Conversions from Civil Partnership to Marriage are now in effect!

On 26th June 2014, the Government announced that men and women in same-sex relationships who are already in a civil partnership will be able to convert it to a civil marriage from 10 December 2014. However, civil partnerships will not be extended to include straight couples.
These changes came as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport published the results of a consultation into the potential changes needed for civil partnerships.  This has been a long awaited by many couples who had previously entered into civil partnerships over the last decade and brings this in line with the changes on 29th March 2014 which allowed same sex couples to marry in England and Wales.
Yesterday, we saw fashion entrepreneur Mary Portas take advantage of these new rules and convert her civil partnership into marriage. The conversion took place at Westminster City Hall in London one minute after the law came into effect. It is early days to see how popular these conversions will be but here, at Breeze and Wyles, we will be keeping a beady eye out on how these changes will take effect.

Henal Gautam is an Associate Solicitor at Breeze and Wyles Solicitors Ltd. Qualified as a solicitor in 2004, she joined the Family Department at Breeze and Wyles Solicitors Ltd in 2005. Henal specialises in family law specifically relation to children. She represents parents, family members and children in a wide variety of public law cases, in addition to adoption and special guardianship and representing parents in s8 Children Act proceedings. Henal deals with most of her own advocacy, being instructed in a number of complex cases involving cruelty to children and serious allegations of harm, adoption within the UK and overseas. She is a member of the Law Society Children’s Panel, Resolution and the Association of Lawyers for Children, Henal is also a Trustee of the Broxbourne East Hertfordshire Domestic Violence Forum and the Hertford Contact Centre.

Osborne headlines on stamp duty but disappoints on inheritance tax

The property market was top headline for Chancellor George Osborne in this year’s Autumn statement, with a radical change to stamp duty which should see 98% of buyers better off. 

Highlighting that the UK is currently the fastest growing economy in the G7, the Chancellor announced an improved economic growth forecast for 2014, increased to 3% from the 2.7% predicted in March, and against a backdrop of 500,000 new jobs created this year, of which 85% were full time.  
Grabbing everyone’s attention was the news that stamp duty was to shift from a so-called ‘slab’ tax to a ‘slice’ tax, like income tax.  It means that buyers will now only pay at the relevant rate for each band, rather than a flat rate across the whole amount.  The result is that most buyers should find there’s less cash to pay on completion – Government figures suggest average buyers will save £4500.   The gain is at the expense of those buying at the top end of the market, with a new rate of 12% for the tranche above £1.5m.
Said Managing Director, Brendan O’Brien :  “This move will be welcomed by most people, although buyers at the very top end of the market will have to re-work their sums.”
Also on the property front, the Chancellor introduced further changes designed to bring in more revenue through Capital Gains Tax (CGT), with clarification of measures first announced last year, whereby gains arising on disposal of residential property by companies or individuals based overseas will be charged to capital gains tax in the same way as UK resident individuals.  The non-residents will be allowed the usual CGT annual exemption and the tax will only apply to gains made above market values from 5 April 2015, when the new charge comes into force.
For oligarchs, expats and second home owners, from 6thApril 2015, there are changes to the principal residence relief rules and these will apply to UK residents disposing of a property abroad and also to non-residents disposing of a UK property.  A property will not be eligible to be counted as the principal residence, and therefore free of CGT, unless either the person making the disposal was resident for tax purposes in the same country as the property for that tax year, or the person spent at least 90 overnight stays in the property. 
On the personal taxation front, there’s an important change to the ISA rules when someone dies.   With immediate effect, their spouse or civil partner will now be able to inherit their ISA funds and keep the tax-free status.  In addition, the ongoing annual ISA allowance will be transferred to the survivor, in addition to their annual ISA allowance.  The rule will only apply to married couples or civil partners.
On the inheritance tax front, higher net worth individuals who had set up multiple trusts had feared a change in regime.  It had been expected that the Government would introduce a single nil rate band to be shared between all trusts set up by an individual, but this proposal has been put to one side with the Government saying it will, instead, introduce measures to curb tax avoidance through the use of multiple trusts.  There will also be changes to simplify the calculation of inheritance tax on trusts.
Added Mr O’Brien:  “Everyone had been hoping for an increase in the inheritance tax nil rate band, particularly as a pre-election sweetener, but yet again this has been held at £325,000.  Whilst property prices continue to rise, it means that many more families are caught by the tax and it is worth reviewing circumstances with advisors to see if there is anything that can be done, for example with lifetime gifts.”
On the employment law front, it’s likely that the increasing use of overarching contracts of employment by employment intermediaries such as 'umbrella companies' will be changed next year. Currently, such arrangements allow workers to obtain tax relief for home-to-work travel that would not otherwise be available. A discussion paper will be published shortly and new measures are expected in the 2015 Budget.
The new Stamp Duty bandings are as follows : 

0% will be paid for the first £125,000 of any purchase 
2% on the portion above £125,000 up to £250,000
5% on the portion above £250,000 up to £925,000
10% on the portion above £925,000 up to £1.5m
12% on the portion above £1.5m

To see how the figures work out, use the calculator been set up on the Government’s website:

Web site content note: 

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

Coast of Ireland: Day Five

Lisdoonvarna to Leenaun 107 miles

I should have heeded the advice! As we left the Rathbaun Hotel in Lisdoonvarna the Hotel owner mentioned the Corkscrew Hill. She said that it had formed part of a local cycle racing circuit until the town doctor had fallen on it and broken his arm.

