LIFE BITE: The Blame Game No More – England & Wales to remove fault-based divorce ground.

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It has been announced today that the law governing divorce in England & Wales is to be changed to allow spouses to divorce on a ‘no fault’ ground.

Under the current law, if a couple wishes to divorce without waiting for a period of separation to expire, one of them must allege adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour by the other.

The new reform of the law will remove the need for the end of a marriage to have been someone’s ‘fault’ and instead, a spouse will only need to state that their marriage has broken down irretrievably.  Whilst England & Wales are set to introduce legislation to effect this change as soon as parliamentary time becomes available, the law on divorce will for now remain unchanged in Northern Ireland

What are the current grounds for divorce in NI?

It may be useful to set out the current grounds upon which you can apply for divorce in Northern Ireland.  It is important firstly to highlight that you need to have been married for at least 2 years before divorcing in Northern Ireland.  This does not mean that you are compelled to continue living with your spouse for a full 2 years after marriage– you can of course live separately – however until this time frame has expired, you will be unable to petition for divorce on any of the grounds below.

When applying for divorce, you must show that your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’ and you must satisfy one of the following grounds for divorce in order to evidence this breakdown: –

  1. Unreasonable Behaviour

This is where you must evidence that your spouse has behaved so unreasonably that you can no longer be expected to live with them.  Types of unreasonable behaviour are wide-ranging and can include physical or verbal aggression, emotional abuse, lack of communication, financial control or misconduct and addictions.

  1. Adultery

In order to petition for divorce on the ground of adultery, you need to show the Court that your spouse has committed adultery during the course of the marriage. The person with whom your spouse had the affair can be joined and named in the divorce papers also.

  1. Two Year’s Separation with Consent

This ground is available where both you and your spouse have lived separately for more than 2 years and your spouse consents to the divorce.  You can have been living in the same property during this time but must have lived independently to one another. This can happen where, for example, you both live in the same house but have separate bedrooms and would not cook or clean or spend time with one another.

  1. Desertion for Two Years

This is proven where your spouse has effectively ‘deserted’ you. This ground is technically difficult to prove and is very rarely relied upon in divorce proceedings.

Five Year’s Separation

This ground is available when you and your spouse have lived separate for more than 5 years. You do not require your partner’s consent on this ground.

The introduction of the ‘no fault’ ground will be welcome by many for allowing unhappy couples to formally end their marriage without either person being held responsible, therefore easing some of the stress, pain and bitterness that can often endure during separation.  Some people however would argue that the ‘no fault’ ground may damage the sanctity of marriage and that couples may not think carefully enough before entering into marriage if they feel that they can easily divorce if it doesn’t work out.
Both sides of the argument have valid points however in my experience as a lawyer in this area, no divorce is ever ‘easy’ — feelings are hurt, emotions are high and often children are caught in the middle.  Certainly, a divorce that can be dealt with as amicably, quickly and as cost-effectively as possible for both parties should always be promoted and encouraged.

For further information on any aspect of divorce law and procedure, please feel free to contact us here or by using the form below.

 

Having Contact with Your Children

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Relationship breakdown is a very painful time for the adults involved, but it can be even more difficult for children.

Children within the family are often the innocent and confused casualties of the breakdown of a relationship.

What if I can’t agree contact arrangements with my ex-partner?

Many parents are able to agree between themselves arrangements for their children which enable them to continue to enjoy a relationship with both parents.

For many other families contact arrangements cannot be agreed.  Some parents choose to engage in mediation as a means of trying to negotiate a solution.

Where mediation is not suitable or has proved unsuccessful, an application can be made to Family Courts to resolve the issue of contact.

Children proceedings are dealt with by the Family Proceedings Court – in this Court,  the child’s best interests are the primary concern. This means that the main focus will always be on the welfare of the child first, rather than the rights of either parent.  It is a commonly held view that (if safe and appropriate) a child should enjoy a relationship with both parents.

What will the Court look at when deciding on contact arrangements?

Each family is a unique group of individuals and in considering an application for contact, the Court will look at the particular circumstances of the child and family in question.   Contact arrangements will differ depending on the circumstances of each family.

