Last year, the Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Bill gained Royal Ascent. This means the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) will have greater powers to intervene in cases where parents have separated due to domestic abuse, providing improved financial protection for parents who have separated from perpetrators.

What does the CMS do?

Child maintenance ensures living costs are covered when a couple separates, and one of the parents no longer lives with a child or children. It may also be needed when the parents have never been in a relationship. To be eligible, the child or children must be up to the age of 16 or 20 and in full-time education.

The CMS acts in two ways – ‘direct pay’ and ‘collect and pay.’

  • Direct pay is when the CMS calculates how much needs to be paid voluntarily by the non-resident parent
  • Collect and pay is for when direct payments have been repeatedly missed. The CMS collects payments from the non-resident parent, and pays them to the resident parent

Why are the new laws needed?

Through the new laws, any resident parent whose former spouse or partner was abusive will be able to access child maintenance via collect and pay. They will be able to do this without having to prove that direct payments have been missed, and consent from the perpetrator will not be necessary.

This will mean the CMS will act on the resident parent’s behalf, meaning they will not need to be in contact with their abuser to arrange maintenance payments, though they will need to provide evidence of abuse.

This is a huge step forward in preventing financial abuse, emotional abuse and blackmail where a perpetrator withholds (or threatens to withhold) payments.

In addition, the new laws will:

  • Give the CMS power to report suspected financial abuse cases to the Crown Prosecution Service to help bring abusers to justice
  • Provide CMS staff with enhanced domestic abuse training
  • Waive CMS fees for domestic abuse cases
  • Trial one-to-one support for domestic abuse survivors

How did the new Bill come about?

In 2017, Emma Day was murdered by Mark Norris, her abusive ex- partner with whom she had a child. Her murder followed arguments between them surrounding maintenance payments. Investigations revealed Ms Day had made the CMS aware of the history of domestic abuse and the violent threats she had received from Norris.

South London Coroner’s Court’s Domestic Homicide Review urgently recommended an independent review into how the CMS supported parents who had experienced domestic abuse and needed to set up maintenance payments. This was carried out in 2021. It highlighted the need for the CMS to provide greater protection to its clients and a robust training programme for staff.

Dr Samantha Callan, who was commissioned to lead the review, said:

“As well as violence, there is now legal recognition that domestic abuse includes financial and other forms of coercive control which can continue to play out – or be initiated – after parents separate. My review highlights the pressing need for the Child Maintenance Service to help protect its clients from all forms of abuse and be aware that these can be perpetrated by the receiving as well as the paying parent and I am pleased the Government is acting on my recommendations.”

The Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Act 2023 Bill had its first reading in the House of Lords in June 2022. It received Royal Assent in June 2023.

Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse can take all sorts of forms, including coercive control, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial (or economic) abuse, harassment or stalking and online or digital abuse.

It is a crime, and the police and other authorities treat it as such. The perpetrator may try to convince you that the abuse is your fault and that it’s a normal part of being in a relationship, but this is not the case.

If you and/or your children are in immediate danger, ring 999 and seek police assistance. If you need non-urgent help:

  • Refuge (women) – telephone 0808 200 0247 (freephone, open 24/7)
  • Women’s Aid – livechat via their website or email helpline@womensaid.org.uk
  • Find a local domestic abuse service here
  • Respect (men) telephone 0808 801 0327 (freephone, 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday)

How can AGR Law help?

We specialise in Family Law and Domestic Abuse, and can help separating parents with childcare arrangements, child arrangements, financial matters and more.  Contact us on hello@agrlaw.co.uk or 0116 340 0094 if you need support.

Nights out with friends, family and colleagues form a big part of most people’s Christmas and New Year celebrations, but others can spoil your fun by behaving inappropriately or illegally.

Below are some tips to help keep you and your party safe, ensuring you all have a good night without making yourselves vulnerable.

