We are experienced legal practitioners who work in the Belfast based firm of Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors. We aim to provide both information and a forum for discussion on all legal matters surrounding family life, from the cradle to the grave. In our blog, we try wherever possible to avoid legal jargon to help you understand the law which affects all our lives.
CALL CHECK CONFIRM MARCH 2019 from Paul O’Connor on Vimeo.
A new awareness campaign has been launched by the Law Society of NI aimed at reducing the threat posed by cyber-criminals targeting home-buyers, sellers, lenders and solicitors in Northern Ireland.
The ‘Call, Check and Confirm’, campaign provides guidance, information and recommended actions to all parties involved in a house sale or purchase.
The above short video has been produced by the Law Society of NI and highlights the various ways in which you can safeguard against falling victim to a cyber-criminal when buying a house.
We all know the saying, ‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans’. However, with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it is sometimes difficult to make any plans at all!
Few people would deny the sense in making a Will, and most of us have at one stage or another considered it, but many of us just don’t get round to the task. Everyday life seems to get in the way and besides, talking about death is a little depressing don’t you think?!
Why should I make a Will?
Well, there is nothing morbid about making a Will – you can rest assured that it does not hasten the event! In reality, taking a little time to plan how you would wish your assets to be distributed upon death and knowing that your family and children have been properly provided for as per your wishes goes some way to relieving the stresses and worries that many of us may have about death, particularly as we get older. Essentially, by making a Will, you control who inherits and how much of your estate each of your chosen beneficiaries receive.
What if I have not made a Will?
If you have not made a Will, then laws made many years ago (which many people feel are now outdated) direct who the recipients of your estate will be. In today’s world, the patterns of family life are much more diverse and a family may include the following:-
Children by more than one partner
Long-term unmarried partners.
If you have not made a Will, these are all complicating factors. For example, if you are unmarried but have a long term partner and child together, your child will inherit your estate if you die without a Will and NOT your partner. Yet most unmarried couples would wish, and expect, that their partner would be first in line to inherit, and their child second. If married, your partner moves to first in line but does not necessarily take all of your estate. Therefore, if you wish to have the reassurance that each and every member of your family is accounted for upon your death, making a Will is the best option for you.
Planning ahead can save you money and heartache, and most importantly will ensure YOU are in control of what happens after your death.
For more information on how to make a Will, please feel free to contact us here or alternatively leave your details below.
Many people associate the notion of stalking as something experienced only by those in the public eye – we read stories in the papers of a ‘crazed fan’ being found on a high-profile celebrity’s premises or trolling them online and sending unwanted messages.
Many would not associate stalking with something that would happen to ordinary people in their in ordinary lives. However, according to the National Stalking Helpline, approximately 45% of people who contact them are being stalked by people they have previously been in a relationship with, while a further one third will have had some prior acquaintance with their stalker.
What is the definition of stalking?
There is currently no legal definition of stalking, though it is generally seen as behaviour which is persistent and unwanted, and which causes the victim to feel frightened, anxious and distressed. This persistent and unwanted behaviour can take many forms, including the following:-
Following, observing and spying on someone.
Non-consensual communication, such as repeated phone calls, emails, text messages, and unwanted gifts.
Showing up uninvited at the victim’s home school, or work.
Driving past the victim’s home or work.
Burglary or robbery or criminal damage of the victim’s home, workplace, vehicle or other property.
Threatening the victim, their family, or even pets with violence.
Harassment of people associated with the victim (e.g. family members, partner, work colleagues).
Physical and/ or sexual assault of the victim.
Cyber stalking – i.e. conduct or communication via electronic devices which are intended to distress or harass the victim – for example, sending or leaving unsolicited material/gifts, graffiti, and/or messages on social networking sites.
How can I protect myself if I am being stalked?
The law in Northern Ireland has remedies in place to protect anyone who is being stalked or harassed.
There are different options available for those who are being stalked by a family member and those being stalked by someone unknown or unrelated to them.
