According to internet reputation company GotJuice.co.uk, “more than 80% of lawyers turn to social media to find evidence in divorce cases of infidelity and other behaviour that might settle custody battles or financial issues”.
Two-thirds of evidence gleaned from social media is related to Facebook, reckons GotJuice.co.uk, where “individuals are more likely to flirt and unwittingly leave a trail for technology-savvy lawyers to find”.
It seems that many people are careless when using social media websites, not realising how public their postings are. Mark Hall of GotJuice.co.uk says: "Many users aren't entirely familiar with their privacy settings – and that's a recipe for disaster. When they think they're having a private conversation, they could be broadcasting it to others.
"Uploading compromising photographs is also hugely dangerous", he adds. "Evidence of infidelity, drunkenness, drug-taking and other anti-social or illegal activity is routinely posted on Facebook without a care for who might see it in future.”
GotJuice.co.uk says evidence from social media that has been used in divorce cases has included:
"Even if the posts are deleted, that might not be enough," Hall adds. "Cached data means things that are posted online could be forever."
He says people can protect themselves from domestic, legal and work-related problems by taking the following simple steps.
Hall says avoiding “divorce by social media” is "very simple. Just think of everything you post as a public broadcast. Is it really worth putting your entire private life on the net?"
• GotJuice.co.uk helps businesses and people to manage their reputations online, including removing negative content and suppressing/removing fake reviews. Its blog contains free expert advice and tips on improving your personal reputation, responding to negative reviews and managing your children's reputation online.
As of 1 April this year, the government is hoping to trim some £350m from the £2bn Legal Aid budget by scrapping almost all Legal Aid for private family law cases.
Legal Aid will only be available for Family Law cases involving allegations of domestic violence and abuse. The government is placing new emphasis on family mediation as a way to resolve family disputes, hoping that fewer of these cases will end up in court.
Family mediation is the process by which separating couples can side-step traumatic and divisive courtroom battles, by working with an independent mediator to resolve disagreements over arrangements for their children and how to divide up finances.
The government has said it will increase the amount of money it provides for legally aided family mediation, upping spending by £10m, taking the total spent on mediation to £25m. National Audit Office figures show that, on average, mediated cases are resolved around four-times quicker and cheaper than cases that go to court.
Family mediators are pleased by the change of direction, but worried about how people will access their services. Mediation is still relatively unknown to the general public. How will people know that public funding is available for mediation? And how will people find reputable qualified family mediators?
Judges are concerned that the cuts in public funding will mean there will be a rise in the number of litigants in person who inevitably take up more court time and may increase the backlog of family law cases. And some solicitors say that focusing legal aid on family law cases involving accusations of domestic violence may provide a perverse incentive for these allegations.
As someone who has worked as a family mediator for more than 15 years, I see this April as a time of uncertainty, but also of great possibility that in the future mediation will become the norm. Mediation will be first port of call for separating couples.
Another reason why mediation looks set to grow are rules that came into effect in April 2011, which meant that judges are supposed to ensure that all separating couples who are embarking on the court process have at least considered mediation.
Couples are supposed to try what is called a ‘MIAM’ (a mediation information and assessment meeting), during which the benefits of mediation are explained and the couples' suitability for mediation assessed. In fact, in many parts of the country judges have been ignoring this directive and it is now thought that legislation may be needed to make MIAMs compulsory.
A Ministry of Justice study has shown that when couples use mediation first, before getting to court, they are more likely to be able to continue to mediate their disagreements. The report also showed that fewer people needed further assistance with arrangements for their children after using mediation.
As well as being quicker and cheaper, family mediation can provide solutions to peoples' disagreements that are tailor made to them as individuals, rather than court-imposed decisions that may not suit their needs.
Mediation can get into the small details of how a separation will work, in a way that a formal legal process never could, even to the extent of discussing nurseries, bedtimes, dropping off plans, holidays and extended families. Mediators can also work with parents on how to break the news of separation or divorce to their children.
Research suggests that 12 years after separation, couples who have gone through the mediation process are still reaping the rewards, with both parents more likely to have a good relationship with their children, and an ability to communicate as parents.