Leaving the hotel we headed for the said hill. I took a call and Pete pulled ahead. Once I had finished my call I headed down out of the Burren and onto the flat lands into Galway. Unfortunately all did not go to plan. Overnight it had rained and roads in the morning were greasy. Heading down the hill I was followed by a car the driver of whom decided to take an interest in the make of my bike by driving very close and thereby requiring me to ride more quickly than I would have liked. On the last hair pin bend about a mile into the hill my brakes locked and I was thrown off the bike cracking my helmet, and landing heavily on the side of my head, my left shoulder, elbow and hip. The car following me narrowly avoided running me over given the greasiness of the road surface.

So gathering my thoughts I texted my trusty support team of Chris Belton and Chris Smith and proceeded to walk to the bottom of the hill, my confidence at this stage completely shattered, seemingly as was the gears on my bike. Once the team picked me up we headed to DIY Pursuits in Kinvarra where in five minutes the owner had completed a repair and a quick service.

We then met with Pete who had by this stage arrived in Galway and set off for Oughterard and the wilds of Connemara. The ride to the west along the Wild Atlantic Way was superb although I was unable to extend my left leg in the pedal rotation. We reached Clifden and turned north east into the headwind and the rain began. Just above Clifden after a steep climb you reach and open area not covered by trees immediately after passing the last line of trees I received a cross blast of wind that nearly blew me into the railing on the side of the hill. At that stage I decided that with everything that had happened that day I was call it a day. The rain was by this stage horizontal into your face but Pete completed the day looking very wet and sorry for himself.

A gentle reminder to all that Brendan and Peter are cycling the coast or Ireland in aid of Home Start Uttlesford. Please give generously!


Property buyers play it safe with no-nups

Savvy property owners who club together to buy a home are turning to no-nups to safeguard their investment. 

Whether as a cohabiting couple, or two or more friends clubbing together, a cohabitation agreement, or no-nup, as they now becoming known, can help fix the outcome if things go wrong.
And that’s particularly important when contributions to buying a property are unequal.  Nowadays, many young people are buying with the help of parents, and there is often a difference in the amount invested by each person, so it’s important to agree what share each owner has, at the outset.    
But many joint buyers who are not married or in a civil partnership still don’t realise that they have little or no protection if things go wrong, believing that they will have similar rights to divorcing couples when it comes to sharing assets or maintenance.  
Although property can be held in specified shares, so each gets back their relative contribution if there’s a sale, it doesn’t protect against the other financial contributions that may have been made, and that’s where the no-nup comes in.
This sort of agreement can set out the way property is owned and the contributions being made, including how finances will be managed in the relationship, down to who pays what and on what date.  It can also cover responsibilities for day to day running and managing of the property, right through to what will happen in the event of a split.  As well being a legally binding official agreement that takes away uncertainty, it can help relieve tension about financial matters from the outset, as drawing up the agreement means everything has to be agreed from the start. 
Said John Appleton Director and Head of Residential Conveyancing at Breeze & Wyles Solicitors Limited :  “Anyone buying property together should be protecting themselves by getting under the surface to agree the basis on which it is being undertaken.  Division of assets and property on splitting can still be affected by other circumstances, for example if children have been born between a couple, but it’s a good strong basis to work from.  

“Obviously it’s best to do it before you commit big sums of money to a purchase, but it can be drawn up at any time to record what was intended – although it’s too late when you’re at the point of splitting and the relationship has broken down. 
“The agreement can drill down to the detail of who takes out the bins, or simply be a declaration of trust, which would set out who owns what share and the agreement on responsibilities towards the mortgage and other property outgoings – and any parent giving or lending money to help their children onto the property ladder should insist on this as a bare minimum.”
He  added:  “Whether it’s a romantic relationship or friends clubbing together, too often, people worry about undermining the romance or affecting their friendship if they try to deal with the nitty gritty in this way, but it is likely to be too late if things break down.  As market prices continue to rise, I expect we will see more and more people clubbing together to get their foot on the housing ladder, and it’s going to be increasingly important to have everything properly sorted, if you want to avoid the chance of ending up in the courts at a later day, fighting your share.” 
ENDS

Web site content note: 

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

Dont regret what you ate!

