Logo

LGFL was contacted by Radio 5 Live at 10am on Wednesday morning asking if Rita could be part of a live discussion on air - at 10.30am! Rita was busy packing her bags to return home after a short break, but literally dropped everything to be on air.

The result was a great discussion with presenter Qasa Alom and relationship expert Jo Hemmings on the legal rights of cohabitating couples.

You can listen now at the at the BBC website, or our YouTube channel.

BBC Sounds  (starts 1hr 44 mins in)

Our You Tube channel

 

Thanks to Qasa and his team for thinking of Rita, and feel free to call us again anytime!

 

No time to listen?

Here’s the transcript of the discussion between presenter Qasa Alom, relationship expert Jo Hemmings, LGFL Managing Director Rita Gupta and caller Alicia from Manchester.

Qasa Alom:

New data from the Office for National Statistics shows that in England and Wales last year for the first time, since records began, unmarried women gave birth to the majority of babies. So we're talking about how society's changed.

We've heard from an earlier caller about the pain of having her child forcibly removed because she was unmarried. Now two generations on, it's the norm for a mother to be unmarried, whether that's as a cohabiting relationship, or single mother.

Qasa Alom:

Let's speak to Rita Gupta now, who's a family lawyer, and also Jo Hemmings. who's a relationship expert as well.

Jo, we’re seeing the family, dynamic change. Just tell us what you've seen and how this is affecting people's relationships, and the way we interact with each other.

Jo Hemmings:

Yes it's interesting. It doesn't surprise me that the statistics would come out today saying that more children are born to unmarried mothers.

I've seen a lot of change in my relationship counselling.

• Firstly, weddings are massively expensive now.

• Secondly, they cause a lot of stress and a lot of anxiety.

I feel the joy of has gone out of getting married for a lot of people because of those two factors. So the statistics don't surprise me. But what I see more and more are people adapting to blended families.

As a psychologist and a relationship counsellor, I talk to a lot of couples who are now in situations where in the blended family, all the children have come together. How do they cope? I think we have to accept that we are moving on and it's a positive thing.

We're going in a very positive direction in terms of family dynamics and accepting and understanding and appreciating those changes. These have come quite swiftly, particularly listening to some of your earlier callers and the awful things that they went through so many years ago. I feel that we're losing the stigma fast and that's a really good thing.

Qasa Alom:

So positive changes losing that stigma, but from a legal point of view, Rita, is that the case?

Rita Gupta:

I totally agree with everything that Jo has said. Unfortunately, the law hasn't caught up with a changing society.

Having done this job for 20 plus years, I've noted more and more cohabiting couples. Even if parties have got married or gone on to get married, they've often cohabited often for quite a period of time before that.

Unfortunately the law doesn't give cohabiting couples the same level of protection that it does married couples. It's a policy decision almost. It's always been very difficult to uphold the sanctity of marriage, perhaps, and at the same time protect cohabiting couples.

I think the biggest message I'd give is there's no such thing as a common law spouse. There is this common misconception that “I’m somebody's common law wife” or “common law husband”. That concept doesn't exist in law.

Qasa Alom:

So what sort of protections are we talking about here?

Rita Gupta:

If you have children, you can apply for child maintenance. There's also provisions that you can apply for under the Children’s Act. But they are quite expensive, time-consuming litigation.

The reality is that when you go into a cohabiting relationship, nobody goes into any relationship expecting it to end. So it’s usually built on trust. You build a home together. But things like the ownership of property or assets in one person's name are not going to be up for division the way that they are if you were married.

So the big thing that I would say is that if, for example, you are moving in with somebody or buying a property, you do need to take some advice. I appreciate that's not very romantic and nobody really wants to go and do it, but I think you do need to take advice as to how property is owned.

Maybe looking at things like trust deeds or even cohabitation agreements. Set things out from the outset as to what the party's intentions are, and to give some protection in case the relationship isn't an enduring one.

Qasa Alom:

Is that one of the tensions, Jo, that can come into relationships, just figuring out the legal details and who would get what, in the case of a divorce or a break-up?

Jo Hemmings:

I think it's very difficult for couples who are moving in together with all the hope in the world and the joy, that they actually have to look at the legal side of it if it doesn't work out.

It sort of feels like ‘pre-nup’ territory, you know, that kind of legalese that you don't want to anticipate your relationship will ever end. But (Rita’s) advice is absolutely right - just step away from the romantic side and just be pragmatic.

It's really important because the law has not caught up. You just need to bear in mind that it's lagged behind as it's so often does. In cultural, sociological changes, it just isn't there. So you've got to beat that system, and recognise what you have to do.

Rita Gupta:

An area that particularly needs to be looked at is, if you're a woman, and you've had a child within that enduring relationship. You've stepped back from your career. You are the more vulnerable party. If that relationship ends, there isn't the financial protection that there is if you were married. Also if you've had that career break, or you would only be able to work part-time, there's then the crushing costs of childcare.

So a lot needs to be thought about, which unfortunately most people don't address. Similarly, family money often comes into it. People got a deposit from an inheritance or their parents. Preserving that with a declaration of trust would maybe giving people a period of time on how they would divide things, or sell houses after or if the relationship broke down is all a very wise thing to do. But I appreciate it’s not the most romantic thing to do, and people find it an awkward conversation to raise.

Qasa Alom:

It's so funny that you talk about this Rita and I'll tell you why. Because that was kind of how I convinced my wife to marry me! She's very logical and just didn't see the point in it. I had to bring up all that, (and say) look at all the benefits we're going to get, and listed them. Then she (says), “I think you're right actually”. So it's more the practical side of things that convinced her in that sense.

I want to bring Alicia in Manchester in on this conversation because Alicia, you can't see the point of marriage, can you? Listening to Jo and Rita here, has it changed your mind at all?