So rather than being seen simply as a way to cut costs, or to keep things out of court, the real value of mediation can be seen in the way in which it helps to improve genuine life-long communication between former partners. Divorce and parental separation is a fact of modern life which will not go away. Family mediation provides parents with an effective way of managing the process and its consequences. As one of my former clients once put it: “If it hadn't been for mediation, we’d still be fighting now.”
Frances Place is a qualified solicitor who works as a mediator at Progressive Mediation.
Third-party mediation between you and your ex can be eight times cheaper and a lot less traumatic than hammering it out in the divorce courts.
With January rates at their traditional annual peak, divorce is on the rise again. And since split rates started climbing again in 2011, the Government has insisted that couples who separate try mediation to sort out the practicalities of divorce before they resort to battling it out with the judge. Initially, reports suggested that the scheme wasn't terribly popular.
But while the Ministry of Justice might seem an unlikely family counsellor, two years on it turns out that couples who used mediators to settle division of their assets and the children had their divorce done and dusted in a quarter of the time. And spent just £500, as opposed to the average £4,000 their day in court would cost them.
In divorce, arguing is tempting - and expensive. In a recent Telegraph interview, family justice minister Lord McNally promoted mediation by pointing out that: “All too often money is wasted on expensive and traumatic court hearings that can take far too long to resolve.
“That is why we want to help people to use mediation, a quicker and simpler approach which brings better outcomes.”
Many in the divorce industry also feel that endless trips to court to resolve trivial issues are damaging to children, stop couples moving on and wipe out family assets that, ironically, the law is there to protect. However, where an adult or a partner is in danger from a violent ex, parent or step-parent, the case goes immediately to court.
Mediators must be qualified, but don't necessarily have a legal background, and agreements reached through mediation are not in themselves legally binding so you will each need a solicitor too. It's a good idea in any case to seek advice from your solicitor alongside the mediation process. A good lawyer will put you in touch with a mediator who might suit you and your ex.
An alternative to mediation is collaborative law. Increasingly popular for couples, collaborative law has similar advantages to mediation. Here, each of you uses a specially trained collaborative lawyer to resolve the split as painlessly as they can. Crucially abandoning the old-school adversarial approach, both lawyers sign an agreement to work together to avoid conflict and court and keep the family as stable as possible during a time of difficulty.
Some larger firms of solicitors offer all three options: mediation, collaborative law, and traditional legal services.
The average divorce takes about four months in mediation and over a year in court, so it's much faster too. With family wealth at risk during lean times, plus cuts in legal aid on the horizon, using mediation makes ever more sense; many more people will need a cheaper divorce, and no one ever needed a more stressful one.
Georgina Harris is an author and editor.
Whether it was festive excess of novelty liqueurs, mystery texts on New Year's Eve, or even personality-challenged in-laws, January is established as divorce month. Immediately post-Christmas is the most likely time for a couple to split in the UK.
If you're thinking about divorce, or you've even started on the packing, you'll need help. While it's a huge step emotionally, and can be a terribly hard time, the last thing you need is more stress and confusion about the practicalities.
One of the most common questions family lawyers face is: who gets what? If only there was an easy answer - every divorce is negotiated on the assets and circumstances of the husband and wife involved. Even with court involvement, settlements are made by and for individuals, every time.
But the law gives you basic principles that can help you see your position with the house, the business, the children and the pension. And a good lawyer will save you money. See where you stand here with our advice:
Yes, it has come round again, quicker than ever or so it seems.
While the Law Donut takes a short festive break, there’s just time to reflect on the year so far and what we have in mind for 2013.
The Law Donut has been going from strength to strength since we launched in 2009. We now have more than 50,000 unique visitors to the site every month. There’s still more to do, of course, and our legal experts will keep making sure that the Law Donut is the first port of call for small businesses and entrepreneurs looking for information on all aspects of running a business, from hiring and firing through to business partnerships, health and safety and watching for the small print when renting business premises.
There’s even a section on personal law if the Christmas season gets too much!
Regular contributions from guest bloggers, in-house writers and law firms keep the site fresh. But if there’s more you think we could or should be covering, please let us know — it’s your resource and we want to keep this Law Donut as relevant and useful as we can.
