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New Divorce Legislation – A landmark day for separating couples?

What has happened?

On 25th June the ‘Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020’ received Royal Assent.  The new legislation will also apply to judicial separation and civil partnership dissolution petitions.

Why was this needed?

This is a landmark day for Family Law Solicitors. For many years there have been calls for the divorce laws to be changed. At the moment the divorce legislation dates back to 1973 and requires blame to be laid at one person’s door. Otherwise you must wait at least two years after separation to divorce by agreement or even worse 5 years without an agreement.

For many separating couples, this extra layer of unnecessary conflict makes things even harder when in reality it isn’t needed. If a relationship has broken down, there are more than enough things for people to contend with.

What does the new Law say?

We have not got all the information yet but the new Act says that you will be able to petition stating just that the relationship has irretrievably broken down. You will even be able to make a joint statement with the other person to say this. The opportunity to contest the proceedings has been removed.

The new Act does however create a minimum time limit of 6 months for the proceedings. This is intended to give parties time to reflect and to sort out any arrangements.

When will the new divorces start?

There is no firm date but we are told that it is unlikely to be until Autumn 2021. This is to allow all the new measures to be implemented. There will need to be new forms and systems. Undoubtedly there will be some problems to iron out along the way but overall this is good news.

What happens between now and then?

Unfortunately, we are stuck with the existing legislation for now. Whilst we continue to work with what we have, we continue to work hard to reduce unnecessary conflict even within the existing rules.

For advice on any family matters and to discuss your personal circumstances, please contact our Family team on 01325 281111 or family@clarkwillis.co.uk.

No 10 – The Right Team

No. 10 ‘The Right Team’

In July 1940, the skies over England were the next phase of Nazi Germany’s European conquest plans as the Battle of Britain commenced. Lasting until the 31st October, the Luftwaffe was intended to destroy the RAF and pave a way for an invasion of England from the continent.

Confident after defeating England’s allies and outnumbering the RAF nearly 4:1, the Luftwaffe failed to defeat the RAF and the invasion of Britain was cancelled, leading to one of Churchill’s famous quotes. “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few” Whilst not as large as the Luftwaffe, the RAFs strategy, intelligence, and tenacity secured victory over sheer weight of numbers.

Often large legal firms boast that their size is an important reason to choose them as this provides strength, but that may not always guarantee success or a positive legal experience. With national and larger regional practices, a legal matter may be dealt with by paralegals rather than solicitors who lack the same qualifications or experience as a solicitor and may rotate frequently between departments meaning your matter is repeatedly passed between them. Your matter may also be dealt with by a team of people which can cause repetition of information and cause frustration with no one person having responsibility for your matter.

A sole dedicated, experienced and accredited solicitor dealing with your matter from start to finish can have a more significant impact on the outcome and experience.

In addition to the substantive training requirements to become a solicitor, our team have also undertaken additional training and qualifications to make them specialists in their respective areas of practice and respected amongst their peers. This in terms of both legal knowledge and the deployment of it on your matter.

Our Wills, Probate Tax & Trusts team include members of the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) and Solicitors for the Elderly. Our Family & Divorce team include members of Resolution Specialists, Collaborative family lawyers and trained mediators to whom other law firms refer their clients  Our residential property team have been awarded the Conveyancing Quality Scheme to reflect the quality of their work on property sales, purchases, and mortgaging whilst our Dispute Resolution team includes mental health accredited panel members. A full list of our firm and individual accreditations can be found on our website.

In both personal injury matters and property transactions local knowledge can have a significant impact, whether is the notoriety of a specific road junction in the area or a repetitive issue with all properties on the same estate, the intelligence of the area can save time, costs and prospects of a positive outcome.

We can also use our experience to consider what issues may arise in the future and help you plan to face them in advance so that you are prepared and protected. Whether that is a pre-nuptial agreement ahead of a marriage, a Lasting Power of Attorney for illness or asset protection for residential care fee planning, we can take a proactive approach to assist our clients.