Alicia:

No, it hasn’t. I’ve done a little bit of research on that. What is important for me is that if anything happens to either of us, everything my partner owns goes to my child. So I just feel like as long as my child is protected, then it's fine.

We discussed everything before we decided to have a child. We paid for the childcare 50/50. We both work full time. We just try to communicate because obviously there's a lot on with a baby and full-time work. We just make sure we talk about it and just try to balance it all out.

Qasa Alom:

It's a good plan. You've clearly had that communication and got everything down, which is important. Jo, is there anything that you would add to that?

Jo Hemmings:

I think that's sort of getting around the law, isn't it, to make sure that you have done something to protect yourself. And Alicia clearly has. I think the danger zone is where we've got an archaic law and people don't really care, they move in together.

I think it's a really good point (Rita made) about things like deposits. On properties when you break up and it's acrimonious, that's when it gets worse.

• If you have a very amicable breakup, you can sort it out between you.

• If it's not amicable and you have to go down the legal route, people are in real trouble.

So I would always say to couples, do that homework, make sure in some way, whether get married or not that you put something in place. To protect yourselves just in case you do break up. It's really important.

Rita Gupta:

Alicia is obviously somebody who has thought about things very carefully and they've had candid, open discussions together. But many couples don't do that. They skate around subjects or it's slightly awkward, so they don't want to discuss the fact that actually somebody put £20,000 or £50,000 more into a property.

So I think if you've got open, honest communication, then that's a positive thing. If you've done the research, then that's a very positive thing.

I would say the majority probably don't think about things as carefully. That's where problems do arise because, when these cohabiting relationships (end) and/or if there's a dispute about property, they are very messy disputes and very expensive to deal with.

Getting early advice, thinking about things, and having these communications is the right thing to do, but the law needs to catch up.

Our family law organisation, Resolution, has been campaigning for years to make sure that cohabiting couples get the protection that married couples do get. That has to obviously be after a period of it being an enduring relationship, not after you've moved in with someone for a month. There are some people who have been cohabiting much longer than married couples.

Qasa Alom:

Thank you to Rita Gupta, who's a family lawyer, saying that the law needs to catch up with the way modern families are set up these days.

 

Interested in the legal rights of cohabitating couples?

Check out our cohabitation pages and articles:

Or contact us to book a fixed free consultation to discuss your unique situation in complete confidence:

- Call us

- Email us

- Request a consultation

This summer, thousands of couples will set out on their holidays with one sole aim - to give their relationship one last chance. They pin their hopes on a combination of a new location, sunshine, relaxation and time together to help heal rifts that may have developed over months, maybe even years.

In our experience as family lawyers, holidays are rarely successful in bringing couples together again if deep rifts have been there for a while. Indeed, two weeks in each other’s company 24/7 can cement a couple’s decision to separate.

 

Everyday life daily contact

One of the main reasons holidays speed up a decision to split is that in everyday lives, couples rarely spend all their waking hours together.

  • Many home-based employees are returning to the office on a hybrid basis, if not actually full-time.
  • Individual hobbies, interests and separate groups of friends may see couples out solo several times a week. According to the ONS, in 2018, British people spent 29% of their leisure time alone.
  • Couples with children probably spend less time together than those without children. One may be driving a child to sports training with another heading to a dance class. One may be bathing the kids whilst the other prepares dinner, and so on.

 

Shared space, no solo time

Holidays suddenly push families and couples together into a single space for days on end, be it a tent, holiday cottage, hotel suite, or luxury cruise cabin.

  • For couples, there will be the ‘social norm’ pressure to do things together and enjoy every minute.
  • For families, the expectation is to have fun together all day long. Or if children want to join organised activities, this in turn leave their parents with more time together.

The result is a lot of close proximity that is not echoed in everyday life. Tensions that could be diffused by time alone at home can build quickly in the summer heat, potentially fuelled by the accessibility of alcohol and examples of seemingly “perfect couples” everywhere they turn.

 

Delays and queues

To add to the pressure, holidays abroad this year will inevitably involve longer travelling times.

The result is additional stress - and extra fuel for arguments.

Holiday bah-humbugs

We would state right here that we are not saying don’t go on holiday this year if your relationship is strained! We all need a break away from everyday life to rest, recharge and restore our own equilibrium. The time away from work pressures may be just enough to allow you both to talk through issues, and see the relationship wood rather than the argument trees.

 

September divorce enquiries

Having said that, every year, we see a big surge in divorce enquiries from couples who have come back from holidays and realised that nothing has changed. Life will continue as it was before unless action is taken.

Many want to talk through their individual circumstances with a family lawyer at this point, to understand how separation and divorce will affect their family, their finances and their future.

At LGFL, we offer a 1 hour fixed fee consultation for this very reason. People need time to feel comfortable to talk about what’s really concerning them, and for us to discuss options.

These clients choose to invest in 60 minutes of legal assessment and advice rather than experience the frustration of a much shorter free consultation with another family law firm that might leave them with more questions than answers.

 

No fault divorce is not a quickie divorce

Many clients who have returned from holidays with the decision to split want it to happen quickly, so that it’s “done by Christmas”. Like every major decision in life, a divorce should not be rushed or done in the heat of anger.

The timescale of the new no-fault divorce is designed to allow for two periods of reflection:

  • A 20-week wait for the issue of a Conditional Order (formerly known as the Decree Nisi)
  • An additional 6-week wait for the issue of Final Order (formerly known as the Decree Absolute)

This means that a divorce takes at least 26 weeks minimum, plus any additional time required for drawing up and agreeing a financial settlement and child arrangements.

 

Post-holiday separation advice

If you have decided that your relationship has ended and you want to separate, talk to us on your return. You can call to book a fixed fee appointment either in person at our discreet offices or via Zoom. We can then advise you on the next steps so that your divorce is underway before Christmas.

Many clients find that once the decision is made and the first steps taken, this enables them to move forward and start to plan for their future, and that of their children too.