Thank you to all our writers and readers in 2012 and here’s to an exciting and prosperous 2013.
The Donut team
“I’m not afraid of death – I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” It has to be one of Woody Allen’s best one-liners. Death is something many of us prefer not to think about – or plan for. According to some estimates, as many as 35% of UK adults aged over 55 do not have a legally valid will. Those in younger age groups are much less inclined to have one (as many as 80% of 18-34 year olds).
More than a tenth of those who do not have a will believe their estate (AKA their property) will automatically go to the people they want it to go to were they to ‘pop their clogs’. About a quarter plan to write a will when they get older, while some people are put off by associated cost and more than a tenth admit to never having considered writing a will.
If you ‘kick the bucket’ without leaving a legally valid will you are described as dying “intestate” and your estate must be shared out according to the rules of intestacy. If your will isn’t legal, the rules of intestacy determine how your estate will be shared out – regardless of any wishes you might have expressed.
Under the rules of intestacy, spouses or civil partners inherit only if they are married or in a civil partnership at the time of death. Partners who are informally separated from the deceased can still inherit under intestacy rules.
Many famous people are reported to have died intestate. Legal battles over the estate of legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix are reported to have lasted 30 years. Other famous musicians/singers include Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain, Sonny Bono and Barry White. Former US president Abraham Lincoln (who was assassinated in 1865, and, ironically, a lawyer by profession) died intestate, as reportedly did Pablo Picasso, eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes, Diana, Princess of Wales, Stieg Larsson (author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and TV presenter Jill Dando.
Whether rich or not, famous or not, few things are more hurtful or undignified as the spectacle of relatives squabbling over an estate. And as viewers of BBC TV fly-on-the-wall series Heir Hunters will know, if there are no surviving relatives who can inherit under the rules of intestacy, the estate passes to the Crown, which is known as bona vacantia.
Interestingly, “Under constitutional law dating back to medieval times”, in the past six years HRH The Prince of Wales (AKA the Duke of Cornwall) is reported to have received £1m from the estates of those who have died without wills in Cornwall (totalling £552,000 in 2012 alone). For the past 40 years, Prince Charles has opted to give the money to charity.
No matter how old or young you are, the message is clear. If you want to avoid creating any more heartache, hassle or expense for those you leave behind and ensure that your estate is distributed in accordance with your wishes, you must have an explicit, thorough, legally valid will drawn up. Seeking tailored legal advice is wise, especially where circumstances are more complicated than usual (eg if you have step children or own multiple properties). It’s probably a good idea to seek inheritance tax advice, too.
Mark Williams is editor of the Start Up Donut.
The mobile phone has revolutionised the way we communicate, and they are used in all areas of modern life. But their popularity has had some negative impacts on society, not least of which are the risks mobile phones pose when used by someone driving a vehicle. In the UK, the law has had to adapt quickly to meet the challenges posed by this technology, and now it is illegal to use a mobile phone while in charge of a vehicle.
This legislation covers mobile phone usage in relation to all vehicles, including motorcycles. As well as being illegal to receive or make phone calls, it is illegal to send and receive messages and to access the internet with a mobile device while driving or riding. Even if a driver is stopped at traffic lights, or is in a traffic queue, it is still against the law.
The law has been formulated based on research aimed at showing how much slower reaction times can be if a driver is using a mobile device. Compared to drivers who have been drinking alcohol at the legal limit, for example, reaction times are 30% slower in drivers using mobiles at the wheel - according to the government's DirectGov website. Research also suggests that a driver is four-times more likely to crash when using a mobile while driving or riding, compared to someone who has been drinking at the legal limit.
It is also illegal to use a mobile device if you are sitting in the passenger seat in charge of a learner driver. Additionally, if you are an employer and you ask your employees to make or receive phone calls while they are driving, you may also face prosecution.
If the police catch you using your mobile phone while driving or riding a vehicle, you will be subject to a fixed penalty notice of £60. In addition, you will have three penalty points on your licence. But if the police decide to take you to court you may face a fine of up to £1,000, and receive a full driving ban.
If you are in charge of a bus or a heavy goods vehicle and get caught using a mobile phone, you may face a fine of up to £2,500, and lose your licence.
