Fall In

p131940-(2)Lewis Hulatt, South East Consultant with Major Family Law, the divorce and family law specialists, comments:

The Summer is drawing to a close, holidays have been taken, the football transfer window has closed, the lighter nights are gradually drawing in and the school run has been added to traffic flow. I guess I shall soon be back to the gym rather than striding across the Common or out-pacing narrowboats in the Summer breeze.

So the Autumn – season of mellow fruitfulness – has arrived. The Americans with their no-nonsense approach, call it ‘fall’ to remind them to dodge leaves and fruit.  ‘Dodging fruit’ is a transatlantic sport it seems, but their main course portions make up for it.   Travellers’ Tip: it is always worth spotting the proportion of American tourists being catered for before deciding on what to order – what to us Brits might be noodles for a table of four might be regarded as a single portion, as I once discovered.   Would it be followed by a wafer-thin slice of peach?   “Fall Off!” or something similar emanated from the Creosote party of diners.    But enough of fruit-dodgers.

Family lawyers have long conditioned themselves to expect two or three peak times for new enquiries: September, when the children are back to school and the memory of a miserable family vacation is fresh; January, when the family have been crammed together, over-stuffed and the relationship feels like a ‘turkey’ and there is a minor surge in February, when crass commercialisation has surrounded the 14th February with a sea of pink schmaltz, much to the annoyance of those for whom their relationship fails to sizzle, sparkle or steam.   More ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’ than ‘9½ weeks’ those domestic dossiers could not even be ‘sexed-up’ by Tony Blair on a mission for Bush.  More black armband than little black book, February like those other pinch-points in the year usually see an increase in enquiries.

‘How do I stand?’ is a common enquiry at such times, falling on family solicitors’ ears like the ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ of a few weeks before.

Avoiding trite responses to such questions is a mark of professionalism.  We have a complex system in which subjective ‘fairness’ is recognised as being more important than mathematical certainty and it requires nuanced thinking to deliver such outcomes.   Responsible lawyers do not promise outcomes, but comprehensible evaluations, tactical experience and diligent approaches.

Fall out.

 

What family lawyers don’t tell you about child relocation

Lucinda Connell silhouetteLucinda Connell, Associate at Major Family Law, the best divorce and family law specialists, comments in this month’s North East Times:

In our ever shrinking world, many families have close connections with more than one country. As a consequence of this, together with other reasons such as career prospects and lifestyle choices, there is considerably more movement of international families.  Those seeking to emigrate or relocate often receive advice from numerous and various agencies such as the Government, migration agents and lawyers.

If a separated parent is seeking to relocate and move abroad permanently with their child(ren), they will be swiftly advised that they must legally have the consent of the other parent – or the permission of the court if such consent is not forthcoming. However, parents seeking to relocate are rarely advised that following the relocation, they might never be allowed to return home with the children.  A desire to return home could of course be for any number of reasons although the most common would appear to be in the event of the parents subsequently separating or if one party wishes to stay whilst the other wants to go home; in such circumstances it can be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to be allowed to return home with children.   Thousands of parents across the world are currently experiencing these difficulties.

International law provides that when you arrive in a new country with the intention of staying there, the “habitual residence” of your child changes to the new country. Accordingly, unless the other parent provides permission for the children to be taken back home, an application for permission to relocate again must be made to the local court (the court in the country which you now reside).  The laws governing how a court treats such an application varies widely from one country to another and specialist legal advice in that particular country will be required.  It should not be assumed that the courts will readily grant permission for the children to return home again and the converse is often true in practice.  For example, there are many instances of permission for the children to return home being denied in cases where the parent with care is fleeing domestic violence, or is in dire financial straits or even where the other parent is imprisoned.  Again, much will depend upon the justice system in each individual country but a relocation application can take around 2 to 3 years to be dealt with and permission to return is by no means a given.

