Monthly Archives: September 2013

University, Child Support and a Little Boy Called Louie.

little lambThis morning I read an interesting article whilst eating my breakfast before work: Child Support Advice sought ‘over university costs’ in The Times Higher Education. It claims that more divorced mothers are seeking legal advice about whether ex-husbands can extend support payments for children at university. With tuition fees rising to £9,000 this year and with the likelihood of them rising again in the future, the argument is that parents are now having to support their children for longer periods as they struggle to work through university under heavy debts.

Currently child support continues until the child reaches the age of sixteen or the age of 20 if the child is in higher education, not higher than A-level. Whilst this does not help single parents facing the prospect of supporting a child through university, it is something that most single parents do not realise. Most single parents believe that child maintenance stops when the child finishes secondary school. This is obviously not the case and in addition courts do have the power to extend maintenance to the end of a child’s university degree or vocational training course. With the rise in tuition fees and the rise in the number of children going to university it is possible that we will see an exponential rise in cases of single parents applying to the court to vary/extend current maintenance payments in order to support their children through university. I know as a recently graduated student that I would have never made it through my degrees without my parents help, even with the student loans currently available. And so it begs the question of how the trend will develop and how common it will become for the court to vary/extend a child maintenance order to allow a single parent to support a child through university.

I will be keeping an eye on this as it develops; I imagine it will become somewhat of a permanent feature of family law in the not so distant future. In other news I hear that a colleague is about to tackle a marathon in aid of the Little LAMB Appeal. It is an appeal that was set up in aid of a little boy called Louie Jenkins who contracted Meningococcal Septicaemia in January 2012 aged just 5 months old. Louie sadly had to have both his leg amputated below the knee and also lost parts of his fingers on his left hand, 3 fingertips on the right and suffered skin damage to the bottom of his left arm. The charity not only aims to raise money to make the necessary adaptations to Louie’s home and for any equipment he may require but also to raise awareness of the signs, symptoms and conditions caused by Meningitis and Meningococcal Septicaemia. My colleague is a braver woman than me running a marathon as winter begins to set in and so I wish her all the luck in the world. In addition to this she promises to bring cakes into the Stowe Family Law LLP’s Harrogate office this week in order to raise some more money, I will definitely be purchasing in one or two of them.

Grey divorce may not simply be a passing trend

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Once again it has been a busy day at Stowe Family Law LLP, and this appears to be becoming a trend. Today during a chat with a solicitor at Stowe Family Law I learnt about an interesting trend of current years: Grey Divorces. This concept refers to the growing rate of divorce in long term marriages. The number of men over the age of 60 seeking divorce has gone up by nearly 73% since 1991 according to the Office for National Statistics. This rise can, apparently, be attributed to fact that the UK population is now living longer than they did in 1991. However, can we really blame the higher rate of divorce on the fact that the people are living on average 5 years longer?

This trend is not isolated to the UK, in March 2013 the Washington Post published an article entitled ‘Baby boomers and 50 shades of gray divorce’ which stated that, according to Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin of Bowling Green State University, Ohio, even with the divorce rate declining grey divorces have doubled in the last 20 years with one in four divorced people being over 50 years of age in 2009. 600,000 people aged 50 and older got divorced in 2009 in the USA.

In June and August 2013 Marilyn Stowe wrote two interesting blogs on this very topic: ‘More over 60’s getting divorced, ONS reports’ and ‘American lawyers see surge in grey divorce’, which can be found at http://www.marilynstowe.co.uk/tag/grey-divorce/. Marilyn stated that higher numbers of women now work making them less dependent on men for financial support. In combination with the fact that we are now all living longer it would appear that Grey Divorce will not simply be a passing trend. In previous years it has been less possible for women to take the risky option of divorce when they had no finance to fall back on. But with women entering the working world people appear less happy to simply rub along together in an unhappy marriage when they now have the financially viable option of divorce. And with divorce not holding the same stigma as it did in the past people are deciding to opt out instead of sticking with something that may not have been working for a number of years.