When looking back upon your divorce don’t regret what you ate. I am not talking about regretting the exceptionally hot Vindaloo nor the burger bought after that wild night out from the slightly dodgy van on the side of the road; more so regretting the choice of process used to resolve the difficulties that existed following the separation.
It is always important to make wise choices and given the far reaching ramifications of divorce and separation which impact upon where you will live, how you can afford to put food on the table, clothe yourself and any children and who the children will live with, the choices made at this stage are perhaps the most important. Very often people assume that the only way to resolve a dispute is to litigate. What those people fail to appreciate is the diverse menu of other dispute resolution processes which are available to them in the alternative; They could Mediate, Negotiate, Collaborate or Arbitrate.
Litigation is expensive and the financial cost can run into tens of thousands of pounds. Legal aid has been subject to dramatic cuts which leave all but a handful of clients eligible for legal aid regardless of their ability to afford to pay a solicitor or barrister privately. This has lead to a vast increase in the number of people representing themselves at court as well as increasing the actual numbers of applications made as people continue to fail to appreciate the other options open to them. However, it is not just the financial cost that needs to be taken into account, you also need to consider the time involved both in respect of the time that may need to be taken from work in order to attend numerous hearings and also the time taken to reach a resolution. The increase in applications and increase in people representing themselves has meant that the courts are heavily oversubscribed and the waiting time for hearings to be listed can be months.
Finally, it is also important to consider the emotional cost of litigation. All relationships break down for a reason. This may be as a result of one persons behaviour, adultery or even as a result of discovering that you no longer have anything in common. However, more often than not it is one person doing the leaving and one person being left. People faced with the breakdown of a relationship suffer loss. They grieve the loss of the relationship and failed dreams much in the same way as you may grieve after the death of a loved one. There are recognised stages of grief which include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. The process is unique to the individual and is not linear so people may waiver in and out of the various stages before finally coming to terms with what has happened. This process can be helped or hindered by external factors. It is often tempting when you have been hurt by a partner or spouse so seek to lash out and hurt them too. However, this is never likely to be in a persons best interest and certainly not likely to be in the best interests of any child who is caught up in the midst of this adult conflict and is already upset, confused and most likely wondering if they are to blame. One of the biggest difficulties with litigation is that the process can seem to force people into the roles of combatants in the arena of the court each fighting to persuade the judge to make an order in terms more favourable to them and each pointing out the flaws in the others persons arguments or parenting and mudslinging is sadly commonplace. Where there are children involved this can be especially damaging. Consider yourselves 10 to 15 years from now when your children excitedly tell your of their engagement and explain that they would like both you and your ex partner to come to the wedding. These factors must also be combined with the fact that the judge does not know you nor your children which means that you are entrusting possibly some of the most important decisions of your life and which will impact on your future, with a stranger.
Now with the mere thought of ligation causing an uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, are there tastier alternatives?
Mediation allows yourself and your partner to attend a number of meetings with a trained mediator who is independent and impartial and can facilitate the discussions and help you both explore numerous options for settlement with the aim of helping you both reach a mutual agreement which you can then where appropriate set out in a consent order and submit to the court for approval. There are numerous benefits of mediation; it is quicker than making applications to the court, it is cheaper than making applications to the court as Legal Aid is still available subject only to an assessment of your means and the costs when paying privately are still likely to be in the region of £600 + vat per person. (Based upon an average of 4 sessions). An additional benefit is that as you and your partner retain the autonomy in reaching a decision you retain control over your own futures and are more likely to be happy with the overall outcomes. Should you require it you can obtain legal advice alongside the mediation process.
