Family Law

Local fruit farmer appeals for a discount to be applied on his £12m divorce pay-out because of Brexit uncertainty
26 April, 2017

A fruit farmer from Kent, with a family fortune of approximately £30 million, appealed against an award that he pay his wife of 26 years £12.2 million by way of divorce settlement. He appealed on the basis that the award did not take account of the impact that Brexit will have on his farming business and on the ground that his ex-wife should not benefit from any of his wealth generated by virtue of inheritance or gifts.

The court at first instance ordered that £5 million be paid by June and that a further £7.7 million be paid by March 2018. However, counsel for Mr Mansfield argued that this award was “too much too soon” and that it did not take account of the impact on the UK of leaving the EU which could “potentially undermine” the value of the business.

Regarding the gifts and inheritance Mr Mansfield received from his father, Mr Mansfield Snr built up his farming business in the sixties which, by the time of his death in 2011, was being managed by his son and was worth millions. Counsel for Mr Mansfield argued that the award of £12.2 million failed to take into account Mr Mansfield’s “very great input” while counsel for Mrs Mansfield contended that the couple had worked hard over the course of their 26 year marriage to build up the business.

In his judgement a Court of Appeal judge found that the argument about Brexit was unlikely to succeed and refused permission for the appeal to move forward. However, the appeal in relation to the impact of inheritance on the value of the business was “arguable” and was granted permission to continue.

If you could like further information in relation to this the contents of this post, or any aspect of family law, contact Alex Davies on 01892 506326 or at alex.davies@cripps.co.uk.


Civil partnerships for all?
26 April, 2017

Since March 2014, when same sex marriage was introduced, same sex couples have had the choice of either entering into a marriage or a civil partnership, when formalising their relationship. A civil partnership is not a marriage, but gives the parties many of the rights enjoyed by married people.  There are no fundamental differences between a marriage and a civil partnership, however opposite sex couples are currently barred from entering into civil partnerships.

A new poll conducted by Populus, on behalf of the Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign, surveyed 2000 British adults over 18 on their attitudes towards civil partnerships, and 57% thought that civil partnerships should be made available to both opposite sex and same sex couples. In contrast, 20% thought they should be scrapped altogether, and 24% were either unsure or didn’t mind. 

Matt Hawkins, Campaign Manager for the Equal Civil Partnerships Campaign, said:

‘This survey adds to the mound of evidence demonstrating that giving every couple the option of getting a civil partnership would be the popular and fair thing to do. Over 76,000 people have already signed a petition calling on the government to extend civil partnerships, MPs from all parties support our cause, and countries such as France, Sweden, and New Zealand and regions of the British Isles like the Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, and Isle of Man have already shown that mixed-sex civil partnerships are easy to introduce and warmly welcomed.’

In February 2017 the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal of a heterosexual couple who wished to have a civil partnership instead of a marriage, however they did acknowledge that there was a potential violation of the parties’ human rights. Whether the results of this poll will influence government policy, particularly where civil partnerships are in decline according to the Office of National Statistics, remains to be seen.

If you could like further information in relation to this the contents of this post, or any aspect of family law, contact Claire Tollefson on 01892 506191 or at claire.tollefson@cripps.co.uk.


Court rejects wife’s appeal over refusal to grant her divorce
30 March, 2017

The Court of Appeal has delivered its much awaited judgment in the case of Owens v Owens, dismissing the appeal of wife, Tini Owens, who was seeking to divorce her husband of 39 years on the grounds of his unreasonable behavior.

Facts

In reaching its conclusion, the appeal court focused on a handful of the wife’s particulars of her husband’s unreasonable behaviour including:

  • an incident where she felt he had embarrassed her in public after he reprimanded her for not buying the correct gift for their housekeeper;
  • an occasion where he caused her embarrassment because he sat in silence throughout an evening meal at their local pub; and
  • an incident where she recalled her husband criticising her in front of the housekeeper and chastising her like a child.

The judge in the first instance rejected Mrs Owens’ allegations as being “anodyne, lacking beef, and flimsy”, finding them to be insufficient to evidence the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. In response to these comments, the appeal focused on the argument that the first instance judge had failed to properly take into account the wife’s subjective characteristics and the cumulative impact of the husband’s behaviour over the course of the marriage.

The appeal was, however, dismissed with the court commenting that the first instance judge had displayed no error of law in his judgment and that he was entitled to reach the conclusion that the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship had not been proved. It is perhaps worth noting that in her judgment, Lady Justice Hallet commented that it was “with no enthusiasm” that she dismissed the appeal and that she “very much regrets that the decision will leave the wife in a very unhappy situation”.