The Protection from Harassment Order (NI) 1997 provides a victim with the ability to apply to the Court for a Civil Injunction against their stalker. This remedy can be used where the victim and perpetrator are not related to one another via blood or marriage and indeed even if the perpetrator is not known to the victim.
A Civil Injunction, if granted, stops a person from harassing, assaulting, molesting or otherwise interfering with the victim, including restraining that person from being able to communicate or contact the victim and, in some cases, prohibiting them from being able to enter a certain property or area.
In order to make an application for a Civil Injunction, there must be evidence of two separate incidents of harassment. It is therefore important that any incident of harassing or threatening behaviour is logged with the Police.
Civil Injunctions can be applied for on an emergency basis without the perpetrator being notified and dependant on a victim’s income, they may be entitled to Legal Aid assistance.
Under the Family Homes and Domestic Violence Order (NI) 1998, if a victim and the perpetrator are deemed to be ‘associated persons’, then the victim has the option of applying for a Non-Molestation Order against the perpetrator. In general terms, the parties are deemed to be ‘associated persons’ if they are family members, have lived together in a familial relationship or have a child together.
If a Non-Molestation Order is granted by the Court, the perpetrator cannot molest, harass, pester, use or threaten violence against the victim. It means that they cannot harass the victim directly (in person, by text, phone, email or social media) and they also cannot get someone else to harass them on their behalf.
The Court can also grant a victim an Occupation Order if they live with the perpetrator or if the perpetrator has some right to reside in their home (for example, if they are on the tenancy agreement or a joint owner). If the Court grants an Occupation Order, this means that the perpetrator they can be removed from the home and barred from returning to it.
The Court can also make an exclusion zone, excluding the perpetrator from a particular place, for example from the street in which the victim lives or the place they work.
Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders can be made on an emergency basis if there has been a recent incident of abuse (usually within the past 7 days). Some Legal Aid assistance is available to anyone applying for these Orders.
If you are the victim of stalking or harassment, you should contact the Police as soon as possible and report this behaviour and also seek legal advice on obtaining protection from the Courts. There are organisations available to provide such support, such as the Domestic and Sexual Violence helpline (0808 8021414) Women’s Aid, the Men’s Advisory Project and The Rainbow Project. With the help of the police, legal system and support services, you do not have to suffer in silence. With the right advice and support, you can put an end to the harassment you are suffering and move forward to a happier and healthier life.
For further information on this area, please feel free to contact us here or leave your contact details below.
It has been announced today that the law governing divorce in England & Wales is to be changed to allow spouses to divorce on a ‘no fault’ ground.
Under the current law, if a couple wishes to divorce without waiting for a period of separation to expire, one of them must allege adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour by the other.
The new reform of the law will remove the need for the end of a marriage to have been someone’s ‘fault’ and instead, a spouse will only need to state that their marriage has broken down irretrievably. Whilst England & Wales are set to introduce legislation to effect this change as soon as parliamentary time becomes available, the law on divorce will for now remain unchanged in Northern Ireland
What are the current grounds for divorce in NI?
It may be useful to set out the current grounds upon which you can apply for divorce in Northern Ireland. It is important firstly to highlight that you need to have been married for at least 2 years before divorcing in Northern Ireland. This does not mean that you are compelled to continue living with your spouse for a full 2 years after marriage– you can of course live separately – however until this time frame has expired, you will be unable to petition for divorce on any of the grounds below.
When applying for divorce, you must show that your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’ and you must satisfy one of the following grounds for divorce in order to evidence this breakdown: –
This is where you must evidence that your spouse has behaved so unreasonably that you can no longer be expected to live with them. Types of unreasonable behaviour are wide-ranging and can include physical or verbal aggression, emotional abuse, lack of communication, financial control or misconduct and addictions.
In order to petition for divorce on the ground of adultery, you need to show the Court that your spouse has committed adultery during the course of the marriage. The person with whom your spouse had the affair can be joined and named in the divorce papers also.
Two Year’s Separation with Consent
This ground is available where both you and your spouse have lived separately for more than 2 years and your spouse consents to the divorce. You can have been living in the same property during this time but must have lived independently to one another. This can happen where, for example, you both live in the same house but have separate bedrooms and would not cook or clean or spend time with one another.