Before you leave

  • Charge your phone fully and have a trusted taxi number in your contacts list in case of emergencies. Put your phone somewhere safe, along with your keys, money/cards, ID and other valuables. Don’t put your wallet in your back pocket where it’s easy to pinch or lose
  • If you or one of your group is concerned someone may turn up and cause trouble, don’t share your plans with anyone beforehand. Don’t post, or allow your friends to post, anything on social media that identifies your location (or advertises that your house is empty) until after the event
  • Bars and clubs can become busy, so getting split up from your friends is easily done. Set up a group chat in case one of you gets separated from the others
  • Plan how you are going to get to your venue and home again:
    • If you need to be driven, pre-book your journeys beforehand with a licensed cab or arrange lifts with someone you trust. Keep enough cash back to make sure you can get home and try to travel together
    • Avoid walking anywhere alone if you can but, if you must do it, don’t take short cuts. It’s better to go a longer route which is well lit and has CCTV than walk down dark allies, through parks etc. Walk purposefully and phone someone if you can, but don’t let your call distract you from your surroundings. Strut safe is a phone line run by volunteers where you can talk to someone until you’re safely through your door
  • Decide on a codeword for emergencies so you can all leave immediately but discreetly if a situation arises
  • Make sure you have plenty to eat before you go out or plan a meal early into your night so you’re not drinking on an empty stomach

When you’re out

  • Try to stick together as a group. If you’re nipping to the loo or the bar tell someone and, ideally, go in a pair. Put a message in the group chat if one of you hasn’t been seen for a while. You can drop a pin or use what 3 words to locate each other if needed
  • Know your limits, and don’t let anyone pressure you into taking drugs or drinking too much. Pace yourself and have a glass of water between alcoholic drinks. If someone insists on getting a round in, ask for a soft drink if you don’t want any more alcohol. Remember, you’re more vulnerable if you’re under the influence
  • If you or one of your group has drunk too much, go outside somewhere safe for some fresh air and have a drink of water
  • Be aware of who is around you. Don’t accept a drink from someone you don’t know (especially if you haven’t seen it being prepared at the bar) and don’t leave your bag or drink unattended. If you suspect someone is spiking drinks, tell a member of staff. The police will need to be informed and someone may require medical assistance. Don’t invite strangers to your home or into a taxi

Here are some useful contacts if you need help over the Christmas and New Year period:

  • Samaritans – Freephone 116 123. Support is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year
  • National Domestic Abuse Helpline – Freephone, 24-hour, 0808 2000 247
  • Mind – mental health helpline 0300 123 3393. Available Monday to Friday, 10am to 6pm. Closed on 25 and 26 December 2023, and 1 January 2024

AGR Law

The AGR Law team can support you with family law and commercial and personal services, including Wills, Power of Attorney and more. If you have any queries, contact us at hello@agrlaw.co.uk or call 0116 340 0094.

We’re closed from 4pm on Friday 22 December 2023 to 9.30am on Tuesday 02 January 2024.

The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill reached Royal Assent on 24 May 2023 following successful campaigning from charities including Bliss and the Rainbow Trust.

The Act allows the parents of children receiving neonatal care extra paid leave, enabling them to spend important time with their premature or sick babies and preventing them from having to choose between caring for their baby and returning to work.

Neonatal leave and pay has been on the Government’s agenda since the Conservative Manifesto in 2019 and was included in the March 2020 budget. However, despite consultations taking place to include the provisions in their Employment Bill, it was never introduced. Since then, Bliss has been working closely with MPs to introduce the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill.

Having a baby requiring specialist care in a neonatal unit after birth can cause a huge financial and emotional burden on parents. This incredibly challenging time, combined with the ever-increasing cost of living, means parents are currently often forced to take unpaid leave to be with their premature or sick baby.

We want to give you an overview of the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act and explain what it means for both employees and employers.

What is the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act?

The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act is defined as ‘A Bill to make provision about leave and pay for employees with responsibility for children receiving neonatal care.’

The key changes are:

  • The Act will provide additional paid leave for parents whose babies require neonatal care after birth, aiming to reduce the worry for parents about having to return to work or take unpaid leave, and allowing them to spend more time providing crucial care for their baby
  • It will allow parents to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave (for each parent), in addition to other leave entitlements, such as maternity and paternity leave
  • The change in law also ensures fathers and partners have the flexibility to share caring responsibilities by increasing the amount of paid leave they can access beyond the usual two weeks of paternity leave
  • The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act will fit alongside Shared Parental Leave, and the flexibility that this provides, which will mean both parents feel able to prioritise their child, and family, in that precious time after birth
  • Accrued neonatal leave is taken after an employee’s maternity leave ends. This is because maternity leave is triggered by the birth of the baby and cannot be paused and restarted

Who is eligible?

  • The parents of babies who are admitted into hospital up to the age of 28 days, and who have a continuous stay in hospital of seven full days or more, from their first day in a new job
  • Statutory Neonatal Care Pay will be paid if the parents meet certain conditions regarding a minimum continual service of 26 weeks with minimum earnings of £123 per week, the same as the Statutory Maternity Pay entitlement

When can parents benefit from the new legislation?

