Financial Court Order
If you have already reached a financial agreement either direct with your spouse or through mediation you will need the protection of a Financial Court Order. Evolve Family Law can prepare an Order for from £866 .That’s the price inclusive of VAT and Court fees for a straight forward Financial Court Order.
Our pricing guide details the range of fixed fees for financial orders, as the amount of work required, and therefore the fixed fee, depends on the complexity of the finances and pensions.
Transparency and fees
When Evolve Family Law was set up in 2015 Louise Halford and I didn’t want to create ‘’just another law firm’’. Both of us have many years of family law experience in working at top city centre law firms and knew that we wanted Evolve Family Law to be different. Our vision was to put clients (and not the fees) at the heart of what we do by being trusted legal advisors, charging a fair and transparent level of fees.
It means you get bespoke advice tailored to your personal situation at a cost that you can understand. What do I mean by that? To give examples:
I met someone who was thinking about starting divorce proceedings. I talked to him and realised that he didn’t actually want a divorce and there was no legal or financial reason to push ahead with one. Better for the client to wait until he was ready, whether that is in a few weeks, or a couple of years’ time. That is fine by me and he knows that I will help when he is ready to get divorced;
One lady was clear she wanted a divorce. She knew from the outset that her divorce would cost her £1,222. That meant she could budget for the costs, without worrying about how much her legal costs might add up to;
I met a client who was worried about her children and money. I established that she or her husband could start divorce proceedings in more than one country and the choice of country in which the divorce proceedings were started could have a big impact on the financial settlement. For her it was important to start the Court proceedings quickly to protect her financial position.
Every divorce is different but our fixed fees and pricing guide are published to give you an idea of the costs involved so that you can contact us with confidence.
If you are contemplating a separation or a divorce and want to discuss your options and costs then please give me a call on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
A week in family law: civil partnership scrap, surrogacy battle and Court confirms jail time for breaching a family Court order
It has been a busy week in family law with cases and proposed reforms of family law hitting the headlines:
Civil partnerships could be scrapped in new family law proposals
As a heterosexual couple head to the Supreme Court to argue that they should be legally able to enter into a civil partnership it’s been revealed that there’ll be a consultation process on the future of civil partnerships which has an impact on family law.
My first thought, when reading the article, was how things have changed in a relatively short period of time. Normally changes in the law seem to take more than a lifetime to get through parliament.
Civil partnerships for gay couples were introduced in 2005 and, at a very fast pace for family law reform, same sex marriages were legalised in 2014. Since 2014 heterosexual couples who don’t want to get married have rightly said that they are discriminated against because, unlike gay couples, they don’t have the choice of entering into a civil partnership to legally recognise their relationship and with the consequent financial benefits , such as inheritance tax breaks.
The government is reviewing civil partnerships as there has been a fall in demand from gay couples, now they have the option of getting married. There will however always be some couples, whether gay or heterosexual, who prefer to recognise their relationship without the label of ‘’ marriage’’. As the conservative party is keen to uphold the sanctity of marriage and to stop the marriage rate falling you can foresee that ,in time, civil partnerships may be scrapped for all rather than extended and made available for all couples.
The papers are reporting on a case of a birth mother who entered into a surrogacy agreement with 2 men. One of the men died during the pregnancy leaving the child’s biological father believing that he would bring the child up on his own. The surrogate mother has other ideas and now believes that the baby should be brought up by her as the father can’t offer a 2 parent home and she has formed a bond with the baby.
Under current surrogacy laws the surrogate mother has legal rights in relation to the child until a parental order is made. Changes to surrogacy law have been proposed to bring the law up-to-date and fit for today’s purposes. It is rare for a surrogate mother to refuse to hand over a baby and ultimately it will be for the family Court to decide what is in this baby’s best interests.
The Court of Appeal has decided that a Court was right to imprison an 83 year old man, Mr Hart, for not cooperating with his ex-wife and sorting out money. Mr Hart had been placed on bail pending his appeal but he will now face his 14 month jail term. Harsh for an octogenarian? Maybe but the Court of Appeal was keen to show that the Court does have teeth and has the power to enforce its Court orders.