Winding up and Family Law

RobotToday has been another hectic day at Stowe Family Law LLP. From redrafting and preparing Form E’s to sifting through and organising masses of supporting documents sent over by the client I have been virtually non-stop. Early in the morning something interesting landed on my desk. I was asked to carry out some research with regard to winding up procedures and family law.

 

A winding up petition is a request to the Court from a creditor, in this case the HMRC, who is owed over £750 for the judge to close the company. Once a petition has been issued this must, by law, be published in the London Gazette and all other creditors have a period in which they can join the petition in order to hopefully realise the money owed to them. If the court agrees to close the company then it will issue a winding up order. The company will then cease to trade, its bank accounts will be frozen and an official receiver or liquidator will be appointed. The official receiver or liquidator will then investigate the company and the conduct of its directors. The assets will be liquidated to pay off the creditors,

Any obligation arising under an order made in family proceedings or any obligation arising under a maintenance assessment made under the Child Support Act 1991 is classed as a non-provable debt. ‘Family proceedings’ for this purpose is defined in section 281(8) of The Insolvency Act 1986 (a link to which is below). A creditor may only pursue a non-provable debt by obtaining a judgement at any time between the bankruptcy order and the bankrupt’s discharge, but they may only do this with the sanction of the court. There are a number of further steps that follow this but in summary the winding up of company belonging to the other side is unwelcome news, especially if the company is not a limited liability company, which in short means that the directors and shareholders are responsible for paying any debt incurred by the company out of their own personal assets. Therefore winding up would not only cause the loss of the company as an assets from which maintenance may be paid, but also the loss of numerous personal assets.

It’s not every day in family law that you get to delve in to company law but I doubt it will be the last time I have to dip in to other areas of law to best serve my future clients.

Introducing Hayley who is joining us on work experience.

I haveHayley the pleasure of introducing Hayley who has joined us here at Stowe Family Law LLP’s Harrogate office for this week to take part in some work experience. She is a lovely young woman who is just about to begin the final year of her law degree. Originally from Glasgow, Hayley has joined us at the Harrogate office following a week’s work experience in our Leeds office.

Today she fired a number of questions at me regarding both my LPC and how it was I secured a training contract at Stowe Family Law LLP. The LPC questions were easy to answer, such as advising her to choose a provider according to where she would like her career to go. For instance, if you aren’t interested in commercial law it is not advisable to go to an LPC provider that is commercially driven. It is a great idea to speak to the provider before signing up to the course. But this was all fairly obvious and Hayley knew most of it already. It was how to stand out to employers and securing that all important training contract, that I hope I helped with.

Hayley asked about my work experience, my CV and the application process. My advice was to persevere. In the current climate it isn’t easy but your perseverance will pay off. I explained that legal work experience was obviously key; however so many applicants have extensive work experience these days. As most recruiters will tell you, it is about having that something that makes you stand out from the crowd. Whether it is martial arts, skiing, long distance running, or bird watching, spread your wings and take up something new. If nothing else it is something great to talk about in your interview. Furthermore throw yourself in to university, try not to be the person that stands on the peripheries of university life and observes. Get involved in student associations and if possible try to take on a role of responsibility within these. It doesn’t have to be all legal, I was the BPP Manchester Spring Formal President, it is about the skills you have gained in these positions. Pro Bono is always a great way to do something sociable and interesting whilst building your legal work experience, and I would always encourage anyone with an aspiration to be a solicitor to take part in some form of Pro Bono work. Once you have gathered all your work experience, your outstanding hobbies and amazing qualities in to a CV it is time to write that all important cover letter. My only advice here is: do your research and copy edit more than once.