Unfortunately, it is estimated the implementation of the new law won’t be until April 2025, meaning parents won’t be able to benefit until then. However, many charities are lobbying MPs to call for implementation sooner so approximately 120,000 parents don’t miss out on this vital extra support.

What will the new legislation mean for employers?

According to the Bliss Employer Guide:

The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act provides an excellent opportunity to support employees during a challenging period of their lives. Currently, many employees take sick leave in lieu of any other paid leave option, and some leave the workforce altogether. By implementing a neonatal leave and pay policy, you will:

  • Ensure that the leave parents take is predictable (as far as it can be) for them, as well as for you as an employer
  • Improve retention by giving parents the time they need before returning to work
  • Improve your offer to prospective employees by including neonatal leave and pay as part of your benefits package
  • Help your employees focus on their job when they’re back at work – rather than worrying about a baby still unwell in hospital

How can AGR Law help?

We’re an award-winning law firm with offices in Leicester and Northampton. We also offer virtual appointments.

We advise individuals, families and businesses – specialising in family law, and personal and commercial services.  Contact us on 0116 340 0094 or hello@agrlaw.co.uk

If you read our September blog ‘five essential things to include in your Will’ you’ll know that choosing the right executors is crucial. In this blog, we explain the role of an executor to help you decide which of your friends or family will be most suitable.

Will executor duties

An executor is a person who is legally responsible for ensuring the possessions and assets of a person who has died are distributed as per their wishes.

Responsibility starts when the person dies. Unless an estate is small and straightforward, or if it’s held jointly with a surviving person, executors need to apply to the court for the Grant of Probate. This permits them to claim, transfer, sell or distribute the estate. Responsibility ends when everything has been passed onto the beneficiaries. This is known as the probate (or administration) period.

Up to four executors can be stipulated in a Will. When the Will is made, your solicitor may offer you extra copies to give to them, or you can give them your solicitor’s details so they know who to contact when you die. If nobody is named, responsibility falls to the deceased’s next of kin.

The executors are responsible for:

  • Calculating the assets
  • Calculating debts (mortgages, credit cards etc.) and selling assets to pay them off if needed
  • Valuing the estate
  • Sorting out the tax on any income generated by the estate, and dealing with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
  • Ensuring remaining assets are then distributed to beneficiaries who may be family, friends or charities
  • Keeping accounts to show how the estate has been administered

The probate period can take between six months and one year.

If there are several executors, they will need to agree where to hold money (this could be in a new, separate account), how withdrawals or payments are made from this account and what assets they need to sell.

Debts and taxes

Executors are responsible for paying any bills and unpaid taxes, applying for tax refunds, filling in a self-assessment form if needed and repaying any overpaid benefits.

They may also have to deal with people making a claim. By placing a notice in The Gazette anyone with an interest in the estate has two months to come forward. If the estate is distributed before this time and a claim is successful, the executors may have to pay it themselves. Placing notices in local newspapers can also help protect you from unexpected claims.

Executor of a Will HMRC responsibilities

Inheritance tax may need to be paid to HMRC. To do this, the executors need to identify assets and debts to estimate the estate’s value. This can take a long time, especially if the deceased had trusts or there’s tax to pay, so you need to be aware that there may be deadlines for payment and penalties if you don’t meet them.

How long do you need to keep the records of a deceased person?

HMRC can ask to see a deceased person’s records up to 20 years after inheritance tax has been paid, so it’s crucial that you keep:

  • A copy of the Will
  • Inheritance tax forms and supporting documents, including any unused inheritance tax threshold that can be transferred to a spouse or civil partner
  • Records showing how you calculated the value of the estate
  • Final accounts which show how money, property and personal belongings were distributed. Beneficiaries may need a copy of the final accounts too

How can AGR Law help?

An executor’s duties can be daunting, time-consuming, and complicated. Under the supervision of our director, Gina Samuel-Richards, we work with Satwinder Sidhu (a Private Client and Estate Planning Consultant) and Faizal Essat (a Legal Executive Advocate) to handle the probate process for you.

Find out more about probate or contact us on 0116 340 0094 or hello@agrlaw.co.uk

We’ve talked previously about the need to have a legally recognised and up-to-date Will, and the consequences of dying intestate, but we know drawing up a Will is daunting and easy to put off.

In this blog, we outline the top five essential things to put in your Will. Each point also includes tips to help you prepare for a Will-writing appointment. Next month, we’ll tell you all about executors and their roles, so look out for that.