With a history of nearly 50 years providing legal services to individuals and members of HM Armed Forces across Darlington, County Durham, the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire, we may not be the biggest firm but we put our emphasis on expertise and quality as we believe this has a more positive outcome for our clients than size. What’s more, we don not camouflage our advice behind legal jargon but use plain, straightforward, clear advice.

‘The Right Team’ is the 10th image in a series of monthly monochrome images to be featured over a 12 month period across our social media channels to highlight some of the key elements of our service so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to see the series as they are released.

For more information on our firm please see www.clarkwillis.com

Armed Forces Compensation Scheme & Personal Injury Claims For Armed Forces Personnel

There are almost 200,000 UK armed services personnel, which means that the MOD is a major employer, and like any employer has a duty and responsibility to its personnel. There is also the possibility of injury arising from other 3rd parties, just the same as for all members of the public, such as road traffic accidents, medical negligence or public liability claims.

Personal injury claims brought on behalf of armed forces personnel bring a number of complexities, both in relation to legal liability and quantification of loss, particularly in cases of significant injury which either impair or end a military career.

By virtue of the principle of Crown Immunity, claims could not be brought against the MOD by serving personnel until the principle was repealed in 1987. The present position is that no claim can be brought by a member of the armed forces in respect of tort(s) arising during service prior to February 1987. Cases previously defeated by Crown Immunity are now likely to be fewer in number as there are unlikely to be many remaining armed forces personnel who were in service before February 1987.

In cases against the MOD it is important to determine whether the situation gives rise to a duty of care on the part of the MOD and if so, whether that duty has been breached, however it should be noted that each case will turn upon its own facts and an assessment of same by a solicitor and or counsel.

From April 2005, service personnel who have sustained injury whilst on duty have been able to claim compensation through the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS). This is a ‘no fault’ scheme and therefore the injured person does not have to prove liability on the part of the MOD., though it is advisable to seek legal advice as to whether the circumstances of the accident are outside the scope of the AFCS.

Claims made through the AFCS must be brought within 7 years of the date of incident, compared to the 3 year time limit for bringing a civil claim through the courts. The AFCS does not prevent a civil claim being brought against the MOD alongside the AFCS claim, however it should be noted that AFCS compensation awards can be offset against any compensation paid to the injured person in a civil claim against the MOD arising from the same incident.

It should be noted that AFCS awards are based upon a set tariff and may not adequately compensate a claimant for all aspects of their injuries and losses, which would be properly assessed in the preparation of a civil claim brought through the courts.

Should an accident have an adverse effect upon a military career, the value of these claims can be significant and therefore require a solicitor with understanding of military career structure, remuneration and pension schemes, though the detail of quantification is generally the subject of expert evidence.

The expert will have to assess and provide an opinion as to the claimant’s career prospects but for the occurrence of the accident. The Claimant’s service and medical records will therefore be crucial in such cases.

The assessment of a claimant’s career prospects is dependent upon: intended length of service; periodic physical and mental fitness assessments (referred to as PULHEEMS assessments); disciplinary record; records of appraisal.

If the claimant’s military career prospects are curtailed or ended entirely, awards of damages for loss of earnings and pension can be significant, particularly to a claimant who is invested in a long term career up to full 24 year engagement and who may also be considered a strong promotion candidate.

Armed Forces pensions are, in general terms, linked to that member’s earnings and therefore loss of pension claims can be substantial. There are a number of pension schemes dependent upon the date of enlistment, some of which are based upon final salary, however the more recent schemes provide pensions and lump sums based upon earnings throughout their career. The various schemes and the basis of calculation highlight the importance of expert evidence in these cases.

Other allowances or benefits may also increase the value of the loss of earnings claim, such things may include: accommodation; overseas operational allowances, campaign continuity payments for long assignments.

