Common-Law Marriage “Myth” Puts Co-habiting Couples at Risk

Cohabitation is the fastest growing family type in the UK, with the number of unmarried couples living together more doubling from 1.5m in 1996 to 3.3m in 2017.

However, family justice organisation Resolution has warned that many of these couples could be at financial risk because of a lack of understanding of the legal system, and has called for a change in the law.

A recent poll conducted by ComRes found that:

  • Two-thirds of people in cohabiting relationships are unaware that there is no such as thing as ‘common-law marriage’;
  • Four in five cohabitants agree that the legal rights of cohabiting couples who separate are unclear;
  • Seventy-nine per cent of the public agree that there is a need for greater legal protection for unmarried couples upon separation;
  • Eighty-four per cent of the public agree that the Government should take steps to ensure unmarried cohabiting couples are aware that they don’t have the same legal protection as married couples.

“Today’s poll shows that many still believe in the myth that they will get financial rights through ‘common-law marriage’” commented Resolution chair Nigel Shepherd. “This means millions of cohabiting couples are unaware that they don’t have automatic claims, for example on the property they live in, if they split up. This makes it less likely they’ll take steps to protect themselves.”

“In many cases, this lack of protection affects women more than men, as they are still more likely to have taken time off work to raise children,” he said.

“Society has changed – it’s time for our laws to catch up,” he added.

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For expert legal advice on marriage, cohabitation and separation then contact our specialist family lawyers today.

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Seasons Greetings to our Valued Clients and Festive Opening Hours

Seasons greetings! As the holiday approaches we would like to take this opportunity to inform valued clients and potential new customers of our opening hours and Christmas activities.

Christmas and New Year Opening Hours

The office will be closed from 3pm on Friday 22nd December 2017, re-opening at 9am on Wednesday 3rd January 2018. During the period that the office is closed, any urgent enquiries should be directed to Pauline on 07595 779423 or Philip 07740 870400.

We will respond to non-urgent enquiries made over the holidays from 3rd January 2018.

Christmas at Child Law Partnership

To celebrate the holidays, we will be having our Christmas dinner party on Wednesday the 20th December.

We would like to wish all of our clients a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year. We thank you for working with us, and hope that you enjoy this time with your loved ones.

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Women Miss Out on Pension Savings in Divorce

Pension pots can be one of the most valuable assets belonging to couples, yet new research has found that these important savings are often being left out of divorce settlement calculations.

Pensions Often Not Included in Divorce Calculations

According to the study by Scottish Widows, 70% of couples don’t consider pensions during divorce proceedings, leaving women short-changed by £5bn every year. The average married couple’s retirement pot apparently amounts to £132k, which is more than five times the average UK salary (£26k) and just over the average price of a house in Bradford.

In fact, the research found that more married people would be concerned about losing a pet during a settlement than sharing a pension (13% vs 9%).

Comparable research conducted in Scotland found that women are losing out around £337 million a year, with an average couple’s retirement pot totalling £109k.

Women Less Prepared for Retirement

Overall, women are less well prepared for retirement than men, with 52% saving adequately for the future compared with 59% respectively. This figure falls to below half (49%) for divorced women, with nearly a quarter (24%) saying they are unable to save anything at all into a pension, twice the rate of divorced men (12%) saving nothing. Furthermore, two-fifths of divorced women (40%) say their retirement prospects became worse as a result of the split, compared with just 19% of men.

Even if pensions are discussed during a divorce settlement, women are still missing out – 16% lost access to any pension pot when they split with their partner and 10% were left relying completely on the State Pension.

Almost half of women (48%) have no idea what happens to pensions when a couple gets divorced, which may explain why so few couples consider them as part of a settlement. A fifth (22%) presume each partner keeps their own pension and 15% believe they are split 50/50, no matter what the circumstances.

Pensions and Divorce

In reality, pensions can be dealt with in a number of ways on divorce. The starting point should always be to find out what pensions there are, what are they worth and how they fit with any other assets such as property and savings and each spouse’s needs for a home and income.

If an adjustment needs to be made to get a fair overall outcome on a divorce this can be done by one person keeping their pension, but the other getting more of the other assets (called “offsetting”); or the court can make a pension sharing order giving a percentage of one person’s pension to the other (which could be 50:50 but often won’t be); or a combination of the two may be needed. However, pension sharing orders are made in just 11% of divorces.

“Generally speaking women’s retirement prospects are worse than men’s,” commented Catherine Stewart, Retirement Expert at Scottish Widows. “The persistent gender pay gap, maternity leave and career breaks can all hold back a woman’s earning potential and this often impacts pension savings. Relationship breakdowns can leave people really vulnerable but, quite simply, they’re also throwing significant sums of money down the drain.”

