Archive | Technology

How much child maintenance should I pay?

How much child maintenance should I pay?

Two kids x 20% gross income, err, less pension payments, and then, erm, divided by 3 nights equals… Damn. Start again.

Two years ago I launched a child maintenance calculator to deal with the vexed question:  “How much child maintenance should I pay?”  The reasons I took the time out to develop this free tool are set out here.  It’s fair to say I had the hump with the Child Maintenance Service, on behalf of parents struggling with the issue of child maintenance, at the poorly executed calculator provided by that organisation.

I am not able to spend as much time on this blog as I used to; I felt some years ago that my spare time had to benefit as many people as possible and that I should concentrate my efforts on a more ambitious way to help people connect with specialist family law advice.  I put it all down to a numbers game.  I have been very busy with those long-term plans aimed, a wee bit ambitiously, at bringing family law into the 21st century.  So, being distracted by grander plans, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there have been 900 calculations using my child maintenance calculator.  Most of the calculations were carried out by private individuals, but with a sizeable number generated by lawyers, mediators and some advice agencies.

I will continue to host and maintain the calculator as long as it meets a need.

0

The Numbers Game

Divorce Finance Toolkit

Behind the scenes

Firstly: an apology

To the hundreds of readers who have sent me emails, chronologies and asset spreadsheets asking for help, advice or comments on their particular legal troubles.  I haven’t been much help.  There are just too many of you.  And your circumstances are always unique to you and your family so there is no pre-formed answer I can drag off a shelf and present to you.  I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to respond to all of you.

Secondly: an explanation

I have been unusually ‘quiet’ on this blog.  I’ve haven’t posted anything for months.  It is not just that I have felt overwhelmed by the number of people asking for help.  It is not just that my main job at Family Law Partners takes up most of my waking time.  The real reason, the reason that I hope is worth the effort over the last 5 years is that I have been building something that I think will help more family lawyers help more people with family law related problems.  We have been using the prototype at Family Law Partners for the last year and it has fundamentally changed how we engage with our clients at the first point of contact.

Thirdly: the future

There are too many people now who do not have access to legal advice, usually because they think they cannot afford to do so.  So they try to deal directly with their ex-partner but find it is really hard to communicate against a backdrop of distrust, anger, fear and sadness that marks out the breakdown of a relationship.  Some people find themselves as LIPs pitted against their ex-partners in court.  It must be incredibly hard to navigate legal proceedings as a LIP when the rules of the game are anything but clear and the legal professionals you encounter: the judges and lawyers, are speaking something that sounds like English, but is full of words you don’t remember coming across at school, work or anywhere else for that matter.

But what if a solution, enabled by technology, allowed more people to access legal advice at the very start of a family law ‘problem’ emerging.  What if that solution gathered the information from a potential legal client in a helpful and intelligent way at zero cost.  And then presented that information to a family lawyer in a format that allows them to immediately offer advice, whether paid advice, or free, or a combination of the two.  And what if that solution enabled a client to come back to the same lawyer from time to time and have the same process repeated (commonly known as ‘unbundling’) even though the facts of their case had changed in the interim?

This is the challenge that I have been working on for the last 5 years.  And, over the last 12 months this solution has started to take shape and become realisable.

This explains why, I hope, that I have been ‘quiet’ on the blog front. I’ve devoted most of my spare time and energy to this new solution because it is ultimately a numbers game.

The numbers game

When I started out as a family lawyer many years ago I did what most lawyers do.  I helped out at advice centres, CAB rosters or church drop ins – trying to provide what lawyers call pro bono (free) advice.  If I was lucky, about four punters would stumble in to see me on a cold, rainy night.  At least one of them would want to sue the local council for something or other: pigeons crapping on their conservatory roof or a bin man doing Les Dawson impressions within the vicinity of their no humour zone.  I was once shown an ingrown toenail and once shown something worse. I was even asked for a prescription.  Very occasionally, someone would appear with an unambiguous legal need but drop 5 boxes of paperwork on the desk and ask for ‘a quick bit of advice’ about their case that had been trundling on for years.

As my career positively blossomed I graduated to seminars where I could charm and educate a captive audience with my knowledge of family law – sometimes as many as 50 lucky, lucky people so long as there was no major sporting event on.