I sit here hoping that my advice will help Hayley in some way during her academic career and when she starts applying for training contracts. She has been a delight to have in the office the last two days and I am sure by the end of the week we will be very sad to see her go. She is a talented young woman, who I am sure will do very well as she moves through her academic training and out in to the world that is being a trainee solicitor. I wish her all the best in the future and maybe I will see her again one day soon at Stowe Family Law LLP.

Working to the wire

20130923_211231There are days where everything runs smoothly and gets done on time and then more often than not there are days, like today, where you are happily beavering away in the office well past your 5pm finish. If you are the kind of person who watches the clock and punches out exactly at 5pm then being a trainee solicitor, in fact being a solicitor, may not be the job for you.  The problem is in life not everything happens within the nice confines of your working day. Things happen at 8pm, things happen at 4am and more often than not things happen at 4:50pm, just as you wish you were beginning to close down for the day. But as I was once told, this is what makes the job interesting; it keeps you on your toes.

Today, I came to work at Stowe Family Law LLP with a plan. I had three jobs for the morning and then one major job for the afternoon with the hope that I would finish around 5pm, as tonight was my first night at Taekwondo in Harrogate. The morning ran without a hiccup, and the afternoon was strolling along happily until, at around 4pm, a massive file dropped from the sky and tripped the afternoon up. A Brief to Counsel needed amending. It was not the actual document, the Brief, that posed the issue it was the further documents that needed including. Let me try to paint you a picture: so you have the Brief, a document that generally sets out the background of the case; the position of each party according to their Form E’s (which I hope you remember from yesterday’s blog!); if the solicitor believes it to be a needs based case then the s.25 factors of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 may be set out (this is, once again, a subject for another blog); each parties wishes in regard to their assets and then any further information Counsel may require followed by your questions to Counsel. Then you have all the documentation that Counsel may need to fully understand the case, this may be every document from each parties Form E’s; it may be a selection of these documents; it may be the correspondence between the solicitors on the case; it may be housing particulars; or all of the above and more. The documents included are obviously case dependent so can vary from 10 pages to 100 pages or more. It is the finding, photocopying, organising and indexing of these documents that takes time. Usually Briefs to Counsel are not paginated but they can be. Pagination is something, luckily for me, our printers at Stowe Family Law LLP do at the touch of a couple of buttons. Basically, the printer numbers the pages. Sounds simple, and it is as long as the printer doesn’t get hungry as printers do and try to eat your paper at any point.

With the Brief finished, eventually organised and fully indexed, it is 5:55pm and time to finish for the evening. I have exactly 5minutes to make it from the office, home and back out to Taekwondo. I think it’s time I start running.

The office is buzzing and I am tackling my first Form E

Form E

 

With being out all day in Wetherby yesterday today is the busiest I have been since starting as a Trainee some two weeks ago at Stowe Family Law LLP. The office is buzzing as everyone tries to get the weeks work done in time for the weekend.

Due to the amount of tasks I have done today it would take a blog post or five to fill you in on all of them, so I have decided to focus my time on two very important steps in any divorce case that involves the division of financial assets: 1. the exchange of Form E’s and 2. the process that follows: the questioning of the both parties Form E’s by the other side. This process is not as simple as submitting your questionnaire and getting a reply, it can involve submitting and re-submitting questions until you get a satisfactory answer.

But before I move on to the questionnaire it may be an idea to explain exactly what a Form E is. Exchange of Form E’s is an important step that allows each party to fulfil their duty of full and frank financial disclosure. The form is a 27 page document which asks you to provide all your financial information, from your matrimonial home and all other property to your income, dividends, shares and interests in businesses. Clients cannot properly resolve their financial issues without a full picture of each other’s finances. The Form E is used both within and outside the court process. Within the court process, after issuing your Form A’s (a subject for another blog post), the court will set a timetable, the first step is the exchange of the Form E’s.  Outside the court process the voluntary exchange of Form E’s allows both parties to come to an agreement on the sharing of their finances. For a full picture of what is included in a Form E please visit http://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/family/formspage and scroll down to Form E, where you can view a copy of the form itself.

