Current divorce rates hide truth of modern family life

Here in the UK, the divorce rate has hit a low not seen since the early 1970s, but this is a classic case of where statistics give a somewhat skewed view of the subject.

Scratching beneath the surface, it appears this means that marriages are surviving, but the truth of the matter is that this is not the case at all.

There were 8.4 divorces of opposite-sex couples per 1,000 married men and women in 2017, which is a six per cent decrease from the previous year, according to data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

However, these new figures are simply down to the diminishing popularity of marriage as an option for many couples.

For instance cohabitation, living together without marriage, has grown hugely in popularity in the past generation.

Further analysis shows the divorce rates between same-sex couples have surged, increasing more than threefold in a year, from 112 to 228.

Of course, same sex marriage have only recently been allowed in the UK shedding more light on the issue.

Among heterosexual couples, the divorce rate was highest among men between 45 and 49 years of age, and women between 40 and 44 years. The average duration of marriage at the time of divorce is 12 years for opposite-sex couples.

Divorce stats can uncover all manner of talking points including the fact that they began to rise in the 1960s and, more than three decades later, hit a peak in 1993.

Now though, a generation later, society has changed greatly, where marriage is not seen as the norm that it once was.

It is fair to say we have a more complex society with family structures being somewhat different to the 1960s, 1970s etc.

Of course, divorce is still a topic of interest to those choosing to marry. But it is part of a bigger issue of legal protection in relationships whether married or not.

We, as family law experts, have seen many come to us about legal protection in the form of cohabitation agreements and prenuptial agreements. Many, although it is an uncomfortable subject, see the sense in such action.

This approach has to be told frequently to the public and trusted family law experts like ourselves need to keep reinforcing this.

If you need any advice about the points raised in this blog or any other family law matter our family law team are here to help.

Employment Team Expands

We are delighted to announce that Emma Spandrzyk has joined our employment law team. Emma is an experienced employment solicitor and joins us from the police, where she was working as an in-house employment lawyer. Emma will help service our growing client base of over 290 clients who subscribe to our Employment Healthcheck Plan. Please contact us if you would like a quote for that service.

Budgeting for Business & Pleasure plus HR Roundtable

On 9th October 2019 we are hosting this event for the Blackcountry CIPD. It will equip delegates with the tools they need to budget at work, and at home. It will include lunch and also an HR Roundtable session, giving delegates the chance to discuss issues with colleagues from other organisations. The event is free, whether or not you are a CIPD member. For more details and to book, click here: https://bit.ly/2GRHg2a

Covert Recordings by Employees

With the necessary technology available at the push of a button on a smartphone, it is common to discover that employees have covertly recorded meetings with their employer. What can employers do about this? The recent Employment Appeal Tribunal case of Phoenix House Limited v. Stockman provided some helpful guidance on the issue.

It is important to make clear that a recording of an investigatory meeting or disciplinary hearing will almost always have to be disclosed to the other side and included in the hearing bundle for tribunal proceedings, regardless of how that recording was obtained. Put simply, if a recording like that exists, it will be a highly relevant piece of evidence and a tribunal will want to hear it. That can have advantages for both sides. It may help an employee show that the employer has not accurately noted in its minutes all the key points of a disciplinary hearing, which could render a subsequent dismissal unfair. On the other hand, it may help the employer to show that it has not hidden anything in its own written record of meetings.

However, in Phoenix House the EAT clarified that to covertly record a meeting will generally amount to misconduct on the part of the employee. The key relevance of this is that, in circumstances where there has been a finding of unfair dismissal, a tribunal should then assess the likelihood that the employee would have been dismissed had the employer known of that misconduct and can reduce the award for unfair dismissal accordingly. A reduction in an award won’t always result. For example, a tribunal might fairly conclude that an employee had no choice but to record the meeting simply to ensure that an accurate record was kept and to avoid the employee being misrepresented by the employer. However, if the recording is made for the purposes of entrapping the employer or to gain a dishonest advantage, that could result in a substantial reduction in any award.

