Bill Gates Divorce: Can finances be divided amicably?

Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda recently announced their intention to divorce after 27 years of marriage.

Having reportedly accumulated an extraordinary wealth of $130 billion, it was no surprise that the media response was live with speculation as to how their significant assets would be divided out upon divorce, particularly as it transpired that the couple had not entered into a pre-nupital agreement prior to their marriage.

However, it has since been reported that divorce papers filed by the couple make repeated reference to a “separation contract” which both have signed. It appears therefore that the couple, who share three children as well as business and charitable commitments, wish to have the marriage dissolved and assets divided in as amicable a manner as possible.

Can dividing assets on divorce be handled amicably in Northern Ireland?

Where there are financial issues arising following breakdown of the marriage, it is not necessary to ask the Court to determine how these should be divided. It is very common for parties who wish to avoid the stress and expense of Court proceedings to enter into negotiations with one another through their solicitors with a view to reaching a financial settlement on an agreed and amicable basis. This is known as a Matrimonial Agreement.

If an agreement can be reached, it will be drawn up into a legally binding document to be signed by both parties and often made an Order of the Court upon Divorce.

Increasingly these agreements are made on a “clean break” basis. That means that they set out what each parties’ entitlements are to family finances and provide that neither party will have a claim to the other’s finances in the future.

A solicitor specialising in divorce and separation can provide advice and assistance in negotiating Matrimonial Agreements with a view to reaching financial settlement. If settlement is not possible in this way, either spouse can ask the Court to make decisions about how assets should be divided. This does however tend to be a longer and more expensive process for both parties.

For further information on Matrimonial Agreements, feel free to contact us here

Industrial Deafness

Deaf Awareness Week 2021 runs from 4th – 9th May 2021 and aims to promote the positive aspects of living with deafness and raise awareness of organisations that work to support those living with hearing loss and deafness within our communities. 

To mark the event, we have put together some information on Industrial Deafness and how the law protects those who suffer hearing loss as a result of their working environment.

What is Industrial Deafness?

Industrial deafness can best be described as the deterioration of your hearing as a result of your working environment and conditions.  Any employee who is exposed to loud noise over a prolonged period, or in exceptional cases even for a relatively short period, is at risk of developing industrial deafness.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a physical condition (rather than a disease) and can also be caused by an overexposure to noise. The condition manifests itself by causing noises (most often described as ‘ringing’) in the ears when no such noise is actually present.

How might my hearing loss be caused by my job?

The length and intensity of exposure to loud noises both on a daily basis and over a period of time are contributing factors to industrial deafness and tinnitus. Occupations which are most frequently affected by industrial deafness and tinnitus are those who use heavy machinery and include the manufacturing, construction, agriculture and transport industries.

How does the law protect me if I have suffered Industrial Deafness?

At work, your employer has a duty to minimise noise in the workplace in order to prevent the high exposure levels which have been proven to be a potential cause of industrial deafness and tinnitus.

There are regulations in place, including The Control of Noise at Work Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 which outline what acceptable levels of noise are, how employers should ensure that noise levels are minimised and that suitable protective equipment, such as ear defenders, is provided.

There is a claims process available for those who may have been affected by noise levels in their workplace and have suffered tinnitus or industrial deafness as a result. A person suffering from industrial hearing loss may also be eligible for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. It would therefore be important for legal advice on all options available to be sought at the earliest instance from a solicitor specialised in this complex area of law.

If you require further information on Industrial Deafness, please feel free to contact us here.

Top Tips for First Time Buyers

first-time-buyer

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 in Northern Ireland or if you would like a free no-obligation quote, please contact Ruth on rflinn@fhanna.co.uk

The Legal Process of Buying Property

buying-a-house

So, you’ve spent the past few months with your nose deeply buried in property brochures. Your Google search list consists solely of property websites and viewing houses has almost become a hobby.  You’re even sick of the sight of Kirsty and Phil on ‘Location Location Location’

But, at long last, it has happened –you’ve finally found your ideal home!

That’s the hard part right?  Once the mortgage is through, surely all you need to do is arrange a date to pick up the keys and then you can get down to the important stuff, like where to put the sofa and what colour to paint the living room??

Unfortunately not…before keys can be placed in your hand and all your furniture packed up, the legal process of buying a house needs to be completed.  

It’s not a matter of just signing on the dotted line either – the entire legal process normally takes between 6-8 weeks before you can get moving.

What exactly does my solicitor do?

You may wonder what it is exactly that a solicitor does when dealing with buying a house for you.