Our top five things to include in your Will are:

  • Who do you want to benefit from your assets and property?
  • Do you have any debts?
  • Who will look after your children or pets?
  • Do you have any requests for your funeral?
  • Would you like any charities and good causes to benefit?

Who do you want to benefit from your assets and property?

In your Will, you need to state who you want to receive your assets and property when you die. Assets can include money in accounts, savings, pensions, shares, insurance policies, etc. Property can be valuable items such as houses and cars, or sentimental items such as wedding rings or things which have been passed down through the family.

It’s important to go into detail and ensure everything is covered, and that your Will is updated as your circumstances change. Even the closest families can argue over who gets what, so you need to put everything in writing to minimise disputes.

To prepare for your Will-writing appointment, you need to gather some documents. These include property deeds, insurance policies, share certificates, bank account details and other information relating to your assets. Also, list specific items that you want people to inherit. Remember, promising someone verbally they can have an item isn’t a legally recognised way of distributing your estate, so others may contest your wishes if they’re not specified in your Will.

Do you have any debts?

Debts, including mortgages and car finance, are paid off using money in your estate when you die. In the UK, debts aren’t passed onto surviving family members unless they’ve acted as a guarantor or co-signatory of the debt. If your estate can’t cover the outstanding money owed, debts will be paid in priority order and any remaining will be written off. If your estate is more than the total amount of money you owe, it will be distributed as per the instructions in your Will.

To prepare for your Will-writing appointment, gather documents relating to the above, list how much is owed and to whom, and how and when you are paying them off.

Who will look after your children or pets?

You need to specify who will have parental responsibility for children under 18 (who are classed as minors) in case there is ever a scenario where there are no surviving parents. Your named person or people, known as testamentary guardians, will have the same rights and responsibilities as a parent.

To prepare for your Will-writing appointment, think carefully about who you would like to be responsible for your child or children’s upbringing. You can prepare a Letter of Wishes which is not legally binding but can be placed with your Will to help guide your testamentary guardians. You can include your hopes for living arrangements, education and more.

You should also include pets in your Will in a similar way as above to help ensure they find a loving home and are looked after when you die. You can name someone to rehome them and allocate money for their care from your estate.

Do you have any requests for your funeral?

We know how hard it is to think about your funeral but, if you have specific wishes, it’s essential to include them in your Will. For example, you can state whether you want to be buried or cremated, have a ceremony or wake in a particular place, include some of your favourite music or ask everyone to dress in bright colours. Some people opt not to have a funeral at all.

To prepare for your Will-writing appointment, consider what you would like your funeral to be like. You may need to research costs (keeping in mind that they are likely to rise) and consider how they will be met.

Would you like any charities and good causes to benefit?

There are so many UK charities in need of financial support, and leaving a gift in your Will is an excellent way of giving to a cause you care about. Leaving a legacy gift may also have tax benefits, as inheritance tax is calculated after gifts have been deducted from your estate.

To prepare for your Will-writing appointment, think about the good causes you’d like to benefit. It could be a charity that has helped you or a family member, such as a hospice or care provider, or one who fights for a cause you care about, such as animal welfare or the eradication of domestic abuse.

Look out for our next blog

Another crucial element of your Will is who you appoint as executors. Look out for next month’s blog covering their role and responsibilities.

How can AGR Law help?

A Will is a legally binding document. Any errors can invalidate it, meaning you die intestate, and your estate may not be divided up as per your wishes. Any omissions can make resolving disputes longer, more complicated, and more expensive.

Having your Will drawn up by us will mean:

  • We won’t miss any elements that make a Will legally binding
  • We won’t miss off any of your money or property assets
  • We will help you plan for scenarios where one or both partners die
  • We can keep on top of alterations, such as marriages, divorces/dissolutions, deaths, house moves etc.
  • Your Will will be drawn up to consider the circumstances in which dependants can claim if they feel they’re not provided for

For more information, please get in touch with our experienced team by calling 0116 340 0094 or emailing hello@agrlaw.co.uk.