Under the New Drivers Act, if you get six penalty points in the first two years of driving, you'll lose your licence. Only after re-sitting and passing another driving test would you be permitted to drive again.
There are only few scenarios in which you are permitted to use a mobile phone: when you are safely parked up, if you are a passenger (not in charge of a learner driver), or if you need to make an emergency 999 call.
The use of sat-navs, two-way radios and hands free phones whilst driving is not illegal, but if the police believe you are not fully in control of your vehicle because of them, you may face the same penalties as listed above.
Written by James Sheehan, a passionate blogger with past legal experience.
This post was written on behalf of Law on the Web
The days when secret passwords were the staple of children’s books and not a part of everyday life are long past. Increasingly, the issue of what to do about Internet passwords and, to a lesser extent, internet property, is proving problematic for executors.
Some people might be tempted to list their internet passwords in their will, so that their executors can readily access their web-based assets. Leaving aside the issue that passwords may later be changed, caution should be used here, as the will is a public document when probate has been granted. It is probably better to keep a list of passwords to internet assets in a secure place and to make sure the location is known to your executor.
If a person who dies has bank accounts accessible via the web, these are not ‘virtual assets’ but ordinary assets of the estate.
Sentimental assets, such as videos and social networking posts, are not normally of value unless created by a person with a paying audience. They would not normally be valued as part of an estate, but the deceased’s family may well want to retain them.
Assets paid for but held online, or those that are licensed as opposed to owned (collections of music are likely to fall into this category), are normally of little or no value. Assets of value are likely to be those that are the copyright of the deceased person. Many businesses use ‘the cloud’ for data processing and storage, so access may be of critical importance for continuation of the business.
It is sensible to think about the sort of data you have and how it is accessed and then to make sure that your executor will have a list of:
The internet will create challenges for many executors. Giving advance consideration to what those might be for the executor of your estate, and taking the appropriate steps, will make their job a lot easier.
This blog was provided by Paul Lowery of BP Collins
Going to court can be a stressful experience, made all the more so by unfamiliarity with the surroundings and what is expected of you, so here are a few tips to help you on the day.
Read more about road traffic offences in:
By Martin Langan, the founder of Road Traffic Representation, an online tool that allows you work out how serious your offence is, what the likely outcome is, and whether you need legal representation or not.
The heartbreak of losing a loved one is always hard. Dealing with the immediate aftermath is a blur of practicalities mixed with emotion and, once the funeral is over, then begins the uphill struggle of dealing with the administration of the estate.
Where a prudent approach and good planning has been involved, this usually means going through a will with a solicitor and dividing up the goods and chattels as instructed by the deceased. Imagine how distressing it can be then, to discover that a will is going to be contested – something that more and more families find themselves having to deal with for a variety of reasons.
The family of the late TV personality Sir Jimmy Savile face just such an ordeal after a woman alleging to be his illegitimate daughter lodged a claim against his £7.8m estate, the vast majority of which he left to charity. They are now awaiting the outcome of a DNA test the claimant hopes will prove her case. The claim was made under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, which says that everyone has an obligation to look after their spouse, children and other dependants.
In another court hearing, a couple’s adopted son went all the way to the Court of Appeal after missing out on an inheritance because his parents, for whom he had been sole carer, inadvertently signed each other’s wills instead of their own due to a simple administrative error. The mistake, which was only discovered after they died, meant that as far as the law was concerned, the couple had died intestate, enabling their two biological sons, to whom they were not close, to inherit the estate.
These examples show how much inheritance matters and underline the importance of accuracy and clarity when writing a will. It doesn’t matter if you belong to an extremely wealthy family or are from a more modest background, when loved ones miss out on assets they feel entitled to because of an honest mistake or family politics, it can be devastating.
Contentious probate is one of the fastest-growing areas of litigation, with more and more people willing to take legal action to try and recover money they believe is theirs. We see increasing numbers of cases where individuals and families are at war because the right level of advice wasn’t sought in the first place and details are being misinterpreted or left open to challenge from disappointed beneficiaries.
