The Family Justice Council has just published a new free online resource called ‘Guidance on “Financial Needs” on Divorce’. Although it’s intended primarily for family court judges, it sets out a lot of helpful information about how finances are dealt with by the Court.
The guidance is mainly concerned with what are known as ‘needs–based’ cases. These are cases where the available assets don’t exceed the parties’ financial needs when they get divorced, or where a civil partnership is dissolved.
The Family Justice Council recently published a free online guide about how the Family Court approaches financial needs on divorce. It’s particularly aimed at people who don’t have solicitors, and are representing themselves, but is also helpful for anyone undertaking mediation. The guide’s received good reviews, although an article in Family Law Week makes one or two technical comments about the content, so is also worth reading.
More people than ever are representing themselves at Court, including in applications for financial orders when they divorce, or end a civil partnership. These proceedings are held in private, meaning that how decisions are made is little understood by anyone who hasn’t had personal experience of the process, or a relevant professional background. In a BBC radio documentary, Splitting the Assets, judges, lawyers and former litigants discuss this complex area of family law. First broadcast on the 3rd February, you can hear a repeat at 10.15 p.m. this Saturday, 6th February 2016, BBC Radio 4 FM.
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State Shailesh Vara, MP, Minister for the Courts and Legal Aid, has issued a written update about the previous online version of divorce financial disclosure Form E. According to the Minister, although the faulty form was replaced on the 14th January 2016, 3638 of the 36,527 relevant cases reviewed contained the earlier calculation error, of which 1403 are still live.
If you may be affected by this error (regardless of whether your case is closed, or still live), you should receive a letter setting out your options from Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS). However, if you’re still concerned, you should write to HMCTS at their dedicated email address: formE@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk
Form E is the detailed disclosure form used by divorcing couples applying to the court for a financial order. The online version of Form E should accurately calculate the parties’ assets and liabilities, and provide other relevant information. However, according to a BBC report, there was a fault in the version downloadable from April 2014 until recently, meaning the online calculations were likely to be inaccurate. A Gov.uk statement confirms that the problem has now been sorted out, but gives a contact email address for those potentially affected.
Mediators use a paper equivalent of Form E, and will go through the figures with the couple in considerable detail, often on a flip chart. Many mediators also provide both clients with a draft Open Financial Summary once their disclosure is complete. This sets out all the figures for consideration and confirmation before any proposed settlement is reached, the Memorandum of Understanding prepared by the mediator, and the clients apply to the Court for a consent financial order. It also gives them time to go through everything themselves between sessions, and the opportunity to take independent legal advice, which is always recommended alongside the mediation process.
‘Sorting out Separation‘ is part of the Government’s Help and Support for Separated Families initiative. It’s a free online service for parents and couples going through divorce or separation. The website has lots of help about mediation and legal issues, and a navigation tool so you can find personalised information relevant to your own situation.
If you’re going through divorce proceedings, it’s important to know that the divorce petition process alone doesn’t deal with your property and finance issues. You’ll need to apply separately for a financial order, even if there isn’t a property or much money involved. The Government has recently published some guidance about how to go about this.
If you’ve reached a settlement through mediation, you’ll still need a consent financial order to make your proposals legally binding.
As an addendum to my last post, I should perhaps explain why I used scare quotes around signposting.
As mediators, we can’t tell people what to do. We can tell people where to find information for themselves (which it’s now commonplace to call “signposting”), but not what information they should believe or disbelieve. But is this really a signpost?
Sometimes it’s a simple issue. If someone’s got a pension and they want to know how to get to it, it’s easy to point — so, signpost — them to the Pension Tracing Service. But where different opinions prevail about how to value a pension, or who should get a pension, or how to share a pension, or even whether to share a pension, as soon as a mediator points clients to an information source, s/he can be accused of bias.
So is it realistic to ask us to be signposts at all? Perhaps we need a better word — one that doesn’t raise expectations of mediators as paragons of impartiality in a world where information is seen as less impartial than ever before.
I’ve been spending a little time looking at the advice sites available for separating or divorcing couples. In the limited sessions that mediation provides, mediators never have time to give all the relevant information, and so we rely on redirecting clients to “signposting” services.
Some of these aren’t actually too bad. Take Advice Now; it has free downloadable guides and links to a whole load of resources which might come in handy, for all sorts of different people. It’s also not too difficult to navigate — compared to some others, which I won’t name here — and so strikes the right balance between being user-friendly and comprehensive.
However, even though Advice Now has some benefits, and I would recommend it to other mediators, the issue around “signposting” isn’t being resolved. There isn’t anywhere that you can get specific advice without sitting down and talking to someone about your case. Many clients, armed with that most dangerous of things — a little information — can be given the wrong impression about their rights or obligations from these services.
In the end, the answer to this may well be that these signposting sites are forced to develop more tailored models of online advice, where the risk of over-simplifying or misunderstanding clients’ cases is minimised. While we’re waiting for that to happen, sites like Advice Now shouldn’t be underestimated — both in terms of their potential benefits for the discerning user, and the pitfalls for those who use them unwisely.
Grandparents often provide a lot of family support, and many contribute to their grandchildren’s everyday care. Some grandparents become the legal carers for their grandchildren, under kinship care arrangements – for example, if the birth parents aren’t able to look after their children themselves.
Two charities which represent grandparents have recently issued a merger statement, which sets out their plan to create a new organisation. The charities, Grandparents Plus and The Grandparents’ Association, will join forces in October 2015.
However, some grandchildren don’t see their grandparents at all, because of family separation. This might be because of work, distance, or some other reason, but sometimes it’s because of family conflict, or relationship breakdown.
Because grandparents don’t have an automatic right to see their grandchildren, they must first apply to the Court for leave before they can make a formal application. Mediation can be used to avoid proceedings.
For a government briefing about grandparents, please click here.