It’s estimated that one in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. It is a largely hidden crime, taking many forms as described below:

  • Coercive control – intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the threat of physical or sexual violence
  • Emotional abuse – this can include threatening, humiliating, insulting, isolating and intimidating
  • Physical abuse – when someone makes (or threatens to make) unwanted contact with another person’s body by punching, slapping, biting strangling and more
  • Sexual abuse – when a person is forced to do something sexually that they don’t want to do. This also includes denying access to birth control
  • Financial abuse (also known as economic abuse) – controlling someone’s possessions or how they access or earn money
  • Harassment and stalking – persistent, unwanted behaviour
  • Online or digital abuse – demanding access to emails, messages, social media etc., sharing intimate photos online without permission or tracking your location using GPS or similar

Do you need to change your living arrangements due to domestic abuse?

If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, support is available to help you make an escape plan or remove the perpetrator from your home as quickly as possible whilst not compromising your safety.

Remember, if you and/or your family are in immediate danger you must ring 999 and seek help from the police. If you are unable to speak, a ‘silent solution’ is available for mobile phones. You will listen to a message and then be asked to press 55 to be transferred to your local police force where the call handler will ask you simple yes or no questions. You may be asked to cough, tap your keys or similar in response if it is unsafe for you to talk, so listen carefully. Please note, the police are unable to track your location from a mobile phone.

If you are calling from a landline, the silent solution does not apply. If you cannot speak, stay on the phone and you will be connected to a police call handler. If you need to put the phone down, the line will stay open for 45 seconds. If you pick the phone back up again during this time and the operator is concerned for your safety, they will transfer you to a police call handler. Your landline should provide your location information.

If you want to move out

If it is unsafe for you to stay in your home, your local council should prioritise your housing needs. They will not categorise you as ‘intentionally homeless’ if you need to leave urgently, as is sometimes the case where people vacate their home without having anywhere else to go in the hope of forcing their local authority to house them.

You may also be able to find emergency accommodation through them, or via a domestic abuse charity, until somewhere permanent can be found.

If you want your abuser to move out

People often ask why domestic abuse victims don’t leave, but why should they be the ones to go when they are not to blame for their situation and they are likely living in fear, feeling low in confidence and isolated from friends and relations?

If you’re living with a partner who is abusive, you can apply to the court for protection. You don’t have to be married or in a civil partnership for abuse to happen. There are two types of order the court may grant you:

  • A non-molestation order which will protect you and/or your children from being harmed by your ex-partner
  • An occupation order which will enable you to stay in your home, force your ex-partner to leave and prevent them from coming back

You can ask for protection immediately, even if you or your abuser has moved out. Please contact us to find out more.

You can call us in confidence on 0116 340 0094 or email hello@agrlaw.co.uk for advice.

Other useful contacts:

  • Refuge (women) – telephone 0808 200 0247 (freephone, open 24/7)
  • Women’s Aid – livechat via website or email helpline@womensaid.org.uk
  • Find a local domestic abuse service here
  • Respect (men) telephone 0808 801 0327 (freephone, 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday)
  • For people living in Leicestershire

 

Deciding who lives where when you separate is one of the trickiest aspects of negotiation. There are many variables but, in the eyes of the law, the outcome usually depends on your relationship status and who is named as owner or tenant of the property. Other considerations include whether you have children under 18 and/or any dependents (such as elderly parents) living with you.

Below we describe some common scenarios and your rights in each situation.

If you jointly own (or are buying) your home

If you jointly own or have a mortgage on your home you will both have a legal right to remain in the property, even if you’re unmarried or not in a civil partnership. This also means that if your partner moves out, they still have a right to return unless a court order prevents them from doing so. There are two types of joint ownership; ‘joint tenancy’ and ‘tenancy in common’ as stated on your title deeds:

  • Joint tenancy is where you both own the whole home together
  • Tenancy in common is where you each own a share of the property, which may be equal or unequal

If your relationship has broken down, you may wish to change your tenancy from ‘joint tenancy’ to ‘tenancy in common’ otherwise your share of the property may go to your ex-partner if you die before you agree on what to do with your home or have had the opportunity to alter your Will. We can give you more information on that and discuss your options.

If you’re both named in the title deeds and your partner wants to sell your home, but you wish to remain, you may be able to buy their share of the property. Conversely, if you want to move out and they wish to stay, they may be able to buy you out. If the remaining partner needs to take a mortgage out, they will have to prove they can afford the repayments alone. Once a mortgage is arranged, a solicitor will transfer ownership on the land registry.

If your ex-partner owns the home and you aren’t on the title deeds or registered as owner

Unmarried partners

Partners living together but not married or in a civil partnership have very few rights, including the automatic ‘home rights’ that others in a legally recognised relationship enjoy.