It is therefore crucial that members of the armed services seek expert legal advice at an early stage if they have suffered personal injuries, either caused by the MOD or a third party, in order that careful preparation of the case may be undertaken.

With a specialist personal injury and medical negligence team combined accessible in our office in Catterick Garrison or Darlington, if you have suffered an personal injury and want to seek further advice, contact your nearest office today or email enquiries@clarkwillis.co.uk and we will call you to discuss your circumstances.

Divorce & Separation During Covid-19

As we move into the 4th month of the Covid-19 pandemic in England, Tanya Bloomfield, Head of Family Law at Clark Willis, looks at the impact that it is having on divorce and separation.

Fundamentally, the ability to start the separation process has remained available throughout the pandemic but the restrictions on movement, financial impact and those self isolating because they have contracted the virus have caused a number of issues with the process.

The courts, already operating with a slight delay in dealing with applications and paperwork prior to the pandemic, have had those delays compounded. To address this, the courts  have been adapting their operations and embracing the digital world to a greater degree, for example accepting electronic applications and scanned signatures, to ensure that cases can be progressed as swiftly as possible. From the early days of the pandemic, the ability of the courts to progress matters and hold digital hearings has notably improved.

Our Family team has also continued to harness technology to support our clients with telephone or video call client meetings, remote working capabilities and even hosting Mediation meetings digitally through our dedicated Mediation service, meaning that we have remained fully operational during the coronavirus pandemic.

The effect on the economy, being furloughed or redundancy possibilities have caused increased concern over the financial implications of separations and what will happen in the short, medium and long term. For those people facing uncertainty, a degree of flexibility to revisit financial negotiations if there is a sudden change in financial circumstances of one party may mean a Separation Agreement may be appropriate until the pandemic is over and a full Consent Order secured through the court to finalize a financial break.

There are also added complications of how to manage children from separated households in light of the government guidance. Schools starting to return have added yet more considerations on childcare during the pandemic and the varied approach to this from individual schools and across different age groups means parents are having to be a little bit more flexible. With further changes to furlough arriving from July and the summer holidays starting, there may be more adjustments required.

The lock down has also been difficult for those couples already experiencing strain in their relationships and is likely to lead to a number of new separations as we emerge from current restrictive provisions. Considering separation comes with many questions about how to separate, what happens with finances and/or children and our specialist solicitors are still working during the pandemic and available to help you understand your financial position and options.

We have the largest Family Law team in Darlington, including Collaborative solicitors, Resolution members and qualified Mediators, so you can have peace of mind that you are receiving the best advice from expert negotiators.

We can meet with you confidentially by telephone, Facetime, Teams or Zoom. We will also explore whether you might be entitled to Legal aid. We also offer fixed fee initial consultations and pay-as-you-go services.

Contact us on 01325 281111, visit www.clarkwillis.com or email family@clarkwillis.co.uk directly for further information and to speak to a member of our team confidentiality.

No. 9 – Fashion

No. 9 ‘Fashion’

With nearly 50 years of providing legal services we have seen a wide range of fashion trends come and go across the high street. From the bell bottoms of the 70s, the shoulder pads of the 80s, 90’s Britpop through to the fast fashion of the millennium they have all had, or will have had, their day and will be replaced by the next new trend. Whilst clothing fashion is seasonable and short term, trusted legal advice never goes out of fashion and for our clients we are there when they need us with practical advice.

At Clark Willis we believe in being a law firm for life, in being there for our clients and their families when life events mean that they require a solicitor and to help them plan for the future. Whatever the season, whatever the weather we have a range of experience solicitors to support them for their personal legal needs. We invest in this ethos in four main ways:

  1. Ensuring we have a core of personal legal services to ensure we can meet an individual’s legal requirements throughout their lifetime. Some of our core services include buying or selling Property, Will writing and estate planning, Divorce and Childcare, Personal Injury, Dispute Resolution and then finally assisting in sorting our matters through Probate when a person passes away. This cradle to grave mentality means we can genuinely be a law firm for life.
  2. Focus on delivering excellent customer service levels to ensure that our client’s experience of a law firm is positive. We are highly rated for customer satisfaction and seek feedback off every client as we strive to constantly seek new ways to improve our customer journey with us. Instructing solicitors can be daunting and often at emotional times, where aspects as basic as being able to speak to your solicitor on the phone, being made to feel at ease and emotionally supported can make a real difference to the experience and challenge the traditional reputation of solicitors appearing aloof.
  3. Rewarding loyalty. Existing clients receive discounts on our standard rates for future work and those people utilising our residential conveyancing service or family team services also qualify for discounts on writing our updating Wills to reflect their new circumstances. We also offer complimentary storage of key documents as standard.
  4. Like a fashion brand, we continually look ahead to the future and invest in future talent, recruit to retain and provide a positive working environment for our team. Many of the current team have trained with us and we have even had several team members who have left to explore life outside of firm and who have returned back to the fold. The longest serving employee has been with us for over 40 years. We believe this internal ethos flows through positively into our service.

So, whilst fashion trends on the high street may change seasonally, we remain true to our aim of providing clear legal advice, with clear costs making us the clear choice for legal advice regardless of the latest trends. Whether you need a solicitor because you are getting Divorced, moving home, need probate help or have suffered a personal injury, our team are here for you.

‘Fashion’ is the 9th image in a series of monthly monochrome images to be featured over a 12 month period across our social media channels to highlight some of the key elements of our service so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to see the series as they are released.

For more information on our firm please see www.clarkwillis.com

The Right Age To Make A Will?

If you are reading this based on the heading, the chances are you will have thought to yourself – “Do I need a Will?”

The answer to the question is very subjective as there is no specific time that you should make a Will and it will vary from each individual but in general, if you answer yes to ANY of the following questions, regardless of your age, then you should make a Will.

  1. Do you own, or part own a property?
  2. Do you have young children?
  3. Do you have savings over £1,000?
  4. Do you have specific items you would like to leave to people?

For most adults, one or more of the above will apply, certainly by mid to late twenties, which would mean that it would be sensible to start thinking about a Will.

Clearly thinking about and actually doing are two very different things and the attitude of “I’m too young to need a Will – they are for the elderly” often means that although you should have a Will, people do not get around to writing one.

If you are reading this and have a mortgage, chances are that you have life insurance to pay off the mortgage if you die during the mortgage term. This is planning for an accidental death, but people view this very differently to writing a Will, which is protecting your family and loved ones from exactly the same thing.

A Will is the only way to specify how you would like your estate to be distributed on your death, accidental or otherwise, and also allows you to tailor instructions to your requirements, from appointing guardians for your children, building in some protection from care home fees, protect inheritance for children of previous marriages through to looking at business or farm succession.

Whilst hopefully you will pass away peacefully after a long and successful life, the world does not always turn out like that. That is why, if you answered Yes to any of those 4 questions above, now is the right time to make a Will. It is better to be prepared and hope for the best but plan for the worst.

Whilst the world has slowed down for many during the pandemic, now is the perfect time to reflect on your wishes and to put a Will in place so that once restrictions are lifted and the world speeds up to its normal pace, its one more job done during lockdown.

Our specialist Wills team are still able to assist you to prepare a Will during the current pandemic. Advice and instructions can be provided over the phone, via videocalls or through email or postal instruction packs and special arrangements for signing have been put in place. With prices stating at only £150 plus VAT and NHS discounts available, contact Darlington on 01325 281111 or Catterick Garrison 01748 830000, email wills@clarkwillis.co.uk or visit our website for more information.

Equity Release During Covid 19

When undertaking Equity Release work it has always been important to discuss the product in detail with our clients given the need to ensure they fully understand the implications of the borrowing and to rule out any financial pressures from others.

During the lockdown is has become much harder to undertake meetings in person, especially for vulnerable clients. Some of our clients have been self isolating due to their health or their age whilst others have simply been worried about how they stay safe whilst still moving forward with something which is really important and necessary for financial reasons.

At Clark Willis we have continued to support our equity release clients however we can. From face to face appointments in the garden (weather permitting!) to video conference appointments under the Equity Release Council’s ‘Stay at Home’ protocol. In all cases we have still been able to go from offer to completion in around 2 weeks.

Following the change in the government guidance for England from ‘Stay at Home’ to ‘Stay Alert’, we have now obtained up to date clarification from the Equity Release Council as to whether their Stay at Home Protocol should still be followed in all cases when solicitors provide legal advice to their clients.

The ERC have confirmed that if clients are happy to meet face to face, whilst still strictly following social distancing measures of course, the ERC have no objections.

If clients are not comfortable to have their solicitor visit them at home, then it may still be possible to complete the legal advice section of the equity release process by video conference, using the Stay at Home Protocol which can be viewed at https://www.equityreleasecouncil.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Stay-at-Home-Solicitor-Appointment-flowchart.pdf

It is not clear how long the protocol will be available as an option when giving legal advice. Whilst we have always protected vulnerable clients who want to enter into equity release, it seems to me that having another option available whilst there is a chance that clients could place themselves in danger by being forced to meet their solicitors face to face, is the right thing for all concerned.

If clients or professional advisors require any help with equity release, don’t hesitate to contact the Residential Property team at your local Clark Willis office Alister, email property@clarkwillis.co.uk. or visit our website www.clarkwillis.com

The Housing Market returns?

It is great news for conveyancers, estate agents and removal firms that the government have now updated their guidance in relation to buying and selling houses in England.

The changes to the regulations now allow people to leave their home to:

  • visit estate agents or letting agents, developer sales offices or show homes;
  • view a residential property to buy or rent;
  • prepare a residential property to move into;
  • move house;
  • visit a residential property to carry out tasks needed to rent or sell that property

 

I have been in touch with a number of local estate agents today and they have all indicated they are aiming to open their doors again in the coming days, to help get the property market back up and running.

It will remain to be seen whether the housing market resumes to post lockdown levels and a straw poll by us would suggest that there is still some hesitation on the part of house hunters to return to their pre Covid-19 search. 58% indicated that they would wait and see how the pandemic progresses against 25% who said they would actively start looking again, whilst 17% remained unsure.

There is expected to be an immediate flurry of activity on those transactions on hold during the lockdown, which are now able to complete.

Throughout the lockdown period Clark Willis have continued to help our clients to buy and sell their properties, within the boundaries of the Corona Virus guidance given by the government. We have remained available and open by phone and video for all of our property clients and this continues to be the case as we make our way, hopefully, out of lockdown.

For those who have actively started hunting for their next home, you can call your nearest Clark Willis office to speak to us or  alternatively, you can obtain an instant, online quote for our legal fees HERE

 

Love Thy Neighbour? Not During Covid-19 Necessarily

Neighbours. Everybody needs, or would like, good neighbours.

During the Covid-19 lockdown, we have seen a noticeable increase in enquiries from clients in dispute with their neighbours.

It stands to reason that a large of amount spent at home coupled with feelings of unease or anxiety about the pandemic could magnify an otherwise minor issue or irritation.

Neighbour disputes can encompass a wide range of issues from overhanging bushes, parking wars, boundary disputes or access issues, through to anti-social behaviour and harassment.

How to Resolve Disputes

First and foremost, we would recommend that you speak to your neighbours informally in an effort to resolve any potential issues at an early stage. You may achieve more with a cup of tea and a biscuit than you can with a legal letter!

It should be remembered that you still have to live next door to each other whilst disputes are ongoing. This can be incredibly stressful for both parties. Selling your home or moving may be an option, however you would have to declare any neighbour dispute, access or boundary dispute to a potential buyer as this is a standard enquiry in conveyancing transaction.

Mediation can also be a very effective method of short circuiting a dispute, particularly if the right mediator is selected, one who is able to think outside of the box and focus the minds of the parties on achieving a mutually acceptable solution.

Unfortunately, there are situations in which the parties are either unwilling or unable to agree a solution and the input of lawyers becomes necessary. It should be said that the potential cost of pursuing a neighbour dispute through the courts can be eyewatering and the potential financial risk to the parties could be significant, particularly if you are the unsuccessful party!

If you are intent on pursuing legal action against your neighbours, it is crucial that evidence gathering is carried out an early stage. The type of evidence required will vary according to the nature of the dispute. A firm of solicitors with strong experience in such cases, together with expert counsel, can advise fully to what evidence will be required and also in respect of the strengths and weaknesses of the respective cases.

Costs and Funding

In terms of funding, unfortunately the vast majority of neighbour disputes are excluded from legal aid funding and would therefore have to be funded privately. It is certainly worth checking any policy of home insurance to see whether there is Legal Expense Insurance (LEI) within the home insurance policy, which may provide cover to you for you depending on the disputes. Charges are normally on a  time spent dealing with your dispute, although a fixed fee may be agreed at the outset or for initial stages to seek a resolution swiftly.

It is essential to understand the possible costs of any dispute and factor this into any decision to pursue or defend a dispute as it is easy for costs to mount up over points of principle when a compromise could solve the dispute sooner.

An Englishmen’s (and Englishwomen) home is his castle and should be a place of sanctuary, but where neighbours actions or inactions are a cause of action, we would recommend that you contact a solicitor an early stage to discuss the merits of the case, strategies for early resolution and the potential cost to enable you to make an informed decision.

Contact our trusted Dispute Resolution team at your local office today (Darlington 01325 281111 | Catterick 01748 830000) email enquiries@clarkwillis.co.uk or visit www.clarkwillis.com for more information.

No8 – Dispute Resolution

No8 – Dispute Resolution

 

Some disputes cannot be resolved just like which came first – the chicken or the egg? but for the majority of people or business there can be a resolution.

We understand that disputes can arise over all matter of personal issues, ranging from neighbourly boundary disagreements through to contractual business disputes and debt recovery. There are always two sides to a dispute and what may appear a clear issue to one party may be viewed differently by the other leaving most disputes not always as clear as black and white.

Unfortunately, it is easy for minor problems to escalate into major disputes as opposing sides become entrenched in their views, dialogue turns to silence, action becomes impasse. Often disputes can have a personal element as well as a financial or performance issue and this can add an extra layer of complexity.

The right approach is essential and instructing a lawyer early can often be more effective than waiting until things get worse and can help to resolve disputes through a variety of means. This may simply be writing to the other side of the dispute, through alternative dispute resolution and we regularly assist our clients to take part in mediation meetings and explore alternative ways of resolving disputes to minimize costs, and in those matters that simply cannot be resolved in any other way, through the Courts.

As a firm we have been assisting the people of County Durham, the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire with their legal disputes for nearly 50 years. Our longest serving solicitor and Partner, Peter Furness, has over 30 years specialising in Dispute Resolution and together with his team, are available to provide you with advice on your dispute, the options available to you and the likely costs so that you can make an informed decision.

We are also happy to assist in matters that the Court system define as small claims as we appreciate that the claim itself can have a greater value above their financial worth and for members of the public who are intimidated by going to Court, we are willing to assist on a fixed fee basis to ensure we can support all our clients, regardless of their dispute.

‘Dispute Resolution’ is a series of monthly monochrome images to be featured over a 12 month period across our social media channels to highlight some of the key elements of our service so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to see the series as they are released.

For more information on our firm please see www.clarkwillis.com