We were delighted to support a business breakfast recently with the special guest speaker Economist, Jim O’Neill, Lord O’Neill of Gatley. The event was attended by over 100 guests from the business community, and raised nearly £10,000 for MedEquip4Kids.
Once breakfast and coffee were served, MedEquip4Kids chairman Brian White welcomed Lord O’Neill and gave a brief introduction to his many impressive achievements. After graduating from Sheffield University, Lord O’Neill studied for a PhD at Surrey and went on to become a renowned economist, working for various banks including 15 years at Goldman Sachs Division of Asset Management. He is especially well known for developing the acronym BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China), a group of countries considered to be at a similar stage of newly advanced economic development. In 2011 he was named by Bloomberg Markets magazine as one of the 50 most influential financial professionals worldwide.
When Lord O’Neill left Goldman Sachs he had a desire to do something different, though he wasn’t sure at first what that would be. Then he was asked by David Cameron to lead a review into the problem of antimicrobial resistance. His wife, who is a scientist, commented that it was the first time she’d be able to understand and be interested in what he was doing! Lord O’Neill has subsequently co-written a book called Superbugs: An Arms Race Against Bacteria.
After the talk the floor was opened up for the audience to ask questions. Perhaps unsurprisingly in the circumstances, the first topic to be raised was Brexit. Lord O’Neill’s view as a remainer was that there were likely to be negative consequences of Britain leaving the EU, but it perhaps wasn’t the most important issue facing the UK economy at the current time. In fact it was possible that increased productivity could eventually make up for any negative impact of Brexit. But in order to achieve that productivity, it was crucial to tackle geographical and intergenerational inequality – factors he believed were responsible for the referendum result, especially in places like Sunderland where people had felt for decades that they were being left behind compared to other parts of the UK.
This led on to the subject of the Northern Powerhouse, an initiative which Lord O’Neill has championed and remains heavily involved in. In his opinion the six key factors in regenerating the northern economies are: devolution (in particular healthcare – he mentioned that in areas of North Manchester the life expectancy for men is just 59 years old), transport, education, skills, businesses moving out of London to prevent young people in the north having to relocate for jobs, and backing from private sector and council leaders.
Finally Lord O’Neill was asked about the best emerging markets for UK exports, and he emphasised the importance of China. Although its growth has slowed recently, it still creates an equivalent of the South African economy every month. One important area is Chinese consumers: Apple now sells more iPhones to Chinese customers than it does to US ones. Other key emerging markets he noted were Vietnam and Laos.
At the end of the breakfast Lord O’Neill, who is an enthusiastic supporter of Manchester United, drew out the winning envelope from the prize draw. The lucky winner was our very own Becky who went away with a Paul Pogba shirt!
Good news for grandparents – children law reform proposed – to give grandparents a right to apply to Court to see their grandchild.
As a children lawyer I smile when I see a grandparent out with a grandchild. Why? I’m often asked for advice on grandparents ‘rights’ and it is therefore great to see children enjoying time with grandparents.
Sadly grandparent contact can stop if:
There is a family fallout with a son or daughter-in-law;
Parents separate and the parent who is looking after the children thinks that a grandparent took sides during the divorce or wants to exert control;
The death of a child and the remarriage of a son or daughter in law;
Family moving away or going to live abroad.
All too often when families split up grandparents can be forgotten, despite providing support such as:
Continuity and stability in a grandchild’s changing post-divorce world;
Childcare if both parents have to go back to work after a marriage breakdown;
A fun relative and role model.
The current grandparent and child law
Under current children law, grandparents don’t have an automatic right to apply to Court to see their grandchildren. Grandparents have to undergo a two stage process:
Ask the Court for permission to be able to apply for a Court Child Arrangements Order.
If they get permission then apply for an order setting out the time a grandchild should spend with their grandparents. The Order can provide for regular contact or just cover a one off special holiday or the grandchild being able to come to an 80th birthday party or golden wedding celebration.
When a grandparent asks for Court permission to apply for a Child Arrangements Order the Court considers:
The connection with the child (how close are the grandparents to the grandchild);
The nature of the application for contact;
Whether the application might be potentially harmful to the child’s well-being in any way.