If your ex-partner owns the home, and you’re not named on the title deeds or registered as an owner, you may be able to apply to the court to allow you to stay. The court may grant you the right to remain if you have a child or children under 18 or you can prove that you have contributed to your home financially and that your ex-partner considers the property to be yours too.

Married couples or civil partners

If you’re not on the title deeds or registered as the property owner, but you’re married or in a civil partnership, you can register with the Land Registry to stop your partner from selling your home or to ensure you’re informed if a mortgage company wants to repossess your home.

If you’re both renting your home

Tenancy agreements can vary greatly but, generally speaking, if you have a joint tenancy agreement you both have a right to stay even if you aren’t married or in a civil partnership. If one of you wants to remain in the rented property, you will need to ask your landlord to transfer the tenancy to the sole occupier. We advise to do this as soon as possible as there is a risk that one partner giving notice on a jointly rented house may end the tenancy for both of you. We also advise getting all communications and agreements with your landlord in writing, and that any changes to the occupation of the property ends one agreement and begins a new one to ensure there can be no confusion over who is responsible for paying rent and bills.

The tenancy is only in your ex-partner’s name and you want to stay in the home

Unmarried partners

Your ex-partner may ask the landlord to transfer the tenancy to you if the relationship is amicable, or you may be able to apply to the court. Permission to stay may be granted if you are the primary carer for children and/or dependents who live with you.

Married couples or civil partners

If you’re married or in a civil partnership, you have the same ‘home rights’ as those who own homes. If you wish to remain in the property and a court determines that is the best solution, they can order that the tenancy is transferred to you as part of a divorce or civil partnership dissolution.

What to do if you can’t agree on what to do with your home

If you and your ex-partner can’t decide who will live where, a mediator can help you by encouraging positive and productive conversations until you reach a conclusion. If you cannot find a solution and your situation calls for the court to get involved, a judge will typically divide the value of your home between you. They will consider the needs of any dependents when deciding who should live where.

Are you experiencing domestic abuse?

If you need to move out or want your partner to leave due to domestic abuse, please look out for next month’s blog, ‘My living arrangements need to change due to domestic abuse. What do I do?’ which will be on our website at the beginning of August.

AGR Law

We can support you with any matters relating to relationship breakdown and housing. Please contact us on 0116 340 0094 or hello@agrlaw.co.uk to arrange a virtual or in-person appointment with a member of our experienced team.

If you read our blog ‘civil partnership and marriage – which is right for you?’ you’ll know that one of the few differences between the two is how they are legally ended. Marriages are ended with a divorce, and a civil partnership is dissolved. You can apply for a legal separation if you’ve been married or in a civil partnership for less than one year.

The law around divorce and dissolution changed in April 2022, when no fault divorce came into effect. We wrote about it HERE but, in brief, the main points are:

  • One of the couple no longer has to accept blame for the relationship breaking down. Previously, couples had to cite a reason for separation, such as adultery, domestic abuse or desertion, or you had to live apart for at least two years. This caused bitterness and resentment between couples whose divorce or dissolution would have otherwise been amicable
  • You can solely apply for a dissolution or divorce, and your spouse can no longer contest it. Joint applications are still accepted, but applying individually means you won’t remain trapped in a relationship you no longer wish to be in

What do you need to consider when applying for a dissolution?

As with all separations, dividing up assets and planning your financial future can be complicated. It may be especially overwhelming if you’re upset and feeling uncertain, or if children or your wider family are affected.

There is a great deal to think about, and getting calculations and valuations correct before an agreement is finalised is vital. Some common considerations are:

  • Pensions – some pensions allow you to move money from your partner’s pension into your own, offset the value of a pension against other assets, or a portion of a pension may be earmarked for a former partner when payments begin
  • Owned/mortgaged property – we can help you work out how much equity is in your home, where any children may live or continue to live, whether one partner can buy the other out or whether it is necessary to sell the jointly-owned home and find two new properties
  • Savings, investments and money in bank accounts – we can help you divide these up, taking into account your earning ability, living expenses, age and other considerations such as disabilities and financial responsibilities
  • Debts such as overdrafts and credit cards – we can help you make a plan to pay off any debts as part of your financial settlement
  • Assets – we can support you in deciding how belongings are divided up, including cars, white goods and furniture, plus more sentimental items
  • Maintenance payments – these may be needed to help cover a child’s or children’s living costs when one of the parents no longer lives with their child or children. We recommend having a legally-binding agreement in place (rather than negotiating terms between you) as payments may be missed which aren’t enforceable

How can we help you?