“It is important that everyone – whether single, married or divorced – take steps to understand their finances and prepare for their independent future should a relationship break down,” she added. “We would urge men and women to better understand the legalities around what happens to pension pots during divorce proceedings, as often they are the second largest, if not the largest asset a couple owns.”

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For expert legal advice on divorce, including financial provision and pensions, then contact our specialist family lawyers today.

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Warning Over Impact of Brexit on Family Law

Three family law organisations, Resolution, the Family Law Bar Association and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, have published a paper highlighting the impact that the slow progress of Brexit negotiations could have on family law in the UK.

Many family law disputes today have an international element, and the families affected rely on the reciprocal agreements that exist between EU member states.

Resolution highlights that there are around 140,000 international divorces and 1,800 child abduction cases across the EU each year. If Brexit doesn’t fully address how these international issues will be resolved going forward, the paper warns that many families face significant confusion and uncertainty and potentially unfair outcomes.

“Families needing to go to court must know that whatever court they end up in, in whatever country, that decision will be respected by other courts,” explained Daniel Eames, who chairs Resolution’s International Committee.

“EU instruments which affect UK family law deal primarily with procedural rather than substantive family law – sovereignty is not the issue here – but they require full reciprocity to work,” he said. “Without reciprocity there is a risk of a ‘one way street’ – the UK would continue to apply EU family law and be obliged unilaterally to recognise and enforce decisions of other EU member states – whereas EU member states would not be obliged to recognise and enforce our decisions.”

“This is a crucial issue for tens thousands of families in the UK, and the rest of the EU. If unresolved, these families could be left in limbo,” he added. “Our concern is that family law will go unnoticed among all the talk of trade deals, immigration and internal party politics. It may not top the Government’s priorities for Brexit, but the impact of inaction would be felt by families and their children for many years to come.”

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For expert legal advice on these issues, or other areas of family law, then contact our specialist family lawyers today.

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Calls for Introduction of No-Fault Divorce

Current divorce laws in England and Wales lead to exaggerated claims of bad behaviour by divorcing couples who are keen to get a quicker divorce.

This is the finding of research published by the Nuffield Foundation, which also concluded that this incentive to exaggerate behaviour can create unnecessary bitterness and conflict amongst divorcing couples.

Grounds for Divorce

Divorce is currently only possible in England and Wales on the following grounds:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Living apart for more than two years, if both parties agree to the divorce
  • Living apart for at least five years, even if one party objects to the divorce

Under this system, couples who want to get divorced without waiting for two years (or five years if one party objects) need to claim that one party is at fault. Around 60% of divorces in England and Wales in 2015 were apparently granted on the grounds of either adultery of behaviour.

Removing Fault from Divorce

Researchers have therefore recommended that fault should be completely removed from divorce law and replaced by a notification system where couples could divorce if one or both of them register that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and confirm the intention to divorce after a period of at least six months.

“This study shows that we already have something tantamount to immediate unilateral divorce ‘on demand’, but masked by an often painful, and sometimes destructive, legal ritual with no obvious benefits for the parties or the state,” explained Professor Liz Trinder from the University of Exeter, who led the research. “A clearer and more honest approach, that would also be fairer, more child-centred and cost-effective, would be to reform the law to remove fault entirely.”

“There is no evidence from this study that the current law protects marriage, and there is strong support for divorce law reform amongst the senior judiciary and the legal profession,” she added. “We recommend removal of fault so that divorce is based solely on the notification, and later confirmation, by one or both spouses that the marriage has broken down. This should be a purely administrative process with no requirement for judicial scrutiny – in the twenty-first century, the state cannot, and should not, seek to decide whether someone’s marriage has broken down.”

Fault-Based Divorces Incite Conflict

The research has been welcomed by family law body Resolution, which has long been campaigning for the introduction of a no fault divorce system.

“This authoritative, academic research should eliminate any doubt from government that the law needs to change,” commented Resolution’s Chair Nigel Shepherd. “Fault-based divorces don’t reflect the reality of relationship breakdown for the majority of couples and do nothing to help them deal constructively with the consequences – indeed they often have the adverse effect of inciting additional conflict between separating partners.”

“At present, many divorcing couples are forced to play the ‘blame game’ – citing examples of unreasonable behaviour or adultery, long after the relationship has broken down, simply to satisfy an archaic requirement on the divorce petition which has its roots in laws drawn up more than a generation ago,” he added. “As the report rightly says, this is an often painful, and sometimes destructive, legal ritual with no obvious benefits for the parties or the state.”

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For expert legal advice on separation and divorce then contact our specialist family law solicitors today.

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ONS Figures Give Insight into Civil Partnership Formation

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently published statistics giving an interesting insight into the take up of civil partnership in England and Wales during 2016.