Although it is usual for a Court to give permission for a grandparent to apply for a Child Arrangements Order the two stage Court process can be off putting to a grandparent desperate to see their grandchild. Once permission to apply for the Court order is granted the Court then has to decide whether contact is in the child’s best interests.
The proposed grandparent reform
According to press reports the proposed change to the children law is to do away with the need for grandparents and other close family to have to ask the Court for permission to apply for a Court order to see their grandchild.
If the law is changed then grandparents will be treated in exactly the same way as a parent asking for a Court order to see their child. The reform has long been advocated by people’s campaigner and grandmother, Esther Rantzen. If the law is reformed it will make it easier for grandparents to see their grandchildren and grandparents will have the same ‘’rights’’ as parents to apply to stay in touch with their loved ones.
For advice about any aspect of children law or to talk about your legal options please give me a call on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email me at email@example.com
As a specialist private client solicitor, advising families on Wills and estate planning, I am comfortable talking about death and the need to plan for it. I know that many families don’t feel able to talk about Wills or what might happen when a loved one dies. That can mean that when a family member does pass away, with or without leaving a Will, the process of sorting out their personal and financial affairs can seem totally overwhelming, often not helped by the need to obtain what is known as probate before the family can access funds and distribute inheritances in accordance with the Will.
What is ‘’probate’’?
When someone dies their assets and property (known as their ‘’estate’’) are left in limbo until someone gets the legal right to deal with their property and possessions by applying for a ‘’grant of representation’’ or ‘’letters of administration’’.
How do you apply for probate?
In general the process is as follows:
Check and see if there is a Will – the Will may be kept with other important papers, at the bank or at a solicitor’s office. If there is a Will the people authorised to sort out the deceased’s financial affairs (known as ‘’executors’’) will apply for probate. If there is no Will then family members can apply for the grant;
Estimate the value of the estate – this is necessary so that the Inland Revenue can check if inheritance tax will be payable;
Arrange for the payment of inheritance tax due prior to the application;
Complete a probate application form and an inheritance tax form;
Swear a document;
Submit the application.
What happens after probate is granted?
The executors will need to:
Pay any remaining inheritance tax that is payable;
Pay any debts ;
Collect any property , for example to sell a share portfolio or a family home or investments;
Distribute the estate, either under the terms of the Will or, if there is no Will, under the intestacy rules.
Do you have to get probate?
Sometimes it is possible to sort out a deceased’s financial affairs without applying for probate, for example when:
The deceased person doesn’t own any property or property is jointly held and passes automatically to the survivor;
The deceased held a joint bank account with a husband, wife or partner so the savings or bank account pass automatically to the joint account holder;
The deceased`s bank may consider the amount in question small enough to release without the formality of probate (typically less than £5,000).
Is getting probate straight forward?
How complicated the probate process is depends on how complex the deceased’s estate, family and Will is. Sometimes getting probate is straight forward but there are often things to sort out or check such as:
Entitlement to bereavement allowance;
Whether it is in the family best interests to change a Will after death ( known as a ‘’deed of variation’’) – that can result in inheritance tax savings;
Resolve any inheritance claims by family or dependants who want to challenge the Will or do not think that they will receive reasonable financial provision under intestacy rules;
Obtaining a presumption of death certificate;
Sorting out life insurance and pension claims – these benefits may or may not pass under the terms of the deceased’s Will;
Sorting out the creation and administration of any Trusts created by the Will;
Changing the appointment of Executors.
How much does probate cost?
Some people have complex finances and businesses and there is therefore a lot of legal work to do to get probate. However, even if the deceased’s estate is not complex, it often pays for executors to take legal advice to make sure that the estate does not pay more than it needs to in inheritance tax and that the estate is distributed correctly. If you need advice on getting probate please call for a bespoke quote, at a cost that is clear and straight forward. An initial hour meeting is of course free.
If you need advice on obtaining probate or preparing a Will or Lasting Power of Attorney then please give me a call on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Surrogacy reform is on the cards with Law Commission review on surrogacy
There is nothing quite like welcoming a new baby into the world. As a children lawyer I have been privileged to help parents secure Parental Orders after they have had a child through a surrogacy agreement. I therefore know just how stressful the months leading up to the birth of the child are as well as the worry of how quickly a parent can secure a Court order. For many parents they couldn’t relax and enjoy their baby until all the legalities were sorted out.
