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Vines Legal Limited

Matrimonial & Family Law Specialists

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Resolution of Financial Issues following Separation and Divorce

You may have read or heard in the press recently that the Law Commission has launched a Public Consultation on how the law should guide a judge's treatment of financial issues during the separation process - but what does this really mean? Could this affect you if you are considering separation? We've tried to simplify this below, and explain how the process is governed now, and how it might change because of this ongoing review.

Currently, the judge in a matrimonial case has discretion to consider the case as a whole, and has the scope to treat different cases and individuals according to his/her opinion of the facts presented in court. s25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act is the legislation which allows for such discretion, it has been deliberately drafted in this manner. However, the flip side of allowing such discretion does often mean that there is very little certainty to the outcome of a case going to court - and in our view it is important for both a practitioner and a client to have an element of certainty.

Frequently, our clients will ask us how we think a case will pan out for them, as it is natural in such circumstances to be anxious about the outcome, especially whilst trying to make plans for the future. An individual's home and their future income and living standards can all be dependent on a judge's interpretation of a case, and it is clearly an area which needs to be considered thoroughly on all sides.

As practitioners, we want to be able to give our clients a degree of certainty, direction and information, but we also want to maintain the flexibility within the law which allows the judge to view each case individually and with care, allowing the judge some scope. What we would seek to avoid, and indeed hope the Law Commission's review indeed does avoid, is the creation of very strict guidelines stipulating how a judge must act. We do not want to arrive at a "one size fits all" treatment for separating couples, for as we all know, every family and their circumstances differ, and separation will have differing effects going forward for the individuals concerned.

Here at Vines Legal, we strive to consider every client's individual position, and we realise that the personal upheaval comes at emotional and financial cost during a separation. Whilst we strive to keep such upheaval to a minimum for our clients and we would like to see more certainty, we believe it is vital to retain the scope within the law for flexibility - after all, everyone wants to be treated fairly wherever possible.

By Catherine Wenborn on 2 Oct 2012

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The £99 Co-op Divorce - value for money?

Co-op is the most recent supermarket brand to enter the family law market, with its claim to be able to complete a divorce for less than the cost of a family weekly shop. In these straitened times in which we are all now living, and with the scaling down of Legal Aid in connection to divorce and separation, it would certainly seem to be a timely entrance to the family law market.

However, before we all start adding "divorce" to the shopping list, along with "cornflakes" and "bin bags", it certainly pays to take a closer look at what you actually get for your money.

Co-op actually uses the term "DIY" divorce on its website, and the whole process is made to sound extremely straightforward. £99 for the paperwork, an additional £50 per hour if you would like a lawyer to check your documents prior to submission and then £150 per hour for any legal advice thereafter. There is also a hotline you can call.

From reading the information on the website, you could be forgiven for thinking that it is a straightforward way to tackle divorce, and it would be best to leave all those avaricious family law practices well-alone. Who needs face-to-face contact?

We think that everyone needs face-to-face contact when discussing such a life-changing process - you need to meet and talk with a person. Only then can all the necessary details come into play, as speaking to a lawyer who understands the process thoroughly will make you aware of your options in a way that simply ticking boxes cannot.

The Co-op's approach does indeed look straightforward, but if you have children, money and any assets to take into account then you will soon find extra costs and time unavoidably incurred. Whilst the Co-op will gladly act for you in resolving any such matter this will involve moving on from the DIY divorce, and at such a point you will then start to be charged by the hour as you would by any other solicitor. It is not exactly clear as to whether you will be guaranteed face-to-face contact either.

Our advice is, as always, to meet with any prospective adviser and decide for yourself if you wish to use their services. You need to give yourself the best possible chance of obtaining the most informed, thorough and effective legal advice available to you.

By Catherine Wenborn on 2 Oct 2012

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