Monthly Archives: April 2014

April Brings Landmark Changes in Family Justice

April marks two major developments in the world of family law with the implementation of the Children & Families Act 2014 and the integration to the Single Family Court.

The Act which comes in to force on 22nd April brings with it a wide range of changes relating to children and families which includes more rigorous plans to tackle delay in adoption system, maximum 26-week time limit on completing cases concerning children taken in to care, changes to the system governing young people living in children homes and foster parents, new legislation extending parental leave beyond parents to adopters and those going through surrogacy arrangements.

Meena Kumari, family Solicitor and accredited Resolution member, commented on the Act stating that there were many changes the top three impacting on private law children cases include :-

  1. The long awaited presumption that it is in the best interest of the child of separated parents to have continued involvement with both parents in their lives unless they present a risk to the child.
  2. Change in terminology will no longer mention residence and contact orders, rather child arrangement orders which create equality between separated parents. The arrangements contained within any order will still, however, determine where a child lives and when they will see the other parent.
  3. Making it a requirement to attend a family mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) before apply to the court for certain orders. To find out more about mediation visit the FamilyFirst Mediation webpage.

The Single Family Court will bring together the functions of the Magistrates Court, County Court and High Court under one uniform umbrella organisation.  All locations of family courts will detail with all aspects of family law with the exception of some matters relating to international child related disputes and adults with mental incapacity which will be reserved to the High Court.

All new cases will be started and heard in the Family Court but will be allocated to an appropriate judge by the court staff.  All level of judges and magistrates will work alongside each other (as judges of the family court).  Each hearing cases on appropriate levels of complexity and issues.

For specialist advice on your all your rights after separation contact the Ridley & Hall’s FamilyFirst team either by phone on 01484 538421 or by e-mail.

Charity Summer Ball

We are hosting our Summer Ball in aid of our Charity of the Year, Macmillan Cancer Support.  The ball is taking place at Huddersfield Cedar Court Hotel on Saturday 14th June 2014 for 6:45pm start.  The tickets are priced at £40 per person which includes a drink on arrival and a 3 course meal.  There will also be a DJ after the meal as well as music from a live band.

On the night we will be having a charity auction and raffle (with all proceeds going to Macmillan), for which we have some amazing prizes! These include:-

  • Ski Holiday in the French Alps (including flights, food and drink)
  • Ipad Mini
  • Alexandra Spa Package (full body massage) for 2
  • English National Ballet
  • Manchester United signed shirt
  • Yorkshire County Cricket Tickets x 2
  • Paintball for up to 10 people
  • Meal for Two at Sun Inn
  • Erics Restaurant Voucher
  • Dinner, Bed and Breakfast for Two at Cedar Court
  • Plus many more

(If you wish to participate in the raffle and/or auction but can’t make the ball itself just contact a member of the charity committee at Ridley & Hall on 01484 538421 as this can also be arranged.)

For the gamblers amongst you, we have arranged a casino which will include roulette and a blackjack table.

Obviously we want to make this a massive success for Macmillan, so if you think your family or friends would be interested, excellent, however, if it is just you plus one we can still guarantee you an excellent night of entertainment, laughter and raising money for a good cause!

As we are hosting an event at Cedar Court there is a discount if you would like to stay over with prices starting from £59.

If anyone would like to join us for what will be a brilliant evening, please telephone 01484 538421 and ask for Nicola Heaversedge or Sarah Brown on the Ridley & Hall Charity Committee or alternatively please email either Nicola or Sarah.  Tickets will be available on a first come, first served basis.

We really hope that you can make it! Even if you can’t, please forward this to your family, friends and colleagues!

Useful Links

Cedar Court Hotel

Ridley & Hall JustGiving Page

MacMillan Cancer Support

Free Wills Month – Well Worth It For Charity

The Wills and Probate department at Ridley & Hall is pleased to announce the outcome of another successful Free Wills Month, having raised approximately £73,200 of future income for the Free Wills Month charities in the October 2013 campaign. The scheme works by simple Wills being prepared free of charge to the clients in the hope that the clients will include either a cash gift or leave a share of their estate to one (or more, if desired) of the participating charities. The results were processed and recently published by the participating charities: RNLI, Guide Dogs, WWF, National Trust, BHF, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, Arthritis Research UK, Blue Cross and Stroke Association, with fantastic results.

This was the department’s fifth consecutive year of participating in the Free Wills Month campaign and it has again proved to be more than worthwhile. The scheme proved so popular this time that the organisers had to end the programme a week early due to numbers of clients reaching saturation point for the solicitors taking part nationwide. Ridley & Hall’s PWills and Probate department, led by Jill Waddington, and assisted by Hilary Sisson and Helen Webster, were again pleased with the number of clients wanting to take part, and were humbled by the generosity shown.

The department has also just participated in the Calderdale and Kirklees Age UK Will Making Month. This is organised slightly differently, in that the Will is prepared free of charge by Jill, Helen or Hilary, and the client then makes a voluntary donation to Age UK in return. This took place throughout March 2014 and Ridley & Hall received over £500 in donations which was safely delivered to the Age UK team at their Huddersfield office.

These two distinct promotions have received overwhelming responses and Ridley & Hall hope to participate for many more to come (the paperwork has already arrived for October 2014!) In the meantime, Jill and her team would like to extend their thanks, and the appreciation of the charities, to the clients old and new who have made donations and legacies for these worthy causes during these drives.

For further advice on making a Will, please contact the Wills and Probate team on 01484 538421, or by e-mail.

“Stalinist” Response to Groundbreaking Report Which Challenges Government Approach to Adoption

On Wednesday 9th April 2014, the Department for Education launches a groundbreaking report on adoption. The University of Bristol was commissioned to report on adoption breakdown. The report’s title is now “Beyond Adoption: challenges, intervention and adoption disruption”.

(See also University of Bristol website: Report reveals adoption breakdown rate and the experiences of adoptive families in crisis)

Commenting on the report and the events surrounding its launch, Nigel Priestley, who was a member of the DfE advisory group on adoption breakdown, commented:

“The report confirms that adoption can work – but for many adopters, better support is needed. This is groundbreaking research. It identifies:

  • When adoptive placements do break down, the consequences are severe.
  • The difficulties and stresses that lead to disruption are often known and experienced by the family over many years.
  • The long term consequences of early abuse and neglect can have a profound impact on the young person and their adoptive family. This is compounded where support is patchy, poorly coordinated and ineffective.
  • There needs to be an urgent investigation to establish a more robust framework for multi-agency coordination and cooperation building on the current developments in improving adoption support.  This must include local authorities, health, education and the voluntary sector.  These have resourcing implications.
  • The urgency in ensuring that adopters and children are not left alone when they encounter the kinds of difficulties so clearly identified.
  • The importance of prospective adopters receiving full information on the child being placed with them.
  • The Report contains graphic interviews with adopters who have faced significant challenges as they have tried to parent the children whom they have adopted.”

Mr Priestley went on, “The stories told by both the adopters and the children who have been adopted ring true in my own experience. I have represented many adopters who have faced colossal challenges with the children they have adopted .They include chief executives of major local authorities, church ministers, a member of a fostering and adoption team, a consultant paediatrician, and a former deputy head teacher. All were committed parents.

“They all thought they were realistic about adoption but found they were facing insurmountable problems. For example one had to sleep on the landing to stop one child he and his wife had adopted from going into his sister’s bedroom for sex. Both children were aged under 8 years old. Many of the children had a significant attachment disorder.

“Adopters need to be told the truth about the children placed with them. It is critical that as the Report recommends there is coordinated and properly resourced support for adopters.”

Response of Department for Education – don’t engage with the Press!

The Report was due to launched on 20th March 2014 at a British Association for Adoption and Fostering Conference.

Nigel Priestley said “I have been pressing the DfE for a launch date. I understand that at the BAAF conference the DfE imposed strict conditions on the presentation from University of Bristol.

Pressed further about a launch date, the DfE have now sent out the following e-mail to members of the advisory group: “I thought you would find it helpful to know that the Adoption Disruption Report is scheduled for publication next Wednesday 9th April. We would be grateful if you could avoid engagement with the press about this report.  If members of the press do contact you please can you inform Anna Rutter in our Press Office?”

“I am puzzled by what appears to be an almost Stalinist approach to news management simply because DfE appears to think that its findings do not fit the government’s own agenda.”

Some of its conclusions help the government’s strong support for adoption. The report confirms:

  • Disruptions in adoption placements, where the child returns to care after being legally adopted, have been subject to significant speculation over many years.   The rate is much lower than expected.
  • The research supports the widely held view that adoptive placements provide children with stable, secure loving homes when they cannot live with their birth parents.  The UK has established a system for ensuring children severely at risk can be placed into adoptive homes when local authorities and the courts agree. This research identifies that this continues to be the right policy.

The DfE appears to be concerned about how the report’s conclusions are received. The Children and Families Act 2014 which strongly promotes adoption has received royal assent.

The report has come at a difficult time for the government:

  1. Adoption is under scrutiny in the courts. The Court of Appeal’s decision in Re: B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ. 813 emphasises that the severance of family ties inherent in an adoption without parental consent is an extremely draconian step and one that requires the highest level of evidence. This decision has had a significant impact on courts throughout the country.
  2. The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) is not fit for purpose. In light of the concerns which have been expressed by the Chief Medical Officer and others about both the extent to which children and adolescents are affected by mental health problems and difficulties with gaining access to appropriate treatment, the Health Committee has decided to undertake an inquiry into children’s and adolescent mental health and CAMHS. Support from CAMHS is vital for many adoptive families.
  3. Government cuts have had a significant impact on early intervention family support workers who would be the first line of support for beleaguered families.

Nigel Priestley is Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors and an advisor with the Adoption Legal Centre. For further information please contact the Adoption Legal Centre via phone on 01484 538421 or via e-mail.

Nigel Priestley Meets Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties

Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall recently met Rt Hon Simon Hughes. In December 2013 Mr Hughes was appointed as a Minister of State for Justice and Civil Liberties. The meeting followed an invitation from the Minister to discuss the issues facing family practitioners and the courts.Nigel Priestley (right), Rt Hon Simon Hughes (left)

Mr Priestley commented “We discussed a number of issues. I stressed that cuts to civil legal aid have undoubtedly caused a significant increase in the number of litigants in person in court – people who can’t afford a solicitor.

“There has been a significant increase in the number of litigants in person. I find that out when I talk to colleagues who appear before district judges. It’s having an effect on the bottom rung of justice. It is particularly acute in family cases as two people are required to be adversarial. Lawyers could in the past have helped to resolve difficulties between parties.

“The saving the government thought it would get by not having lawyers has to be counter-balanced by the increase you have to have in court time.

“The government needs to set in motion further consideration of the rights of cohabitees when there is a breakdown of their relationship. Too many people who do not marry believe they have the same rights to sort out assets as those who are divorced. This simply isn’t the case.

“It was a useful meeting and it was a privilege to be invited.”

Consider the Legal and Financial Implications of Cohabiting

Why I won’t be saying “I do”

A recent article in Essentials Magazine entitled – “Why I won’t be saying I do” in which the article’s author Tamar Cohen expresses her views on marriage prompted a response from Ridley & Hall partner Sarah Young, a solicitor who specialises in disputed Wills cases. Whilst the article concentrates on the numbers of marriages ending in divorce, whether parents being married is important to children and whether some people just might prefer to avoid the wedding day event, the attention to legal and financial implications was perhaps understated as Sarah Young explains:

“I felt that I had to write in response to the article “Why I won’t be saying I Do” in Essentials Magazine April issue.  Tamar Cohen refers to couples getting hitched “often for practical reasons like pensions or tax”. As a solicitor specialising in Will disputes I was concerned that your readers might think that nowadays it doesn’t really make much difference whether you’re married or not, as far as your legal and financial position is concerned.

Unfortunately, that is not true.  There is no such thing as a ‘common law’ wife or husband; if you’re living with someone and your unmarried partner dies then your legal rights are much more limited than if you were married. A deceased’s estate passes in accordance with their Will or intestacy. If the family home is in joint names that is often not a problem (because usually the house goes automatically to the surviving partner), but any other assets and liabilities go into the deceased’s estate. As most people (two thirds) don’t make a Will – and many of them are out of date anyway – the problem is that often the Will or the intestacy leaves an unmarried partner with nothing at all.

At the moment, this could mean that a surviving partner (no matter how long the cohabitation has lasted) can be left penniless on their partner’s death.  The Inheritance Act 1975 does provide a safety net -  it is possible to make an application to court if you are the unmarried partner of someone who has died who hasn’t made reasonable financial provision for you, but this can be complicated and expensive and it usually has to be done within six months of a Grant of Probate being taken out, so just at the time that someone has been bereaved is feeling at their most vulnerable. I had a case where my client, in her nineties, had lived with her partner for over 50 years. But because the house was in his name, his family tried to kick her out of the house the day after he died!

I have dealt with many tragic cases, especially those involving a sudden death. Inheritance Act cases can involve mothers having to sue their own children, or the deceased’s children from a previous relationship (as they are often the next of kin in an intestacy situation). This can just add to the trauma of the whole situation for a surviving partner.

Legal Aid used to be available for these cases but was abolished by the government in April 2013.

The legal horrors do not stop there; if you and your partner separate then, again, you have far fewer rights as a cohabitee than you do as a spouse.  You have no right to claim financial provision. Say that the property you live in is in your partner’s sole name, but you have contributed to the mortgage and/or building works over the years.  You would have to go to court to argue that a trust had arisen as a result of your contributions and that it had always been intended that you should have a share of the property, but that can be difficult to prove. Women are especially at risk as they are more likely to stay at home to bring up the children and miss out on the opportunity to earn money.

It is not that I am suggesting that everyone should get married!  But anyone who is cohabiting, or thinking about cohabiting, needs to do it with their eyes wide open and be aware of the legal and financial implications for them and any children they may have if their partner dies or they should split up.

It is possible (though I accept not particularly romantic!) to have a cohabitation agreement. Any property should be held in a way that makes it clear as to who owns what.  Everyone should make a Will and review it regularly.

Sometimes disputes are inevitable, but I very much wish that I didn’t have to get involved in cases where just a little bit of pre-planning and open communication could have avoided a huge amount of heartache and expense.  No one likes to think about their death or relationship breakdown, but we’re letting them down if we don’t have these conversations with our families and loved ones.

For further advice, please contact Sarah Young on 0843 289 4640.

How Do You Choose Your Conveyancer?

What follows is the findings of a consumer survey, details of which appear on Today’s Conveyancer, aimed at the conveyancing profession:-

“A recent survey has revealed that most home buyers rely on recommendations from their estate agents when looking for a conveyancer.

The annual report was carried out by the Property Academy in association with the TM Group and more than 4,700 consumers across England and Wales took part.

The findings showed that 68% of home buyers would ask for advice from their estate agent when choosing a conveyancer, with 46 percent making their choice based on an estate agents recommendation, a five percent increase from last year’s survey.

Surprisingly, the results also demonstrated that home movers were less concerned with finding a firm with the cheapest fees and more tuned into how much communication a conveyancer would offer, with only 18 percent of home-movers making a choice based on low fees, whereas 38 percent wanted a conveyancer to keep in touch once a week.

Customer retention fell by four percent from last year’s survey with the data also showing that customer retention is falling, with only 31 percent of home movers returning to a previous conveyancer, down four percent from the previous year’s findings and that online searches only accounted for seven percent of conveyancer selection.

The Home Moving Trends survey did show that an overwhelming majority of 78 percent of consumers said they would return to a previous conveyancer, with positive remarks about the service they had received centering on the words professional, efficient, helpful, friendly and thorough.”

Liz Wallis of Ridley & Hall LLP comments:- “It is interesting looking at the statistics that of those surveyed the percentage of people who would not recommend their conveyancer was similar to the percentage of people whose choice was made by reference to the cheapest price and on the face of it there would appear to be a correlation between the two.

“Those in the profession who pride themselves on a good, professional and efficient service will always have stories of their conveyancing nightmares sometimes arising purely out of unqualified or inexperienced personnel acting for the other party and delays occasioned are not always necessarily arising out of title issues.  We at Ridley and Hall LLP do consider our conveyancing costs to be competitive and take into account the experience of our fee earners and the service we provide and which is expected by our clients but for those seeking to choose a conveyancer on the lowest price alone, there is sometimes truth in the statement ‘You get what you pay for’.

“As with selecting any tradesman to undertake work in your home, it is preferable if possible to choose your conveyancer on an independent recommendation perhaps of friends or family who might have moved in recent history and who might have been impressed with the service they received.  Choice of conveyancer can make a difference to how your matter progresses and a good conveyancer can certainly alleviate some of the stress associated with one of the most stressful events of your life.”

Those wishing to buy or sell property, or indeed anybody wishing to remortgage property, are invited to contact either Alison Mason, Liz Wallis or Adam Fletcher to discuss your conveyancing needs.  We do pride ourselves on repeat instructions which, in our minds, speaks for itself. Please feel free to call us on 01484 538421 and ask to speak to a member of the Conveyancing team.

Gay Marriages; Equality at Last for Same Sex Couples in Life… and Death

New legislation at last brings an opportunity for gay couples to marry.  At the same time it will open up some of the same perils and pitfalls that currently face heterosexual married couples following relationship breakdown or death.

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was given royal assent on the 17th July 2013.  From Saturday, 29th March the first same sex weddings can take place in England and Wales.  In a nutshell the Act:

  • Allows same sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies
  • Allows same sex couples to marry in religious ceremonies, where the religious organisation has opted in to conduct a ceremony and the minister agrees.
  • Enables civil partners to convert their partnership to a marriage
  • Enables same sex marriages conducted abroad to be recognised as marriages in England and Wales.
  • Enables married individuals to change their legal gender without having to end their marriage.

After years of campaigning, the Act marks substantial progress towards equal rights for same sex couples but there are some differences:

  • Married persons on the same sex will not be able to divorce on grounds of adultery, or have their marriage annulled on the grounds of non consummation.
  • Pension inheritance rights are reduced on the death of a same sex marriage because employers are only required to pay the same sex surviving spouse based on contributions made since 2005.

Sarah Young, Partner at Ridley and Hall solicitors, specialising in contentious probate says:

“The new Act, despite some of its flaws is very welcome.  Getting married is a huge and exciting commitment in any couple’s life.  If you are a same sex couple and are planning to get married you will probably be thinking about colour schemes, flowers and the venue, but making a Will should also form part of your plans. It’s important to be aware that if you already have a Will in place and then marry, unless the Will is made in contemplation of marriage, that will is no longer valid when you marry.”

If you do not have a valid Will when you die, the intestacy rules will come into play.  These rules will apply to same sex married couples so that a spouse of a same sex marriage will benefit from their husband or wife’s estate.

But sometimes the intestacy rules or a will can result in a deceased failing to make ‘reasonable financial provision’ for a loved one. The Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 allows a claim to be brought against a deceased’s estate in these circumstances.

To be eligible to apply under the 1975 Act you have to be either:

  • A spouse or civil partner of the deceased or
  • A cohabitee (for the 2 years before the deceased’s death) or
  • A former spouse or civil partner (so long as you have not formed a subsequent marriage or civil partnership) or
  • A child of the deceased or
  • Any person that was treated by the deceased as a child of the family in relation to the marriage or civil partnership or
  • Any person who immediately before the death of the deceased was being maintained, wholly or partly, by the deceased.

Sarah Young explains why the Inheritance Act matters:-

“I acted in a case where my client lived with his gay partner in a house that was in his partner’s sole name.  Years before the partner had been in another relationship and had made a Will leaving everything to his then boyfriend.  He died suddenly without making a new Eill and my client was devastated to find out that he would not receive anything because of the earlier Will.  He brought a claim under the Inheritance Act as a cohabitee but the previous boyfriend who was the beneficiary under the Will tried to argue that my client was just a lodger, (even though the house only had one bedroom!).  The case was resolved in my client’s favour but it was extremely distressing for him to have to ask friends to provide statements to prove that he was in a loving relationship at the time when his partner died.”

She went on to add:

“The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 may lead to many more gay couples getting married as they finally feel that their relationship will be treated equally in the eyes of the law. That must be something to be celebrated, but with the benefits of marriage come also the potential legal and financial problems of death and divorce…so plan for the worst and hope for the best!”

For further advice please contact Sarah Young on 0843 289 4640.

Landmark Case on Deprivation of Liberty

A Supreme Court decision last week has radically changed the way that we must treat our most vulnerable citizens.

In society some people need restrictions placed on them to keep them safe. For instance, it probably seems right that a frail elderly lady with advanced dementia, who is no longer able to make basic decisions such as “am I hungry?” or “am I cold?” should be moved to a care home where she can be looked after and kept safe.

However, when do these restrictions amount to a deprivation of liberty? Most people would be extremely unhappy if they were forced from their home into a care home where they were always under the watchful eye of care home staff. So, at what point, and in what circumstances, is it right to place restrictions on an individual’s liberty?

The Court of Protection, which was established in 2007, is frequently asked to consider this issue. If someone is found to be deprived of their liberty then their circumstances must, by law, be kept under review to ensure that restrictions are kept to the minimum and are in the person’s best interests.

Last week the Supreme Court handed down a hugely important judgement which clarified the position as to what amounts to a deprivation of liberty. The case was P v Cheshire West and Chester Council [2014] UKSC 19.

Baroness Hale outlined the key factors which indicate a person is being deprived of their liberty. They are:

  1. The person concerned was under continuous supervision and control; and
  2. They are not free to leave the placement.

In terms of leaving the placement this is in relation to moving to somewhere else to live, rather than just leaving for a day trip!

Factors which were previously, and should no longer be taken into account are:

  1. The person’s compliance or lack of objection
  2. The relative normality of the placement
  3. The reason or purpose behind a particular placement.

Although these reasons may be relevant when justifying the deprivation.

Rebecca Chapman, a solicitor specialising in Court of Protection, from Ridley and Hall Solicitors said:

“This decision is groundbreaking in its recognition of the importance of respecting the human rights of vulnerable people. The concept of liberty applies equally to all people and can no longer be applied on a ‘sliding scale’.”

She went on to add;

“Prior to the Supreme Court judgement the ‘liberty’ of a person was assessed on the ‘relative normality’ of the situation. So people who were mentally disabled and required a lot of restrictions to keep them safe, would be deemed to still have their liberty. This is because this was normal for them, relative to their situation.

This decision places everyone on a level playing field; we should all expect the same level of freedom. But some people should still have their freedom limited to keep them safe. In these situations the judgement now means that the restrictions must be kept under review to ensure they are as minimal as possible and remain in the person’s best interests.”

Rebecca’s conclusion is that;

“This will mean that a huge number of people, not previously thought to be deprived of their liberty, in fact are now so deprived in the eyes of the law.”

To contact Rebecca Chapman, please call 01484 538421.