To book a fixed fee appointment:

- Call us

- Email us

- Request your appointment online

If you missed what we’ve been sharing this month, here’s a round up of our blogs and some of the news posts on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

From our blog:

 

Can’t buy me love: How money affects relationships and separations

 

Do you and your partner discuss money matters? Do you agree or have different views? LGFL Financial Director Anne Leiper explores how your individual approaches to money can adversely affect the outcome if you separate and/or divorce. 

 

 

Part of the family: the emotional side of pets in divorce

It's not surprising that pets can become the subject of emotional custody battles when couples separate. Our animals are such a big part of our lives, and they can be a source of solace and comfort during difficult times.

In a follow-up to our previous article on "Who gets the dog," Managing Director, Rita Gupta looks at the emotional side of pets and divorce for all the family, and especially your children. Pets can be a crucial part of the divorce process, and we want to make sure that everyone is taken care of, both emotionally and physically.

 

 

Our 7 most popular family law articles

 

Discover the top seven articles in our extensive library of family law articles published on our website. Between them they've clocked up over 13,000 views in the last 12 months alone. 

 

 

From our social media:

Resolution backs 'one lawyer, two clients' divorce model

Family justice body Resolution says it will unveil new model of working which allows single lawyer to advise both parties in divorce or separation.

 

6 Tips for Parents of Gray Divorce to Help Their Adult Children

Love me more than you hate my other parent, and don’t put me in the middle. I want to be free to have whatever relationship I want with both of you.

 

Pension sharing orders fall 35% despite increase in divorces

A growing number of individuals have overlooked pension assets in divorce proceedings since the introduction of online DIY divorces and could be missing out on the largest divisible asset aside from the family home, according to new figures by Nockolds.

 

New government guidance recognises get refusal as domestic abuse

The follow-up to last year's Domestic Abuse Act contains clauses on Jewish marriage.

 

Women divorcees more likely to use housing equity than men

New data from Key Later Life Finances highlights that almost three times as many divorced women release equity from their home than divorced men.

 

Firm to pay £35,000 to paralegal sacked after surgery

Midlands firm told to pay former employee total of £35,000 following successful tribunal claim

 

Influencer Sarah Nicole Landry shines 'positive light' on divorce in candid new post

More celebrities talking positively about their divorces

 

Divorce and the gender pensions gap

A 2021 study by the University of Manchester looking at pension provision for divorcees aged 55-64 found that men had an average total private pension fund value of £100,000, while women had accrued just £19,000.

 

Divorcing couples given more time to transfer assets and escape CGT

Some good news for divorcing couples and transferring of assets.

 

Don't forget the pension in your no-fault divorce

While divorce can be one of the most stressful times of people's lives, they must still get their pensions valued during proceedings - even if it might seem complicated.

 

Celebrating South Asian Heritage Month and the 2022 theme: Journeys of Empire.

A month long series of events will follow the journeys families made to the UK and reflects 2 major anniversaries,

• 75th Anniversary of independence of India and creation of Pakistan

•50th Anniversary of the expulsion of Ugandian Asians by Idi Amin

 

Wedding laws need biggest shake-up since 19th Century - report

Couples could be allowed to get married on beaches and in private homes if the changes to wedding laws are made.

 

Judge lambasts ‘feral’ divorce proceedings

A warning to focus on proportionality of costs.

 

Implementing a pension sharing order on divorce

Want to understand how a pension sharing order is prepared.

Read on…

 

Cost of living: More than eight million households get £326 in their account from today

Millions of low-income households across the UK will receive at least £1,200 from the government by Christmas to ease cost of living pressures

 

Police reveal how many cases of bigamy they have investigated in Leicestershire

Across all the police force areas in England and Wales, a total of 599 cases have been recorded in the past decade.

 

High Court judgment paves way for posthumous surrogacy

Surrogacy from beyond the grave.

At LGFL, we're proud of our extensive library of articles published here on our website. Covering a wide range of topics, these articles illustrate how we are interested in exploring the wider issues around separation and divorce. Many are, like our approach, child-centred, and share our insights on divorce being about much more than just the law.

These articles have resulted in lots of interest in our divorce and family law services, including local and national families, high net worth clients based abroad, and high profile/celebrity cases. That level of interest reflects the unique approach to family law that LGFL offer - and the child-centred successful outcomes we achieve.

LGFL articles – the stats

We've taken a look at the article stats for the last 12 months and were amazed to discover just how much popular these articles have been. The top seven articles have been viewed over 13,000 times, so clearly lots of people find these articles helpful.

What's more, the top three articles continue to outrank all but our home page in terms of the number of views. These top three alone account for over 10,000 of the total article views.

Our top seven articles

So, what are these top articles? Here's our countdown...
 

7: How will divorce impact on your children's education?

 

Articles concerning children account for five of the seven articles in the list. This article looked at academic studies into the impact of divorce on a child's education in the long term, along with the practical implications such as school catchment areas.

 

 

6: 5 facts you didn't know about divorce

Women in bog and coffee maker - Divorce facts

 

This was a fun article that we enjoyed writing about historic divorce laws. For example, did you know that in the Ottoman empire, if a man didn’t provide enough coffee for his wife, she could use this as grounds for divorce. (Pun intended!) A prefect read for anyone wanting to win the pub quiz next week...

 

 

5: Without prejudice in family law: what it means and when to use its

woman scratching head understading the meaning of without prejudice

 

Two "terminology explainer" articles are in the top seven, including this insight into the use of the phrase "without prejudice" in written correspondence.

 

 

4: Who exactly is your next of kin?

 

This short article explains that you can appoint someone as your next of kin, and why you need to do this if you are separated but not divorced.

 

 

3: School fees and divorce: seven ways to protect their payment

Words on scrabble board about schooling

 

Who pays the school fees after divorce is a major issue for parents who wish, as the article says, "To keep children in a stable and supportive school environment during a turbulent time in their lives.”