Needless to say, being stuck in a foreign country – and one which you do not wish to be in – is tough. It is likely that family members and friends who can provide support may be many thousands of miles away. Simply leaving and taking your children home is not an option as the removal of a child without the knowledge and consent of the other parent constitutes an offence of child abduction.  There are 81 countries in the world which are signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Child Abduction 1980.  The purpose of the Hague Convention is to secure a common accord and aim that a child removed (or retained) across an international border without the consent of all parents who have the right in law (generally the child’s parents) should be speedily returned to the state of the child’s habitual residence to enable the court in that state to make a decision about the child’s future.  Hague Convention proceedings are perhaps one of the few areas in international family law where decisions of the court and consequent action can be speedily taken; in addition to this, child abduction is a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment under the Convention; there are only narrow defences to a Hague Convention abduction which rarely succeed.­ Within Europe, the procedures and timetables under law known as Brussels II are even tighter and more vigorously enforced with less opportunity to oppose a return order.­ If a child is not returned, the courts of the country from which the child was taken can still make an order, known as a “trumping order”, requiring the child’s return.­ This order takes effect across Europe.

So, is there anything that parents can do to protect themselves in the event, for example, that one of them decides s/he does not like living in the new country but the other does or if relationship comes to an end? As with all important decision making processes, ensure you are armed with all information before you relocate and are therefore able to make an informed decision.  It is strongly advisable that you and the other parent consider such issues before relocation takes place.  Family mediators and lawyers will be able to provide further advice and aid discussions between you to ensure there are pre-agreed arrangements in place to cover the various scenarios that could arise.  Although there is currently no “pre-migration contract” in existence, the organization Expat Stuck Parent is working to produce one which will be similar to that of a Pre-Nuptial Agreement. Although such an agreement is not currently legally enforceable in a court, it is strong evidence of the arrangements that were agreed to be put into effect in the event that one of the parents wishes to return home with the children.  Whilst the interests of the individual children in every case are likely to take precedence, such an agreement is clear and cogent evidence of intention and undoubtedly significantly better than nothing.  A copy of a potential contract, together with lots of other information about the Hague Convention and Expat Stuck Parents can be found at www.expatstuckparent.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Work Anniversary

p131940-(2)Lewis Hulatt, South East Consultant with Major Family Law, the divorce and family law specialists, comments:

Today marks my 30th anniversary of legal work: I started in September 1986, but like all the other ‘articled clerks’ of that time, I had my qualifications and these days would be called a ‘trainee solicitor’.   Trainees had to be ‘articled’ (manacled?) to an experienced solicitor who had to take responsibility for them.  Back then, it was a somewhat feudal relationship like being an ‘indentured servant’ but for those living in the modern world, it could be compared to being ‘vouched for’ in the Mafia, prior to becoming a ‘wise-guy’.  On proving ourselves for a period of two years, instead of the button, we had Admission to the Roll.  Modelled on the Rolls of Chivalry, I guess – champion knights, but without the chivalry: more often compared to White Company mercenary Sir John Hawkwood than Sir Lancelot.   Instead of King Arthur, the Capo di Tutti Capi in charge of who is allowed to be called a solicitor is called ‘The Master of the Rolls’, which these days sounds like an achievement Paul Hollywood grants a handshake for in British Bake-Off.

I did indeed get a handshake – as we filed across the eponymous Law Society Hall I had my hand shaken by the President of the Law Society and a certificate which was, in keeping with my status, rolled up. I did my parents proud by managing to walk, speak and collect a piece of paper without tripping up.

I was officially a wise-guy.

Like something from Subway, I had been admitted to the Roll.

Whilst being a family lawyer can sometimes chew us up dealing with the stress of other people’s disappointments and emotional turmoil, 30 years of knowing that every case has an outcome helps.

Working remotely with a law firm 300 miles away is a far cry from learning to use the correct ribbon to sew documents together or wrapping documents in ‘brief-paper’ with instructions typed using extra-long typewriters before being correctly tied up with ‘pink string’. Back in my first firm, we had solicitors who were working into their 70s and 80s, so at least I was given realistic expectations of what might happen.

Thirty years on, a septuagenarian solicitor sitting in the office, listening to ‘The Archers’ and spending most of the day being brought cups of tea might not be expected, but if that ‘office’ is your home?

Blackberry Way

ProfileLewis Hulatt, South East Consultant with Major Family Law, the leading divorce and family law specialists, comments as follows:

It may sound an odd thing to mention, but I went blackberry-picking on Bank Holiday Monday. I hadn’t done that since I was a kid, but having spotted the potential harvest of blackberries just out of reach, I armed myself with a stick and put a plastic box in a backpack.   Because we were going to pick some berries later on, we were more observant and noticed that they were much more prevalent than we had previously thought. As we yomped the bulk of the usual route to get the cardiovascular system out of normal mode, I was thinking about how what we do as family lawyers affects more than the person for whom we act.