The tragedy is that it’s all too easy for legal fees to outweigh the value of an estate, and the heartache and time taken make it extremely hard for the family at the centre of the dispute, who simply want to be able to move on with their lives as best they can.
Making your will last a lifetime will require regular reviews to ensure it reflects your current situation and allows those you want to benefit to be safely and securely looked after. It’s not something you – or your family – can afford to get wrong.
Craig Williams is a partner in the litigation and dispute resolution team at Buckinghamshire law firm BP Collins LLP.
When a married couple separate or divorce they often need to divide up their assets and deal with any liabilities so that they can both move forward. The law considers marriage a partnership and if a couple resort to the courts, the courts will take into account all assets the couple possess, whether together or separately. Below is a summary of the ‘section 25 factors’ which are enshrined in the Matrimonial Causes Act. In particular the court will consider:
1. The income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each of them has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future
2. The financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future
3. The standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage
4. The age of each party to the marriage and the duration of the marriage
5. Any physical or mental disability of either of the parties the marriage
6. The contribution which each of the couple has made or is likely to make to the welfare of the family and this includes looking after the home or caring for the family
7. In extreme cases, the conduct of either spouse
8. The value of any benefit which will be lost on divorce, for instance pension rights.
It is better both financially and emotionally for couples to negotiate if at all possible either between themselves or through mediation rather than resorting to the courts, and the above factors can be taken into account in the negotiations. Together a couple can decide which factors are most important to them in order to achieve a realistic settlement rather than leaving it to the court to decide on an arrangement which may be less attractive to both parties. But the court is always a last resort.
From a legal point of view the situation for unmarried couples separating is very different in terms of division of assets.
The law focuses on property rights, rather than taking into account the above factors to help achieve a fair and realistic settlement.
For unmarried couples it is sometimes possible for an individual to argue that they made a contribution to an asset not in joint names. They can go to court to try and prove it but litigation can be very expensive, can take a long time and the outcome can be very uncertain.
For an unmarried couple mediation can be very beneficial because there they can consider whether they have they to all intents and purposes lived together as if they were married. If the answer to this is 'yes' then it is perfectly possible to negotiate a settlement together which to them seems realistic and fair, taking into account some of the above factors rather than just looking at property rights.
If a couple has children, and both parents are really putting the interests of the children first, they will want to find a fair financial outcome that everyone can live with and will want to maintain a reasonable relationship where they can continue to communicate as parents. Simply dividing up finances looking at the law and property rights may make this hard to achieve. Where there are children often one partner’s earning power is greater than the other but the law as it stands would not take this into account for an unmarried couple. Justice, it seems, is not always fair.
Frances Place is a qualified solicitor and partner in a family mediation service.
Fierce controversy has characterised discussions this month of whether separated fathers should have the right to equal time with their children. In November 2011, the Family Justice Review rejected the idea – but by February 2012, children's Minister Tim Loughton had stated it was important that decent and loving fathers are not pushed out of their children's lives.
The latest news from Government is that when disputes are settled in court, it will promise to find ways to ensure that every father has a right to access to their children, unless he poses a safety or welfare risk. An extra £10 million will be available to parents for mediation to reduce the number of children’s contact cases going to court - because if both parents are to maintain meaningful relationships with their children cooperation is key, and acrimonious court proceedings don’t help.
However, the fundamental discussion should be in every case what the children need: whether it is equal time with both parents, some sort of sharing arrangement, the right to contact with one parent or no contact at all.
These pointers indicate when a shared, although not necessarily equal , pattern of care might work - suitability may well depend on whether each parents answers yes or no to the questions:
The length of this list shows you just how important cooperation is. If you're prepared to begin negotiating with your ex-partner regarding the care of your children, then it’s time to consider making an appointment for mediation.
Frances Place, Partner at Progressive Mediation
As the divorce peak reaches its annual high in the early months of the year, you may want to know what courts actually do about living arrangements for your children. You might, for instance, be sent on a Separated Parent Information Programme (SPIP) – but if you’re dreading yet more argument, cost and conflict, Frances Place explains this is the last place you’ll find it…
If you are separating or divorcing and you have made an application to the court to sort out living arrangements for your children the court may have ordered you to attend a Separated Parent Information Programme (SPIP). You may feel reluctant to attend. You may want to know more what is involved.