As you can see from the above, separation and finances are complicated areas of law. You don’t want to leave anything to chance, so we always recommend seeking legal advice for dissolutions.

Unless the relationship is abusive, we endeavour to help you settle terms constructively using mediation to avoid asking the court to draw up a financial order. This involves a trained mediator listening objectively to both points of view. The mediator doesn’t take sides but suggests practical steps you can take to reach an agreement you’re both happy with. As members of Resolution, we take a constructive approach to family law issues that considers the whole family’s needs.

Mediation isn’t free but is quicker and cheaper than going through the courts. You may be eligible for vouchers or Legal Aid if you have children or are on a low income. Please contact us for information.

Mediation also ensures that both partners are fully aware of the financial situation, as one person often handles household finances.

Mediation is the right option for us – what now?

Mediation can be used for any areas of your dissolution that you disagree on but, as this blog is about reaching a financial settlement, we want to tell you how you can make the most of your first session. We’ll need to see details of:

  • Your income – your salary, wages, benefits plus any bonuses you expect
  • Your living expenses – including the rent or mortgage on your property, travel, food and utilities
  • Debts – anything you owe, including credit cards and loans

Bring any statements or bills to your first mediation appointment. You and your partner need to be honest about finances throughout the dissolution process otherwise your agreement may be invalid, and you may have to go through the courts to get a fairer share.

AGR Law

For more information about how our experienced team can support you, please email hello@agrlaw.co.uk or call 0116 340 0094. We offer virtual and face-to-face appointments.

In England and Wales, same-sex and opposite-sex couples can either get married or enter a civil partnership, so there are options for anyone who wishes to formalise their relationship (with or without religious connotations) legally. But how do you know which is right for you?

Eligibility

Conditions are identical for marriages and civil partnerships. Essentially, both parties must be aged 18 or over, not already married or in a civil partnership and not related closely.

Ceremonies and services

Marriages can be solemnised as follows:

  • Same-sex marrying couples say a prescribed form of words. Marriage can be conducted through a civil ceremony or a religious ceremony if a religious organisation has agreed to solemnise marriages of same-sex couples
  • Opposite-sex couples also say prescribed vows, and marriages can be conducted through a civil or religious ceremony

Marriage includes the signing of a marriage certificate.

Civil partnerships for both opposite and same-sex couples are registered by signing a civil partnership document. No words are legally required to be spoken, but partners can choose to include a ceremony if they wish. This can be religious (for same-sex couples only where the organisation has agreed to host them) as long as the formation remains secular.

In the eyes of the law

Same-sex couples have been able to enter a civil partnership since 2005 when new laws were brought in to protect and recognise them. They have also been able to marry since 2014. Opposite-sex couples were restricted to marriage until 2019 when the law was changed to allow them to enter a civil partnership. Civil partners can get married if they wish.

Both marriages and civil partnerships are fundamentally treated the same, with civil partners entitled to the same rights and duties as a lawfully married couple.

The main similarities are:

  • The income and inheritance tax rules cover married couples and civil partners. Despite the name, income tax marriage allowance is also available to civil partners
  • If someone who is married or in a civil partnership dies without making a Will (or has an invalid Will) the rules of intestacy are the same in terms of the deceased’s estate
  • If a civil partnership breaks down, partners are entitled to protection and can make financial claims for children, housing and more as they would if they were married
  • Parents who are in a civil partnership when a child is born get automatic parental responsibility, the same as a married couple
  • Adoption law applies to civil partners and married couples
  • Civil partners largely have the same pension rights as those who are married depending on whether the pension is occupational, private or state

There are minor differences you may need to be aware of:

  • If a couple wishes to end the marriage or civil partnership, a married couple can legally separate with a divorce, whereas a civil partnership is dissolved
  • Married couples are not legally allowed to call themselves civil partners, and civil partners are not legally permitted to call themselves married
  • Civil partnerships are not recognised in all countries, so if a couple wishes to move abroad they should check that country’s laws

Is marriage or a civil partnership right for you?

As detailed above, there are very few legal differences between a marriage and a civil partnership, so the right option for you should be based on your preferences.

If you’re not religious but want to legalise your relationship and enjoy the advantages that married couples do, a civil partnership is the best option. You may also feel uncomfortable with elements of a wedding such as:

  • A bride being ‘given away’
  • Feeling obliged to ask the bride’s father permission to wed
  • Only having the father’s name appearing on the marriage certificate when both the mother and father’s are included on a civil partnership document

If neither marriage nor civil partnership is right, you may wish to continue or begin cohabiting. Contrary to popular belief, there’s no such thing as a common-law marriage. Cohabiting couples aren’t protected like those who are married or in a civil partnership, even if they have been a couple for a long time, have children or jointly own property or businesses.