Negotiation is a process which you could use either informally between yourselves or with the assistance of a solicitor to reach an agreement. When one or both of you instruct solicitors these negotiations will either take place in correspondence or where appropriate during round table meetings with your lawyer present. You will have access to specialised legal advice throughout the process in order to ensure the best outcome for you and your children.
Collaborative Law is the process adopted by specifically trained family law solicitors as an alternative to the traditional route of litigation when dealing with the breakdown of a relationship. This process involves the couple engaging in a series of open civilised discussions about the unique terms of their separation. Both parties will have their own collaborative family lawyer present and at their side during such discussions to aid the process of negotiation which both parties participate in and remain fully involved until a solution is achieved. The process is different to the traditional route in that all parties at the outset sign an agreement called the participation agreement which provides that no party can threaten or make use of the Court process in an adversarial way and neither collaborative lawyer can ever represent either party in any litigation against the other, encouraging the parties to the process to be fully committed to achieving a resolution together. The couple set the pace at which they are comfortable in relation to discussing the issues involved and endeavour to agree matters together rather than feeling that they have been dragged helplessly through a process by solicitors and sometimes the Courts.
In Family Arbitration, you and your ex-partner or spouse appoint a family Arbitrator who will make a decision that will be final and binding between you, on any financial and property disputes arising from the breakdown of your family relationship. The Arbitrator will deal with all stages of your case from start to finish and will make a decision after hearing from both of you or your representatives. The timetable is set by you both so there is flexibility as to the time and place of the hearings. The process and the decision of the Arbitrator is private and therefore no details will be available to the public.
Family Arbitration has been developed to allow parties to resolve their financial dispute in a forum that is confidential, at a pace set by them and by an Arbitrator who is chosen by the parties. You can have the confidence that the person dealing with your matter is experienced in family law and specifically in the subject matter you require their assistance with. All Arbitrators have to meet the exceptional criteria for being accepted by IFLA having proven their experience and expertise in order to qualify as an Arbitrator. The costs of Arbitration are often offset against the saving that can be made by avoiding the need to proceed through the Court process to obtain a decision where parties are unable to agree.
At Breeze and Wyles Solicitors LTD we are committed to assisting clients in choosing the best process to meet their needs and as such we are able to provide all of the above options. This when considered together with our clear and competitive pricing structure and range of fixed fees makes Breeze & Wyles Solicitors LTD a clear choice.
To make an appointment or for more information call 01992 558411.
Karen Johnson - (Associate Solicitor and Family Mediator) – A Graduate of the University of East Anglia who then completed her Legal Practice Course at the College of Law in London and then Qualified as a Solicitor in 2002 working in a local High Street Firm before Joining Breeze & Wyles Solicitors in 2009 and becoming an Associate with the firm in 2011.
Karen is a highly skilled and experienced Family Solicitor with in excess of 10 years experience of working in Family Law. She is a Resolution Accredited Specialist in the fields of Domestic Violence and Financial Matters. Karen is additionally a Family Mediator trained by and a member of the Family Mediators Association (The FMA) an association with over 20 years experience of Family Mediation.
Olive McCarthy – (Director of Private Client Department) – Olive joined the firm in 2000 and was appointed as a Partner and Head of the Family Law Department in the old firm in 2004. Olive is an accredited Specialist Family Lawyer with Resolution in advanced finances on divorce and cohabitation disputes. Olive has had panel accreditation with the Law Society as a Family Law Specialist since 2003 and has been a Collaborative Lawyer since early 2009. Olive is also a Family Law Arbitrator.
Olive specialises in dealing with complex finance cases, particularly high net worth cases. Olive has been a Trustee for the East Herts & Broxbourne Domestic Violence Forum since 2003 and is the honorary legal representative for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau in Broxbourne, Hertford and Ware.