Surrogacy laws were first introduced about 30 years ago. Society and the medical options available to couples have changed over the years. Many parents, medics and legal professionals have concluded that the current surrogacy legislation, once thought to be ground breaking, is no longer ‘’ fit for purpose’’ and doesn’t meet the needs of the surrogate, the parents and, most importantly, the baby.
Under current English law a surrogate mother is the legal mother of the child even if she has no genetic link to the baby. A Parental Order, in favour of the parents, can only be applied for after the baby has been born and various conditions have to be met, namely:
The application must be made within six months of the child’s birth;
The surrogate mother must fully consent to the Parental Order and must understand that she will be giving up parental rights;
No payment should have been made to the surrogate mother save for necessary reasonable expenses. The Court can give retrospective approval to payments over and above reasonable expenses;
There must be a genetic connection between the child and at least one applicant for the Parental Order;
At the time of the application and the making of the order the child’s home must be with the person applying for the order;
Either or both applicants must be domiciled in the UK
There is a concern amongst professionals that current UK surrogacy laws and conditions encourages the use of international surrogates where, in some countries, there is less regulation and protection for all participants.
The Law Commission reforms will consider changes to the law relating to:
the legal parentage of the baby;
the regulation of surrogacy including payments;
the rights of the child to obtain information about their origin and the surrogacy arrangement;
the rights of the surrogate, parents and child and how best to avoid exploitation in the surrogacy process.
The Commission says that a report on proposed changes in the law will be available within a year. There will then need to be an impetus to get any recommended changes in current surrogacy laws into new legislation so that all involved in surrogacy arrangements feel that the law is working to protect them and the child.
Is it a gift or a loan? Helping your children on the property ladder.
In an age where a lot of young people and divorcees recovering from the financial split from their spouse can’t get on the property ladder without help from the ‘’bank of mum and dad’’ a reported case in the Daily Mail highlights the importance of recording agreement over property.
The reasons behind why Mr and Mrs Joy gave their daughter £90,000 are complex but in essence the Joy family dispute was simple: was the £90,000 payment a loan, as claimed by Mr and Mrs Joy, or a gift, as asserted by their daughter, Lucy.
After a Court battle a judge has recently ruled that the money was a gift and is not repayable by the couple’s daughter, Lucy. This is despite Mr and Mrs Joy reportedly re-mortgaging their family home to raise the £90,000 for their daughter on the basis of an alleged verbal agreement that Lucy would then transfer an inherited property into Mrs Joy’s name. The key factor in the Court decision was that there was no written agreement or contract between parents and child.
As a family solicitor I am often told by clients that they don’t need a written agreement or document between their family members. The Joy case is a salutary reminder of the importance of writing things down. That is not just because family can fall out but also to protect family members from:
The donor’s estate being liable for extra inheritance tax as the HMRC might not view a payment to a family member as a ‘’gift’’ without formal evidence;
The person receiving the money facing a financial claim on divorce and therefore needing to establish that money received from family was a gift to them as an individual or a repayable loan;
The person receiving the money facing bankruptcy or a Court judgement – without a written document a third party or a Court may not accept that the money was a loan and not a gift.
There are many different ways in which family property agreements can be recorded, such as:
Cohabitation agreement between cohabiting couples;
Declarations of trust between joint owners;
Loan – not secured on the property ;
Mortgage – secured against the property ;
Prenup agreements between an engaged couple;
Postnup agreements – suitable for a married couple who acquire property after marriage, for example, inherited from a parent;
Record of gift of property or deposit to purchase a property.
Whatever the type of document and however the paperwork is drawn up, the important thing is that there is a written agreement. By spending the time recording the property agreement a lot of time and money can be avoided when it comes time for the loan to be repaid, the property sold or the estate sorted out. The English philosopher, John Locke, said ‘’where there is no property there is no injustice’’. I say ‘’ where there is a written agreement on property there’s normally no injustice’’.