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Marriage vs Cohabitation Understanding your legal rights

By | Education, family, Finance, Legal, Relationships, Uncategorized | No Comments
by Deborah Bailey
Gowen & Stevens Solicitors

Marriage, or indeed a civil partnership, which is treated the same as marriage upon breakdown, is not for everyone. Even though there have been changes in the law allowing same sex partners to marry, a growing number of couples still regard it as old-fashioned and believe they have no requirement for ‘a piece of paper’ to confirm commitment to each other. Living together or ‘cohabiting’ remains the fastest growing family arrangement.

Often, it is only when facing the breakdown of a relationship that unmarried couples realise how that seemingly irrelevant piece of paper could have altered their situation. Furthermore, even if you remain blissfully together, there are still potential pitfalls for cohabiting families as time passes. Read on to find out how you can protect yourself and your children.

Even if you have lived together for a long time or have children together, the law will not protect you if you break up. Despite the media’s love of the term common-law wife, or indeed husband, this is not a recognised term in law. The fact that your relationship even existed, when it comes to the law, may be irrelevant. Often, the only issue to resolve in a breakdown of a cohabiting relationship will be what happens to the home. The fact that there may be children to re-home may not be a consideration and you could end up in a desperate situation.

Conversely, when looking at how to distribute a family’s assets on divorce, a spouse can call upon the matrimonial law to look at all the relevant circumstances of the relationship, often before but certainly during and after the marriage. The goal in these circumstances is to seek a result that is fair to both spouses with the welfare of the children being treated as a primary consideration. The future living arrangements of all involved will be a concern as will the financial position of each spouse following the divorce.

Whilst campaigners are lobbying for a change in the law to protect unmarried families, until this happens, people need to be aware and take steps wherever possible to protect themselves and their children. So what can you do?

Property
If you own property together and both names are on the property register, then you probably had a discussion with your conveyancing solicitor about how you would own the property so there is a chance that your ownership will already be clearly defined.

Matters become more complicated if the property is owned by only one of you. However, the non legal owner may still have an interest in the property dependant upon how finances were arranged during the relationship and what agreements you had. Seeking legal advice in this scenario is essential and can help determine your interest and how you can realise this.

If you are buying a property in which you intend to live together, speak to your solicitor about the ways in which you can own the property and how you can protect yourself.

Maintenance
If you are looking after the children, you can claim maintenance following a break-up from your former partner for your children. If this cannot be agreed, apply to the Child Maintenance Service.

Unlike divorce, unmarried former partners cannot claim maintenance for themselves from the other partner, even if they are the stay-at-home parent looking after the children.

Inheritance
As cohabiting partners, unlike married couples, there is no automatic right of inheritance if your partner dies without making a will. Whilst you and your children could make an application against your partner’s estate if they were maintaining you prior to their death, this could be a stressful experience at an already difficult time. Making a Will could avoid a lot of anxiety and uncertainty for your loved ones.

Partners should also think about taking out life assurance.

Consider also making Lasting Powers of Attorney. If you become ill and incapable of managing your own affairs a cohabiting partner has no legal right to make decisions on your behalf. This could cause difficulties with the wider family who may or may not know your wishes. Appointing your partner as your Attorney could avoid such difficulties.

Cohabitation Agreements
It’s not very romantic but thinking about your arrangements before you buy a property or move in together can save a lot of heartache if things go wrong. A cohabitation agreement is strongly recommended and a solicitor can help you consider all the issues that could arise and, provided it is properly drafted, could protect against costly court proceedings.

Ultimately, every situation is different but being aware that living together is very different from being married means that you can take steps to avoid problems later if things go wrong. Always seek advice from an experienced solicitor who specialises in this complex area of family law.

An established practice for over 120 years with offices in Cheam, Banstead and Sutton. Offering a highly personal service tailored to all aspects of your family and business life.
www.gowenandstevens.com

What you need to know before considering mediation

By | Education, family, Finance, Legal, Relationships, Uncategorized | No Comments
by Sarah Brookes
Brookes Family Mediation

The mediator will not tell you what to do or make any decisions for you
The mediator’s role is to support you both towards reaching joint decisions, on the issues that you each identify as needing resolution. Whilst the mediator will help you to reality test any proposed agreements; to ensure that they will work as intended, in meeting and protecting each of your needs; they will not seek to influence the final decisions that you make. You will be supported to jointly take responsibility for the shape of your future. This approach reduces conflict and minimises the need to compete; unfortunately, the exact opposite is true of court proceedings. It is for this reason that mediated arrangements have proved less likely to break down than court ordered arrangements.