Murdered by my boyfriend – don’t become another statistic

Am I in an Abusive Relationship?
We all want the Fairytale ending and in the midst of a relationship, which is rarely ever all bad, in which excuses and promises are regularly made and broken, it can be difficult to even acknowledge that something is really wrong.
Domestic violence is physical, psychological, sexual or financial violence that takes place within an intimate or family-type relationship and forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour.
Everyone argues from time to time and it is common to fall out with family friends and partners. We also can do and say things that we later regret. However certain behaviour, like violence, can never be acceptable and there are additional types of behaviours which, when they happen more than once and a pattern starts to form, are likely to be indicative of abuse.
While every relationship and every experience of Domestic Abuse is different there are common factors. This list can help you to recognise if you, or someone you know, are in an abusive relationship. That recognition is the first step towards a future where you are able to prevent the abuse and enjoy a healthy relationship and your Happily Ever After.
• Destructive criticism and verbal abuse: shouting; mocking; accusing; name calling; verbally threatening.
• Pressure tactics: sulking; threatening to withhold money, disconnecting the telephone, taking the car away, taking the children away, or reporting you to welfare agencies unless you comply with their demands; threatening or attempting suicide; withholding or pressuring you to use drugs or other substances; lying to your friends and family about you; telling you that you have no choice in any decisions.
• Disrespect: persistently putting you down in front of other people; not listening or responding when you talk; interrupting your telephone calls; taking money from your purse without asking; refusing to help with childcare or housework.
• Breaking trust: lying to you; withholding information from you; being jealous; having other relationships; breaking promises and shared agreements.
• Isolation: monitoring or blocking your telephone calls; telling you where you can and cannot go; preventing you from seeing friends and relatives; shutting you in the house.
• Harassment: following you; checking up on you; not allowing you any privacy (for example, opening your mail), repeatedly checking to see who has telephoned you; embarrassing you in public; accompanying you everywhere you go.
• Threats: making angry gestures; using physical size to intimidate; shouting you down; destroying your possessions; breaking things; punching walls; wielding a knife or a gun; threatening to kill or harm you and the children; threatening to kill or harm family pets; threats of suicide.
• Sexual violence: using force, threats or intimidation to make you perform sexual acts; having sex with you when you don't want it; forcing you to look at pornographic material; forcing you to have sex with other people; any degrading treatment related to your sexuality or to whether you are lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual.
• Physical violence: punching; slapping; hitting; biting; pinching; kicking; pulling hair out; pushing; shoving; burning; strangling.
• Denial: saying the abuse doesn't happen; saying you caused the abusive behaviour; being publicly gentle and patient; crying and begging for forgiveness; saying it will never happen again.
Help Available
No one deserves to be abused and there is plenty of help and support available should you decide you want it.
At Breeze & Wyles Solicitors we have solicitors who are specialised in dealing with Domestic Abuse and can offer sympathetic and practical advice and assistance in relation issues such as the occupation and ownership of the house both in the short and longer terms, protective injunctions, the arrangements for children, finances and divorce. Where eligible Legal Aid remains available.
For more information contact our Family Team on 01992 558411.
Useful Contacts:-
Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline
(Run in partnership between Women's Aid & Refuge)
Phone: 0808 2000 247
Men's Advice Line 0808 801 0327
The Men's Advice Line is a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic violence and abuse. It welcomes calls from all men - in heterosexual or same-sex relationships.
Respect Phoneline - 0808 802 40 40 (free from landlines and mobile phones)
For domestic violence perpetrators. Monday - Friday 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm. You can also email info@respectphoneline.org.uk.
Hertfordshire Domestic Abuse Helpline offers free and confidential advice, support, signposting and referrals to anyone affected or concerned by domestic abuse between 10am and 10pm Monday to Friday.
Phone: 08 088 088 088
Safer Places - an independent domestic abuse charity dedicated to supporting adults and children affected by domestic abuse. Able to provide a wide range of services to support you and respond to your individual needs and circumstances, whether it is in our refuge accommodation or in the community.
All our services work in a holistic and empowering way to help enable you to live independent lives free from domestic abuse. Call 08450 177668 or email info@saferplaces.co.uk
In an emergency dial 999.
Karen Johnson - (Associate Solicitor and Family Mediator) – A Graduate of the University of East Anglia who then completed her Legal Practice Course at the College of Law in London and then Qualified as a Solicitor in 2002 working in a local High Street Firm before Joining Breeze & Wyles Solicitors in 2009 and becoming an Associate with the firm in 2011.
Karen is a highly skilled and experienced Family Solicitor with in excess of 10 years experience of working in Family Law. She is a Resolution Accredited Specialist in the fields of Domestic Violence and Financial Matters. Karen is additionally a Family Mediator trained by and a member of the Family Mediators Association (The FMA) an association with over 20 years experience of Family Mediation.

Overcoming the Hurdles to Justice ....