Desertion for Two Years
This is proven where your spouse has effectively ‘deserted’ you. This ground is technically difficult to prove and is very rarely relied upon in divorce proceedings.
Five Year’s Separation
This ground is available when you and your spouse have lived separate for more than 5 years. You do not require your partner’s consent on this ground.
The introduction of the ‘no fault’ ground will be welcome by many for allowing unhappy couples to formally end their marriage without either person being held responsible, therefore easing some of the stress, pain and bitterness that can often endure during separation. Some people however would argue that the ‘no fault’ ground may damage the sanctity of marriage and that couples may not think carefully enough before entering into marriage if they feel that they can easily divorce if it doesn’t work out.
Both sides of the argument have valid points however in my experience as a lawyer in this area, no divorce is ever ‘easy’ — feelings are hurt, emotions are high and often children are caught in the middle. Certainly, a divorce that can be dealt with as amicably, quickly and as cost-effectively as possible for both parties should always be promoted and encouraged.
For further information on any aspect of divorce law and procedure, please feel free to contact us here or by using the form below.
Relationship breakdown is a very painful time for the adults involved, but it can be even more difficult for children.Children within the family are often the innocent and confused casualties of the breakdown of a relationship.What if I can’t agree contact arrangements with my ex-partner?
Many parents are able to agree between themselves arrangements for their children which enable them to continue to enjoy a relationship with both parents.
For many other families contact arrangements cannot be agreed. Some parents choose to engage in mediation as a means of trying to negotiate a solution.
Where mediation is not suitable or has proved unsuccessful, an application can be made to Family Courts to resolve the issue of contact.
Children proceedings are dealt with by the Family Proceedings Court – in this Court, the child’s best interests are the primary concern. This means that the main focus will always be on the welfare of the child first, rather than the rights of either parent. It is a commonly held view that (if safe and appropriate) a child should enjoy a relationship with both parents.
What will the Court look at when deciding on contact arrangements?
Each family is a unique group of individuals and in considering an application for contact, the Court will look at the particular circumstances of the child and family in question. Contact arrangements will differ depending on the circumstances of each family.
The views and the feelings of the child involved are also taken into account and a Court Children’s Officer (who is essentially, a Court-appointed Social Worker) may be asked to speak with the children individually to try to ascertain what these are.
How much weight is given to a particular child’s wishes will depend upon the age and understanding of that child: for example the views of a 14 year old child would weigh more heavily in influencing decisions than those of an 8 year old child.
Additionally, a child will not be forced to have contact with someone they are afraid of or who harms them in any way.
Contact Orders are Court Orders which set out the arrangements for when the non-resident parent can see their children.
Contact arrangements can vary in each case and therefore there are many different Contact Orders which a Court could make including the following:-
Indirect Contact – for example, the exchange of letters, cards and e-mails between parent and child with no regular visits
Direct Contact – regular weekly contact between the child and parent
Holiday contact – for example, additional contact at Easter, summer or Christmas.
Contact can also be supervised in cases where the Court directs that a relative or social worker must be present during visits.
How do Court proceedings conclude?
In most cases, Orders are made by agreement between the parents with the help of their legal advisors; this is the most preferable method, as Orders which are made with the consent of both parents are much more likely to work successfully in the future and reduce antagonism between the parties. However where agreement cannot be reached, the Court will fully hear arguments from both parents and will ultimately make a Contact Order which is deemed to be in the best interests of the child.
When seeking a Solicitor to deal with this particular kind of case, it is important that you look for not only legal representation and good negotiation skills; your Solicitor should be understanding and be capable of supporting mothers and fathers through this difficult period in life whilst progressing towards a workable arrangement which is in your child’s best interests.