Eventually I discovered the world of blogging.  I remember my excitement at being told that I could have as many as 50 visitors a month if I worked really hard at my blog.  Imagine that.   Perhaps 100 visitors a month after a few years, I was told.  Wow, I thought, imagine reaching that many people.  So I started my blog.  Real amateur stuff.  Most legal blogs are lawyers talking to other lawyers. No harm there, all good clean fun.   Or law firms posting blogs that can be summed up, no matter what the subject matter, as:

Hey you with the sad face, did you know divorce and separation are horrible, that kids get stuck in the middle, and you might lose your house?  Call us now and book an appointment.

How helpful is that?  I loathe those sort of legal blogs.  As much use as a chocolate teapot.

I knew early on that my blog would be aimed at people who needed legal help but might be struggling to get it or pay for it.  I knew that I was going to be giving away lots of information without being paid for it.  I knew that might annoy (a small minority) of fellow lawyers.  I knew it would be difficult to write blog posts that were detailed enough to be helpful but not so specific as to be useless to the majority of my blog visitors.  My blog has grown.  I looked at Google Analytics recently for the first time in almost a year.  I am astonished to see that I had nearly 7000 visitors to my blog last month alone.  I know those numbers are only small beer for some websites but I would have to go some at the local CAB or advice drop-in to match those figures.

But those numbers are the tip of the iceberg.  I can’t keep up with all the requests for help that come into me on this site. I confess I am overwhelmed.  But there are lots of family lawyers like me out there and if we can find a solution to making access to lawyers easier, faster, and more affordable, especially at the beginning of a legal problem we may be able to stop difficult situations escalating into all out war in the family court room.

So, here’s to bigger numbers.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

0

Child maintenance charges

 

Child maintenance charges

GOODBYE CSA – HELLO CHILD MAINTENANCE SERVICE

I hear the Child Maintenance Service has written to 50,000 single parents currently using the Child Support Agency (CSA) to warn them that if they cannot reach a new voluntary agreement they could face child maintenance charges for using the CSA’s replacement service.  The BBC’s report is here.

Child Maintenance Charges – in summary

The new rules mean that if a voluntary arrangement cannot be reached then:

  • The paying parent  will have a 20% charge added to the maintenance payment;
  • The receiving parent will pay a 4% charge to receive the child maintenance;
  • All parents will be charged a fee of £20 for registering with the new service.

Voluntary Agreements for child maintenance

Obviously, it is best to agree the level of child maintenance and to avoid having to face a child maintenance charge.  All this does is reduce the value of the payment that is meant to be benefiting the children.  This is a form of indiscriminate taxation as far as I can see it.

One of the problems with expecting parents to reach agreement between themselves is that the government has been slow to provide the necessary information and the appropriate tools.  If you are a parent who has received such a letter or you are recently separated and unsure about how to agree child maintenance then have a look at the Child Maintenance Options site.  BUT IF YOU FIND THEIR CHILD MAINTENANCE CALCULATOR UNHELPFUL THEN HAVE A LOOK AT MY CHILD MAINTENANCE CALCULATOR INSTEAD.  I think you will find it a lot more useful and the calculation produces a PDF which you can print out for your ex or email to them instead.

 

0

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.

0

Sorting out Separation – new DWP App

The DWP App

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) launched an app at the end of November 2012.  The app is intended to provide assistance to people who are struggling with the issues that arise on relationship breakdown: divorce, child support and so on.   I think the app is the delivery of an initiative announced in July of this year when the press reports talked of a ‘Divorce App’ and the figure of £14M budget spend was bandied around.   I questioned then why £14M was needed for an app.  I now understand the spend was closer to £300,000.  Quite a come-down.

I had a bit of a go in that previous post, unhappy as I was with the brutal staff cuts to the court system and the planned withdrawal of most family legal aid in April of 2013.  My bad humour is not dispelled by the ‘Sorting out Separation’ app now hosted by the DWP.  I’m all for helpful guidance but placing impossible obstacles in the way of access to justice turns me into Mr Angry.  For one beautiful moment, back when the app was launched in November, I saw a link to MailOnline about the app that seemed to share my anger.  At last, I thought, one of the press big beasts has woken up to the threat posed by the withdrawal of legal aid and the insulting attempt to fill the impending void with an app.  Fortunately, natural order was restored once I read the article and realised that the Daily Mail was angry, as usual, for all the wrong reasons.  It was just the usual piece about how getting a divorce or separating was being made even easier.  Strangely enough, most of the readers of this blog seem to find the exact opposite: sorting it out is expensive, complicated and deeply stressful.

 

However….

However, I have allowed myself to be distracted.  Since my blog is intended to be helpful to the very people who will be most affected by public provision cuts, I have decided to give the DWP’s shiny new app a fair crack of the whip.