Following on from exchange each side will submit a questionnaire which questions the information provided in the Form E by the other side. These questions seek to clarify anything that has not been fully explained or proven in the Form E or anything which is believed to be incorrect. This process often takes more than one set of replies to the questionnaires but hopefully will result in a full and frank financial picture for each side to work from.

Today I had the opportunity to fill in my first Form E outside of the LPC and I don’t imagine it will be my last either, before long I envisage it will become almost second nature. But for now I am closing down for the evening and looking forward to a couple of days off before getting stuck in on Monday.

Wetherby may be wet today but it’s all go, go, go

stoweToday is market day in Wetherby and the shoppers are out in force despite the rain. At this point you may be asking yourself why exactly I’m in Wetherby and not Harrogate, it being a work day. I’m actually visiting our brand new Stowe Family Law LLP Wetherby Office. Just down the road from Wetherby Town Hall and overlooking the market square the office sits in Oakgate House on Market Place.

Since being founded in 1982 Stowe Family Law LLP has expanded nationally, Wetherby now being our third office in Yorkshire and our sixth office nationwide. The Wetherby office was first considered when we realised that a high percentage of our Harrogate office clients actually lived in Wetherby. It seemed silly not to accommodate those clients in their home town. The Wetherby team have been working very hard to get the office up and running and it shows; you’d be forgiven for thinking they had been there for years. As I pop outside I see how well the team have really settled in to the area as one of our solicitors greets the local butcher as he passes. The two talented partners who run the office alongside their friendly legal secretary, whose beaming smile greets you as you come through the door, are extremely approachable and welcoming whilst remaining professional and client driven. It is wonderful to see an office as it opens and to have the opportunity to watch it grow over the next two years.

As a trainee it is great to know that your firm is growing, expanding and has a strong future. A strong future is not only a good sign for my career but a brilliant sign for the clients and the communities we serve.

Files, documents, letters, sticky notes, and a discarded glass of water.

file-folders-292x300The day started off quietly, that was until 10am and then the work literally piled up. My desk is currently a mess with files, documents, letters, tiny notes I made to myself along the way, a discarded glass of water and half a ginger granola bar.

10 am came and I sat in on a telephone interview with a client in order to take notes for the acting solicitor. The interview only lasted half an hour and yet by the end my arm was aching. Luckily the LPC exams taught me to write quickly. The interview closes and I discuss the case with the acting solicitor. The discussion ends with a long list of tasks that need completing including an attendance note, a number of telephone calls, a draft letter, a brief to counsel, and a schedule of assets. However, as I sit down to my desk to write the attendance note I am immediately called in to another client meeting with a different acting solicitor. This is a face-to-face meeting with the client and once again I am required to make notes. The meeting lasts for over an hour and a half and I am constantly jumping up to copy documents. By the end of this meeting I am surprised to find that my arm hasn’t fallen off.

At this point in the day I decide to make myself a list of tasks in the hope that this will prevent me from forgetting anything. The first task on my list is to type up the telephone attendance note, it is vitally important that an accurate account is kept of all client meetings. Only half way through and I am interrupted to draft a client letter. That out of the way I am finally back underway and quickly complete the attendance note. Following this I place the required telephone calls and draft a letter to the other side. These seem like somewhat menial jobs to be mentioning, however, they are the stock of any law firm and the ability to converse with clients, the other side and chambers is an important skill.

Following this I am determined to begin the Schedule of Asset, which is in essence a snapshot of the client’s current finances including their assets, liabilities, income and expenditure. However, as I begin to format my excel spread sheet I find that we do not appear to have a Form E on file, without which it will be nigh on impossible to draft the schedule. While the Form E is located I begin my brief to counsel but I’m interrupted by a telephone call requesting that I contact another client with regard to a letter which requires their approval.