In April 2013, the system of Legal Aid in England and Wales underwent vast changes effectively denying access to Legal Aid in respect of family matters. Legal Aid is now only available to those who are able to show that they are financially eligible and are/have been a victim of domestic abuse occurring within the last 24 months.
Legal Aid also remains available for children matters where a child is a risk of harm from the other parent and also in relation to obtaining protective injunctions such as non molestation orders and occupation orders.
As part of the Governments “Austerity Measures,” the purpose of the changes was clear; to reduce the costs of an ever increasing Legal Aid budget. What was not so clear was whether the Government had properly considered the indirect costs which would increase as a result of the cuts such as the increased burden upon the courts in terms of resources and court time in dealing with the increased number of highly emotionally charged people trying to represent themselves. The Government instead had hoped that people could be encouraged to use alternatives to court, the main one being Mediation. This desire further underlined by the introduction of Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMS) and the changes to the Court Process which made attendance at a MIAM compulsory for the vast majority of cases. However, with Mediators across the country reporting a decrease in referrals, this approach has clearly failed and is itself the subject for another discussion.
With regards to the continuation of Legal Aid for victims of domestic abuse, the Governments intentions are laudable. It is however arguable that the current rules of the scheme are such that they fail dramatically to protect the very people that need help most desperately and who are statistically most likely to be female and/or disabled.
The current definition of Domestic Abuse is: Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse:
• psychological
• physical
• sexual
• financial
• emotional
Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.”*
*This definition includes so called ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.
In order to access Legal Aid on this basis however, the victim must be able to prove that they have suffered Domestic Abuse by providing one of the following;
Types of evidence:
• criminal conviction
• police caution
• police bail
• ongoing criminal proceedings
• protective injunction
• an undertaking
• letter from a Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference
• finding of fact, by a court
• letter from social services
• letter from a doctor (including a family doctor or 'GP'), nurse, midwife, practitioner psychologist or health visitor
• letter from a domestic violence refuge or refusal of entry to refuge
• referral to a domestic violence specialist support service by a doctor, nurse, midwife, practitioner psychologist or health visitor
• a Domestic Violence Protection Notice or Domestic Violence Protection Order granted
• a bind over
As a firm of Solicitors who are committed to our continued delivery of Legally Aided Services, we are continuing to see clients who are having real difficulty in obtaining the necessary evidence of Domestic Abuse. This can be for a large number of reasons for example;
1) A Victim who has suffered in silence and either not reported it to anyone or not been taken seriously when they have reported it. Victims may fail to report Domestic Abuse because they are scared of the repercussions both perceived and threatened or because they have not recognised that they are in an abusive relationship. They may have been told that if they tell anyone, Social Services will take away their children, that they will have to leave their home, be deported or that their partner will be arrested.
2) Although, the definition of Domestic Abuse is wide, not all forms of Domestic Abuse are usually likely to result in a report or referral being made to any of the above organisations. By way of example; financial abuse might occur where one partner controls the finances entirely down to leaving 50p on the side which allows the mother to attend a mother and baby group but then fails to do so as a matter of control or perhaps he regularly goes off with the child’s pram in the car leaving the mother with no means to go out. In isolation it may mean nothing but it may form part of a pattern of abusive behaviour.
3) The type of evidence which is permitted and the information that it must contain is very specific. If it does not provide all of the necessary information, then Legal Aid will not be available.
Clients seeking Legal Aid must have the evidence before they will be able to see a solicitor under the scheme and therefore they will have to seek this evidence themselves. It is therefore extremely important that if you are a Victim of domestic abuse seeking to access Legal Aid, an organisation who might be approached to provide the evidence or an organisation which may regularly deal with victims of domestic abuse that you are aware of these requirements and can access, assist or at least signpost the victim to enable them to access the help they need.
In order to assist Victims and organisations in obtaining or providing suitable evidence further guidance can be found by following the above links and by visiting:-
Victims will find here the template letters to send to the organisations they feel may be able to provide the required evidence.
If you are an organisation and have been asked to provide evidence to help with a legal aid application, then you can use the following template letters to help provide that evidence in the appropriate form if you are:
• Doctors
o a Doctor (letter following examination)
o a Doctor (letter confirming referral)
• a MARAC
• Social Services
• Social Services providing evidence for a child protection matter
• a Refuge
• a domestic violence specialist support service
There is a long way to go before all of these issues can be addressed and it is likely that there is nothing that can be done overnight to resolve all the issues that these vulnerable clients have in accessing services. A relaxation of the types of evidence which will be accepted is likely to help but this requires changes to be made a Government level.
In the meantime, it is imperative that we spread the word and make ongoing effort to raise awareness of domestic abuse and the support services available in order to empower victims to be able to access the support that they need and provide appropriate reassurance to dispel the myths.
For more information about or services please phone 01992 558411.
Karen Johnson - (Associate Solicitor and Family Mediator) – A Graduate of the University of East Anglia who then completed her Legal Practice Course at the College of Law in London and then Qualified as a Solicitor in 2002 working in a local High Street Firm before Joining Breeze & Wyles Solicitors in 2009 and becoming an Associate with the firm in 2011.
Karen is a highly skilled and experienced Family Solicitor with in excess of 10 years experience of working in Family Law. She is a Resolution Accredited Specialist in the fields of Domestic Violence and Financial Matters. Karen is additionally a Family Mediator trained by and a member of the Family Mediators Association (The FMA) an association with over 20 years experience of Family Mediation.
Karen is a Chair and Trustee of East Herts and Broxbourne Domestic Violence Forum.

Whats it worth to put a ring on it!