Comment

The judgment has unsurprisingly caused waves amongst family practitioners with the chair of Resolution commenting that the judgment “absolutely underlines the urgent need for no-fault divorce” and that “nobody should be compelled to remain in a marriage against their will”. For more information on no-fault divorce, please read our blog here.

A recent report published by the University of Exeter comments that the majority of divorce petitions are now based on ‘fault’ (with such divorces taking as little as 3 months) but there is concern that the petitions do not accurately record who or what caused the breakdown of the marriage. As things currently stand, sensible family practitioners play a balancing act, wording particulars so as to provide enough evidence to persuade the court that the marriage has broken down, but worded carefully so as to not increase conflict unnecessarily. However, in the wake of this decision, there is an increased risk that particulars may be exaggerated to ‘prove’ the breakdown of the marriage, increasing conflict between parties during an already acrimonious time.

It is worth remembering that whilst the majority of divorce petitions are undefended, the Owens case concerns a defended petition. The judge commented that he could not help thinking that “if the husband had not sought to defend the petition, it would have gone through without any challenge from the court”, calling into question whether the judgment has effectively established a higher threshold of unreasonable behaviour for defended petitions as opposed to those that are undefended. Such a situation would be seemingly unsatisfactory and it remains to be seen what impact the judgment will have on how behaviour particulars are drafted in the future. 

If you would like further information in relation to anything discussed in this post, or any aspect of family law, contact Vanda James on 01892 506 184 or at vanda.james@cripps.co.uk.


What is mediation?
20 March, 2017

What is mediation and how does it work?

Mediation is actively encouraged by the courts and is a voluntary, non-confrontational process for resolving family disputes. Almost all family disputes can be resolved in mediation including, but not limited to, disputes concerning divorce and separation, financial claims on divorce and issues concerning children.

Mediation usually consists of a number of meetings with one neutral mediator and couples meet together with the mediator to discuss the issues between them. The mediation sessions offer a safe and confidential environment for couples and family members to talk openly, clarify issues and explore options. Any agreement that is reached can be made into a legally binding agreement.

What are the benefits of mediation?

  • Mediation can take place at any stage of the proceedings, although it is often better to begin mediating as early as possible
  • Flexible outcomes that are tailored to a couple’s particular needs
  • Mediation is safe and confidential from the court process, encouraging discussions and negotiations that would not otherwise be possible
  • The time and timing of mediation sessions are within a couple’s control, unlike the strict court timetable that would otherwise be imposed
  • Mediation avoids the stress and threat of court proceedings
  • Mediation is considerably cheaper than any legal process

Is mediation suitable for everyone?

Mediation is not suitable for every couple. In order for mediation to be successful, both parties must be prepared to resolve issues by agreement and outside of the court process. This will require a degree of commitment and willingness to compromise.

Mediation will usually take place with the couple and mediators in the same room. However, if this is not possible (e.g. if communication has broken down to such an extent or where there is a power imbalance), the mediator can move between different rooms to ensure that the couple have little or no contact.

If you would like further information in relation to anything discusses in this post, or any aspect of family law, contact Katy-Louise Allen on 01892 506 305 or at katy-louise.allen@cripps.co.uk


Government rejects plans to reform divorce law
1 March, 2017

Current divorce law

Under current law, the sole ground for divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. In order to establish that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, the petitioner must place reliance on one of five facts:

  • That their spouse has committed adultery;
  • That their spouse has behaved in such a way that they cannot reasonably be expected to live with them;
  • That they have been abandoned;
  • That they have been separated for two years and they agree that they should divorce; or
  • That they have been separated for five years.

The argument in favour of the two and five year timeframes is that it protects against couples from divorcing too quickly. However, the overwhelming view amongst family practitioners is that the current law encourages people to file fault-based divorce petitions, rather than separating and waiting for two years to file a petition to which both parties mutually consent.

The result is that couples are being forced to apportion blame for the breakdown of their marriage, by citing particulars of unreasonable behaviour or incidents of adultery. This often increases tension and animosity during an already difficult and emotional time.

Reforms

In an age where mediation and non-conflict based resolution is actively encouraged by the courts, practitioners have been exhaustively calling for the government to review current divorce legislation.

However, the government has recently announced that it has no current plans to review the fault-based divorce system, leaving many to wonder when, if ever, this will become a government priority.

The government’s announcement comes in the wake of the high profile case of Tini Owens, who asked the Court of Appeal to overturn a family court ruling that she could not divorce her husband, despite feeling “locked in” to her marriage. Those in favour of reform argue that this case is a clear demonstration of why a no-fault based divorce system is in desperate need of being introduced. The outcome of the hearing is awaited.

 


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