Your solicitor’s main job is to protect your interests and make sure that all of the title deeds under which you will own the property are in order.

To do this, they have to check the following:-

  • They check all of the title deeds (which may consist of hundreds of pages) to make sure there is nothing contained in them that may restrict your use of the property.
  • They check the maps of the property and make sure the boundary to the property is correct – after all, there’s no point in buying a house and realising when you go to sell it that you didn’t actually own part of your back garden!
  • They review any survey reports you or your mortgage company have to get to check if work has been done to the property which may to be queried with the seller.
  • They ensure that you are connected to a mains sewer, or that the necessary consents are in place for a septic tank, and that you have access to a public road.
  • They check through paperwork (such as searches and certificates) to make sure that any necessary planning permissions and building control documents are in place.
  • They liaise with you and your mortgage company throughout this process and highlight to you any issues which you should be aware of before you actually buy the house.
  • If there are any service charges or if ground rent is payable, they ensure that these are all paid up to date by the seller so that no unwanted bills arrive at your door once you’ve moved.

All checks and searches have been done – what now??

Once your solicitor is satisfied that everything is in order and any problems have been resolved, they will report to you on the property, and ask you to meet them so that you can sign the contract.

Your solicitor will also contact your mortgage company and ask them to forward mortgage monies through to them directly before you buy.

When can I move in?

Once the contracts are signed, a date is arranged between you and the seller for when money (and keys!) will change hands.  On this date, once the financial transaction has gone through via your solicitor, you will officially be able to move into your new home!

Whilst you’re busy picking out wallpaper and getting the TV installed, your solicitor’s job is not finished yet! After completion,  they will deal with the registration of the property into your name.

It takes time for the entire process of buying a property to be done thoroughly and correctly. A little time invested when buying a property should ensure that when it is your time to sell the property, everything proceeds smoothly.

When you are told the matter is ‘with your solicitor’, rest assured that your purchase is being well looked after and your solicitor will be in touch to allow you to get your keys as soon as possible.
If you would like any further information on the legal process of buying or selling your house, or any other aspect of Property Law in NI, feel free to contact us here 

International Divorce : Things To Consider

The world is becoming a smaller place with ever greater opportunities for people to travel and work abroad.   Increasing numbers of people are meeting and marrying someone from another country and as such, many families now have both a multicultural and an international dimension which would have been far less prevalent a decade ago.
If this family unit breaks down, there are a number of additional issues which can arise.  Here are some of the ways an international dimension can have an impact on family breakdown:
1. It may be possible for divorce proceedings to be brought in more than one jurisdiction.

The choice of jurisdiction can have a significant impact on the outcome of divorce proceedings as different countries apply different sets of rules, especially when it comes to the division of assets. It may be financially advantageous to a spouse to issue proceedings in one jurisdiction rather than another.  It is extremely important to seek legal advice about the different jurisdictional options at the very earliest stage as often the Court where proceedings are first issued will be the Court which ultimately decides the case.

2. There may be a limit in the Court’s power to enforce Orders in relation to property or assets in another jurisdiction.

On divorce, there may be a limit to what a Court can do in relation to assets held in another jurisdiction. For example, if a couple own a holiday home abroad, there may be difficulties in enforcing a Court order dealing with this foreign asset.

3. There may be issues regarding where the children should live in the future.

After the breakdown of a relationship, one parent may wish to move back to their country of origin with their children.  However, if they do this without the consent of the other parent or permission from the Court, they could well be accused of abducting their child and proceedings could be brought for the return of the child to the place in which they had been living. Indeed, in some countries these actions could amount to a criminal offence.  It is crucial that legal advice is taken so that you are fully informed before deciding how to proceed. It is also important if your child has been taken without consent that you take steps as soon as possible if you wish for them to be returned.

Could a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement help?

One way to try to avoid the uncertainty of what may happen should a relationship break down is to enter into an agreement while the relationship is working well. Whilst these agreements are regarded by some as unromantic, they are a practical way of agreeing what should happen if things don’t work out. Such an agreement could record what would happen to the assets following relationship breakdown.  It could also record the parties’ intentions about the children such as where they would live, their maintenance and education. The agreement could also settle which Court would have legal jurisdiction if there is a dispute.

Many countries recognise pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements or at the very least take its terms into account when ascertaining what the parties’ intentions had been. It is important to find out if the jurisdiction in which you will be living would do so.

If you would like further information on any legal aspect of divorce, please feel free to contact us confidentially here or leave your comments below