Nearly everyone knows Beyonce’s song “Single Ladies (Put a ring on it)” and it has to be said that it is the majority of little girls dreams to be a Princess on their Wedding Day and live happily ever after with their Prince. But what it is worth to “put a ring on it”?.
Perhaps the starting point to answer this question is to explore couples who are living together as this has dramatically increased over the recent years. As Family Lawyers, we are seeing an increase of instructions by clients in a cohabitating relationship. They often seek advice about setting up home with their new partner or what their legal rights are upon separation.
The majority of such clients are of the view that there is such a thing as a “common law spouse” or “common law wife/husband” as these terms are commonly used. For example, when applying for car insurance there is the option to select “common law spouse” to confirm your relationship status. Unfortunately, these terms have no legal recognition and the truth of the matter is cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as a married couple.
It is not all doom and gloom for cohabitating couples as there are (limited) options available to them to assist in protecting their positions. For example, if one person has contributed more towards the purchase of a property there is the option of recording this in a Declaration of Trust. Therefore, if the property has to be sold upon separation a Declaration of Trust should confirm exactly how the sale proceeds are to be divided between them.
A cohabitating couple should also consider setting out their living arrangements, as well as establishing rights should the relationship breakdown in a Cohabitation Agreement.
A Cohabitation Agreement is entered into as contract between the parties and is somewhat flexible as to what can be included within it. For example, ownership of real or personal property, payment of bills/mortgage/rent, children arrangements.
If a cohabiting couple is considering entering into this type of agreement, it is advisable that they seek legal advice to ensure it has been correctly drafted to avoid any implications should it be necessary to enforce any of the terms upon separation.
Cohabitating couples should also be made aware of the situation where one party moves into a property solely owned by the other party. In this situation, the presumption is that party owns all of the beneficial interest and the other party will have a fight on their hands to establish a claim in the property. These types of claims are not easy to make as the other party will need to show either a direct contribution towards the purchase price or that there was a common intention to share ownership which they have acted upon to their detriment.
When comparing the position of a separating cohabiting couple to a separating married couple it could be said that it is worth “putting a ring on it”. This is because the law relating to the financial provision on marriage breakdown is very different and both parties acquire rights for the very fact they are married.
When a married couple seek to formalise their marriage breakdown by commencing divorce proceedings, the Court obtains powers to make financial orders. The extent of the Court’s power means that they are able to re-distribute assets irrespective of who they are owned by.
The Court will look to consider what is fair, taking into account all the circumstances of the case including both of spouse’s needs, incomes, earning capacities, resources, length of marriage, standard of living, conduct and contributions. Where there are children, the needs of any child are considered paramount.
The above approach taken by the Court when determining how to distribute assets upon marriage breakdown could be said to be more balanced and fair compared to a separating cohabitating couple that could potentially be leaving a relationship with nothing unless they can prove they have a claim.
This article is by all means not suggesting that cohabitating couples should rush to “put a ring on it” just because of the rights they acquire upon marriage. However, the article has very much highlighted the difference of rights available upon separation. It has to be said that due to the increasing amount of cohabitating couples it is crying out for there to be a change in this area of law.
If you are engaged to be married you may wish to consider a pre-nuptial agreement and we would recommend that you speak to Ms Olive McCarthy based at our Hertford Office on 01992 558411 who is one of the few Family Solicitors in the country to become a Family Law Arbitrator.
There is an option for everyone and please do not hesitate to contact us to obtain friendly, efficient and affordable legal advice about your situation.
Samantha Murphy - (Assistant Solicitor) - A Graduate of the University of Hertfordshire, who then completed her Legal Practice Course at City University Law School in London. Samantha qualified as a Solicitor in April 2012, working in a local High Street firm. Samantha specialises in family and matrimonial matters, including divorce, separation, children, finances, and cohabitation disputes.
Samantha is passionate to ensure people can obtain access to justice by providing correct and practical legal advice in order that people can make informed decisions. Samantha is committed to resolving disputes in a non-confrontational manner by adopting the Resolutions Code of Practice.

The End of the Shot Gun wedding – Forced Marriages become illegal

A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used. It is an appalling and indefensible practice and is recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men, domestic/child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights.
The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family). Financial abuse (taking your wages or not giving you any money) can also be a factor.
On the 16th June 2014, it became a criminal offence for parents to force their child to marry. Parents found guilty of this crime can face a sentence of up to 7 years imprisonment. It applies to people forced into marriage in England and Wales and also to UK nationals forced to marry abroad.
These new laws further bolster the provisions which already existed and which allowed applications to be made both by and on behalf of a potential victim for Forced Marriage Protection Orders. Breach of a forced marriage protection order has also become a criminal offence and if found guilty can be punished by up to 5 years imprisonment.
These new rules are however not the end of the matter and there is concern amongst campaigners that the new laws will not make much difference as the victims may not want to report the issues as they do not want their family to be imprisoned or criminalised.
The government's Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 1,302 cases last year. Of the cases dealt with 82% of victims were female and 18% male while 15% were under the age of 15. The cases involved 74 different countries with 43% relating to Pakistan, 11% to India and 10% to Bangladesh. Given that these are only the cases which came to the attention of the unit, it is likely that the actual number far exceeds this and it is hoped that these new laws will not only give further protection by way of deterrent but also raise more awareness of the issue both generally and to ensure that people are aware that they have the full backing of the government and legal system in supporting their right to choose and not be forced into a marriage against their will.
At Breeze & Wyles Solicitors Ltd we are to able to advise on forced marriages and all forms of domestic abuse. We understand that these are extremely sensitive issues and as such we aim to provide friendly and easy to understand advice to ensure that our clients are informed of all of the options available to them.
If you require advice about forced marriages or any form of domestic abuse please contact a member of our family law department to arrange an appointment with one of our specialist Family Law Solicitors on 01992 642 333.
Henal Gautam - (Associate) Qualified as a solicitor in 2004 and joined the Family Department at Breeze and Wyles Solicitors Ltd in 2005. Specialising in family law specifically relating to children. Representing parents, family members and children in a wide variety of public law cases. In addition adoption and special guardianship and representing parents in s8 Children Act proceedings. Henal deals with most of her own advocacy, being instructed in a number of complex cases involving cruelty to children and serious allegations of harm, adoption within the UK and overseas.
A member of the Law Society Children’s Panel, Resolution and the Association of Lawyers for Children, Henal is also a Trustee of the Broxbourne East Hertfordshire Domestic Violence Forum and the Hertford Contact Centre.
Samantha Murphy - (Assistant Solicitor) - A Graduate of the University of Hertfordshire, who then completed her Legal Practice Course at City University Law School in London. Samantha qualified as a Solicitor in April 2012, working in a local High Street firm. Samantha specialises in family and matrimonial matters, including divorce, separation, children, finances, and cohabitation disputes.
Samantha is passionate to ensure people can obtain access to justice by providing correct and practical legal advice in order that people can make informed decisions. Samantha is committed to resolving disputes in a non-confrontational manner by adopting the Resolutions Code of Practice.