That ‘systemic’ thinking – recognising that legal advice, assistance and representation goes beyond the client – is part of the Resolution philosophy. If we encourage aggression and the neglect of the needs and wishes of the other party, then we are not doing what we know to be best: the ‘best interests’ of our clients go beyond the immediate, so if getting an extra 5% of the assets causes years of bad-feeling and hostility spilling over onto the relationship with the children, was it a ‘better’ deal than one that was mathematically less?   The family relationships go on many years longer that a solicitor’s retainer.

By the time that I had reflected on whether to blog about resentment this week, we arrived at a lush patch of brambles near a railway cutting.   Many of the easy-to-reach berries had gone, but there was a goodly amount of ripe fruit still to be taken and being willing to get a bit scratched and a bit stung by the guardian nettles, we got a tub of blackberries to take home. Even being prepared by having the stick could only reduce, not obliterate, the risk of nettles and thorns.

Sometimes it takes a bit of pain to obtain something satisfying – the minor discomfort of those scratches and stings were forgotten well before we had eaten the dessert I prepared.

Resolving the issues of separation and divorce can be like that – often concessions that somebody feels are a little unfair can hasten a settlement which in the big-picture, is reasonable.   Sometimes to get better things, we need to endure unhappiness for a while.

At Major Family Law, we know life continues after we have left the scene.

Summer Holiday

p131940-(2)Lewis Hulatt, South East Consultant with Major Family Law, the best national Divorce and Family Law solicitors, comments:

It is not unknown for me to use the inspiration of popular music to reflect upon my work. It goes far beyond ‘Money Money Money’ or ‘Cuts like a knife’ and whilst I can go back to ‘Your feet’s too big’ (1936), songs of different eras express aspects of family work in different tones. Vibes, man.

“We’re all going on a summer holiday!” proclaimed the young Cliff Richard in a somewhat more innocent lyric than The Stranglers adopted in ‘Peaches’ a little over a decade later and way closer to Madonna’s upbeat pop anthem.  Lovin Spoonful expressed the urban delights of pavements ‘hotter than a match head’ when it was Summer, whereas Travis may have been equally ‘on the money’ asking why it always rained.  Never seen ‘Fog on the Tyne’ in August, but have seen Lindisfarne this time of year.

Summer, with its long school holiday which rarely matches the availability of parents, creates extra stress and as family lawyers, we have the confrontational problem of children’s time with separated parents either in advance or with the last-minute spanners thrown up, whether deliberate or not.

As well as trying to solve time-critical holiday arrangement problems, we later get the spouses for whom a week or two on holiday together is an uncomfortable experience. It does not take temptations beyond the time to reflect on the thought that greater happiness might be possible to get those seeds of discontent nurtured.   Discontent is like a rambler or bind-weed – emerging unexpectedly and usually difficult to completely eradicate.  After the schools have gone back or couples returned from their self-imposed mandatory breaks, we often experience an upturn in enquiries about separation and divorce.

Maybe your holiday partner is as Steve Harley described ‘A friend for life’ and you decide ‘Let’s stay together’ (or ‘work’ if you prefer Canned Heat) in which case you can enjoy the time.

Just spare me Agadoo and leave the pineapple on the tree.

 

Blame it on Rio

211px-2016_Summer_Olympics_logo_svgLewis Hulatt, Consultant Solicitor based in Surrey, of Major Family Law, the divorce and family law specialists, comments:

Four years ago, I was watching Olympic football at St James’s Park and saw the boys from Brazil in the men’s competition. We also saw women’s football back in 2012 and the standard had already risen tremendously from when the idea of a woman footballer was a novelty as it was in 1992 when ‘Born Kicking’ was made on that premise. As with other TV football dramas of that era, it involved Woking FC.  The goalkeeper, Laurence Batty is on IMDB as a result and Mandie Fletcher directed.   Arguably, Mandie’s greatest contribution to British TV must be her iconic ‘Blackadder’, the first series of which was filmed partly in Northumberland bringing North and South together as the writer, Ben Elton, was at Godalming College, Surrey.   I mention this about women’s competitive team sport because on Sunday, in the 2016 Olympics, we got enthused by women’s sevens rugby, watching Team GB set up a final clash the Kiwis.  Winning a cup final turns players into ‘legends’.   A long time ago, Lawrence Dallaglio and I both trained at Surrey University sports centre – his side were not performing well and despite his stature, he was ‘fair game’ for mickey taking in the changing room. That rather changed when he was a key member of the team that won the Rugby World Cup.