Mediation is more likely to be successful if you keep an open mind
Whilst it is helpful to give some thought to what you would like to achieve through mediation; you will also need to be able to consider ideas and proposals put forward by the other person. This approach enables all options to be explored, in order to find the best solutions for you both. Agreement is usually reached quickest when both people feel that they have been fully and equally involved and listened to within the process.

A mediator does not make moral judgements
Mediation is not about raking over the past to decide who was right and who was wrong. It is about dealing with the here and now, and the practical arrangements and decisions that need to be made, to enable you both to move forward in the best way possible. The mediator will remain impartial and committed to helping you both equally, throughout the process. Emotional outbursts are fairly common within mediation, and will not affect the mediator’s ability to remain entirely impartial.

A mediator is not a passive observer
The mediator will take an active part in your discussions, and whilst they will not give advice, they will often make suggestions, flag up points that have not been considered, and give relevant information. Where necessary, the mediator will also refocus the conversations, to ensure that they are constructive and moving forward towards solutions and agreements.

Where there has been domestic abuse, mediation may still be
the best option
It is the mediator’s duty to provide a safe environment where you are able to freely express your views, without fear of harm. If you do have concerns relating to your safety, the mediator will be able to asses and advise as to whether or not mediation is appropriate in your circumstances. If you don’t feel able to sit in the same room as your former partner, mediation can take place on a ‘shuttle’ basis, which is where you will sit in separate rooms, with the mediator moving between you. The mediator will usually also arrange staggered arrival and departure times. There is even the possibility of mediation taking place through Skype, so that you do not have to be in the same building.

Sarah Brookes spent 16 years working as a family lawyer in Eastbourne, before setting up Brookes Family Mediation. Sarah is passionate about the benefits of mediation. If you are uncertain about whether mediation is right for you, or if you have any questions, give Sarah a call on: 01323 411629 or email her: sarah@brookesfamilymediation.co.uk
Or for more information go to: www.brookesfamilymediation.co.uk

Children and money

By | Finance | No Comments

Don’t overprotect children from money issues

Findings from a report released by the government-backed Money Advice Service, demonstrate a worrying lack of money skills among the UK’s children and young people. Millions of Britain’s young people are set to enter adulthood unprepared to handle their money and at increased risk of being plunged into life-changing debt.

The survey found that children whose parents involved them in decisions and discussions about money and allowed them to experience using money from as young as four, are more likely to develop vital financial skills. These skills can have a major positive impact on their ability to save, budget and plan ahead financially in later life. However, children who aren’t included in these discussions, or don’t experience using money, risk being left behind.

The report showed that children who didn’t have a say in spending their own money were substantially less likely to save. Of 12 – 17 year olds surveyed, when asked how they would manage if given £100, those whose parents decided how their money was spent were likely to save the smallest amount (£53.65). This compared to those whose parents included them in money discussions, who were likely to save an average of around 20% more.

Children (aged 12-17) whose parents decide how they spend their money are also nearly five times more likely to say that borrowing money didn’t bother them – even if they had no plans to pay it back (19%, compared to 4% who decide on their own or with their parents).

This group were also more likely to choose unnecessary purchases over essential expenditure. The survey asked children aged four to six to choose between buying a toy and buying lunch. 30% of children whose parents decided how they spent their money chose the toy, compared to 17% where the child decides how they spend their money.

Finally, these children are less likely to be confident in managing their money. Only one in three (35%) whose parents made money decisions for them said they were confident in handling their finances.

The research also showed that parents are keen to be involved with their children’s money management skills. 90% think it’s important to help their child learn about money and 81% think they can impact their child’s ability to manage money in adult life.

Previous research has shown that our attitudes towards money can be set from as young as seven. However, many parents are still leaving it too late to intervene and failing to take decisive action to help their children. The research findings showed that the majority of parents were likely to overestimate the age at which they should talk to their children about money issues including saving, bills and debt

Furthermore, a quarter (24%) thought they should wait until their children were in secondary school before teaching them the importance of saving. A further 31% of parents of 16-17 year olds said they didn’t set and stick to money rules with their teenager. And 17% said they rarely or never spoke to them about the risks of getting into debt.