Attending a SPIP will give you the opportunity to meet other people in conflict with their ex-partners over arrangements for the children and give you the opportunity to hear from two experienced trainers, often mediators, about the impact of divorce and separation on children and to discuss ideas to help reduce conflict and improve communication between you and your ex-partner. Research has shown the separation doesn't have to harm children if it is handled well; it is conflict that has a negative effect.
You will watch a DVD made by children that follows a family through a separation. The film focuses on what children feel as their parents separate and what they need from their parents.
There are discussions and tips on how you can try and communicate better with your former partner, even if they are being very difficult and do not seem to be cooperating. There are discussions about the emotional aspects of divorce and separation, tips on helping you look after yourself and on how you can move forward, putting the past behind you.
Parents are sometimes reluctant to attend but most parents who do attend find it a very helpful experience.
Putting the past conflict as a couple behind you isn't always easy; talking to other parents in similar situations and hearing from experienced trainers can sometimes help give you ideas on how to move forward and find ways of working together as separated parents.
Amongst other things, you will learn that:
1. You should try not to fight in front of the children or ask them to choose sides.
2. Your children may have different feelings to yours.
3. You should think about what you can do, not what your ex-partner should or shouldn't do.
4. You should focus on what has worked, not on what hasn't worked.
5. Small steps can lead to big changes.
6. Look after yourself and be the best parent you can.
So if you are ordered to attend a SPIP don't be negative or try and avoid going; you will hopefully find it a useful and informative day.
Frances Place is a qualified solicitor and partner in a family mediation service.
This week, traditionally the busiest time for family lawyers dealing with post-Christmas-stress divorce enquiries, here are Colin Mitchell's reflections on the implications of December's Family Justice Review.
So, the long-awaited Family Justice Review, by the former senior civil servant David Norgrove, has now been released. One particular issue which made the headlines is that children should not automatically have the legal right to split their time equally between the mother and the father after their parents have separated (as Norgrove had suggested in his interim report might be one of his recommendations). Some fathers’ action groups have been disappointed with this, as they had hoped to be granted the legal guarantee that their children would have to spend an equal amount of time with them, rather than the children possibly spending the majority of time with their mother.
However, although the fathers’ action groups are disappointed by this part of the Review, the underlying principle of Children Law remains the same; the welfare of a child remains the paramount consideration.
Therefore, what the Family Justice Review has done is recognised that every case is different and that a “one rule fits all” approach is not appropriate in family cases. Current Family Law must still be considered in light of a family’s unique circumstances. When a judge has to make a decision, the law still allows him or her to tailor that decision to fit the unique needs of the children concerned. In some cases, this may result in children spending more time with their mother, but in other cases the time the children spend with their parents can be split more equally. Sometimes, the children spend the majority of time with their father.
However, it’s almost always better that a family problem is resolved outside of court, perhaps using Mediation or the Collaborative Family Law process. These processes not only provide a tailored solution but also provide the opportunity for non-legal professionals to become involved to help the parents focus on the children, not just themselves.
What any decent family law specialist needs to provide is bespoke advice on how exactly the law can apply to particular circumstances, by recognising that every case is
different, whilst also working with experienced and skilled non-legal partners.
When your relationship has crumbled, and you want to cut your ties as soon as possible, it seems easy to head straight to a divorce solicitor. But there is another way.
Whether you’re married, cohabiting or just have children together, mediation is the calmer and cheaper way forward. As part of a rethink in the way that separations are handled in this country, mediation is being promoted as the first port of call. The Family Justice Review has recommended increased provision of mediation at an early stage to prevent cases ending up in court with no good reason.
The changes were prompted by concern about the huge sums of public money spent on divorce and separation as well as the long-term effects on children and society of couples who remain in conflict for years after they have split. Whereas a divorce can cost thousands in legal fees, mediation can come in at a tenth of the cost.
As from this April, anyone considering making an application to the court to sort out arrangements with their ex about the children or their finances following separation must attend an initial Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) with a mediator. An assessment can then be made about the best way forward, for example by working through a parenting agreement in mediation.