The views and the feelings of the child involved are also taken into account and a Court Children’s Officer (who is essentially, a Court-appointed Social Worker) may be asked to speak with the children individually to try to ascertain what these are.

How much weight is given to a particular child’s wishes will depend upon the age and understanding of that child: for example the views of a 14 year old child would weigh more heavily in influencing decisions than those of an 8 year old child.

Additionally, a child will not be forced to have contact with someone they are afraid of or who harms them in any way.

What is a Contact Order?

Contact Orders are Court Orders which set out the arrangements for when the non-resident parent can see their children.

Contact arrangements can vary in each case and therefore there are many different Contact Orders which a Court could make including the following:-

  • Indirect Contact – for example,  the exchange of letters, cards and e-mails between parent and child with no regular visits
  • Direct Contact – regular weekly contact between the child and parent
  • Overnight Contact
  • Holiday contact – for example, additional contact at Easter, summer or Christmas.

Contact can also be supervised in cases where the Court directs that a relative or social worker must be present during visits.

How do Court proceedings conclude?

In most cases, Orders are made by agreement between the parents with the help of their legal advisors; this is the most preferable method, as Orders which are made with the consent of both parents are much more likely to work successfully in the future and reduce antagonism between the parties. However where agreement cannot be reached, the Court will fully hear arguments from both parents and will ultimately make a Contact Order which is deemed to be in the best interests of the child.

When seeking a Solicitor to deal with this particular kind of case, it is important that you look for not only legal representation and good negotiation skills; your Solicitor should be understanding and be capable of supporting mothers and fathers through this difficult period in life whilst progressing towards a workable arrangement which is in your child’s best interests.

If you require any further information, please contact us here or email us at info@fhanna.co.uk

Top Tips for First Time Buyers

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So, you’ve decided that now is the time to take the plunge and set your feet firmly on the property market by buying your first home.

Though buying property can be an exciting time for many, it can also be a daunting experience and will be one of the largest financial commitments you will make in life.

So what kind of issues should you be considering when house-hunting?

1. Know your budget

It is important before you get going to seek the advice of an independent financial adviser to find out how much of a mortgage you could be given by a lender and how much of a balance you will have to pay towards the property from your own savings.

A deposit of around 10% of the house price is normally required but the more you can put down to begin with, the better the mortgage deal you will be able to get.

Be realistic about your lifestyle after you move into the property and don’t overstretch yourself in your monthly mortgage commitments. Remember you will also have other outlays before you get your keys such as legal fees, additional surveys, mortgage product fees and stamp duty so be sure to figure them into your budget along with any costs for redecorating and furniture.

2. Research! Research! Research!

It’s a little odd that we make a commitment to spend a very large sum of money based on a quick walk round a property, possibly with other potential buyers present.  When you are viewing a property you like, ask as many questions as you can;  When was that sunroom built?  Does it have planning permission?  Is there a warranty?  Who are your neighbours?  Who owns that massive tree overhanging the garden and who is responsible for trimming it?

Get a second viewing of the property and consider commissioning your own survey – remember, a survey carried out for mortgage purposes is for the bank’s protection, not yours.

If you don’t already live in the area, then visit the location at several different times of the day and night, weekday and weekend.  The character of a neighbourhood can really change depending on the time of day. Check the amount of rates payable for that area. Check out local schools, transport routes and sports facilities. Ask yourself; “Is this somewhere I really want to live?”

3. Be aware of ‘common areas’

Many new developments and apartment blocks will have common areas containing stairs, lifts and common recreational space.

All apartments should have the benefit of a management company who look after the maintenance and insurance of common areas – this is also common in many new developments.

The weeding of all those flowerbeds isn’t cheap and so to maintain and insure the common areas of a development or apartment block, each resident is required to pay an annual service charge to the company managing the development or apartments.  This charge may be over £100.00 per month and in some developments substantially more. The estate agent showing you around the property should be able to give you an idea of the service charge before you place your offer. Ask yourself can you afford this as well as your other outgoings.