Enforcing a Judgment

In tip sheet 7, we explained the benefits of pre-issue checks on debtors before commencing proceedings in the County Court. This avoids spending money to obtain Judgment and then finding that your debtor is a “man of straw” and has no assets against which you can enforce your Judgment.
This fact sheet explains some of the popular methods used to enforce a Judgment and some of the advantages / disadvantages of each, so that you can decide which method of enforcement is the best method to obtain your money.
Execution against goods
Execution against goods is a popular method for enforcing a judgment. If a Judgment is over £600, we recommend that the Judgment be transferred to the High Court and executed by High Court Enforcement Officers. An Enforcement Officer will make a visit to the debtor’s premises with a view to seizing goods to the value of the judgment. The officer will try to persuade the debtor to make payment. There is always a risk that a) the debtor does not have any goods to seize; b) that the debtor has left the premises or c) the debtor refuses to let the enforcement officer in (if it is a residential property, a debtor can refuse entry).
There is an abortive fee if the Enforcement Officers are unsuccessful and therefore, it is worthwhile satisfying yourself that a debtor is likely to have goods of value that can be seized (e.g. vehicles / equipment / machinery) before instructing enforcement officers. If the enforcement officers are successful in seizing goods to the value of the Judgment, they will try to recover their costs from the debtor.
Charging Orders
A charging order is a way of securing a Judgment against a debtor’s beneficial interest in land (e.g. house / commercial property), securities or certain other assets. Where there is sufficient equity in a debtor’s property, the benefit of the charging order is that the debtor will need to settle the debt before selling the land. You should satisfy yourself that there is sufficient equity in the property to pay you after the secured creditors (e.g bank) have been paid first. This is not always easy to do but we can discuss this with you should you be in any doubt regarding the debtor’s position.
Attachment of Earnings
An attachment of earnings order attaches itself to a debtor’s income from employment and allows a proportion of the debtor’s earnings (deducted by his employer) to be paid to a judgment creditor in instalments until the judgment debt is satisfied. Attachment of Earnings Orders are a popular method of enforcement as they are an inexpensive and relatively straightforward method of collecting the debt.
Debtor’s are often concerned about the possibility of their employer knowing about debts owed by the debtor and therefore, this can often be a powerful method of enforcement where a debtor is employed.
Insolvency Proceedings: Bankruptcy and Company Liquidation
If you are owed more than £750 by an individual debtor you can apply to make him / her bankrupt. If your debtor is a company, you can apply to wind up the Company.
After an order is made the assets are collected by a trustee or liquidator and distributed amongst all the creditors. There is no guarantee that this process will result in payment of your debtor however, the threat of insolvency is often encourage a debtor to make payment. As an alternative to applying for the bankruptcy or liquidation, it is worth considering serving a Statutory Demand for Winding Up or Bankruptcy. This is a formal request for payment within 21 days. In the event that payment is not made within 21 days, the debtor is deemed unable to pay their debts and you can thereafter apply to the Court for bankruptcy or winding up. Service of a Statutory Demand can be a very effective way of prompting payment and is a lower cost alternative to a formal petition.
If the debtor is unable to pay the debt, you can petition for bankruptcy or liquidation. You will need to satisfy yourself however that this is likely to result in payment of the debt or that you are happy to proceed with this process even though payment of your debt may not follow.
We are always happy to discuss the best method of enforcement for your particular matter and would encourage you to consider enforcement methods, before issuing proceedings, in order to ensure that you only spend money on Court proceedings where it looks as though enforcement is likely to result in payment to you.
If you would like further information regarding our debt recovery service, please contact our Rita Wright at rita.wright@breezeandwyles.co.uk or 01992 558411.