Family Law

Are public divorce hearings the way forward?
2 February, 2017

The current principle in family disputes is that hearings are held in private. This means that unless cases are appealed in the Court of Appeal, details of hearings and pay outs are not made available to the media. However, under radical new reforms proposed by Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division of the High Court, family hearings could soon be taking place under the glare of the public eye.

Munby has been calling for greater transparency in family proceedings for many years, believing that there is a need for greater openness to improve people’s understanding and confidence in the court system. His proposals are formed of two strands. Firstly, to launch a trial in which some hearings will be held in public and secondly, to make certain documents available to the media. In formulating his proposal, Munby has worked closely with judges in Australia, where family proceedings have been held in public for the last 30 years.

There is however widespread opposition to Munby’s proposals, with critics arguing that public hearings could stop vulnerable women from bringing and taking part in family proceedings. There is particular concern in relation to the safeguarding of children’s interests with organisations such as Resolution arguing that such reforms could result in lasting harm to children, who may end up with details of their private family life blazoned across the press, never to be retrieved.

If public proceedings are deemed to be the way forward, families will at least have the certainty to make informed decisions as to whether they wish to proceed in privacy and confidence with alternative dispute resolution options, or whether they wish to battle it out in an open court. On the other hand, only time will tell what, if any, impact public hearings will have on both children and adults.

Further guidance on Munby’s proposals is expected to be released early this year.

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

 


What rights and obligations do step-parents have on divorce?
26 January, 2017

Step-parents are often heavily involved in their step-children’s upbringings and want that to continue, even if their relationship with the children’s biological parent breaks down.

In reality, the rights and responsibilities that they have will depend on whether or not they have acquired ‘parental responsibility’. Parental responsibility is “all of the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.” What does this mean?  Those with parental responsibility can be involved in important decisions in relation to the child, including those relating to education, medical treatment and religion.

But step-parents do not automatically acquire parental responsibility. They can only acquire it either with the consent of all those who do have parental responsibility, or by order of the court.

Contact

Following the breakdown of a relationship, it is always preferable to try to reach an amicable agreement regarding the children’s on-going care and contact arrangements, without recourse to the courts.

However, step-parents who are unable to reach agreement with their ex-partners about the level of involvement they continue to have in their step-children’s lives may make an application to the court for a child arrangements order regulating with whom the children are to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with.

When determining the application, the court’s paramount consideration will be the children’s welfare.

Financial provision

The Child Maintenance Service (formally the Child Support Agency) cannot enforce maintenance payments from step-parents. Instead, an application can be made to the court as part of the divorce and financial remedy proceedings.  The courts have the power to order child maintenance payments from step-parents if the children were treated as ‘children of the family.’

If you have any questions in relation to anything discussed in this post, or about any aspect of family law, contact Claire Tollefson on 01892 506191 or at claire.tollefson@cripps.co.uk.

 


What happens if, following divorce, your ex won’t collect their things?
19 January, 2017

On divorce, you and your spouse will need to reach agreement about how you split your personal possessions. This can be difficult if you both want the same things, but another difficulty can arise if you stay in the family home and your spouse fails to collect their possessions.

In a case which was recently reported in the legal press, the wife was awarded the former matrimonial home but the husband, who had been operating a plant hire business from the house, left his rusty old machinery on the land. The wife repeatedly asked him to come and collect the machinery but he was uncooperative so after a 2 year wait, she had them taken away as scrap. A further 7 years later her ex-husband decided to sue her, arguing that the machinery was worth £170,000.  What followed was a lengthy court battle during which she racked up legal costs of £108,000.  Why? Because she had become an ‘involuntary bailee’.

What is an involuntary bailee?

An involuntary bailee is a person who has, without their consent, ended up in possession of somebody else’s belongings. The owner retains the rights to the goods but the bailee owes certain duties.    

What duties?

An involuntary bailee must “do what is right and reasonable.” If you find yourself in this position, you must not deliberately or recklessly damage or destroy the goods and if you try to return them via a third party, you must ensure that the third party has your ex’s authority to receive the goods.

But if my ex has abandoned the goods, do they not now belong to me?

If the goods have truly been abandoned then they may do, but the difficulty is in establishing that they have actually been abandoned.