We also wrote a follow-up.

 

2: Divorce and children with special needs: child arrangement orders

special needs child and divorce

 

This is one of three articles written by LGFL Managing Director Rita Gupta focusing on issues around separation and the SEN child. The other two are:

A general overview

An article on what needs to be taken into consideration in financial settlements

 

 

Our number 1 article in the top slot as it has been for many weeks:

 

1: When coercive control never ends: post-separation and the new Domestic Abuse Bill

 

Originally written when the offence of post-separation abuse was included in legislation, this article has been viewed over 3,700 times. It highlights how this form of abuse has, to quote one survivor, "Ongoing, indefinite power to destroy our lives”.

 

 

New articles every month

We publish at least three new articles every month and post the links on our social media feeds. So follow us for the latest article releases:

Twitter

Facebook

LinkedIn

Instagram

 

In a new article on the emotional impact of separation and divorce, LGFL Managing Director and dog owners Rita Gupta examines how “who gets the dog” impacts on all the family.

We are very much a nation of animal lovers. More than half of UK households own at least one pet, with dogs and cats the most common pets. With an estimated 13 million dogs and 12 million cats sharing our homes and our lives, the UK is second only to Germany in terms of European countries with the highest dog ownership.

So it’s no surprise that we become very attached to our pets, and consider them to be part of our family. Under English family law, however, they are a personal “chattel”, that is, an item of personal property. That’s one of the reasons that pets often end up in the middle of bitter custody battles. In the midst of marital disputes over “who gets what”, the importance of pet ownership may be overlooked by separating couples.

 

Who owns your pet?

Like other possessions and assets, if you need to prove ownership of the pet in a divorce dispute, you’ll need to provide some evidence. This could include:

  • Your name on the contract with the breeder or rescue centre
  • Your name on the kennel Club registration (or similar)
  • Whose details are on the pet microchip database
  • Which one of you insures your pet/s
  • Which one of you looks after them for the majority of time
  • Who pays the vets’ bills, food bills, etc.

Emotional ties

As any pet owner will tell you, a pet isn’t just a possession, they have an emotional bond with the entire family. They can provide comfort, emotional support, and physical exercise as a willing participant in related sports and activities Or they are “just” a companion, a living breathing presence in your life that needs your care, attention and commitment.

This is particularly true for children, who may turn to a pet for comfort in stressful situations, such as their parents arguing and subsequently separating. Who gets the pet can have a profound and long-lasting impact if that emotional support mechanism is taken away just at the point when children are experiencing a major upheaval in their lives.

Equally, the pet themselves may be affected by the tension and changes in their routines. Their behaviour may change as a result, including being stressed and possible changes in appetite. As with children, the key is to reduce disruption to a minimum. This may involve agreeing on shared custody and care of the pet out of court, and potentially, a dog or other pet being with the children as part of a shared co-parenting arrangements.

If your dispute does come to a family court, that court’s priority is the welfare of any children. So, when considering how your assets are divided (and remember, the pet is an asset), the court might allocate custody of the pet:

“In circumstances where a child of the family has a particularly close bond with a family pet and any separation from the pet may have a negative impact on that child’s welfare.”

 

The rise of the petnup

It is estimated that as many as 1 in 4 divorces involves disputes over pets. Back in 2015, The Law Society endorsed the use of “petnups”, joint agreements over what would happen to your pet/s if you separate. A petnup would cover:

  • Who owns the pet
  • Who the pet would live with (‘sole care’)
  • Contact arrangements with the non-resident owner
  • Who pays for their upkeep

This can save a lot of arguments later, particularly in any court proceedings over financial arrangements arising from your divorce. As one solicitor quoted in the Evening Standard said:

“A judge will not be interested who takes the dog on better walks or gives him the better belly rubs … They are unlikely to get involved in arranging visiting hours, financial support or any other decisions pet owners feel need to be made.”

Petnups are not currently legally binding, but if you have one in place, it’s likely a court will take it into account.

“We’ll get a new one”

Whenever I heard a parent say this to a child, or to a partner as part of a financial arrangement, my heart sinks. It reinforces the feeling that a pet is a chattel, rather than recognising it as a sentient being with feelings.

The law has recently changed on this with the passing of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022. Introduced as part of the Government's Action Plan for Animal Welfare:

  • “The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 will recognise in law … that other animals are living, feeling beings with complex thoughts and emotions, each able to experience pain, fear, love, and joy … Policymakers will need to take into account the unique needs of animals … when creating laws.”

As a result, courts may take into consideration the emotional welfare of pets but it is still early days, as the law only came into effect in April 2022.

 

Pandemic pups and the cost of living

During the pandemic lockdowns, pet ownership soared in the UK, rising to its current record high of 62% ownership. As people returned to work, however, pet ownership became more of a problem, as time spent at home reduced.

This particularly affected dog owners who had bought “pandemic pups”. Accustomed to having their owners with them 24/7, many dogs experienced separation anxiety when owners had to leave them for extended periods of time.

Given the issues around care, the rising costs of pet ownership as part of a cost-of-living crises has also taken its toll. More and more pets are being given away, sold, or handed over the animal charities.

According to an article in The Guardian:

“Dogs Trust, the largest dog welfare charity in the UK, has seen a 39% increase in phone calls to hand over dogs since 12 July, when “Freedom Day”, a week later, was confirmed. Traffic to the “giving up your dog” pages of its website in July was up 100% compared with February 2021, and 180% higher than in February 2020, before the UK’s first lockdown.”

It also brings into sharp focus the cost of pet ownership and the importance of being realistic about those costs. When we first wrote our “Who get the dog” article in 2018, we had already seen a rise in the number of horse and pony owners struggling to afford the rising costs of ownership.