STOP PRESS: THE DWP ENCOURAGES GOOD BOY SCOUTS LIKE ME TO EMBED THE APP ON THEIR SITES.  THIS I DULY DID AFTER SPENDING HOURS WORKING OUT HOW TO DO IT.  UNFORTUNATELY, GOOGLE THEN DETECTED THE APP AND DECIDED THAT MY INNOCENT BLOG WOULD INFECT ANY VISITORS WITH MALWARE. MY TRAFFIC FELL OFF A CLIFF. THANK YOU DWP. SO I HAVE REMOVED IT. IF YOU WANT TO USE THE APP PLEASE GOOGLE IT AND YOU’LL FIND IT SOON ENOUGH.

Good luck and let me (and others) know if the Sorting out Separation app is worth the money we taxpayers have just spent on it.

0

The Divorce App

Divorce Finance Toolkit App post

‘Appy Days ahead?

I read with interest the news that the UK Government has committed £14M of funds towards the development of an App that will assist divorcing spouses and separating couples, especially in relation to child care after parting.

I’m all for new technology if it empowers people who would otherwise struggle to afford the fees of divorce lawyers.  And yet, I can’t help wondering why it will cost £14M to develop such an App.  Sure, the quality of the content has to be there and that won’t be cheap.  What’s more,  the App developers may be kept busy building in some useful tools and calculators and that will cost a few bob.  But £14M?  Really?

I suspect, as usual, the news may have been spun too much or has suffered from mis-reporting.  If this initiative is to have a £14M price tag, i expect that the British public will find themselves treated to a website of information, online tools, some half-decent signposting to other resources AND AN APP thrown in because that is the sort of sexy thing we all like on our iPhone and Android devices.  (And Blackberries… if they’re still making them).

If that is the case, then I wonder: why bother?  There are a number of perfectly good websites in existence offering quality information and some excellent financial tools: I have listed them here.  An app is fine but a fully functioning website is better.  A fully functioning website is delightful, but a properly funded family justice system is simply splendid.

Now I come to think of it, if you deduct the tens of millions saved from the planned withdrawal of legal aid from the majority of family law cases and the tens of millions already slashed from the court budgets, £14M  on an App starts to look like a PR stunt.   Of course I know these are times of austerity, so the UK Treasury has to be tighter than a shark’s arse in a power dive, but I had envisaged helpful Apps to be a contribution from the entrepreneurial private sector, not a replacement for core, State-funded services.

0

The legal landscape

Divorce Finance Toolkit

Errr.... the legal landscape

I have looked into my legal crystal ball before, attempting to guess the direction of the legal services market.  Big changes are afoot and clients (should I say, consumers, now) may find themselves between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.  The Devil is the Government’s determination to ditch legal aid for most family law cases, and the Deep Blue Sea is the Legal Services Act 2009, which shakes up the traditional practices of law and will allow non-lawyers to offer legal services.

Like most people, my mood changes from day to day.  If I was feeling a little down I might say the twin impact of these changes could be likened to the Government picking up the legal services market by its heels, giving it a good old slap on the arse, throwing it onto the deck, sticking the boot in several times, standing back and then positively encouraging a couple of passing corporate spivs to bend down and pick its pockets.

If I was feeling more upbeat, I might look for the good things that can emerge in a period of transition, even if that transition is quite a violent one and initiated with malice aforethought by the present Government. So, with my positive hat on I note with interest a relatively new website called Intelligent Divorce.  The whole premise is to allow clients (consumers) direct access to quality legal advice so that a legal opinion upon the likely financial settlement can be obtained at an early stage and, hopefully, avoid the pain and costs of litigation.  I particularly like the fact that a couple can use the service jointly which will, of course, greatly increase the prospect of agreement and settlement.

Although the costs of the service may, at first blush, appear expensive to someone who has been running around getting free half-hour interviews with local solicitors, I would just repeat three words already used above: “quality legal advice”.  Such advice does not come cheaply but the clever use of technology, allowing the service users to populate the information forms used to obtain the advice, cuts down the costs sigificantly.  Compared to full-blown litigation, the quoted costs for Intelligent Divorce are something of a bargain.

As the legal services market continues to fragment, there will be opportunities for clients to effect some costs savings by shopping around, in the virtual, online world as well as the real one.  And perhaps combining the services of a number of different providers: for example,  an online divorce petition combined with elements of self-help and then some face-to-face legal advice if the going gets sticky.  There will be room for solutions like Intelligent Divorce.