The new proposals in the Family Justice Review - if implemented - will enshrine this in legislation and, in addition, say that If children are involved, both parents must also attend a Separated Parent Information Programme (SPIP) to discuss ways of minimising conflict and increasing communication, with the expectation they will then attend mediation. Only after they have attended a MIAM and SPIP can they make an application to the court.
A family mediator will sit down and work out with a separating couple how to divide any assets up in a practical, realistic and fair way. We start by setting out certain guidelines. Neither party is allowed to interrupt or speak over the other person, for example; we know that it is important that people listen to each other.
Mediation can be possible with the most polarised of couples. Mediators work out why exes can get angry with each other - it’s usually fear of some sort, such as the prospect of losing the children. Once their other half has reassured them, they can start talking.
A major mediation goal is to make sure children’s views are taken into account and that they are listened to – we usually see children aged from 7 upwards. There is increasing evidence that children's needs will be met by minimising conflict between their parents and assisting parents to communicate in a constructive way together about their children.
Research shows that 12 years after separation, couples who have gone through the mediation process are still reaping the rewards with a much happier outcome and an ability to communicate as parents in the interests of their children.
Susan and Nick came to see me recently. They were still living in the same house. Susan wanted to stay in the family home with their two children, a six-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl. Tension was rising because Nick was refusing to move out of the house. Nick told me he was terrified he was going to lose the children and that is why he wouldn't move out. He did not want to be a ‘Saturday’ parent.
Putting the legal terminology aside, such as custody, access, residence and contact, we spent the session focusing on the reality of their day-to-day lives and what arrangements were possible. Using a flip chart, we worked out a schedule of arrangements for the children which suited both parents’ working patterns and the children's activities.
Sarah and Tom came to mediation. They wanted to separate and reach a financial settlement and work through the idea of a shared arrangement for their two-year-old daughter.
The couple spent the sessions looking into the practical side of how 50-50 shared care pattern would work in reality. They talked about nurseries, bedtimes, dropping off plans, birthdays, holidays, extended families and telephone calls.
Splitting the sessions in half, Sarah and Tom were able to work through financial issues too and reach an agreement to move them both forward, enabling them both to buy a new property.
If you think family mediation might help you or anyone you know look at my website and get in touch.
As the Legal Ombudsman raises the alarm about online will-writers, Georgina Harris explains why attractively cheap deals could turn ugly in the future
A new report by the nation’s law watchdog, the Legal Ombudsman, slams the increasing number of online ‘legal services’ firms that pop up only to vanish with customers’ money – or leave clients with worthless paperwork for their most important life decisions.
The report, which, reveals the public’s complaints about the legal profession that the Ombudsman has received since it opened in 2010, highlights the serious trouble often faced by those buying legal services online. Unlike lawyers, who work to professional standards, online will-writing firms don’t need a single qualification to offer their services. Many people, attracted by low prices, click on a bargain, convincingly legal-looking logo, behind which hides an entirely unqualified and unregulated firm.
The Ombudsman cites the case of Mr and Mrs T, who sent a cheque for over £1,500 to a will-writer they found online. Not only is this double what a decent lawyer charges for a family will, when the T’s precious paperwork arrived, they saw “a standard document with a few minor personal details inserted”. When the Ts complained that “they could have done [it] themselves by getting a pack from a stationers” (WH Smith, £10), they received no response. As an unregulated firm, the Ombudsman can’t help. The Ts are left with no valid will, and, in any case, a lot less money for their old age.
“Phoenix” firms, which the Ombudsman says have increased in number, “close and re-open as different structures, leaving the fall out for their individual customers”. As the Ombudsman points out, regardless of whether it decides a customer has been cheated – through the non-appearance of a will, for instance, or for a badly drafted one – if the firm has disappeared, so does the customers’ money.
The Ombudsman says, with admirable reservation, that buying online “comes with its own set of specific issues for consumers, not least when something goes wrong.”
Ironically, this report comes at a time when old-age planning and will-making are ever more essential to all our lives. Houses are worth more, inheritance tax affects ordinary people as well as the rich, and the eye-watering costs of care need careful thought – not to mention ensuring proper protection and care for those in later life. It might come as a surprise to realise that in the UK none of this can be done informally – set legal wording is required for everything from gifting trinkets in your will to naming the relations who will take care of you and/or your money in case of, say, medical emergency.
Savvy people congratulate themselves on preparing for their dotage well in advance – but as the Ombudsman points out: “the nature of legal services is that, usually, the flaw in the service is not apparent until the end – or many years later.” Is an ‘online discount’ worth ending up with an invalid Power of Attorney when you are bedbound and unable to pay medical bills, or your children finding out a typing error took their shares in the family business? While the Ombudsman and the Law Commission work out how to deal with unscrupulous or incomptetent firms, a lawyer remains the only safe bet.
Georgina Harris, Law Donut editor
From next year, employers will have to pay part of their staff’s pension contributions. David Impey explains what you should know – and do
From 2012, employers will need to start enrolling their employees into either a ‘qualifying pension scheme’ or the new state NEST scheme. Designed to make sure that more low-to-medium earners save for their retirement, the new Government scheme will be funded mostly by employees, with the rest paid by the firm in a contribution that will eventually rise to at least 3 per cent of each salary.
At the moment, employers do not have any legal obligation to contribute to an employees’ pension scheme, so firms nationwide will face more expense when the new law kicks in. That’s why the new rules are being phased in for different-sized businesses over four years from 1 October 2012. Businesses with under 250 employees start contributing in 2014.
How much will it cost?
Costs will vary for each business. The Government estimates administration will cost £46 per employee – but the Federation of Small Businesses puts the expense of admin and contributions for a small business with four workers earning £25,000 at £2,550 a year. Your budget should cover both setting up and running a scheme, and your monthly employer contributions.
When the scheme starts for your size of firm, your first job is to work out who among your workforce needs to be enrolled. Any employee over 22 but below the state pension age who earns between £5,035 and £33,540 should be signed up. These earnings include salary, bonuses, commission and overtime, so you may need to spend time totting up the exact pay of all your staff before you finalise the list.
You then need to make your main decision – choosing the right pension scheme. To be a valid ‘qualifying’ scheme, the pension you pick must be:
To show you comply, you must register with the Pensions Regulator. Contributions must be made starting at two per cent of qualifying earnings in total, and rising to at least 8 per cent by 2017 - when at least 3 per cent of that must come from the employer. Employees can opt out within 30 days, but are automatically re-enrolled every three years, when they must decide whether to opt out again.
How do I get pension that does well for the staff?
For businesses, finding the right pension could be tricky - different employees have such different needs. Your job is to make people of various ages, with different attitudes to risk and varying financial literacy, happy. Many employees may already have made their own retirement plans. However, recent Government announcements mean employers can start thinking sensibly about what to choose.
Now the universal basic state pension for all has been put in motion, it’s less likely that employees will opt out of their firm’s scheme. Your employees will get a flat rate payment of £140 a week in retirement. This won’t be means-tested (as pension benefits are now), so it won’t put people off saving for themselves. And your employees should be able to tell you know how much extra above the state pension they will need to put into their pension pot to meet their retirement aims.
More importantly, last month NEST announced its investment strategy and targets. The default state-run scheme has immediately run into trouble. NEST proposes to aim for growth equivalent to the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) plus 3 per cent. The industry norm is more like CPI plus 5 per cent. For employees paying into NEST for several decades, this could cut their retirement income by tens of thousands of pounds. Your employees won’t thank you for enrolling them in a scheme like that.
However, some pension pundits are suggesting that NEST will become the benchmark for other pension schemes, so that private providers may gradually downgrade their existing investment targets to low NEST levels.
NEST also says it plans to invest younger savers in low-risk assets at first rather than, as is more usual in the pensions industry, starting them on higher risk assets (because, if losses are made, it’s better to make them earlier when the scheme has longer to recover them). NEST say this is because their research shows that younger employees are likely to opt out if they see the value of their pension pot fluctuating/dropping, so it’s better not to do anything risky in the early years.
Nearer the time, you may also need to consider these issues:
So start thinking – and get advice from your pensions adviser so you’re ready with the answers when the workers cotton on to their smaller wage slips. Which won’t be long.