 

Two households, same income

One of the key issues we remind all of our divorce clients is that your divorce won’t necessarily free up a whole fresh amount of money you didn’t have before. If assets are divided between you and your ex-spouse, in practical terms, that means you are now living on the same level of income spread across two households. Only if assets are sold will “new” money become available.

So, the same bills and costs associated with your pet will exist if you have joint custody. If you have sole custody, then it’s likely your individual expenditure on your pet will increase. At a time when household bills and rising much faster than wages, this could squeeze your income further.

Equally, if you move out from the family home, or that home is sold, you may not be able to afford the kind of accommodation required to care for your pet, be it a home with a garden pond for your koi carp, or a flat big enough for an Irish Wolfhound or three. As we also pointed out in our previous article “Who gets the dog”, if you are renting, not every landlord allows pets in their properties.

All of this can stack up into an emotional turmoil of wanting to “get the dog” but perhaps not having the financial means or physical environment required. In this case, you may need to put the needs of your pet above your own emotional needs, however hard that may be.

 

Hard-won but not really wanted

Sadly, some spouses use family pets in divorce proceedings as a bargaining chip, or an emotional lever against their partner. This can result in one partner getting a pet they actually don’t want, and damaging any existing relationship with their ex. This can be particularly traumatic for any children involved.

As consultancy executive Mike Bourton described in a newspaper article, he let his ex-partner keep their two dalmatian dogs as they were brother and sister. Just two weeks later, his ex-partner gave the dogs away.

“That just broke me. I could forgive everything else, but I could never forgive her for what she did with the dogs.”

 

Pets and wills

One subject we didn’t deal with in our previous article was ensuing that your pets are looked after should you suddenly pass way or become too ill or physically unable to look after them.

You can establish a “pet trust” which is able to support care of your animal by a nominated pet guardian or carer. Like any other Trust, you appoint a Trustee/s who ensures that whoever you nominate to look after your pets has access to sufficient fund to care for it throughout its lifetime.

 

Divorce and pets: expert advice from LGFL

Nearly all the LGFL team own a pet (see header pic), so we genuinely understand the emotional issues around divorce settlements and pets. If you need to talk through your particular situation, take advantage of our fixed fee consultation, offering a full 60 minutes of discussion and advice from one of our Directors.

Many of us don’t like talking to our partners about financial issues. Indeed, different approaches to money can be one of the most common reasons for relationship breakdown. LGFL Financial Director Anne Leiper explains how different approaches to money can adversely affect the outcome if you separate and/or divorce.

As a nation, we Brits tend not to want to talk about our finances. According to a 2021 survey, 35% of us consider money a more awkward topic of conversation than our health.

A 2022 survey by Klarna also reveals that people don’t talk to their friends or family about money:

- 32% of UK adults feel too uncomfortable to talk money with peers, despite

- 44% worrying regularly about money

- 21% have never discussed personal finances with friends or family

 

Attitudes to personal finances

Within a relationship, different attitudes and approaches to money can cause significant issues. For example:

  • One partner might consider themselves to be frugal, whilst the other is seen as a spendthrift.
  • The other partner may consider themselves are a person who works hard and enjoys their money, and the other partner is miserly.

In addition, one partner may feel they are the one who earns all the money, whilst the other is not contributing. As family lawyers, this is something we see a lot.

The emotional issues arise when these different viewpoints clash over important financial decisions, especially if there are children involved.

 

Family finances

At a time when household budgets are being tightly squeezed, many families will be much more conscious of what they are spending. What may have been seen as part of an affordable lifestyle - high value cars, exotic holidays, impressive kids’ birthday parties - may now become a symbol of being financial irresponsibility or may just not be achievable.

Coupled with the cumulative effect of the media bombarding us with messages of impending financial problems, any deeply-entrenched views about money can become a flashpoint for couples. This is likely to cause further issues.

 

Secret accounts

As family lawyers, the issue we often come across is when this difference of opinion leads to the concealment of assets and mindset of secrecy around personal finances. One partner hides away monies and assets in accounts and portfolios that their partner are unaware of.

This may be done for a variety of reasons:

  • To keep money from a financially irresponsible partner
  • To allow a degree of autonomy in how they invest their money
  • As a “running away” fund, just in case

Sometimes it’s just that one partner sees assets as “theirs” and feel they don’t have to disclose them.

Financial secrecy can be highly corrosive in a relationship where emotions already run high. It erodes trust between partners and can create feelings of both financial and emotional uncertainty at best, and deep mistrust at worst. These strong emotions can permanently tarnish a relationship even if the secrecy is not done through malice.

 

Hidden debts

It’s not just assets that may be hidden. One partner may choose to conceal debts that they have run up, out of a sense of embarrassment or through desperation. Discovering a partner’s hidden debt is bound to cause friction and arguments, whilst the solution requires partners to work together.

The Citizens Advice website offers help if you are faced with debt problems.

 

Full and frank disclosure

These differences about finances inevitably come to a head when couples decide to separate and need to agree on a financial settlement. If the couple cannot come to an agreement through mediation, the case usually goes to court.

In court, there is a legal obligation for both sides to make “full and frank disclosure” of all their assets. This includes:

  • Income
  • Any property owned
  • Capital assets
  • Pensions

If assets are concealed from the court, and later discovered, there can be severe consequences. See our blog for more details.

 

Proportionality of costs

Many divorcing couple assume that when they separate, their assets will be split 50/50 between them. This is not automatically the case in the UK family courts. The court will decide this by balancing a number of criteria, with the needs of any minor children always taking priority.

It’s important to realise that a family court is not a “moral” court, and its aim is financial fairness. Under no-fault divorce, you can no longer allocate blame. The court will not take into account any arguments based on who did what, only who needs what when deciding the finances.

 

Talk to your partner about money

If you’re struggling to even start talking to your partner about money, the charity Relate have some excellent starting points on their website.

You can also find more help and advice on the pdf created by the Money & Pension Service.