If you require any further information, please contact us here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
So, you’ve decided that now is the time to take the plunge and set your feet firmly on the property market by buying your first home.Though buying property can be an exciting time for many, it can also be a daunting experience and will be one of the largest financial commitments you will make in life.So what kind of issues should you be considering when house-hunting?1. Know your budget
It is important before you get going to seek the advice of an independent financial adviser to find out how much of a mortgage you could be given by a lender and how much of a balance you will have to pay towards the property from your own savings.
A deposit of around 10% of the house price is normally required but the more you can put down to begin with, the better the mortgage deal you will be able to get.
Be realistic about your lifestyle after you move into the property and don’t overstretch yourself in your monthly mortgage commitments. Remember you will also have other outlays before you get your keys such as legal fees, additional surveys, mortgage product fees and stamp duty so be sure to figure them into your budget along with any costs for redecorating and furniture.
2. Research! Research! Research!
It’s a little odd that we make a commitment to spend a very large sum of money based on a quick walk round a property, possibly with other potential buyers present. When you are viewing a property you like, ask as many questions as you can; When was that sunroom built? Does it have planning permission? Is there a warranty? Who are your neighbours? Who owns that massive tree overhanging the garden and who is responsible for trimming it?
Get a second viewing of the property and consider commissioning your own survey – remember, a survey carried out for mortgage purposes is for the bank’s protection, not yours.
If you don’t already live in the area, then visit the location at several different times of the day and night, weekday and weekend. The character of a neighbourhood can really change depending on the time of day. Check the amount of rates payable for that area. Check out local schools, transport routes and sports facilities. Ask yourself; “Is this somewhere I really want to live?”
3. Be aware of ‘common areas’
Many new developments and apartment blocks will have common areas containing stairs, lifts and common recreational space.
All apartments should have the benefit of a management company who look after the maintenance and insurance of common areas – this is also common in many new developments.
The weeding of all those flowerbeds isn’t cheap and so to maintain and insure the common areas of a development or apartment block, each resident is required to pay an annual service charge to the company managing the development or apartments. This charge may be over £100.00 per month and in some developments substantially more. The estate agent showing you around the property should be able to give you an idea of the service charge before you place your offer. Ask yourself can you afford this as well as your other outgoings.
4. Make yourself an attractive purchaser
Demand for property is now strong and you want to have the competitive edge if you are bidding on a new home. The key to this is being prepared:-
Have a mortgage agreement in principle in place – this is a document from your chosen lender saying they are happy to lend to you.
Have proof that you have the deposit monies in your bank account.
Return calls to the estate agent promptly.
Showing that you are keen and engaged can go a long way to securing your property. Speak to a solicitor in advance and know who you are going to appoint to represent you in the purchase of the property
Above all else, don’t get caught up in the excitement and either over-commit yourself financially, or end up in a property you like, but don’t love. Take your time to make the right choices to ensure that in the end, there really is no place like home.
Happy house hunting!This post has been provided by property lawyer Ruth Flinn of Francis Hanna & Co. Solicitors. Should you require any further information on buying a house or if you would like a free no-obligation quote, please contact Ruth on email@example.com
Inform the employee in writing of the circumstances which are leading to you considering redundancies, invite them to a meeting to discuss the matter and warn them that a possible outcome is dismissal.
Hold a meeting with the employee to discuss the proposed redundancies. An outcome of the meeting must be provided and your employee must be informed of their right of appeal.
If your employee chooses to exercise the right of appeal, an appeal hearing must be held and a final decision provided
E = Employment
You should consider whether there are any alternative job roles that could be filled by those being made redundant in order to avoid the redundancy.
C = Calculation
You need to ensure that the correct redundancy payment is calculated
T = Termination
You must ensure that a letter is sent to the employee confirming the end of their employment
The underlying legal principle when considering redundancies is that of reasonableness – i.e. have you as an employer behaved reasonably in all of the circumstances towards your employee when handling their redundancy?
Before embarking on this process, it is important to obtain specialist advice from an employment lawyer ton how best to handle the process. This will ensure that it is handled objectively and not contaminated with emotion which could end up costing you dearly.
For more information on this area, please contact us here or via email on firstname.lastname@example.org
Saving to buy your first home can be a challenge for anyone, particularly as house prices continue to rise.