Can I charge for storage costs?

The law is unclear in this area. In certain circumstances, a bailee might be able to recover costs incurred safeguarding the goods from deterioration, but the scope of that ability is uncertain and you should consider how likely it is that your ex will pay.   

How can I get rid of the goods?

You can serve a statutory notice on your ex to come and collect the goods. If the notice is correctly served and he or she fails to get in touch, then you can assume that the goods have been abandoned and may dispose of them. Do make sure that you retain evidence of all steps that you take so that you can defend a future claim.

The wife in the above case was ultimately successful in defending her ex-husband’s claim against her and he was ordered to pay her legal costs, but had she served a notice on him before disposing of the machinery, she could have avoided the stress of further litigation.

If you need assistance in serving a notice, or with any aspect of your divorce and financial remedy proceedings, please contact Associate, Claire Tollefson on 01892 506191.


When social media leads to mediation
4 March, 2016
by: Cripps

In the first case of its kind, Cripps partner and head of Family, Alex Davies, and Managing Associate Joanna Ford, defamation specialist, discuss the recent libel case of Ronald and Nicola Stocker.

Alex discusses:  “One of the more extraordinary changes I have seen in my years as a divorce lawyer is the rise of social media and the potential for marital arguments to spill over from the family home to email, texts and then on to Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram amongst others.

 

The recent media reporting of a libel case brought by Ronald Stocker against his ex-wife, Nicola Stocker might give us a taste of things to come in divorce disputes.

 

The former Mrs Stocker is being sued by her ex-husband after she left a post on the Facebook page of his new partner.  She described an incident some nine years before when he had, allegedly, been violent to her after she accidently pricked him with a needle whilst trying to mend his trousers. 

 

Traditionally, our society was happy to keep secret what was going on behind closed doors.  Over the past 30 years or so, however, a huge spotlight has been shone on the very real social problems caused by domestic violence and law makers have had to respond.  Family courts and criminal courts are now able to exercise a wide variety of powers to combat violence within families.  You may have seen the domestic violence disclosure schemes that are run by a number of police services in partnership with others.  Nicola Stocker, so it would appear, decided to take matters into her own hands when she learned of the identity of her ex-husband’s new partner.  Her decision might just lead to a very expensive court case.

 

The judge, Mr Justice Mitting, is reported as warning the parties that he is ‘not going to conduct a retrospective divorce’.  However, the endless possibilities that are now open to us on the internet might be leading family lawyers and their clients in a direction we had not planned.  Maybe, in the future, those who are wealthy enough will litigate the right and wrongs of their marriage in the family court and then argue about the rights and wrongs of their divorce in the defamation court.”

 

Joanna comments: ” This case highlights the potential risk of posting comments on social media websites. 

 

We live in an age where free expression and communication is positively encouraged by websites that enable you to air your views publicly.  Any untrue remarks that could seriously damage the reputation of the person concerned can give rise to a libel claim, however, if they are communicated to a third party (someone other than the subject of the comment).  This could be in a private message or by posting on a social media website such as Facebook. 

 

The requirement for “serious harm” is a relatively recent change in the law to ensure that the courts are not plagued with trivial complaints that do not in reality impact on the reputation of the claimant.  What constitutes “serious harm”, however, remains a hotly (and costly) debated point.”

 

It will be interesting to see how this case plays out.


Turn your smartphone into a safety device with Hollie Guard, the new app
26 November, 2015
by: Cripps

30354418_sThis week marks Domestic Violence Awareness Week, which seeks to raise awareness of and eliminate violence against women and men.

In order to keep people safe using modern technology, a new app has been launched by the parents of Hollie Gazzard, the young woman from Gloucester who was tragically murdered by her boyfriend in February 2014.

‘Hollie Guard’, which is available for download for iPhone, Android and Windows users, effectively turns your smartphone into a personal safety device at the touch of a button. If you are a victim of domestic abuse, are being stalked or find yourself in danger, you can simply shake your phone or tap the screen to generate one of three alerts (Personal, Stealth and Deterrent), which will be sent to your named emergency contacts. The app also has other useful functions including real-time GPS tracking, the recording of audio and video evidence and meeting and travel safety alerts.

To find out more and register for an account, visit www.hollieguard.com.


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