According to the figures, there were 890 civil partnerships formed, which is an increase of 3.4% compared with 2015. This is apparently the first time civil partnership numbers have increased since the introduction of same-sex marriage was announced in 2013.

Statistical Highlights

The figures also show that:

  • More than two-thirds (68%) of all civil partnerships formed in 2016 were between men, the highest proportion since their introduction in 2005.
  • The age distribution of those forming civil partnerships has changed since the introduction of same-sex marraige in 2014. Almost half (49%) of those entering a civil partnership in 2016 were aged 50 and over, up from 48% in 2015. Prior to the introduction of marriages of same-sex couples this figure was only 19% (2013). There has also been a noticeable increase in the percentage of individuals forming a civil partnership at ages 65 and over (19% in 2016 compared with 4.0% in 2013).
  • The increased percentage of civil partnerships formed by those aged 50 and over has resulted in a rise in the average age at civil partnership formation. In 2016, for the second consecutive year, the average age of women forming a civil partnership (49.9 years) was higher than men (48.6 years). The difference between the average age at civil partnership formation for men and women has also increased in 2016.
  • London continued to be the most popular region for the formation of civil partnerships; 38% of all formations in England and Wales in 2016 occurred in London.
  • There were 1,313 civil partnership dissolutions granted in England and Wales in 2016, of these 60% were to female couples.

ONS Comment

“Following legislative change enabling marriages of same-sex couples from March 2014, civil partnership formations declined as the majority of same-sex couples opted for marriage instead,” commented Nicola Haines from the ONS. “However, 2016 represents the first increase in civil partnership formations since this change, showing that a minority of same-sex couples still prefer this option to marriage. Interestingly, male couples accounted for 68% of all civil partnerships in 2016, however, our latest marriage statistics show that male couples accounted for only 44% of all marriages formed between same sex-couples in 2014.”

Reaction of Relate

Relationship support charity Relate was one of several family-related organisations to comment on the latest statistics.

“It’s interesting that we’re now seeing an increase in civil partnerships for the first time since same-sex marriage was introduced in 2014,” said Chris Sherwood, Chief Executive at Relate. “These figures demonstrate that whilst marriage is now the preferred option for most same-sex couples, civil partnership feels more relevant for some.”

“It’s vital that our legal system adapts to reflect the society we live in and Relate celebrates the fact that same-sex couples now have the option to publically show their commitment in a way that suits them,” he added. “Of course, many couples, regardless of sexual orientation, are choosing to cohabit rather than legally recognise their commitment. Ultimately, it’s the quality of the relationship which really matters to people’s overall wellbeing, which is why investing in our relationships is so important.”

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For expert legal advice on civil partnership and other areas of family law, then contact our specialist family solicitors today.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

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Many Mothers in Care Proceedings Were in Care Themselves

Many women who have had more than one of their children placed in public care or adoption on child protection grounds spent time in the care system themselves as children, new research has found.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Lancaster University and funded by the Nuffield Foundation, revealed that 40% of these mothers had lived in foster care or children’s homes and an additional 14% had lived away from their parents through other arrangements.

Many had suffered abuse and neglect as children and 64% became pregnant as teenagers and struggled to cope with being a mother.

The study also found that many of these women were unable to access support, either to help them cope with parenthood or to help them psychologically after their children were removed.

“We have identified a larger number of ‘repeat mums’ partly because we now have more years of data, but also because we know from national statistics that more families are coming before the family courts in care proceedings,” explained Professor Karen Broadhurst at Lancaster University.

“Regarding the high rates of removals at birth that we have uncovered in this study (60% of all repeat cases), we urgently need to establish best and humane practice in these difficult circumstances to ensure professionals work in partnership with mothers as far as possible and that clear pre-birth plans are in place at a timely point,” she said. “We need to see agencies routinely seeing pregnancy as an important window for change – pre-birth help needs to start much earlier.”

“Although there is much more that needs to be done, the positive reaction to this study within the family justice system demonstrates how population data combined with research evidence can be the catalyst for change that will ultimately mean fewer women and children suffer,” added Director, Justice and Welfare at the Nuffield Foundation Teresa Williams.

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For expert legal advice on issues involving children, or other areas of family law, then contact our specialist family lawyers today.

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Adopted Families Face Serious Challenges

A recent survey of adoptive parents has revealed that many are experiencing serious challenges and disruption within their families.

Challenges and Disruption

The survey, which was carried out by charity Adoption UK together with BBC Radio Four’s File on Four programme, found that over 25% of parents reported either serious challenges, a risk of disruption to the adoption or that the adoption had already been disrupted. Around 50% described the adoption as ‘challenging but stable’, and a further 25% said it was ‘fulfilling and stable’.

“The survey results broadly mirror what we already knew – that many families are experiencing serious challenges,” commented Dr Sue Armstrong Brown, chief executive of Adoption UK. “In a utopian world all adoptive parents’ experiences would be ‘fulfilling and stable’ but we’re talking about some of the most vulnerable children in society.”