 

Talk to use about financial settlements

At LGFL, we often advise a pragmatic approach to financial agreements. We will always fight your corner, of course, but we aim for settlements that are both just and realistic.

This approach ensures that together we can achieve financial settlement agreements between you and your partner that are workable, reasonable and affordable.

- Call us

- Email us

- Book your initial consultation

If you missed what we’ve been sharing this month, here’s a round up of our blogs and some of the news posts on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

From our blog:

 

No more child marriages: minimum age raised to 18 in England and Wales

 

Parliament have just raised the minimum age for marriage from 16 to 18 in England and Wales, and made it an offence to "facilitate" an underage marriage. Rita explores the issues this new Act addresses, and what other significant legal changes happen when we turn 18. 

 

 

Mediation: ways to avoid the stress and lengthy wait for a court hearing

 

Want to try a less stressful way to reach an agreement than going to court? We discuss court delays, private mediation and the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme in our latest article. We also examine how mediation can help you reach agreement with less stress, shorter time scales, and potentially improve outcomes.

 

 

 

Lights, camera, action and social media frenzy: the Depp Heard defamation trial

 

In our new article, Managing Director Rita Gupta looks at the outcome of the Depp Heard defamation trial in the USA. She assesses the potential impact on the perception and stereotyping of domestic abuse victims here in the UK. 

As Rita says: “Abuse does not discriminate according to gender, age and even celebrity profile.”

 

 

Still out there: Holiday child arrangements and COVID-19

 

If you're planning a holiday abroad this year with your children, as a divorced or separated parent with shared parental responsibility, you will require your ex-partner's permission. 

If your plans change due to covid-19 or similar, then you'll need to revise any child arrangement agreement, which gives their permission. 

Here's how a formal letter from a family lawyer can make the whole process of agreeing who gets the kids when during the holidays a whole lot easier.  

 

 

 

 

 

From our social media:

How often do divorced couples marry each other again?

Second time lucky? Interesting article

 

Skylar Grey sold song catalogue to pay for divorce

One way to finance a divorce.

 

Tips to co-parent successfully during and after divorce

10 tips to take co-parenting to the next level.

 

Government announces extra £5.38m investment for family mediation scheme

The latest cash injection will provide around 10,200 additional vouchers for mediation services in addition to the 8,400 issued so far.

 

“Last judgment” made on anonymity of wealthy divorcing couples

The anonymity of wealthy divorcing couples. Judge, Mr Justice Mostyn said:

“The public has the right to know who they are and what they are fighting about. The judgment should therefore name names.”

 

High Court judgment paves way for posthumous surrogacy

A judgment in the family division of the High Court has paved the way for a widower to use the last remaining embryo created with his late wife to have a child with a surrogate mother.

 

Longest-serving High Court judge hailed at retirement ceremony

After 27 years on the bench, the longest-serving High Court judge Mr Justice Holman, of the Family Court division is retiring.

 

Children's passport warning to divorced and separated parents

Families are being told to take action now or risk losing their summer holidays

 

Who’ll get the Warhols?

The high-society divorces behind New York’s mega-expensive art sales

 

Women in the law exhibition launched in London

Exhibition of trailblazing women in the law launched at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

 

How the courts tackle devious disposing of assets in divorce

This can be a simple act of spite or, in many cases, a disposal of the assets with a plan afoot for the ‘gifts’ to be returned to the giver after the ink is dry on the court order.

 

Couples, beware! The Split and other TV shows not to watch with your partner

Worth a read - just to be safe? It covers Sky, Netflix and iPlayer shows.

 

Rising use of cryptocurrency risks unfair divorce settlements

The anonymity and security associated with cryptocurrency means it is more easily hidden than traditional investments, whilst its inherent volatility can jeopardise financial agreements between splitting couples.

 

New Family Court guidance issued following landmark case involving Thanet mum

Sir Andrew McFarlane has now issued the new guidance which specifically references the Thanet mum’s case and others heard at the review.

The guidance is for judges and magistrates and outlines how procedure and issues within the court should be dealt with, including how to examine allegations of coercive and controlling behaviour.

 

Why hiding assets during divorce could cost you more than just money

If you do try and hide assets "you risk ‘doing a Boris Becker’ and landing yourself in serious trouble if you do.

 

Non-fatal strangulation offenders to face up to five years in prison as part of Domestic Abuse Act

Positive moves for victims.

 

Brad Pitt says Angelina Jolie 'sought to inflict harm' with vineyard sale

Another high profile law suit between exes.

 

Domestic Abuse Act 2021 introduces new non-fatal strangulation offence

This came into force on 7th June.

The offence will apply to any person who intentionally strangles or suffocates another person, affecting their victim’s ability to breathe in an attempt to control or intimidate them, including in cases of domestic abuse.

 

Aristocrat’s estranged wife wins latest round of seven-year court fight

The three appeal judges have decided that Mr Justice Mostyn had been wrong to dismiss an application Mrs Villiers made for maintenance.

 

Untangling the concept of parental alienation

Children who suffer alienation in their childhood can sometimes find it very difficult to make lasting relationships when they are older. In extreme cases of parental alienation, the emotional impact on the child by one parent has been seen as so severe that the court has been known to order a complete transfer of residence for the child from one parent to the other.

Updated 24th June 2022

Rita Gupta, LGFL Director says:

"Since our last update to this article, COVID restrictions have been lifted in the UK. However, this isn’t true of every country you and your children might wish to travel to. The entry requirements for countries continue to change, as do infection rates and variants in different regions and countries.

As separated parents, you may have very different views on travel and the associated health risks. As co-parents, you need to consider that, and make sensible decisions.”

 

COVID-19 and foreign holidays: keep up to date

Precautions against the spread of COVID-19 continues to affect anyone planning to travel abroad either to visit relatives or to go on holiday. The UK may have lifted restrictions, but other popular holiday destinations have not.

