Breeze and Wyles Continues to Support Hertford Contact Centre

Contact Centres play an integral part in assisting with contact between separated parents and their children and provide a safe and neutral environment where contact may take place. Contact Centres are used for a variety of reasons including alcohol and drug related problems, domestic violence and situations where the parents are just unable to reach an agreement as to how and when contact with their children can take place. The Centres will often assist with drop off arrangements and can arrange a ‘staggered’ drop off so the Centre staff are on hand to ensure the parents of the child do not necessarily have to see each other at the Centre which may be required in cases of domestic violence. The contact usually takes place at the Centre but occasionally parties will agree to the contact taking place outside of the Centre and the Centre is then used as a meeting point.

 

The Hertford Contact Centre was initially set up by Olive McCarthy, Director and Solicitor at Breeze and Wyles Solicitors Ltd and Locum Lawyer, Nikki Cable in 2008. Miss McCarthy and Ms Cable applied for a National Lottery grant which was awarded and used to set up the Centre. Breeze and Wyles Solicitors Ltd and its staff continue to support the Centre which has been registered with the National Association of Child Contact Centres. Referrals are usually made through a solicitor, the Court or a social worker.

 

The Centre offers non-resident parents the chance to arrange contact sessions with their children in sometimes volatile and difficult situations. Sessions are held on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month and the Centre boasts a range of toys and games for use by the families. There is also an outside garden for use and a small shop where snacks and drinks can be purchased.

 

At Breeze and Wyles we are continuing to support the work of Hertford Contact centre and are able to offer advice and assistance on children cases and contact issues following the breakdown of a relationship or on divorce.

 

Lisa Honey is a family solicitor at Breeze and Wyles specialising in family law and deals with matters covering a range of issues including divorce and financial settlements, separation following the breakdown of a relationship, children matters and declarations of trust. Lisa is also an honorary solicitor providing advice at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Cheshunt.


Honesty is the Best Policy!

There has been much commotion in the media within the last 24 hours after the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision to allow the appeals of two wives who successfully appealed against their existing matrimonial financial settlements on the grounds of fraud by their soon to be ex-spouses. In their lawyer’s words “these cases were about a matter of principle and justice” and “the issues raised will have implications in many other cases”.

 

When most people think about justice they also think about truth and honesty and when dealing with the financial aspects of a divorce these principles are enshrined in a spouse’s duty to the court to make full and frank disclosure of their finances.

 

In these two appeal cases the husbands’ dishonesty in relation to their financial disclosure amounted to fraudulent misrepresentation which the Supreme Court agreed should pave the way for new proceedings to ascertain whether or not their wives have been short-changed.

 

The ruling has emphasised the importance of spouses being transparent about their respective financial positions all throughout proceedings and some commentators have stated there is a real prospect of ex-spouses dragging their former spouses into court to have another bite of the cherry by seeking to unravel all that was agreed. The so called ‘unravelling effect’ will have an impact on people’s ability to plan ahead financially, place extensive demands on their time and further loosen their purse strings to cover the additional legal fees to deal with the subsequent appeal proceedings and the costs of what is likely to be a forensic re-examination and renegotiation of the existing financial settlement if it is found to be predicated on fraud.

 

Unfortunately, much commentary in social media and the blogosphere has spiralled into a false debate focussing on the gender politics and how successful and savvy businessmen should be allowed to accumulate their fortune in isolation so when it comes to divorce payouts it is unpalatable that a wife who hasn’t been directly involved in the accumulation of that wealth should be entitled to kick up a fuss and lay claim to fair proportion of it. That is unhelpful. The real debate is whether it is acceptable for a husband or a wife to mislead their spouse as to their financial situation on the breakdown of their marriage given that the most senior judges in England and Wales have overwhelmingly agreed that such behaviour is unacceptable and will not go unchecked.

 

Regrettably there will always be people who seek to conceal the extent of their wealth and they may choose to run the risk of doing so but this landmark ruling confirms that we do have a judiciary that is willing to stand up for honesty so those persons looking to deceive should be under no illusion that what they are doing is not only dishonest but unlawful and the court will entertain appeals by unimpressed spouses to set aside the existing financial arrangements to enable the parties to reassess based on a proper representation of the finances.