Trophy-winning goalkeeper Lawrence ‘Lol’ Batty, as well as finding himself name-checked on IMDB, had other claims to fame and having a father who scored a number hit singles, himself netted a winning goal against the Kuwait international side.  One of his dad’s hits was ‘Lost in France’ which must have inspired Roy Hodgson this summer.

Back then, Lol Batty asked me if I would become a football agent as there were playing contracts to sort out, but primarily a family lawyer, I passed the opportunity.   I wonder how life would have been different if I hadn’t – perhaps the glamour of negotiations with The Magpies (Dorchester Town) or doing deals at Scunthorpe (where Tinie Tempah hadn’t been) or gracing the San Siro? (Welling United).  From San Siro to Scunthorpe sounds like a Toon player’s career over four years…

The family lawyer team at Major Family Law have been through a few Olympiads and with hard work will help achieve a Personal Best…

…and not take four years.

Go Team GB!

International Child Maintenance and Divorce

linkedin shotMelanie Barnes, Consultant Solicitor based in Oxford, of Major Family Law, the divorce and family law specialists, comments:

It is not yet clear how family law will be affected when the UK exits the European community, but anticipated that we will continue with recognise maintenance orders made by courts in the other 27 member states under the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance. The European Union ratified the Hague Convention on behalf of all member states, and likely that the UK will deal with maintenance claims under those rules if the debtor or creditor is resident in the jurisdiction.  With regards to a divorce, the old rules that require a petitioner to prove residence or domicile are likely to apply.

Reciprocal arrangements for maintenance within the EU are currently governed by the EU Maintenance Regulation 4/2009, which will no longer apply in the court of England and Wales when the UK leaves the European Union. Parents who live within the UK will no longer qualify for free legal assistance within the EU under those rules, and likewise, parents from abroad will not be entitled to legal aid in this country.  The benefit of the EU Maintenance Regulation is that foreign orders are automatically recognised without further procedure.  Future cases will need to be commenced through the Central Authority (known as REMO in the UK), and it is therefore likely that applications to apply for, or enforce, maintenance will once again be delayed by additional process.

Where a parent lives abroad, it is also possible for them to apply directly to the court of England and Wales for child support under Schedule 1, Children Act 1989. This Act grants the court power to make orders for periodical payments, secured periodical payments, lump sum and property transfer or settlement if they are ‘for the benefit of the child’.  In many cases, the court will order that funds are settled on trust to the mother so that she is adequately housed during until the child’s majority, ensuring that both parents have an adequate standard of living.  In making a decision under Schedule 1, Children Act 1989, the court will have regard to ‘all the circumstances of the case’ and take into account the income, earning capacity and financial resources of the parties, including any foreign assets and income that are disclosed.

If the court deals with child maintenance upon divorce, the court has power to order the payment of periodical payments, capital payments for the benefit of the child, special expenses and payment of school fees. There is no limit to the number of lump sum payments that can be ordered for a child, but capital payments are uncommon and there are few reported cases. Where parties are married, the court also has power to order an absolute property transfer to the spouse, which means that it will not return to the paying parent upon a child’s majority.

 

 

 

 

The Price is Right

p131940-(2)Lewis Hulatt, Surrey Consultant Solicitor, of Major Family Law, the divorce and family law specialist, comments:

A cynic is somebody who knows the cost of everything, yet the value of nothing.

Oscar Wilde’s pithy observation has endured because it applies so often when the bean-counters and bureaucrats can only see expense.  Often ‘value for money’ seems less important than cost, yet ‘VFM’ was recognised in Victorian times.  Wilde’s contemporary, John Ruskin himself waxed lyrical on the merits of obtaining quality, just as any craftsman would say about tools ‘buy cheap, buy twice’.   When I was a teenager, I learned about micro-economics and one of the core assumptions was that all products were of comparable quality, so the cheapest would provide more utility per £ of price paid.  Of course, in the real world, most products come in a wide variety of qualities and magazines and websites help purchasers identify what represents value through applying relevant criteria to each.  They recommend ‘best buys’.