Luckily, there are some schemes to help you get together the monies you need to purchase your property.
Help to Buy ISA
The most common is the Help To Buy ISA. This operates in much the same way as a regular savings ISA, with the bonus that the Government will provide you with a payment of 25% of the amount saved (subject to a maximum bonus of £3,000), as long as you meet the criteria of the scheme.
For example, if you have saved £6,000, your bonus will be £1,500. The solicitor acting for you in the purchase of your property can make the application for the bonus on your behalf.
The Help to Buy ISA is available for all types of properties, and isn’t restricted to newly built properties. You are also not restricted in the mortgage lender that you choose.
Armed Forces Help to Buy Scheme
Some employers now also assist their staff in the purchase of their first home, such as with the Armed Forces Help to Buy Scheme, which assists with loans to help you with your deposit. This scheme is also approved by many lenders, however you should alert your financial advisor that you intend to use this scheme so they may make your mortgage company aware of this when making your mortgage application.
If you would like any further information on Help to Buy Schemes, please do not hesitate to contact us here or leave your comments below.
Unlimited holiday allowance for employees has become a badge of honour amongst companies in Silicon Valley in recent years, with businesses such as Netflix and Virgin first establishing this novel concept.
The concept has been associated with the tech and advertising industries however, recent times have seen a small but steady increase in UK-based employers choosing to add this “perk” in order to attract new talent and reward loyal employees, even in more mainstream businesses. This represents a shift in the value exchange between employers and employees – employers today are not always able to give employees the same financial rewards as they once were and have to be more creative with the packages offered to employees.
What would be the legal implications of such an approach in Northern Ireland?
Whilst it may be some time before such a practice becomes commonplace in Northern Ireland, we have set out some of the key legal considerations for employees and employers alike:-
Under the Working Time Regulations (NI) 1998, full-time employees are entitled to a minimum of 5.6 weeks annual leave – 28 days. Part time employees are entitled to the pro-rata equivalent. It has been suggested that the introduction of an “unlimited holiday policy” might lead to staff taking fewer holidays. Beware of information from the USA, (where “unlimited holiday” originated) as it is the only major advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee workers paid holidays. Bear in mind that in Northern Ireland, there is a statutory minimum holiday entitlement and employees must take their leave entitlement. Employees, even if they prefer, should not be paid for holiday rather than taking it if it means less than statutory leave, as this is a breach of the Working Time Regulations (NI) 1998.
Undoubtedly, for unlimited holiday leave to be an effective approach in NI, employers should carefully consider drawing up a policy and procedure, setting out the obligations and expectations on employees and employers when applying the “unlimited holiday” policy as they should with a range of work place practices. Reference should be made to the applicable law in any such policies and careful consideration should be given so that a fair, balanced and non- discriminatory approach is taken.
Child abduction has become a more common problem in recent years than most of us would like to believe. There have been various high profile cases of child abduction reported in the media and it is fair to assume that anyone watching a TV appeal by a parent pleading for help in finding their child would find it heartbreaking.
However, the majority of child abduction cases within the UK do not involve strangers.
Children, who are caught up in the relationship disputes of their parents, are often removed from their country of residence to another country by one parent without the consent of the other. Few cases of this nature make the news however figures have revealed that the number of parental child abduction cases dealt with by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has risen by 88% in just under a decade.
The reality is that parental child abduction is an issue which has been addressed by on an international level. The 1980 ‘Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction’ is an agreement between various countries which aims to ensure the return of an abducted child to the country where he or she normally lives, so that issues of residence (custody) and contact (access) can be decided by the Courts of that country.
It is important for any parent to be aware of their rights under The Hague Convention and the legal proceedings they can issue to ensure the return of their child should the unthinkable happen.
You must seek legal advice from a family law solicitor as soon as possible if you are worried that:
Your child has been abducted from overseas to Northern Ireland
Your child has been abducted from Northern Ireland and taken abroad
You are being accused of abducting your child.
For further information, please contact us here or by using the confidential contact form below.