Child to Parent Violence

Child to parent violence is apparently a major issue for many adoptive parents. Adoption UK says this violence can often be attributed to traumatic incidents the adopted child experienced before being removed from birth parents and taken into care. Over 5,000 children are adopted each year, and the majority of these adoptions involve children in care.

“We’re talking about trauma-fuelled violence from children who will have witnessed the unthinkable in their early lives,” explained Dr Armstrong Brown. “Adoption is not a silver-bullet – these children’s problems don’t just disappear overnight.”

“Children who have suffered the trauma of abuse or neglect have experienced the world being an unsafe and dangerous place,” she added. “The child’s violent behaviour reveals extreme distress and a need to feel safe and protected. These children need a particular parenting techniques and access to therapy to overcome early childhood trauma, and they may reject any attempts at parental affection or management of their behaviour.”

On a more positive note however, the majority of adoptive parents said they were glad they had taken the decision to adopt.

“Despite the challenges, adopters are resilient and devoted to their children, and these results reinforce that adoption can work for the majority, with the right support,” said Dr Armstrong Brown. “Nine out of ten of the respondents said they were glad that they had adopted.”

Children Spending Less Time in Care

Adoption UK has also recently revealed a fall in the average length of time children are in care before they are adopted.

Children spent an average of 18 months in care in the quarter July – September 2016, which is a decrease of four months compared to the previous quarter. There has also apparently been a drop in the number of children waiting to be adopted, with 2,030 children with placement orders waiting for a family in September 2016, compared to 2,190 in June.

However, Adoption UK has expressed concern over the number of new potential adoptive parents, which appears to be in decline.

“This autumn the number of children needing an adoptive home may outnumber those coming forward to provide that home,” said Dr Armstrong Brown. “Clearly we need to do more to recruit potential adopters, as well as speed up approvals, whilst retaining the rigorous assessment that’s part of that process.”

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For expert legal advice on adoption, or other issues involving children, then contact our specialist family lawyers today.

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Supporting Male Victims of Domestic Violence

It is generally acknowledged that the majority of domestic violence victims are female, but this is not always the case and there is growing recognition that a significant number of men can also regularly find themselves subjected to violence and abuse at the hands of their partner.

In recognition of this fact, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) recently published its first ever public statement recognising the needs and experiences of male victims of these types of offences.

This has been welcomed by male domestic abuse charity the ManKind Initiative, which has taken part in several discussions with the CPS on how such a public statement will make a huge difference to male victims of these crimes. It will hopefully lead to changing societal attitudes toward male victims, recognising these crimes happen to men as well as women and giving more men confidence that they will be supported when they come forward.

The charity highlights that in the year ending March 2016, 4.4% of men (716,000) and 7.7% of women (1.27m) aged 16 to 59 were victims of domestic abuse; with 2.8% of men (451,000) and 5.4% of women (891,000) experiencing partner abuse (non-sexual).

Figures also show that:

  • In 2014-15, 61% of male victims and 88% of female victims told someone; 26% women and 10% of men told the police.
  • 2.7% of men and 4.6% of women were stalked in the year ending March 2016; 0.5% of men and 1.3% of women were stalked by a partner.
  • In 2015, 240 forced marriage cases (20%) involved male victims and 980 forced marriage cases (80%) involved female victims.

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For expert legal advice on divorce and domestic violence, and other areas of family law, then contact our specialist family lawyers today.

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Marital Satisfaction Affected by Age Difference

A recent study has found a link between marital satisfaction and the age difference between spouses.

Associate Professor Wang-Sheng Lee, an economist at the Deakin Business School, worked with University of Colorado’s Professor Terra McKinnish to examine the impact marital age gaps have on marriage satisfaction over time.

The researchers found that both men and women experienced greater initial satisfaction with their marriage when they had younger spouses.

They also found that the reverse was true, with men less satisfied with older wives and women less satisfied with older husbands.

However, the satisfaction associated with having a younger spouse was found not to last.

“Satisfaction eroded relatively quickly for people in couples with an age gap,” commented Associate Professor Lee said. “The initial higher levels of satisfaction experienced by husbands married to younger wives and wives married to younger husbands is expected to be erased within 6–10 years of marriage.”

“One reason for this decline is that differently aged couples might be less able to respond to negative economic shocks, such as job loss for the primary breadwinner or requiring funds for an emergency,” he explained. “In other words, similarly-aged couples are likely to be more resilient to shocks.”

“The data also suggests that couples with a larger age gap are less likely to have both partners working and this could make them financially more vulnerable,” he added.

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For expert legal advice on separation and divorce, or other family law matters, then contact our specialist family lawyers today.

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