How to include your children in money discussions and decisions:
• Give children the chance to pay for things from an early age, with their own money. For example, instead of buying treats for them during your weekly shop, give them the money and explain to them that they can pick what they want, but when the money is gone,
it’s gone.
• Include your children in discussions about bills, to give them an idea of how household finances run. Explain things like direct debits, monthly/quarterly bills and energy tariffs. Frame it in an engaging and interesting way – tell them they’re helping to keep the lights on, for example.
• If you give your children pocket money, encourage them to set a little aside each month to save up for something they really want. Regularly remind them to save, even if it’s a small amount each month.
• Open a savings account on behalf of your child. Try and save into it regularly, even if it’s just a few pounds a month. Include them in this, get them to go and make deposits in person at a bank branch and let them know how much money is in their account. Some of these accounts also provide a gift, like a moneybox, which can be a nice incentive to save
• For very young children, just getting them used to what money is from a young age can be a great start. Give them the opportunity to handle money and explain to them what money is.
• For slightly older children, give them the chance to manage their money digitally, to get them used to things like mobile banking.

Family mediation

By | Finance, Relationships | No Comments
by Sarah Brookes
Brookes Family Mediation

– a better way to resolve the issues arising from a relationship breakdown

The breakdown of a relationship is very often extremely stressful and upsetting, particularly so when children are involved. It can be incredibly difficult not to allow feelings of hurt or anger to influence the important decisions that need to be made for yours and your children’s future. Family mediation helps people who are separating, or have separated, to discuss and agree the future arrangements for children and/or finances. Family mediators are professionally trained to manage and support constructive discussions; and to do so in an entirely impartial and non judgemental way; towards achieving agreed solutions. Mediated agreements are less likely to break down than arrangements ordered by the court. Government studies (2004-2010) indicate that mediation provides more sustainable resolutions than the court process.

Families come in all different shapes and sizes, and all shades of weird and wonderful. All families are unique; they all function in unique ways that work for them. As parents, we constantly make both big and small decisions for our families, taking in to account the quirks and needs of all.

When parents separate they need to find a new way for the family dynamics to work. The need for them to make decisions, based on their knowledge of what works best for the children, does not end with their relationship; they remain parents, with all of the associated responsibilities.

Communication often breaks down, or becomes very difficult, on separation. Trying to reach agreement, so that decisions can be made, on such emotive issues as arrangements for the children, can be very difficult, and can feel overwhelming. In those circumstances, many parents turn to the family courts, and allow a Judge to decide the arrangements for their children. Whilst the Judge will undoubtedly know what is best for his own family, he does not know your children and all their little quirks, and cannot know better than you, what arrangements will work best for your children.

Court Orders tend to deal with the here and now, they cannot provide for, or anticipate, all future events, and they do not replace the need for communication between parents. Sadly, Court proceedings often serve to increase difficulties in communication.

The very adversarial nature of court proceedings brings out our instinctive desire to win; with each party trying to persuade the court that their position should be adopted, it become easy for the ‘winning’ to become the goal. This is no criticism of the parents who find themselves going through the court process; this is the way the system works, and is why court proceedings in family matters are intended to be, and should be, an absolute last resort.

A final court judgement will inevitably create a perceived ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’. The resulting imbalance is not conducive to positive and cooperative future relations, and the parent’s ability to communicate will have been set back considerably.

As parents, there will be an ongoing and most likely long-term need for communication between you; consider such things as school choices, medical attention, teenage issues, graduations, weddings, for example. Whilst communication after separation can be very difficult, there will almost always be some level on which it is able to work.

When parents do not find a way to communicate, children can often end up acting as messengers between them, whether asked to or not. Misunderstandings are almost inevitable and tension and resentment can easily build. Even with the best of intentions, in those circumstances, it can be very difficult not to show, or even verbalise, negative feelings about the other parent in front of the children. It is a heavy burden for a child to act as peacekeeper between their parents. Children, in most cases, love both of their parents, and do not want to have to choose between them, or to hear one of their parents denigrated by the other. When children face having their loyalties divided between their parents, they undoubtedly suffer emotional harm, at a time when they are already facing the difficult changes brought about by the separation of their family.

In family mediation, parents are supported and assisted by a trained mediator, to communicate, and to work together, to make joint decisions for their children; by focusing on the children’s individual needs. Having worked together, rather than battled against each other; and having taken joint responsibility for the shape of their future, rather than having had a decision imposed upon them; the potential for feelings of resentment and future conflict is hugely minimised. A way of communication will have been established, which will live beyond the mediation process. Children will unquestionably benefit from having their future arrangements decided by the people who know and love them best; who have made decisions with their needs at the forefront of their minds.

Sarah Brookes spent 16 years working as a family lawyer in Eastbourne, before setting up Brookes Family Mediation. Sarah is passionate about the benefits of mediation. If you are uncertain about whether mediation is right for you, or if you have any questions, give Sarah a call on:
01323 411629 or email her:
sarah@brookesfamilymediation.co.uk
or for more information go to:
www.brookesfamilymediation.co.uk