Why do I sound somewhere between Stephen Fry and Anne Robinson this week?

Well, although WH Smiths do not stock ‘Which Solicitor?’ magazine, competition and comparison has come to the legal market.  Solicitors were not allowed to advertise until the 1980s and even recently firms have faced disciplinary action if their promotion was deemed undignified.

Against that background, Major Family Law have been brave enough to try participation with the Law Superstore which seeks to match people with suitable solicitors and for the public to get some idea of comparative fees.

At present, the service that the client really values from a solicitor is not that we sell knowledge of what the law is, but they want our experience in applying a legal process as part of addressing a problem. We sell reassurance that problems are soluble, which we get through years of experience.   I gained a client a week or so ago from a ‘cheaper’ firm – they answered the question she had put, but failed to understand what the client had wanted by asking that question and so she came to me because although I would be a little more expensive than them, I was able to achieve what she wanted and they had failed to show that they could.

Buy cheap, buy twice.

We are flexible and hope to be competitive, but we would rather be the best value than the cheapest.

 

Don’t Let the Sun Go Down

p131940-(2)Lewis Hulatt, Consultant Solicitor with Major Family Law, the divorce and family law specialists, comments:

I am not one for spilling things, but admittedly two laptops have been ruined through the application of generous amounts of liquid.   Considering how frequently we have had refreshment to hand when using table-top computers, two spillages in perhaps fifteen years is not bad going for a household.  By using a separate keyboard and wireless mouse, the chances of drenching the body of the machine have been greatly reduced, so I commend that idea to my readers together with a decent screen so that you are freed from having the crucial parts of the machine within splash range.

From all that, you may gather that I try to learn from my mistakes. Solicitors are not routinely taught management, but ‘risk analysis’ is something I get.   Years ago, ‘SWOT analysis’ was a vogue in the business community and it is a useful tool.  You look at Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities – Threats.

I wonder if people ever do that with their relationships:

Strengths – as a couple? Do you communicate well?   Are you forgiving to each other? Are you tolerant of the other person’s differences?  Have you been through misfortune and difficulty and survived it?  Do you realise how resilient you have already been?

Weaknesses – what really winds you up about each other? What repeated mistakes or behaviours cause problems?   What never goes right?   Household chores/money/criticism/lack of appreciation?

Opportunities – what can be done to strengthen what you have? Are there new things to try together or apart which might improve your lives?  Opportunities are wide and unpredictable!

Threats – As a long-time family lawyer, I see a lot of these after they have actualised.   What might cause serious damage?  Working away or long commutes.  Distractions and other relationships.   Continual use of smart-phones/email/social media.   Are either of you getting near a zero birthday – 30, 40, 50 or 60?  Are there pressures from family?  Is there a real prospect of a parent dying soon?   Add in job problems or moving house and there is greater risk.

Maybe reflection comes more readily to me through having been involved in both management and mediation, but perhaps we should give ourselves a relationship MOT from time to time?

If those stresses erupt – ‘don’t let the sun go down on your anger’ and find a way to make peace before sleeping.  It can be reasonable to be annoyed, but unreasonable to seethe overnight.

Guidance on financial needs on divorce

Lucinda Connell profileLucinda Connell, senior solicitor with Major Family Law, the divorce and family law specialists, comments:

In June 2016, the Family Justice Council published it’s long awaited “Guidance on Financial Needs on Divorce”. The guidance follows a low commissioned consultation on matrimonial property, needs and agreements which was published in February 2014.

The guidance focuses on financial needs of parties following a marital breakdown as opposed to the other factors which come into consideration when looking at terms of settlement, that of sharing and compensation. The guidance sets out how financial needs should be approached and goes on to deal with the issue of duration of the relationship and marriage.  There are a number of accompanying annexes which contain useful worked examples and tables of relevant cases with short summaries. Another annex contains a helpful commentary on the approach to be taken when considering pensions whilst a third provides practical examples of different types of need and details relevant legal authorities.

The guidance makes interesting and informative reading but it is important to note however that the guidance does not itself change the law; its purpose is simply to disseminate information about the ways in which the court exercises discretion when considering terms of financial settlement and particularly in relation to the assessment of a party’s needs and it is hoped that a more consistent approach will be encouraged.