We strongly recommend drawing up a cohabitation agreement to provide protection should the relationship break down or if one of you dies. Read more about unmarried partners here

About AGR Law

Based in Leicester and Northampton, but also offering virtual appointments, our experienced team can assist with matters relating to family law, including cohabiting and pre-nuptial. You can call us on 0116 340 0094 or email hello@agrlaw.co.uk

The laws surrounding keeping people safe online have been in the news periodically since the basis for the Online Safety Bill, the government’s Online Harms white paper, was published in April 2019.

We want to tell you about the Online Safety Bill and what it will mean if it becomes law.

What is the Online Safety Bill?

A Bill is a proposed law which is put to Parliament by an MP. The Online Safety Bill is brand-new legislation, but Bills may also be updates to existing laws.

The long title for the Online Safety Bill is ‘a Bill to make provision for and in connection with the regulation by OFCOM of certain internet services; for and in connection with communications offences; and for connected purposes.’

Put more simply, the Bill proposes new laws to keep adults and children safe online by making social media companies more responsible for their users’ safety on their platforms.

How do Bills become law?

All Bills begin in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords, but they must be approved by both Houses before becoming law.

The passage of Bills through the House of Commons and the House of Lords largely follows the same process:

  • The first reading is a formality where the title of the Bill is read out before it is printed
  • The second reading is when debate begins
  • The committee stage is where details are examined, and clauses and amendments are debated
  • The third reading is the final debate of the contents of the Bill

When a Bill has been through the passage in both Houses, they consider each other’s amendments and when it is finalised it receives royal assent from the King. He formally agrees to make it into an Act of Parliament, and it becomes law.

Why do we need the Online Safety Bill?

Some social media content is illegal, harmful or age inappropriate. Examples may include:

  • Sexual abuse and violence
  • Promotion or glorification of suicide, eating disorders and self-harm
  • Selling of drugs and weapons
  • Sexual exploitation and revenge porn
  • Illegal immigration and people smuggling
  • Terrorism
  • Hate crime
  • Violence or incitement
  • Fraud

The Online Safety Bill aims to tackle such content by forcing social media platforms to remove it.

Though the contents of the Bill have not yet been finalised, it may also:

  • Prevent underage children from accessing social media platforms using different technologies to check people’s ages more accurately
  • Give adults more control over what they see and who they engage with online
  • Require all social media companies to consider how their platforms allow abusers to create anonymous profiles and ban repeat offenders, or place limitations on their accounts

The Online Safety Bill is being supported by the NSPCC who state a poll by YouGov shows overwhelming support for tougher measures to keep children safe online. They call the Bill ‘an urgent and necessary child protection measure’ and say they are seeing unprecedented levels of grooming and child sexual abuse online.

A statement by the NSPCC’s CEO, Sir Peter Wanless, in January 2023 says that in 2022 the Bill faced delays, meaning children continued to face sexual abuse on an industrial scale. He went on to say this must be the year that legislation delivers systemic change for children.

How will the Online Safety Bill be enforced?

In its current form, the law would expect platforms to demonstrate to OFCOM that they have processes in place that meet the requirements of the Bill. Companies that are found not to be compliant may be fined, and OFCOM may take criminal action against senior managers who fail to give information when requested.

OFCOM will have the power to take action against companies no matter where they are based if they are accessible to UK users.

What’s next for the Online Safety Bill?

The Online Safety Bill has been subject to numerous delays and postponements, as prime ministers and departmental secretaries have changed. In that time, the original focus has changed substantially from online abuse and harassment to child protection, suicide and self-harm.

At the time of writing, it has been through the House of Commons and is at committee stage in the House of Lords:

  • It had its first reading in the House of Commons on 17 March 2022 and reached third reading stage on 17 January 2023
  • It began its passage through the House of Lords on 18 January 2023. The date for the committee stage has yet to be announced

There is no timetable yet for the Bill to be completed.

AGR Law

We’re an award-winning law firm with offices in Leicester and Northampton. We also offer virtual appointments.

We advise individuals, families and businesses, specialising in family law, immigration and personal and commercial services.  Contact us on 0116 340 0094 or hello@agrlaw.co.uk