Our advice, in the light of this case, is:

1. to make clear, at the beginning of any meeting, that the employee is not permitted to record the meeting (and that it is a disciplinary offence to do so);  and
2. to revisit your disciplinary procedures and include in the list of gross misconduct offences the offence of “recording a meeting or conversation without the employer’s prior consent”.

Not only will that act as a good deterrent to employees adopting this practice in the first place, it will potentially help you avoid a substantial tribunal award.

Subscribers to our employment health check can get unlimited advice from us on day to day employment law matters from just £85 plus VAT per month. If you are an existing subscriber to our employment health check plan and you wish to discuss this in more detail, please feel free to contact one of our employment team: Paul Roberts, Tom Parkes or Ravinder Sandhu. If you do not yet subscribe to that service please don’t hesitate to contact the team for a quote.

Marriage invalidates wills second time around

As most of you will be aware, we are currently at the height of the marriage season with June being the most popular month for marriages. Throughout the UK, people are gathering in front of friends and family to make a public commitment for a lifetime together.

As is sometimes the case, though marriages do not always work out, and some people will be hoping for more luck in love next time around, hence the reason for some marriages where at least one of those involved has been married before.

In a society more complex than ever before coupled with a rise in older people getting married following divorce, Wills need to be looked at when there is a change in one’s marriage circumstances as this will render any previous Will null and void. Simply put, too few people are aware that marriage will automatically revoke any previous Will.

Considering the strong possibility that many people re-entering marriage have existing family the issue of amending their Will desperately needs to be highlighted, yet too little is said about it.

Based on the most up to date figures only 40 per cent of people have a Will with this figure rising to only 60 per cent for those aged 55 and over.  It is a vital document giving clarity around what is to be done with your estate when you are no longer around, and it can ensure that there is little room for legal battles that can have such a damaging effect on families and other loved ones.

It is important not only that you make a Will but continue to review any existing Will to ensure that it is still relevant for your current circumstances.

It is also worth highlighting that law firms like Keelys are insured so there is recourse if there’s a problem. By choosing a solicitor to make or update your Will, you are in safe hands and can also take advantage of the best legal advice in related areas, such as care issues or inheritance tax planning.

Anybody who wants to know more about making or updating a will should contact us at Keelys, where we can give you the advice you need to make sure you have peace of mind. Please call us today on 01543 420000, whilst the issue is fresh in your mind.

Keelys welcomes Sonali on board

Here at Keelys Solicitors we are always delighted to welcome new legal talent and are pleased to announce the appointment of Sonali Obhrai who has joined us as a family law expert.

Sonali is an experienced solicitor in this sensitive and complex area of law and brings a great pedigree.

She studied law at De Montfort University and has spent her working life in and around the Midlands, which is her local patch being a lady heralding from Wolverhampton.

With a notable background in all aspects of family law, especially divorce she brings a practical and constructive way of approaching her work.

Away from work, she enjoys yoga, is learning Italian, and also plays a part in improving her local community, with volunteering and mentoring students part of her life away from law

As with all Keely’s staff, Sonali fits perfectly with our way of approaching legal matters and we wish her a long and productive stay with us, where she will become a well-known attribute to us and the community renown for her expertise.   We wish her well.

Dramatic rise in investigations into Lasting Powers of Attorney abuse

It is alarming to learn of recent news that the government carried out nearly 50% more investigations concerning abuse complaints regarding lasting powers of attorney (LPA) last year.

The Office of the Public Guardian received 5,245 claims that attorneys were abusing their powers over donor’s finances in 2018 – a new record figure.

A Lasting Power of Attorney is a legal document drawn up where a person chooses someone to look after their financial and other life affairs should they become incapacitated at some point in the future.

Although every case is looked at, 3,359 allegations of attorneys abusing their position were not considered viable cases, but the 1,886 cases that were investigated is a 50% increase in investigations in 2017.

Another recent report showed 74% of those aged between 65 and 74-years-old have failed to make a lasting power of attorney and 35% have no intention of doing so, despite people living longer.

It goes without saying, with this in mind, as the population continues to age, making an LPA very late in life could mean more loved ones successfully challenging the capacity of a donor’s decision.