Australia, for example, only lifted the requirements for a pre-departure COVID-19 test on 8 April 2022. Spain still requires travellers to be “fully vaccinated”, or provide a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours prior to departure.

Check the latest information on the gov.uk website.

 

Changes in permission

If you plan to take your children abroad, and have shared parental responsibility with your ex-partner, you must seek their permission to take your children out of the country, even for just a short break. Taking children abroad without permission is child abduction in the eyes of the law.

If you have a Child Arrangement Order stating the children live with you, you are able to remove them from the country without permission for less than one month. After that time, you will need permission.

In shared care cases, there has to be full agreement between you. So, in the interests of co-parenting, we would always suggest you have detailed discussions. This is particularly important as, at time of writing, there are major disruptions to travel with major delays, cancelled flights and planned strike action by transport workers.

Your permission/consent should be set down in writing, as proof that everyone understands precisely what has and has not been agreed to. This should include:

  • Details of the holiday destination including street address
  • Contact details for all accommodation/s
  • A full itinerary of travel arrangements including flight numbers and times, departure and arrival airports, train times, etc.
  • Details of any planned holiday events that might require co-parental permission, such as scuba diving.

 

Changes to travel plans

If your ex has already given permission in writing for a holiday abroad, and your travel plans change in terms of dates, destination or duration, you’ll need to get their permission for the new changes.

So, at this time, it might prudent to include some “wriggle room” in the written permission allowing for changes in departure and return dates due to cancellations. You might also wish to include permission for any rebooked holiday during the summer period.

If you are going to spend the holidays in the UK, not abroad, you’ll need to inform your ex about these changes too. However, you don't need permission from your ex-partner to take your children on holiday in the UK.

We would also say in the interests of co-parenting at this time, parents should prioritise their children’s welfare by open discussions wherever possible, and respect people’s wishes about travel guidance.

Try not to become embroiled in tit for tat responses. Look at the bigger picture of allowing a child to enjoy a holiday abroad with the reassurance that the other parent is happy for them to be enjoying a holiday away. It also demonstrates that you both are taking a child centred approach.

Timescales for holidays: COVID testing

As mentioned before, as the holidaying parent, you may need to provide proof of full vaccination for yourself, and potentially for all your children.

If your destination requires a negative test result from a COVID-19 PCR (swab) test, or an antibody test, this should be included into the arrangement letter. It is important to budget for these, as private PCR tests currently cost a minimum of £100 each, and you may have to travel further to your nearest location to take the test. You usually need to provide negative test results for all those travelling, including children.

Testing will add time and cost to the holiday, potentially involving a much longer timeframe than your current child arrangements may cover. So, it would be wise, as co-parents, to add this in a new or existing child arrangement letter in general terms.

 

Holiday timescales: passports

Currently, if you are travelling on holiday to the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein, your child will need 6 months left on their passport from the day of travel. Requirements for other countries vary.

There is also an issue with expiry dates that has caught out families, in that many countries consider the expiry date of a passport to be 10 years from the date of issue. This can be different from the expiry date on the passport if you applied or a renewal with time left on the passport. In the UK, this might have been added to your passport expiry date, effectively making the passport appear valid for longer than 10 years.

In addition, at the time of writing, some parents are experiencing significant delays in child passport applications, whether a first passport or renewing an old one. According to a local Facebook parent group we follow, some child passports are coming back within the usual 2-3 weeks, but others have been stuck in the system for over three months.

According to the latest advice from HM Passport Office:

"Since April 2021 HMPO have been advising people to allow up to 10 weeks when applying for their British passport. This remains the case.

The vast majority of all passport applications are being dealt with well within 10 weeks. However, a passport can only be issued once all the checks have been completed satisfactorily and will take longer if applications are submitted with missing or incomplete information.”

So it is important to check long before your planned travel dates that all your passports will be valid for the required amount of time. For more details click here.

 

Need to make changes to an existing agreement?

If you have a child arrangement letter already in place, call us to discuss amending it. If you haven’t made child arrangements yet, contact us - there is still time.

 

Five benefits of a formal child arrangement agreement

1. A child arrangement letter cuts down the conversations required between you and your ex.

2. It avoids lengthy email exchanges or telephone calls where it’s all too easy to misunderstand what has been arranged and for when.

3. It is impartial and comes via a third party (us).

4. All your ex needs to do is reply in writing agreeing to the arrangements, and you’re ready to go.

5. Child arrangement agreements can be shown to border staff if required. (More on this below).

 

Travelling abroad? Take your letter with you

If you are travelling with children that do not share your surname, a child arrangement agreement is very useful to have if border staff wish to clarify their relationship to you. As the UK has officially left the EU, passport control procedures now vary across the EU and you may find yourself under closer scrutiny (and in a longer queue) than before.

Also remember that you will now need health insurance for yourself and the children, as your European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) expired on 31 December 2020 when the UK exited the EU.

 

Court Orders for visits abroad

Your ex may decide not to give permission for you to take children abroad, just as you can refuse permission for them to do the same. In such a case, either parent can apply for a Specific Issue Order. This is a court order that determines a specific issue concerning Parental Responsibility.

The court will determine if the holiday or journey abroad is in the child’s best interests. A court is unlikely to rule against a visit to a country that is a member of the Hague Convention. However, it may rule against visits to other countries are not thought to be safe, which might include those with COVID-19 related restrictions.

Equally, you can apply for a Specific Issue Order or a Prohibited Steps Order if there is a risk that your ex-spouse may not return the children back to the UK.

The focus of the court and all professionals involved will always be the welfare of the child/children. The view on precisely what that welfare consists of can be quite different between separated parents, and so a compromise will have to be reached. You may want to consider mediation to resolve the issue between you and reach that required compromise.

 

Child arrangement agreements by phone or Zoom

At LGFL, we aim to make it as easy as possible to access the legal advice and services you need, and so offer our full family law service remotely. The great advantage of remote services is that you don't need to travel to our offices, and virtual mediation means you don't need to meet your ex-partner in person to resolve differences if required.