 

Whoever you are you have been warned – “Oh, what a tangled web we weave...when first we practice to deceive” – Sir Walter Scott.

In the Breeze & Wyles family department we specialise in all aspects of the matrimonial breakdown and can help you through the process from start to finish.


Conscious uncoupling

Hollywood gossip is awash with the news that after 10 years of marriage Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are separating. In a joint statement they said "After much thought and careful consideration, we have made the difficult decision to divorce, We go forward with love and friendship for one another and a commitment to co-parenting our children whose privacy we ask to be respected during this difficult time. This will be our only comment on this private, family matter. Thank you for understanding."

This is sad news and there is plenty of gossip and rumour with regards to the reason for the breakdown of the marriage. However, what has caught our attention is the way in which the couple are managing the break-up

This joint statement very much seems to reflect the sentiment and ideology of Conscious Uncoupling, a phrase propelled into the blogosphere by Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin when they released a joint statement describing the breakdown of their matrimonial relationship as Conscious Uncoupling on Gwyneth’s blogsite ‘GOOP’ following the breakdown of their marriage.

However, in addition to this statement which ‘talks the talk’, it would seem that they are also prepared to ‘walk the walk’ and it is reported that the couple are in no rush to divorce, have employed a mediator to help them agree matters between them and are continuing to live together having moved with their children into a property in Atlanta whilst Jennifer is filming her current project and plan to rent another property together when they return to LA whilst their own property is undergoing significant renovations. Those renovations are understood to include building a separate annex to the property which will allow the couple to live together but apart in order to co-parent their children. In the week following the announcement they also went away on a family vacation.

The proponents of conscious uncoupling are saying it is ‘a proven process for lovingly completing a relationship that will leave you feeling whole and healed and at peace... a breakup that is characterized by goodwill, by generosity and by respect...it leaves both parties feeling valued and appreciated for all that is shared...striving to reduce the damage to themselves (and their children, if there are children involved).'

The sceptics among us would be quick to point out that apart from problems with the name (it seems to assume non conforming breakdowns are unconscious!) and Paltrowian flower power aside if someone has behaved unreasonably or committed adultery there will be some of us that simply cannot forgive on principle and naturally adopt a hostile rather than a conciliatory approach in subsequent dealings with the other half - there is a fine line between love and hate!

Continuing to live together is definitely not going to be for everyone and for many is simply not practical. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are fortunate in that they have the ability to alter the family home in such a way to give them a chance of peaceful co-existence.

Even if you are not going to continue to live together, the essence of conscious uncoupling imparts important guiding principles to help a separating couple frame their mindsets for how to deal with everything going forward. You could for example seek to make arrangements for the children which involve you all continuing to spend time together or a financial outcome which allows you both to live within a close vicinity of each other and allows the children to move freely between homes and to see their parents and for your both as parents to take an active role in the children’s upbringing and care.

We consider that one of the most important aspects of a conscious uncoupling is for parties to ‘communicate in a non-confrontational and constructive manner to preserve dignity and encourage agreement’ and in this respect processes for resolving disputes such as negotiation, mediation or the collaborative law process can prove invaluable.

Breeze & Wyles Solicitors Limited are one of the few firms that offer all forms of alternatives to divorce; Mediation, Private Negotiation, Collaborative Law and Family Law Arbitration to enable you to find a “different way to reach an agreement”.

 

 


Nailing down agreements on divorce

A Supreme Court ruling will allow a former wife to make a claim for a share of the fortune amassed by her husband 30 years after they parted, as no binding consent order was made when they divorced.

Kathleen Wyatt has been granted permission to lodge a belated claim against multi-millionaire Dale Vince, who made his fortune through a green energy company founded in the 1990s, which is said to be worth £57m.

The couple met and married in 1981 and had a child in 1983, separating just one year later. The wife became a full time single parent with little income, and had little contact with her ex-husband.

