Archive | Self-Representation

Faulty online divorce Form E

Form e financial disclosure

As we discovered just before Christmas, the online divorce Form E provided on the Court website was faulty.  It appears a section of the Form which summarises, amongst other things, the capital and income of divorcing couples, failed to carry forward the liabilities from an earlier section.  The result was that the net capital values produced in the summary section may have been falsely inflated by missing out any liabilities.

The person who claims to have noticed the error (a self-styled family expert)  used the publicity to criticise solicitors, barristers and judges for not having noticed it themselves.   This fed into the usual lawyer-bashing on public forums and comment pages.  Most family lawyers were taken aback by this particular slew of criticism because:

  • It is the Court service’s form, so nothing to do with lawyers;
  • 99% of family lawyers don’t use the court’s online Form E as we pay to have our own software;
  • Family lawyers pay no attention to the summary page of the Form E anyway as it is not helpfully laid out and does little to aid understanding;
  • The Form E financial information is quickly superceded by later rounds of  financial disclosure any way;
  • Family lawyers tend to reproduce the Form E information in separate Excel spread sheets (to model likely settlement options) so any error would be quickly spotted.

In short, although I have not been slow to have a pop at my fellow lawyers on the pages of this blog, I did think this particular story, as a vehicle to slag off family lawyers, was a bum rap.

The real story is that LiPs have been let down.   These people, the vast majority of this blog’s readership, cannot afford legal advice or struggle to maintain paid legal representation.  I’m guessing it would be LiPs in the main who would have been using the Court service online Form E.  I mean: it’s there to use, it’s free, and it’s on the official court website, so it must be safe to use, right?  Right?

The Minister responsible issued a statement to Parliament: “Update on investigation into faulty online form used in divorce proceedings”.  We now know the number of people likely to have been affected:

A total of 36,527 cases contain a version of Form E filed from these periods. HMCTS staff have now reviewed all these cases and found that 3,638 files – 10% – contained the faulty calculator version of Form E with an incorrect figure for net assets figure in the summary table.

1,403 of these cases are still live, allowing HMCTS to intervene immediately to clearly flag these cases to the courts in order to avoid the error affecting the final orders in these cases.

The remaining 2,235 files – 6.1% – were closed cases….I have instructed HMCTS to write to all parties in the 2,235 closed cases. The letter expresses our sincere regret for the error, sets out what happened and explains that, although Form E is just one part of the evidence used in their case, there remains a possibility that the error affected the final outcome.”

If you are one of the people with a closed case receiving a letter from the court service you will need to work out whether you may have been prejudiced by the software error.  Apparently, the letter sets out the options available for those parties who think they have been adversely affected, which includes seeking to set aside any final order made or varying such an order.  The letter also contains a link to a specific court form to be used by those who wish to set aside or vary their settlements.  If anyone has received such a letter or has the link I would be happy to post a copy (suitably anonymised) on this blog.

If there is anyone out there who thinks they are affected but has not yet contacted the court to register their concerns then please use the specially designated email address:  formE@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk.  Only 51 people have done so as at 21 January 2016.

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Online divorce for fixed fee

Online Divorce

 

Regular readers of my blog will be used to me referring to my ‘day job’: as a family solicitor and collaborative lawyer at Brighton based Family Law Partners.  I am fortunate to work with a really strong team which is highly rated in the independent legal directories such as Chambers & Partners and also the Legal 500.  We specialise in offering our clients bespoke services such as mediation and collaborative law which usually involves face-to-face contact.

However, in a small but signifiant shift, we decided some time ago that we would open up access to our online divorce document platform.  My blog subscribers will know that that has been an aim of mine for some time. Our online document platform allows our clients to create their own divorce or civil partnership dissolution documents any time of the day or night.  Then they just let us know when we can review and approve the documents for them.   Previously, we kept such innovations strictly available only to our full-service clients who in the main are drawn from around the South East.

Why online divorce services?

I have tended to think of online divorce services as absolutely fine if the primary need is the processing of the divorce papers in a very straightforward case.  I regarded online divorce services as suitable for uncontested divorces.  As any decent divorce lawyer will know, there are some important strategic considerations to be kept in mind when completing divorce documents.  It is not as straightforward as might be thought.  The contents of a divorce petition can have an impact upon related proceedings dealing with the children or with the finances.

One of the drawbacks with purely online divorce packages appeared to me to be the need for the big players to deal with as many cases as they can.  They need high volume and low operating costs. But it does mean that if you look at the small print in certain of these online divorce websites  it will say that if you want legal advice you must go and speak to a lawyer.  In other words, the people who process the divorce forms are not legally qualified.  If you google ‘online divorce’ you will see the same handful of providers jostling for space at the top of the first page.  Google must make a fortune out of those sponsored links!

My firm is extremely busy.  We are fortunate in that. Did you know that 1,000 high street legal firms have closed down in the last year?  It is quite astonishing.  The disappearance of high street legal firms means that some people will have to rely upon getting online assistance with their divorces and utilise fixed fees.  But they should still get legal advice.  By that, I mean, proper, fully qualified legal advice.  When I look up from my PC at work in our open plan office, I can see a highly experienced legal team – between us we have over 80 years of legal experience, of every sort of case, involving clients from every walk of life.  That experience is hard won. But we regard it as an investment for our future clients.

We know that legal aid has disappeared for most family law cases (but not mediation – remember that please). So although we are busy, we have decided to offer our online divorce platform to the wider public.  This service will not be advertised on my firm’s website – it will only be offered to a small section of the public – mainly to the readers of the Divorce Finance Toolkit blog.  By keeping the take up of this service relatively modest, we can continue to offer proper legal review, from highly experienced lawyers,  to our online divorce clients at a fixed price.

Best of all, I am grateful to my team for letting me offer an exclusive 15% discount for this service to the readers of my blog.  Aside from divorce documents and civil partnership dissolution documents, we also have a pre-nuptial agreement package and a separation deed package.  Click on the banner at the top of the page.  If you decide to use the services please enter the following discount code to save yourself some money:

DFTFLPdisc1

The access to our online divorce services will be kept open for the foreseeable future but we will probably pull it if we get too busy as we would rather keep the quality of the service high by keeping the volume of users low.

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Litigant in person ‘not entitled to indulgence’

 

All the fun of the (un)Fair

I have written before about the difficulties encountered by self-reppers when trying to deal with the court system.  The courts are braced for a significant rise in the number of litigants in person when legal aid is removed from the grasp of most people requiring family law help in April 2013.

The spotlight will be on the courts (and judges in particular) to see how the reasonable demands of access to justice from the growing band of self-reppers will be met from the dwindling resources at the court system’s disposal.  There have already been severe cuts to the number of court staff.  I could wheel out some stats at this point but the reality on the ground says it all.  Most courts have public counters.  This is where you go if you need to grab some court forms or hand in court papers.  They used to be open to the general public from 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon.  There might sometimes be a bit of queue but there appeared to be enough staff around, hiding behind the screens, to come and help when things got busy.  Not any more.  Most courts now have restricted opening hours for their public counters.  My local court operates on half days.  If you want to issue a document and it is not screamingly urgent, then hard luck.

But what about the experience in court itself?  In a recent case in the Court of Appeal,  Lord Justice Kay, vice-president of the Court of Appeal, said that a particular self-repper’s lack of legal understanding did not entitle him to ‘extra indulgence’.  The Judge went on to say: ‘It seems to me that, on any view, the fact that a litigant in person “did not really understand” or “did not appreciate” the procedural courses open to him for months does not entitle him to extra indulgence.’

Having had a quick glance through the judgment it does appear that this particular self-repper had taken a few liberties.  But such cases are going to crop up in increasing numbers as we head into the economically austere, non-legal aid future.  This case prompted me to think about my own experiences with self-reppers.  My reflection was sharpened by the editorial comment in my professions’s trade mag: The Law Society Gazette which said about the case:

The finding will comfort solicitors facing a soaring number of self-represented opponents.

Unfortunately, I find little comfort in the finding.  I have represented clients whose ex-partners were self-repping.  Some of those people could have afforded legal representation.  Some could not.  Certain individuals were perfectly pleasant and decent and I tried to help them as much as I could without overstepping my own professional boundaries.  Other individuals had what I can only describe as ‘issues’.

Those issues used to be in relation to my client, usually in a divorce, but as the case went on, those issues would magically transfer themselves to me. Before long, I was the villain: lying to the judge; destroying a perfectly happy family; morally bankrupt; financially grasping; without a single shred of human decency or understanding.  In case I was too thick to get the message I could often rely upon the self-repper’s extended family to helpfully shout out my failings at the next court hearing.

If you have both parties legally represented then, in most cases, you can concentrate on the issues that the judge will consider relevant.  But more than that, a lawyer can help, constructively and patiently, to manage a client’s expectations of what can be acheived.  So, those self-reppers in the past who hated my guts could have had their own lawyer explain that I really wasn’t out to destroy them.  All that time and energy distrusting every word I said or letter I wrote just hopelessly, and sadly, prolonged the whole shouting match.  And don’t forget that my own client in this scenario, paying for my legal advice, ends up paying a whole lot more because their self-repping ex needs, at best, to have everything explained to them, and at worst, just wants to be as bloody-minded as possible to keep those bills racking up.

But despite some pretty horrible experiences with one or two self-reppers who had these proverbial ‘issues’ with the cut of my jib, I find myself largely sympathetic to the plight of litigants in person.  How do you make sense of a legal code or procedure that some lawyers struggle to understand?  I once jokingly quoted a small section of the costs rules in a previous blog from the Practice Direction accompanying Part 28 of the Family Proceedings Rules (FPR 2010). This states:

Rule 28.2 provides that subject to rule 28.3 of the FPR and to paragraph (2) of rule 28.2, Parts 43, 44 (except rules 44.3(2) and (3), 44.9 to 44.12C, 44.13(1A) and (1B) and 44.18 to 20), 47 and 48 and rule 45.6 of the CPR apply to costs in family proceedings with the modifications listed in rule 28.2(1)(a) to (d).

I mean, for Christ’s sake, how are self-reppers meant to get their non-legal melons around that one?

And, in the interests of fairness, whilst most solicitors have a few horror stories about self-reppers, the legal profession does not always cover itself in glory.  I must not say anything to bring the legal profession into disrepute and I wouldn’t dream of doing so.  I will only observe that there are some members of the legal profession who are tossers misunderstood, with egotistical extrovert personalities who are  arrogant forthright, long-winded articulate, and utterly pompous possessed of remarkable gravitas.

Since this blog is intentionally aimed at the public, rather than my friends and peers in the legal profession, I know that a fair few self-reppers visit my site, so I would be interested to hear their views in the comments section below.

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Form A (for dismissal purposes only)

Form A – Notice of intention to proceed with an application for a financial order

Form A (for dismissal purposes only)

Form A is the document used to start a financial claim in divorce or civil partnership proceedings.  A fair amount of confusion appears to arise when solicitors ask their clients or the self-repping ex-partners of their clients to complete and return a Form A for dismissal purposes only.

Layla recently asked me:

My ex husband and I have been asked to provide a form for dismissal purposes only as we are not seeking a financial settlement do we have to complete one?

Well, I’m not sure who is asking Layla to provide a form but it is likely to be a Form A (pictured above).  This is the form used in divorce proceedings in the Principal Registry or county courts.  If the financial claims are not arising within divorce proceedings, such as Schedule I financial claims under the Children Act 1989, then Form A1 is used.  Any financial claim in the Magistrates’ Court uses Form A2.

Layla refers to neither her or her ex-husband seeking a financial settlement.  Just to be clear: even if Layla and her ex are dismissing all financial claims between them this is still ‘a settlement’.  So, I’m guessing that Layla and her ex have also just negotiated and signed a consent order.

Why Form A (for dismissal purposes only)?

When a Petitioner in divorce files his or her divorce petition, they complete (or should complete!) a page at the back ticking the boxes of various financial claims.  The divorce petition then proceeds through the court and, hopefully, a financial settlement is agreed which results in a document called a consent order.  This consent order, once agreed and signed by the parties is submitted to the court for approval by a judge.  At this point, the only party who has indicated any intention to apply for a financial order is the Petitioner at the back of the divorce petition.  The Court has not yet heard anything from the Respondent about the financial claims they may wish to make.

So, family lawyers simply ask the Respondent to complete a Form A (so that person is opening up their financial claims) but to mark across the top of the Form A “FOR DISMISSAL PURPOSES ONLY”.  This Form A accompanies the consent order to the Court and is a signal to the judge that the Respondent’s financial claims are limited to the terms of the consent order for which approval is sought.

For many years, the courts only seemed to require Form A (for dismissal purposes only) from a Respondent spouse but of late, it has become prudent to also ask the Petitioner to complete a Form A (for dismissal purposes).

The procedure

As for the procedure to lodge the consent order, there can be slight variations between the courts but you will probably need to:

1. Provide two copies of the draft order (that is, two unsigned copies) and a third version which is signed by both parties and any legal advisers who are providing representation;

2. A statement of information form (one for each party). The form can be filled out online or printed off for completion at leisure by visiting http://hmctsformfinder.justice.gov.uk/courtfinder/forms/d081-eng.pdffor If this link does not work then visit the Justice.gov.uk website, go to the Form finder search box and type in Form D81.

3. The appropriate fee – which is, at time of typing, £45.00.

4. Form A, for both parties, which must be completed and then have written across the top “dismissal purposes only”. You can find the Form A, if this link works, at http://hmctsformfinder.justice.gov.uk/courtfinder/forms/form-a-eng.pdf. If the link does not work then go to the Justice.gov.uk website again and type Form A into the form finder search box.

I hope that helps.  Good luck.

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McKenzie Friends in the Scottish Family Court

Is that the high road or the low road?

Family lawyers are still pondering how the family justice system is going to cope with the withdrawal of legal aid for divorce financial proceedings and the growth of self-reppers or Litigants in Person. The Government appears keen to take the family lawyers out of the equation if at all possible. It even appears keen to take the State out of the equation judging by the anticipated new statutory child support scheme slated to commence in October of this year and the renewed drive to divert potential litigants towards mediation. This new statutory child support scheme will, by the way, re-double its efforts to encourage parents to reach their own maintenance arrangements. I have no quibble with that aspiration but sufficient resources need to be retained by the State to assist those people who cannot resolve their own differences whether it be arising out of divorce, the separation of co-habitees, or general child welfare issues.

There have been developments north of the border (that’s Scotland, for those of my readers based outside the jurisdiction of the English court) that might have Kenneth Clarke, Secretary of State for Justice, very excited.  To explain his potential state of jurisprudential arousal, I should remind my readers that the traditional forum for settling differences between warring spouses or partners is the family court.  But the constant pressures on legal aid has meant fewer lawyers and more self-reppers in the precincts of the court.   The court administration (and Ministry of Justice officials)  know that the level of self-representation will rise, and one way of assisting such self-reppers (and prevent court business from grinding to a halt)  is to allow them to bring to the court a McKenzie Friend. I referred to McKenzie friends in one of my previous posts, which was intended to provide help and guidance for self-reppers.

But there are restrictions on what a Mckenzie friend can do in court. They can whisper in the ear and provide moral support and guidance.  But, most importantly, they are not court advocates and therefore not in court to represent the litigant in person. I have come across services that advertise themselves as a professional McKenzie friend, by attending court and completing court forms. Some services even offer to negotiate settlements for spouses which is certainly beyond the role most judges would expect the Mckenzie Friend to perform. It is not clear what training, qualification or experience underwrites the quality of such services. So the McKenzie Friend can perform a useful function but cannot speak on behalf of the self-repper in court. That would amount to court advocacy and, presently, only a tightly defined group of professionals can hold themsleves out as court advocates: solicitors, barristers and legal executives being the best known examples.

So back to Scotland: I hear that the Scottish Parliament has enabled legislation which will allow Mckenzie friends to speak on behalf of litigants in court proceedings.  It would appear that the move, if successful, is a direct response to the fact that an increasing number of people cannot afford lawyers to do the honours in court.  This is very big news.  Even bigger if Mr Clarke likes what he sees and wants to import the model to the English and Welsh jurisdictions.  Get rid of legal aid.  Get rid of bleating lawyers.  Bring on the McKenzie friends.  Perfect.  No doubt, this new breed of McKenzie friend will be highly trained.  No doubt, they will be masters and mistresses of the relevant law, court procedure and, in the matter of family law cases, deeply appreciative of and responsive to, the various stages of denial, anger, grief and acceptance that mark the psychological terrain of the average family law client.

And, no doubt, these advocate McKenzie Friends will be insured to the hilt in the unlikely event their clients feel they have got it wrong.

 

 

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Child support: excluding the CSA

Child support: excluding the CSA

Full of cheer? The Christmas Order

Self-represenatation in family proceedings is difficult.  Many litigants in person, or ‘self-reppers’ find it hard to fund legal advice from a family specialist.  This is particularly so where the only dispute may be about an income claim such as child support because it is not as if you may recover a valuable asset or receive a lump sum out of which you can repay your legal fees at a later date.

When faced with a self-repper, a family solicitor (who, we must remember is an officer of the court) should try to assist the litigant in person to understand the process or the proposal being made.  This is not to say, that the solicitor must advise the self-repper: they cannot do that as it would be a conflict of interest with their role as an advisor to their own client.

I have a great deal of sympathy for self-reppers, as may be evident for any regular readers of this blog.  When facing them in court I go out of my way to be courteous and helpful, mindful always of the stressful nature of the proceedings in which we are all involved.  I have sometimes had self-reppers throw doubt upon my parentage, but I don’t mind as I know, in most cases, it is just the pressure of the situation getting to them.

Unfortunately, this pressure of the occasion at court can cloud the judgment or even hinder the understanding of self-reppers.  This is presuming of course, that the lawyer on the other side of the self-repper and the judge have sufficiently explained the situation to the self-repper.  This is the subject of a recent enquiry from a ‘troubled mum’:

My son settled in court to pay a woman he had a one night stand with £750.00 per month. This was at a stage 2 meeting. My son had to represent himself because he could not afford the legal fees. The barrister representing the applicant explained the order was a “christmas Order” which meant it could be looked at again if my son were to win the lottery or found himself without a job ( I was there I heard the barrister say this) We now have received a typed up copy of the court order that we agreed on the 3rd May to let a legal person look at it. We have been informed the words “Christmas Order” means it automatically goes up each year which we were definately not informed that this was the case. Can we ask the court to take out that clause because we were informed wrongly of its meaning please help this is a nightmare regards very troubled mum

As ever, with many of the enquiries I receive, I do not have all of the detail but my initial thoughts are as follows:

  • I wonder why this matter was not dealt with by the CSA.  The child’s mother could simply have referred the case to the CSA to make a maintenance assessment and fix the amount of child support.  No need for her to pay for a barrister (unless she had public funding – or legal aid).
  • Since the CSA were not involved I am presuming the case before the family court was under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 which can provide for financial orders between unmarried parents for the benefit of their biological child.  Such orders usually being:
    • Periodical payments (or child support)
    • lump sum orders (there can be more than one)
    • a property adjustment order (the provision of a house for the child and mother to live in) although the property will in most cases revert back to the father when the child reaches the age of majority.
  • If this case was being brought under Schedule I Children Act proceedings, then the father in this case could have referred himself to the CSA and the family court would no longer have the ability to make a periodical payments order.  The family court could still have made a lump sum order or a property adjustment order but whether the father had the financial means to meet such orders is not mentioned in the enquiry.  I suspect not.
  • The father has agreed (remember that the family court can only approve a child support order if it is with the consent of both parents) to a ‘Christmas Order’.  I have used such orders before but from memory I have only done so when my client’s spouse or partner has had legal representation.  This is because the Christmas Order attempts to oust the jurisdiction of the CSA (which, technically speaking, is against public policy).  Readers of this blog may remember that a court-approved child support order may only have a shelf life of just over 12 months because either parent can then refer the case to the CSA to take over and the family court order bites the dust.  A ‘Christmas Order’ is designed to automatically renew itself just before the 12 month period lapses so it is as if a new order is born out of the ashes of the preceding order each year.  Because the order never quite gets to be one year old before being renewed each year the CSA never gets to have jurisdiction.  The month of automatic renewal is usually December: hence the Christmas connection.   Clever. Unless you did not understand what you were signing up to.
  • A Christmas Order can be quite helpful in some circumstances but, as I mentioned earlier, I am troubled if the father of this child did not have a clear understanding of what he was agreeing to.  Without his consent this order could not have been made. Even if the barrister had not explained it clearly enough, I would have thought the judge, who approved the order, would have explained very clearly to the father what the Christmas Order entailed.  After, all it is an unusual order so the burden upon the barrister and the judge to assist the self-repper in this case is, in my view, even higher than normal.
  • The ‘troubled mum’ behind this enquiry and her son then consulted a ‘legal person’  with the result being: “We have been informed the words “Christmas Order” means it automatically goes up each year”.  That’s not right.  The Christmas Order operates as I have explained above: it automatically renews itself each year in such a way as to prevent the CSA having jurisdiction.  It would only go up in value each year if there was a specific clause saying that it will increase in value.  The normal mechanism for this to happen is to link the child support payments to the increase in the Retail Prices Index (RPI).  I have tried to explain how this operates in a number of posts on this blog. Again, I am troubled if the father in this case did not know he was agreeing to an automatic increase in the value of the payments each year.  Don’t get me wrong, I think such automatic increases can be a good thing but it is essential that all the parties (especially self-reppers) understand what they are agreeing to.)

Although I must reiterate again that I cannot advise anybody on the pages of this blog, one option open to the father is an appeal against the court order.  It will be an appeal against a consent order which makes it difficult to say the least but it may be worth a try if the father is certain that the order was not explained to him by the judge and that if it had been explained to him, he would not have agreed to it. The guidance for making such an appeal is here.  However, the usual time period for making such an appeal is 21 days from the date of the order so that time period has already passed.  It is, however, still possible to make the application to appeal (out of time) and the father may be given more leeway because he is unrepresented.

BUT: remember that such an order is variable.  That is, if there is a significant change in the father’s circumstances such as the loss of a job or a significant pay cut then it is possible to have the amount of the maintenance varied downwards on an application back to the family court.  At the same time the court could be asked to simply drop the automatic renewal (the Christmas Order) aspect of the child support so that it could, if either parent wanted to, fall back within the jurisdiction of the CSA in the future.

My inclination, if this father needed to vary the order in the future, would be to invite the mother of this child to mediation.  Much less stressful than contested proceedings.

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Severing a joint tenancy in divorce

My magic postbag reveals an enquiry about severing a joint tenancy in divorce.  Sounds painful – what’s that about then?

Well, most couples who own property own it jointly in one of two ways.  They will own it as either:

  • beneficial joint tenants; or
  • tenants in common

Beneficial joint tenancy

This means that you own the property jointly and neither of you can point to a specific share in the property.  You will both need to consent to a sale or a re-mortgage.  Most importantly, you cannot leave instructions to a lawyer to pass on your interest in a beneficial joint tenancy under your Will.  This means that when you die, your interest in the property passes automatically to your fellow joint owner or owners.

Tenancy in common

You still own the property with your fellow owner but you will both have distinct shares.  This may be 50/50 or 70/30 and so on.  You can sell your share or charge it (raise a mortgage loan on it).  But, if you die, your interest will not pass automatically to your joint owner but will instead go to the person you have named as the beneficiary under your Will.  You can therefore see that it is vital that you have a Will in place if you have a tenancy in common.  If there is no Will, or the Will is deemed to be invalid, there will be an intestacy and your share may go to someone you’d rather not benefit.

Severing a beneficial joint tenancy

Don’t panic.  Severing a joint tenancy in divorce is straightforward.  Not a drop of blood in sight.  A severance means that you wish to change a beneficial joint tenancy into a tenancy in common.  So why would I want to do that, you ask?

Well, one example, familiar to my clients, is a situation where divorce proceedings are being pursued or are being contemplated. The spouses or partners are suddenly out of love and fighting for their share in the equity (the value of the property after taking off any mortgage charges and sale fees).  In those circumstances they are not best pleased to hear that, should they die before the completion of the divorce process, their share will automatically pass to the other, surviving, spouse.  To prevent this happening, your solicitor can prepare a Notice of Severance.  Once this document is signed and sent to your spouse it has the effect of ‘severing’ the beneficial joint tenancy and converting it into a tenancy in common.  Then, of course, you will be told to prepare a Will, pronto, to define where your ‘severed’ share in the property should go in the event of your death.

At the same time, whilst dealing with a new Will, it would be necessary to change the executor of your Will as your old Will may say it will be your (soon-to-be-ex) spouse.  The decree absolute in divorce would set aside your spouse as an executor anyway and this would leave your estate without an administrator if additional executors were not appointed.

If you have a solicitor acting for you then they would normally ask you to sign two copies of the Notice of Severance, and both would then be sent to your spouse (or their solicitors).  A request would be made for one of the forms to be signed and returned so that this version (bearing both spouses’ consent) can be registered at District Land Registry and the record of the property ownership will be amended.

Anyone contemplating preparing a Notice of Severance and sending it to their spouse or partner should think carefully and take advice.  Even if divorce is inevitable, there may be children of the marriage.  If you were to die before the divorce is finalised, would you really object to your spouse automatically being given your share of the beneficial joint tenancy which would then ensure there was a home for your children?

 

 

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Free subscriptions to MyOffspring

 

Freebie

 

In my last post, provocatively entitled Why you don’t need a divorce lawyer. A Reprise,  I announced that MyOffspring had kindly offered my firm, Family Law Partners, free subscriptions for their online service  limited to the first 200 speedy applicants.

 

Here is the procedure for becoming a free premium subscriber for the first 12 months

 

  1. Point your browser to http://www.myoffspring.com
  2. On the right-hand side, just under the login fields, click the “Register” link
  3. Choose the 12 month subscription (£49.95) and continue to register. Note that your user name must NOT contain spaces
  4. On the next page, enter your coupon code (FAMILYLAWPARTNERS)
  5. Proceed to PayPal to complete the transaction. This will set up a subscription which is free for the first year. You can cancel the subscription at any time before the next payment is due. The first year is entirely free.
  6. If you have any problems, you can e-mail support@myoffspring.com for help.

Many thanks to Karim and the team at MyOffspring for their generous offer.

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Why you don’t need a divorce lawyer. A reprise.

 

First: a confession…

I used to be one of those lawyers who felt distinctly nervous at the thought of changes in legal services that could impact upon my livelihood.  But then, as a person entering the law as a second career shackled with monstrous debt from my legal courses and young, hungry children, I was always likely to be of a nervous disposition. But as time has gone on I have learned to embrace change.  In fact, I positively welcome it.  I like to see the positives in change rather than the threat.  There is no greater agent of change than technology. Technology can deliver services in ways we could not have imagined some 15 years ago.  Legal services are not immune.  And I am not referring to the now commonplace changes introduced by innovations such as:

  • email
  • Skype
  • ‘Always on’ and synchronised services like Dropbox or Googledocs unleashing the full potential of mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad.

Lawyers are beginning to utilise these technologies to help their clients.  That’s the way it should be.  For too long, lawyers have thought of reasons why their established patterns of working should not change even though client pressures were building to demand greater flexibility in the delivery of legal services.  After all, why should the provision of legal services not be client-led?

This blog is aimed at that section of the public making one of the painful transitions called separation, divorce or dissolution of their civil partnerships. I am communicating directly with people who may need to access advice on matters like divorce.  I am precisely NOT writing this blog for the benefit of my professional colleagues specialising in family law.  They are very welcome to read my posts and take issue if they like but they are not my intended audience.  This is the reason I am not banging on about the profound changes to be wrought by the Legal Services Act: the public don’t give a toss and why should they?

So what are the interesting strands, now emerging, that are likely to shape the future of family law services delivery?

Unbundling

This simply means that the public may want to select from a menu of legal services: picking and choosing those bits they cannot do themselves with any confidence.  But, being prepared to roll up their sleeves and have a go at the aspects that look less daunting and may owe more to procedure than legal interpretation.  This has been going on for some time but the pace appears to have accelerated.  People having to deal with divorce have always been able to deal with the proceedings themselves but the availability of online services has allowed for the elements of the proceedings that can be process-driven to be offered directly to the public.  The divorce process (but not, in all cases, the financial aspects) can be broken down and delivered online.  Mark Keenan’s Divorce-Online has been doing this for years.  There have been other entrants into the online divorce services market but Divorce-Online, being the original, still appears to be the best.

Community

Online forums attracted to discrete issues are creating their own ‘demand agendas’ that bypass traditional professional services or dictate the terms of engagement with them.  If you have a look at Wikivorce you will see a strong element of self-help driven on the forum pages.  The members posting on the user forums will often use the term STBX (soon-to-be-ex [partner]) when referring to the other spouse.  The other members will provide sympathy, support and some direct suggestions for how to tackle a problem with a STBX. It is clear that there are some comments posted by forum users with legal experience, possibly solicitors or legal executives, but they are not allowed to ‘own’ the pages, or even, as far as I can tell, use the forum pages to profile their legal firms.

Another good example of community action is  Suzy Miller’s Starting Over Show (SOS). An online environment that supports and encourages divorcing and separating couples to explore ‘better’ ways of resolving disputes  with an emphasis on mediation and the collaborative process.  An example of Suzy’s bottom-up approach is Divorce in a Box which provides vouchers to a range of services, both legal, and therapeutic.

I also like Only Dads and Only Mums.  These sites offer support for single dads and mums and signpost resources for people who might initially be shell-shocked at single parent status.

Connection

Look at MyOffspring.  This is a relatively new offering and I spoke about it on my companion blog, Larkinslaw,when I said:

“…  the MyOffspring team want to offer separating parents an online environment that provides a suite of  tools and resources that will allow them to communicate with each other and even their children using the now familiar tropes of social networking.  There will be the ability to use a schedule manager, join forum debates, access advice from a range of experts on family matters (both legal and therapeutic), and even upload materials for sharing with your ex-partner that can be timestamped and even geo-tagged.

The emergence of online offerings like MyOffspring throws up some interesting questions.

  • Will the ability to communicate with your ex-partner in a secure online environment in real-time improve the prospects for constructive dialogue and therefore improve the outcomes for children?
  • Will the ability to upload materials to a secure server reduce the room for conflict between those parents where the common cry of the parent who is not the primary carer of the children is that they are kept in the dark despite enjoying parental responsibility for their children?
  • Will the ability to geo-stamp certain entries, through a supporting App on a smartphone, do away once and for all with the destructive allegation and counter-allegation that one parent has failed to turn up at the agreed time and location to have or to allow contact with their child?  I have seen the courts struggle with these cases where a decision has to be made as to who is telling the truth about specific incidents.   The court’s decision, a finding of fact, can impact directly on the ultimate decision as to which parent should have care of the children or how much contact there should be for a so-called absent parent.
  • Does the concept of the ‘absent parent’ lose definition and meaning in a virtual world where the channels of communication are in real-time and ‘always on’?
  • Most intriguingly, will the English courts, like their North American counterparts, embrace the reality of such online tools and begin to incorporate into their orders, a direction that the parents before the court must subscribe to such an electronic service in the hope that communication will improve but that , if it does not, the un-cooperative and obstructive parent may be found out.

The potential for improving the frequency and I would hope, the quality, of the communications between parents in respect of their children is there.  The STBX will be the person at the other end of the interactive tools in this vision of the future rather than the subject of anger or despair in the forum discussions.  If I am right – that the tropes of social networking are becoming ubiquitous – then the particular patterns of engagement between consumers of such services, even hostile parents, could be constructively channelled for the benefit of their children.

Finally: a freebie

My day job is with Family Law Partners (FLP)  The MyOffspring team have kindly offered my firm 200 free subscriptions for their premium service for 12 months. You do not have to be a client of FLP to use the subscription.  It will be first come, first served.  I will post the online code for the offer as I soon as I receive it.


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Why you don’t need a divorce lawyer

The truth is out. You don’t need a divorce lawyer to navigate yourself between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Let me give you an example. I wanted to check that my client could ask for her costs of a non-molestation order application from the judge and have the amount of those costs, what lawyers call ‘summary assessment’, fixed by the judge then and there rather than going through a long-winded process over a course of months called ‘detailed assessment’.

When you’ve been in the legal game for a few years you pick up the answers to these sorts of questions almost by osmosis. Somehow, you just know the answer. But, occasionally, you will be before a judge who will peer over their bi-focals and ask you for your ‘authority’ for your confident assertion of the law. Cue the s**t-eating grin as you realise that you have not brought with you to the court any of the legal ‘bibles’ that can supply you with the fine detail to support your argument.

And this is the charge often levelled at lawyers: anyone can do it because the answer is in a book somewhere. You just need to look it up. Well, it’s true, you do indeed just need to look it up.  I’m a strong believer in self-help and pointing people in the right direction is what this blog is all about.

Now then… about that answer I needed.  I found chapter and verse in the first sentence of the Practice Direction accompanying Part 28 of the Family Proceedings Rules ‘FPR 2010’. I’m pleased to share the answer:

Rule 28.2 provides that subject to rule 28.3 of the FPR and to paragraph (2) of rule 28.2, Parts 43, 44 (except rules 44.3(2) and (3), 44.9 to 44.12C, 44.13(1A) and (1B) and 44.18 to 20), 47 and 48 and rule 45.6 of the CPR apply to costs in family proceedings with the modifications listed in rule 28.2(1)(a) to (d).

I trust that is clear. The answer, naturally, is a resounding YES. You didn’t need a lawyer to tell you that.

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