Do feel free to phone us to discuss your requirements, or book your initial 1-hour fixed fee advice session. (For qualifying clients, T&Cs apply.)

Throughout the US defamation trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, there were always two courts in session: the court in Fairfax Virginia and the court of public opinion. Family lawyer Rita Gupta explores the issues that led from the divorce court to this civil defamation case, and how the judgement could impact here in the UK.

I have been asked numerous times about this case over the past few weeks, and the first thing I say is “LGFL are family lawyers. This is a civil defamation case.”

I’ve even turned down media interviews, due to how this case has polarised public opinion so openly expressed over social media.

Instead, now that the verdict is given, we have been thinking about the long-term ramifications of the case in terms of how domestic abuse is perceived.

 

Divorced already

It’s important to remember that Mr Depp and Ms Heard are already divorced. This case was not in any way part of a divorce process. Instead, as an article in The Guardian explained:

“Depp is claiming defamation for a 2018 Washington Post op-ed in which Heard described herself as a survivor of domestic abuse … She is countersuing over his claim that her allegations are a hoax.”

Depp was not named in the 2018 article but claimed that his reputation was damaged and asked for $50million in damages. Heard then filed a $100m counterclaim.

 

Domestic abuse claims

At the heart of this trial are the multiple accusations and “revelations” of domestic violence and abuse. Broadcast on Court TV in the US, details emerged daily about the “toxic” relationship between Depp and Heard. Their testimonies, and those of other witnesses, have been watched by 9 million viewers daily, only 35% of which are in the USA. Social media channels were flooded with memes and snippets of testimonies, often in blatant support of one party.

As family lawyers, we deal with divorce and separation cases involving domestic abuse and coercive control all the time. The details are distressing, often revealing a history of abuse by one partner on another. Domestic abuse both during the relationship and post-separation is a serious issue involving male victims and female victims alike.

It should not be, in our view, the subject of a livestreamed TV media circus of revelations and counterclaims, and the resulting tsunami of social media posts, tweets and viewpoints.

This has led to wide sweeping statements about victims. As experienced family lawyers we are aware that there is never one profile for an abuse victim. Abuse does not discriminate according to gender, age and even celebrity profile.

  • According to the ONS, two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales.
  • The Mankind Initiative, who operate a confidential hotline for male victims of domestic abuse and domestic violence say that one in six men will be a victim of domestic abuse in their lifetime.

 

No winners

Even before the verdict was announced, there was never going to be a ‘winner’, in our view.

  • If Depp won, then the court of public opinion will likely perceive that women who accuse men of domestic violence are not telling the truth, or at least exaggerating, and possibly being abusive in return.
  • If Heard won, then it may be perceived that men are always the abuser and should be viewed as such in every instance of domestic abuse.

Either outcome would set back the process of helping domestic abuse victims of any gender with accessible support and, most importantly, the victim being believed by police, social services, abuse support networks and the courts.

In the end, both Depp and Heard were awarded damages.

“(The jury) found that Heard defamed Depp with “malicious” intent and awarded Depp $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. Judge Penney Azcarate then reduced the punitive damages to Virginia’s statutory cap of $350,000. But the jury also awarded Heard $2 million in compensatory damages on her countersuit.”

 

Lights camera, action…

The presence of a jury had a major impact on the outcome, we believe. Both Depp and Heard are professional actors, accustomed to the glare of media attention and publicity and appearing in front of live cameras. We would consider it harder, therefore, for the jurors and judge to be able to tease out the truth from the overall presentation of events by each party, be they emotive or detached.

 

Mutual abuse

In the early stages of the trial, clinical psychologist Laurel Anderson described the dynamic of the Depp/Heard relationship as one of “mutual abuse”.

However, labelling the relationship “mutual abuse” can lead to gender bias, as Sarah Davidge, the head of research and evaluation at Women’s Aid, emphasised in an article in The New Statesman:

“Terms such as “mutual abuse” need to be understood in the context of gender inequality. Last year the domestic violence charity conducted joint research with the University of Bristol on how gendered narratives shape survivors’ experiences of domestic abuse and attempts to seek justice. It found that sexist stereotyping leads women to frequently be described as “hysterical” or “over-emotional”, which means that they are less likely to be believed when they come forward with abuse claims and are less likely to receive support.”

 

What happens next

The outcome of the US court case is in stark contrast to the defamation case brought by Depp against UK newspaper The Sun who said the actor was a “wife beater”. Depp lost that case in the High Court when the judge ruled the label was “substantially true”. The case cost Depp far more than the £628,000 legal costs he was ordered to pay to The Sun, resulting in lost roles in major films.

Despite being awarded $2million, according to TIME magazine:

“Heard’s lawyers have said that she will appeal the decision, a process that will likely take years.”

Regardless of the outcome and any damages awarded in the US defamation case, the real cost of this trial will be to the perception of domestic abuse. We sincerely hope that people see past the hype and often sensational details to see that domestic abuse does not discriminate and is never acceptable.

As Mark Brooks OBE, Chairman of the ManKind Initiative charity supporting male victims of domestic abuse said;

“The court case highlighted unacceptable behaviour by all parties. It also highlighted that men can be, and, are victims of domestic abuse … We need the public including friends, family and professionals in public service to understand this too. We need support for all victims."

 

We can help

At LGFL, we can help if you are a victim of any form of domestic abuse, emotional abuse or coercive control. As family lawyers, we have a balanced view of domestic abuse which doesn’t include stereotypes.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, the time to act is NOW.

  • Call 999 and if possible, get yourself and your children to a place of safety.
  • Call the National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 200 0247 (women) or the ManKind confidential helpline on 01823 334244 (men)
  • Once you’re safe, contact us for professional legal advice on how to proceed.

 

Concerned for a family member, friend or work colleague?

See our pages on: