Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Let It Go

Whilst married people can be healthier and happier than their single counterparts the results of a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has shown that this is not always the case. Sadly it seems that marital stress can make the sufferer more prone to depression.

Constantly put down or let down by your spouse can lower your resilience to a point where the high points of life no longer provide pleasure.

None of this is of course any surprise to family lawyers who frequently take instructions from people who have hit rock-bottom before finally seeking to remove themselves from a debilitating and repressive marriage.

Further research is now needed as to how to enable people to become resilient to the triggers which invoke stress (meditation is suggested). In the meantime perhaps I shall consider retraining as a Yoga Guru.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Saints and Sinners

The Pope declared two of his predecessors to be saints today in a ceremony attended by thousands.

Although undoubtedly not truly worthy of canonisation, it is surprisingly not uncommon in solicitors’ offices  across the land for one divorcing spouse to refer to the other as a saint for putting up with them for so long. Alternatively I have acted for people who have told me that they consider themselves to be saints for accepting the behaviour of their other half, sometimes for decades.

In the context of a marriage break up, I don’t know how often the concept of sainthood is actually discussed directly. Certainly I cannot recall receiving a letter suggesting: “Our client believes your client to be a saint for enduring him/her and his/her behaviour.”

Collaborative law is different. Sometimes it provides just that opportunity for one or both to endeavour to acknowledge their shortcomings and the hurt caused. Whilst hearing that may not result in forgiveness, it can nevertheless enable a couple to work together towards resolving their settlement terms.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014


Phew, a day of changes in family law or at the least of labels used.

Inflammatory words like residence and contact have been banned and lawyers are now talking about child arrangements. To help resolve disputes concerning these are Signposting Services whilst a Gatekeeping Team is going to determine the correct allocation of court applications after checking to ensure that sparring couples have been referred to a mediation service for a MIAM.

New and convoluted abbreviations are now in common parlance; the FACDIBB rules for instance.

Forms have changed or been abolished altogether.

Strict timescales have been introduced for the resolution of child care cases.

However, if all that wasn’t enough, the crowning glory of the reforms has to be a new court. Except it isn’t; locally the court buildings are still in the same place. Administrative functions of some staff have altered, as has the address to which some paperwork must be delivered but yes there has been a name change. All cases are now to be directed to the aptly named Single Family Court.

“Can I still start proceedings if we haven’t actually become single families yet?” asked one client today after hearing about the changes in a news bulletin.

“Only if you use the correct terminology, explore mediation, find the correct form and then potentially attend at a court office 20 miles away to issue the application,” could have been the confused response.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Small Print

Agreements reached in family proceedings can be set aside if they arise from a misrepresentation, duress or in some instances even a mistake as to what it is that is being signed. However, as one wealthy foreign gentleman has found, English law does not extend to accepting that leaving your reading glasses behind results in an inability to read or understand the finer details of the small print, not even when that small print commits you to paying £60,000 maintenance per calendar month! 

Fortunately for the hapless signatory, the court was not entirely convinced that maintenance at that level was necessary or fair and it seems that he must only pay approximately £33,000 per month instead! 

Monday, 14 April 2014

A Tax on Sales at Separation

Property has always been seen as a basis for taxation and although an Englishman’s home may be his castle it can also be very expensive to retain subject as it is to council tax, inheritance tax and, as now seems increasingly likely in the case of divorce or separation, capital gains tax.

Generally speaking a property used as your main home is exempt from capital gains tax. However, if you separate, then, by definition, it is no longer the home of the person who vacates. Needless to say many people choose to sort out the practicalities of leaving first, only to take legal advice months and sometimes years later when they feel ready to face the prospect of divorce.

Whilst most law firms fall shy of giving actual tax advice, family lawyers have nonetheless operated and advised clients with regard to the negotiation of settlements on the basis that  even where their client vacated the home, no charge to capital gains tax will arise if it is sold within 3 years of separation. Since the beginning of the new tax year on 6th April, however, there has been no such solace. The period of 3 years has been slashed to 18 months or approximately the length of time it might take to bring a case from beginning to end through court to force a sale of the marital home.

Add to the length of time it could take to obtain a court order, the actual period required to market and then sell a property, especially in my local area where the housing market remains slow, and you will quickly envisage the scale of the problem. Yes, some people who bought in the last 7 to 8 years may actually lose money on a sale or make a notional profit that will be below the threshold for tax, but for others who may have owned for many years the story can be different.

Moreover and whilst the potential liability will fall only on the person who has been out of occupation and of course only apply to their one half of the gain calculated pro rata for the period they have been out of occupation (less 18 months), it will nevertheless affect the overall outcome if the payment of tax due must be provided for from the proceeds of sale before they are divided between a couple. These new arrangements may only have been with us for just over a week but already I am beginning to see cases where there will inevitably be adverse consequences.

Whilst nobody ever wants to encourage anyone to take professional advice arising from their separation before they are ready to do so, when it comes to their home they must seek advice as soon as possible. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”