To add to this, there are more complex family structures than a generation ago, due to remarriages etc., meaning additional conflict when attorneys are picked.

Unfortunately though, as wills and trusts experts, we at Keelys are well aware that the cost of a complaint is a substantial drain on a mentally incapacitated person’s finances.

It means those making an LPA have to be very careful about who they appoint. For instance, is it wise to put all of your children as attorneys when there is great friction between them?

For us, dealing with such matters, we think it is problematic that so many people are not protecting themselves by planning for later life.

It is clear there is still a lack of awareness of the importance and benefits of a Lasting Power of Attorney, which is so needed for the modern age.

After all, this is a legally recognised way to choose trusted individuals to make decisions about their welfare.

We can only hope the awareness of Lasting Powers of Attorney grows, but also that the right consideration is given by those who it affects most.

Lichfield Pancake Race 2019

Keelys newest recruits, Lorraine Dewar and Sian Peverill from the Corporate Department, take part in the annual Lichfield Pancake Race.

No fault divorce a welcome step for a better future

News that no fault divorces are to be introduced in this country can only be seen as a welcome step.

The justice secretary, David Gauke, recently said he will bring in legislation for the reform in the next session of parliament.

Until now, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 in England and Wales, meant anyone seeking a divorce must either prove their partner is at fault through adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour.

Aside of that, if both sides agree, they can part after two years of separation. Without consent or evidence of fault, applicants have to wait until they have been living apart for five years.

As family law experts we can only see the removal of blame in a relationship ending as a positive step as it takes away factors that can stoke up conflict.

The justice secretary launched a consultation last autumn on reforming the law. Apparently, according to the national press, the responses to the consultation were overwhelmingly in favour of the change.

Last year, the much publicised Tini Owens case highlighted the issue. The supreme court ruled she could not divorce her husband until a period of five years had elapsed, as he did not agree to the divorce. They had been living separate lives since 2015.

As well as thousands of lawyers across the land being in favour of the change, like ourselves at Keelys, family law organisation Resolution, also overwhelming supports the reform.

Divorce law has often meant people making up stories to allow a divorce to happen quicker, or even pointing fingers at each other about behaviour.

Whilst much of the detail has yet to be agreed, it seems clear the legislation should soon be law.

Separation and divorce looks likely to be far less acrimonious for many people bringing us in line with countries like the USA and Spain.

Marriages ending are always a sad situation with deep emotional ties severed, it’s a human issue a million miles away from the cold facts of law. Helping people move on with as little conflict as possible can only help all those involved in marriage break-up.

If you would like to talk to us about this or any aspect of family law, then contact our team today, they are here to help you.

Mediation producing a brighter future for couples who don’t want a lifetime of hurt

Dealing with marriage break up is sadly part and parcel of family law experts day to day working lives.

However, no matter how much we accept it as an aspect of our jobs, it still can be difficult at times when we see divorces where the couples find it very difficult to reach an agreement and the case inevitably leads to court proceedings.

Of course, that is not always the case and many couples can move on with their lives as amicably as possible.

With the week of January 21-25 being National Mediation Week it makes good sense to talk about avoiding conflict in marriage breakdown.

Collaborative law, as we know it, is a sensible approach to divorce.

It involves couples sitting down with their respective specialist family solicitors, face to face, to work on a solution.  It isn’t for all situations, and it can only be successful if the parties have a desire for it to work and if the parties are totally honest.

This Collaborative Family Law approach prevents the expense and emotional turmoil of going to court.

It is worth adding also that you still benefit from having your own independent legal advisor, but it takes away the threat of court proceedings.

Many more family law cases are being dealt with in this way and it has to be welcomed.

It avoids prolonged legal battles and in our view is generally a positive course of action, which should be pursued with legal advice to ensure that the right decisions are made for the future.

Thankfully, mediation is now helping to make a very difficult part of a person’s life, which causes great upheaval that little bit easier at an emotionally draining time.

If you wish to know more please contact the family law team at Keelys. We are here to help.