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Wigan Family Law Blog

Soaring numbers of mothers without legal representation

Figures obtained from the Ministry of Justice have shown the dramatic impact that the changes to legal aid have had on legal representation in child custody cases, including those in the Greater Manchester Area. The data collected under the Freedom of Information Act shows that, for the first time, more women have been representing themselves than men in these types of cases and that in over half of all the cases, the mothers were unrepresented by legal counsel, a dramatic increase from the same period the previous year.

According to the founder of a mediation service firm, the figures suggest that stay-at-home or part-time working mothers on low incomes have found themselves forced to attend court representing themselves due to the lack of legal aid. This lack of legal support has meant that mothers fighting for custody or visitation rights are often not able to present their cases in the best way and may find themselves losing their cases on legal points.

Pet care after divorce

When couples go through a divorce, the arrangements for the future of the family pet may be a significant financial and emotional consideration. Pet owners in the Greater Manchester area will be aware that the cost of taking care of even a small dog can run high, with vets bills, food and other associated costs. The decision over who will keep the family pet is becoming an increasingly common question in separations with approximately half of U.S. pet-owning couples raising the issue during divorce proceedings.

When children are involved, the family pet will usually stay in the household with them, but the increasing number of pet-owning couples who have chosen not to have children has led to more pet custody situations. Around 10 per cent of all custody cases are currently about the family pet, and in a survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers over 25 per cent of lawyers confirmed that they had seen an increase in pet custody cases.

Divorce settlement revisited after wooden spoon incident

A mother of two stands to lose in the region of £44,000 of her divorce settlement after being prosecuted for an incident that involved one of her daughters and a wooden spoon. Both of her children, aged 10 and 13, gave evidence against her in magistrates court. The mother was released on conditional discharge, however, residents in the Greater Manchester area may be aware that this type of alternative sentence is often imposed when a crime has been committed.

Although the mother's solicitors announced that she had not touched her daughter with the wooden spoon, both the children are now living with their father. The case that is being heard in High Court is a result of this change in the children's living arrangements. Their father is appealing against the terms of the original financial order which took into consideration the fact that children would be living with their mother for the majority of the time.

Divorce rates fueled by new pension rules

A pension often represents one of the most significant financial assets in a marriage. The changes in pension regulations that were implemented in April has fuelled an increase in divorce rates across the U.K. in a trend that includes the Greater Manchester area. With the freedom to convert their pension into cash at the age of 55, a growing number of older couples who had been avoiding divorce proceedings for financial reasons are now deciding to end their marriages.

While this change to pension regulations has offered many couples a greater flexibility in reaching a divorce settlement, there are still financial issues that need to be recognised. When cashing in their full pension pot, they need to be aware that only 25 per cent of it is considered tax-free. The remaining 75 per cent is subject to income tax which may be as high as 40 per cent. Further consideration should be given to expenses such as mortgage payments on a new property or possible long-term maintenance payments.

Ex-partners hiding assets

Both parties in a divorce are required to provide complete details of their financial circumstances to enable the court to make a fair settlement decision. There may be instances where one of the parties fails to make full disclosure and seeks to hide the full extent of their assets. Residents of the Greater Manchester area may be surprised to learn of the limits imposed on a spouse who is attempting to uncover the financial details of their partner.

Accessing documents and electronic records belonging to another person can result in civil or criminal charges, even if that person is a spouse. The courts consider information belonging to either party as confidential, so that, even if a spouse has stored documents on a computer without password protection, these should not be accessed by their partner without permission. Opening a person's mail without their knowledge is a criminal offence and accessing their emails or breaking into locked drawers is not permitted.

Court orders man to give all assets to ex and 2 children

In a decision that may be of interest to Greater Manchester residents, a court has ordered a man to release all of the assets that he and his ex-wife owned in the U.K. to his ex and their two children. The total worth of these assets is £550,000.

There were some major factors that influenced the court decision. The 54-year-old anesthetist was living with his 46-year-old ex-wife and their two kids in Burton-on-Trent. After leaving his family in 2011, he moved to Bahrain the following year. Since then, he has not sent child support or maintenance to his family. Due to that, the lawyer representing the ex-wife contended that it was reasonable to believe that the family would never receive support from the man. A lower court acknowledged that the man was a serial defaulter and ordered that the family should be awarded all of the assets that the couple owned.

Second Supreme Court hearing in bid to avoid settlement

The husband in a long-running divorce case is facing the prospect of jail for failing to comply with court rulings. Residents in the Greater Manchester area may have heard of the wealthy Nigerian oil trader who has failed to hand over assets to his ex-wife as instructed by the courts. The case has already been heard in the High Court and the Court of Appeal twice and will reportedly continue on to the Supreme Court for the second time.

The businessman had attempted to hide assets in order to reduce the settlement figure, so the High Court judge who ruled on the initial divorce settlement was forced to estimate the businessman's net worth. He decided that the ex-wife should receive £17.5 million and annual payments in the region of £300,000. As some of the assets were in the form of property, the ownership of these were to have been transferred.

Protecting inheritances in a divorce

Family courts often do not look favourably on attempts to protect recently-inherited assets during divorce proceedings by using vehicles such as discretionary trusts. Residents in the Manchester area may be interested to know that courts have the power to reverse such an arrangement if they feel that it is not in the interests of a fair and equitable divorce settlement. When the inheritance occurs shortly before the divorce filing, the legal situation may become complex.

Discretionary trusts are administered by appointed trustees who have legal control of all assets placed within it. This trust may be created by a grantor for various reasons, however, they should not be used for the purpose of excluding assets from being considered in a divorce settlement. Although inheritance law allows the benefactor to leave their assets to the person of their choice, there are circumstances where this principle is overruled by the needs of other involved parties.

Billionaire Google founder divorces

Sergey Brin, the billionaire co-founder of Google, has agreed to pay an undisclosed settlement amount and has finalised his divorce after being separated from his ex-wife for over two years. They met in 1998 and, after they were married in 2007, had two children together. Sergey Brin has a net worth in the region of $30 billion largely based on his shares in Google which, Manchester residents may be aware, is one of the world's leading search engines.

The former wife of the Google entrepreneur is herself the founder of a biotech start-up company, 23andMe, which is working with the human genome and which has raised over $100 million in financing. Friends have said that she is not interested in the material trappings of wealth and is seeking to have a normal life. She also reportedly sought to avoid involving the courts in the divorce proceedings and custody arrangements.

Russian mogul gets billions back in divorce court

Most divorces in England do not go on for seven years. However, a case involving a Russian mogul and his socialite wife has. The husband may feel that the battle was worth it after having his wife's share of the marital estate significantly cut from $4 billion to just over $640 million.

The woman's divorce settlement was the largest in the world when she received it in 2014. However, her billionaire husband appealed the decision to a Swiss court, where he recently won the case and significantly chopped down his wife's share from about half of his $8.8 billion net worth to just hundreds of millions.