The day ends busy and with tasks that will definitely overflow into tomorrow. However, in other news I remembered my umbrella today, but alas I leave the office and it appears the weather God has other ideas and the sun is shining.

Photocopying isn’t quite as bad as it sounds.

It’s already Tuesday afternoon here at Stowe Family Law LLP and even with the persistent rain outside and the fact that I forgot my umbrella this morning I’m in high spirits. I may have some interesting jobs cropping up in the near future and I feel like I’m finally all settled in here at Stowe Family Law LLP.

Following on from yesterday I received my Background to the Position Statement back with minor amendments, and instruction to complete the position statement in full. A Position Statement aims to set out an overview of the case, your concerns and what you are hoping to achieve moving forward. It should include a brief background of the case and should allow those who read it to quickly understand the current position of the case and your client.

Next I get, what I believe most people are threatened with when starting a training contract, photocopying. Luckily, it wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds. I wasn’t simply asked to stand by the photocopiers, wittily coined ‘Bill and Ben the Photocopying Men’ in our office, for hours watching page after page print. It was in fact to update Brief to Counsel. Due to the fast moving nature of cases this is an important task. Without regular updates you could be forgiven for believing not a lot has occurred on a case, however this is never the situation, things are happening all the time and so it is vital that Briefs to Counsel are updated in order for a case to run smoothly.

I then get handed further amendments to my full Position Statement. At this point you are probably wondering why I am receiving constant amendments. This is not unusual and it is not a reflection on my drafting ability as a whole but all part of the learning curve. Each solicitor has a different way of phrasing things and new information crops up in the short space of time between drafting and editing.

After completing a number of other minor jobs I’m about to shut down for the day when I’m handed a very stern letter that is to go to the other side in a current case and asked to quickly proof read it. It is an urgent matter and must be addressed immediately, something that is a day to day occurrence in any law firm and definitely within Stowe Family Law LLP. I read the document, making amendments as I go, and send it over to the solicitor on the case.

I finally shut down my computer and I am handed the menu for the office Christmas party, not a bad end to the day. I will definitely be having the Christmas pudding for desert.

Particulars, Backgrounds and Books.

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I woke up this morning and the first thing I hear on the itv news is that people are more likely to divorce their partner than change their banks, which is somewhat worrying. After listening to a ten-minute segment about how members of the public worry about changing their banks, I turned off and left for work.

My day at Stowe Family Law LLP began with perusal of a number of client files to ensure that I am up to speed and ready to work on them later in the week. You can’t do enough research on a client file as a trainee; in fact you can’t do enough research full stop. Never be afraid to ask questions, as one of the solicitors told me on my first day: ‘there are no stupid questions, just stupid answers’.

Next I am given a particulars of claim to amend with the tiniest writing anyone has ever seen detailing what needs amending.  An ability to decipher obscure handwriting is a good skill to have; in all seriousness though it is a great opportunity to put my drafting skills, learned on my Legal Practice Course, to good use. For those only part way through or just beginning the Legal Practice Course a particulars of claim is a concise statement of facts upon which the claimant intends to rely and, for those of you wishing to know more, it is covered by Part 7, Rule 7.4 of the Civil Procedure Rules.

Following this I get tasked with re-organising part of the Stowe Family Law LLP library. Now this may sound a little odd but as the law progresses texts become out dated and in order for a law firm to keep up to date they need to periodically update their library. Hershman and McFarlane’s Children Law and Practice has recently produced its 65th updating issues in just 22 years, it just shows you how quickly the law advances.

To finish my day I am given a copy of a brief to counsel in another case, along with further case documentation and asked to write the background to the case that will eventually form the position statement. I read through the case documents and write a draft background which I proof read once I had finished.

All in all a good day, some tasks a little more exciting than others but as a trainee you have to do a little bit of everything, and hope that in doing so you not only prove yourself to your new employer but also learn enough to make your way successfully through your training contract and in to the rest of your legal career.