There is no time limit in the UK within which a spouse must seek an order for financial provision following a divorce and in 2011 the wife put forward an application. This was dismissed by the Court of Appeal and the application was taken to the Supreme Court to decide whether due consideration had been given to section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

Having given Ms Wyatt permission to apply, it will be up to the trial judge when the case is heard as to whether any financial order is made. The wife could argue that she cared for the child leaving her ex-husband free to succeed in his business.

Explained family law expert Olive McCarthy, Director and Head of Family Law at Breeze & Wyles Solicitors Limited: “It is certainly unusual to hear of a claim being made after all this time but without a consent order in place, the opportunity remains open.

“More people are thinking about pre or post nuptial agreements, following media coverage of high profile cases where these have been involved, such as German heiress Katrin Radmacher. Certainly they are a sensible option for anyone getting married, but they are for use at the start of the relationship to set out what you wish to have happen if things go wrong. They are not legally binding in the UK, but will be a persuasive factor if both parties received independent legal advice at the time.

“What’s involved here is the way in which a divorce is finalised. Once you’ve reached agreement, you can get the court to make it legally binding, by applying for what is known as a consent order and that’s what was missing in this case.”

A consent order confirms what has been agreed and can include details on how assets will be divided, including cash, property, pension funds and other investments, and can also include arrangements for maintenance payments, including child maintenance. Both parties have to agree and sign the draft consent order and a judge will consider the terms to see if they appear fair and reasonable, and if so will approve the agreement to make it legally binding.

She added: “Going through the process of obtaining a consent order should mean that both parties come out with a fair settlement and there will be no surprises some years down the line.”

WYATT V VINCE [2015] UKSC 14

ENDS

Web site content note: 

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.


Social Media comes to the rescue in Service of Proceedings

A Supreme Court Judge in New York City, Justice Matthew Cooper has this week ruled that a wife may serve divorce papers on her estranged husband via Facebook. Justice Cooper had found that the wife in the case only had contact with her husband via telephone and Facebook and that the husband had moved from his last known address in 2011. The husband had also claimed to the wife that he had no fixed address and was unemployed. As the husband had refused to make himself available for service, Justice Cooper ruled that the papers could be served via the private message facility on the social networking site. A message with the divorce papers attached would be sent to the husband once a week for a period of three consecutive weeks or until he acknowledged receipt. After the three weeks, service will be deemed to have occurred.

In England and Wales, once a divorce petition has been filed with the Court by the applicant, a copy of the paperwork is then sent to the respondent to the proceedings by post together with an ‘acknowledgement of service’ which is a form which the Respondent is asked to sign to confirm that they have received a copy of the petition. A divorce cannot progress until the respondent has signed and returned the acknowledgement of service or until it is proved that the respondent has in fact received a copy of the petition.

It is quite often the case that the respondent may choose to simply ignore the divorce papers or refuse to sign and return the acknowledgement of service. In these circumstances, it may be necessary to employ a private agent or Court bailiff to personally serve the documents and confirm service to the Court.

But what is the situation where a husband or wife seeking a divorce is no longer aware of the whereabouts of the other party? If service can be proved then the Court will view this as deemed service, but it is extremely rare that a Court will dispense with service altogether.

In England and Wales, service of documents in the Family Court is generally made by first class post, by personal service via an agent or on occasion, a Court may allow service via email. In times of improving technology, social media and world travel, it makes sense that the procedures we use reflect the entirety of the resources at our disposal and the manner in which we routinely seek to communicate to each other.  It is not unusual for one party to be on the other side of the world and in these circumstances; service via email or social media may be preferable.

In addition to New York, other countries such as South Africa and Malaysia have previously allowed service of Court documents via Facebook and even by text message. This recent case in New York City may provide a persuasive argument in future cases in England and Wales where it appears impossible to serve an estranged husband or wife with divorce papers and underlines the need to sometimes think outside the post box.

Lisa Honey is a Trainee Solicitor at Breeze and Wyles Solicitors Ltd and is currently undertaking her third seat in the Family Department. Lisa has gained experience in all  aspects of family law, including divorce, financial settlements and matters relating to children. Lisa has also undertaken seats in Private client and Conveyancing