Disclaimer: I know the founders of Intelligent Divorce on a professional level.  I therefore know them to be excellent family lawyers.  However, I have no personal financial interest in their offering and will not benefit in any way from readers of my blog using the services of Intelligent Divorce.

0

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 [email protected] for help.

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

0

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.


11

Client confidentiality may be in the Cloud.

Image by @Williamslegal

There can hardly be a family lawyer in the land who has not shivered with horror at the news that one of their letters of client advice, containing deeply personal and confidential information, has fallen into the hands of their client’s other half.  How could this have happened?  And what could have been done to prevent it happening in the first place?  I suspect that nowadays, it is more likely to be an email that has been compromised rather than a letter.

Adios snail mail

It is often the case that advice will be sought whilst a client is still living with their spouse or partner in the same property. A problem arises when the solicitor wishes to confirm the advice given in writing. In the days when snail mail was the only option, it was often agreed that the post would be sent to a trusted third party rather than to the client’s home address. The use of e-mail, which has the benefit of speed, is often requested by clients still sharing a property with the person from whom they wish to separate.  Even if the parties have separated, it may be the case that the departed spouse comes back from time to time to pick up post, or possessions.  These visits may occur when the occupying spouse is absent.  It strikes me that sending an e-mail to a client’s email account, which will be accessed from a shared computer  in the matrimonial home is as dangerous as sending a hardcopy letter to the home bearing the legend “DEEPLY PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL LEGAL ADVICE FROM YOUR DIVORCE SOLICITOR”.  In fact, it is probably easier for a client’s partner to stumble across and read a confidential e-mail from a lawyer (and then then hit “Mark as unread”) than it is to steam open a hardcopy letter before glueing the envelope back down.

Clouds in my coffee

It is imperative in most family law situations, (the possible exception being the collaborative law model) that communications between solicitors and clients are kept private.  Confidentiality is key.  How can a client discuss matters of importance with candour and expect equally candid advice if such communications are likely to be intercepted and compromised?  So, what can you do to retain the benefits of electronic communication whilst maximising its security and confidentiality?

Try these tips:

  1. If you want to receive email communication to your home on a shared computer then consider setting up your own user account that you log into and out of when the computer is on.  This will require a password.  This is relatively secure but may be overridden if you are not the person who set up the computer in the first place – often known as the Administrator.
  2. Go a step further and open an email account with a hosted e-mail provider (in what is colloquially called The Cloud). GMail is just one example.  Set your username, password, and security questions, and do not reveal them to anybody else. Do not leave these details written down. If you absolutely must keep a record of the account information for fear of forgetting the passwords, then consider retaining the information on your smart phone, if you have one, but heed the next tip.
  3. Ensure that you have a pin code on your smart phone, laptop or tablet to prevent your spouse or partner accessing these details when you are not around.
  4. You can then give this hosted e-mail account to your solicitor. The e-mail communications will not appear on your home PC provided you have not set up a forwarding facility on to a conventional e-mail account that can be accessed at home.
  5. When setting up a hosted email account you will often have to provide a pre-existing email address.  This is likely to be your email account in the shared home.  A validation email will be sent from the hosted account to your existing email account as part of the set – up process.  Once this has arrived, deal with any action required but then immediately delete the welcoming email  it (and then delete again from the trash folder).  This will prevent your partner being aware that you have an additional email account.
  6. Such cloud services offer more than just email.  If your solicitor has sent you draft letters or settlement options for consideration, you can retain them in the cloud, amend them and then send back to your solicitor.  You need not ever print off a document that could be inadvertently read by your partner. You can therefore have a complete set of correspondence from your solicitor which you will retain online rather than having a printed file of documentation which could fall into the wrong hands. As an alternative to  the online storage solutions offered by Google, you could consider opening a Dropbox account which, to my personal taste, is a more elegant and functional solution than Google Docs.
  7. Before you login to your hosted e-mail account, see if you can select “Private Browsing” in your Internet browser.   This prevents a record of your browsing history (including your visits to a hosted email account) being created on your home PC.  Alternatively, when you log out of a browsing session, you can delete the browsing history. This would prevent a suspicious partner from looking at the recently browsed or accessed webpages and deducing that you have a private e-mail account even if they cannot access it.

The phenomenal growth in the smart phone market, now complemented by the astonishing popularity of the Apple iPad and Apple’s competitors rushing to also grab a slice of the tablet market, has freed us from the shackles of a desk-bound computer.  We can access emails and documents from just about anywhere on a number of electronic devices.  Family lawyers must be more flexible about the ways in which they balance their clients’ demands to be kept informed with their competing right to confidentiality.

0