4. Make yourself an attractive purchaser

Demand for property is now strong and you want to have the competitive edge if you are bidding on a new home. The key to this is being prepared:-

  • Have a mortgage agreement in principle in place – this is a document from your chosen lender saying they are happy to lend to you.
  • Have proof that you have the deposit monies in your bank account.
  • Return calls to the estate agent promptly.

Showing that you are keen and engaged can go a long way to securing your property. Speak to a solicitor in advance and know who you are going to appoint to represent you in the purchase of the property

Above all else, don’t get caught up in the excitement and either over-commit yourself financially, or end up in a property you like, but don’t love. Take your time to make the right choices to ensure that in the end, there really is no place like home.
Happy house hunting!
This post has been provided by property lawyer Ruth Flinn of Francis Hanna & Co. Solicitors.   Should you require any further information on buying a house or if you would like a free no-obligation quote, please contact Ruth on rflinn@fhanna.co.uk

 

Redundancy: What An Employer Needs To Know

 

redundancy1Downsizing your business and considering redundancies is a prospect you many employers throughout the life of a business may have to face at one time or another.

This is a grim prospect for you as a business owner but more particularly for your affected employees.

It is therefore vital that you as an employer handle this process fairly and in a manner that protects you from any potential unfair dismissal claims made by your employees.

What do I need to look at when considering redundancies?

When handling redundancies, you will be deemed to be acting fairly both morally and legally if you treat the matter with ‘RESPECT’, that is;-

R = Redundancy

You must be able to show that a genuine redundancy situation exists in your business

E = Employees

You should ensure that your employees are fully consulted about the redundancy situation.

S = Selection

You must use objective and verifiable criteria when you are considering which roles are to be made redundant

P = Procedure

You should follow the 3 step dismissal procedure:-

  1. Inform the employee in writing of the circumstances which are leading to you considering redundancies, invite them to a meeting to discuss the matter and warn them that a possible outcome is dismissal.
  2. Hold a meeting with the employee to discuss the proposed redundancies. An outcome of the meeting must be provided and your employee must be informed of their right of appeal.
  3. If your employee chooses to exercise the right of appeal, an appeal hearing must be held and a final decision provided
E = Employment

You should consider whether there are any alternative job roles that could be filled by those being made redundant in order to avoid the redundancy.

C = Calculation

You need to ensure that the correct redundancy payment is calculated

T = Termination

You must ensure that a letter is sent to the employee confirming the end of their employment

The underlying legal principle when considering redundancies is that of reasonableness – i.e. have you as an employer behaved reasonably in all of the circumstances towards your employee when handling their redundancy?

Before embarking on this process, it is important to obtain specialist advice from an employment lawyer ton how best to handle the process. This will ensure that it is handled objectively and not contaminated with emotion which could end up costing you dearly.

For more information on this area, please contact us here or via email on info@fhanna.co.uk 

 

 

Help to Buy Schemes: An Overview

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Saving to buy your first home can be a challenge for anyone, particularly as house prices continue to rise. 

Luckily, there are some schemes to help you get together the monies you need to purchase your property.

Help to Buy ISA

The most common is the Help To Buy ISA. This operates in much the same way as a regular savings ISA, with the bonus that the Government will provide you with a payment of 25% of the amount saved (subject to a maximum bonus of £3,000), as long as you meet the criteria of the scheme.

For example, if you have saved £6,000, your bonus will be £1,500. The solicitor acting for you in the purchase of your property can make the application for the bonus on your behalf.

The Help to Buy ISA is available for all types of properties, and isn’t restricted to newly built properties. You are also not restricted in the mortgage lender that you choose.

Armed Forces Help to Buy Scheme

Some employers now also assist their staff in the purchase of their first home, such as with the Armed Forces Help to Buy Scheme,  which assists with loans to help you with your deposit.  This scheme is also approved by many lenders, however you should alert your financial advisor that you intend to use this scheme so they may make your mortgage company aware of this when making your mortgage application.

If you would like any further information on Help to Buy Schemes, please do not hesitate to contact us here or leave your comments below.