MyHMCTS makes divorce financial remedies much easier

For years, financial remedies legal processing has involved long, drawn-out processes that tied up the legal system and caused heartache for couples who simply wanted their relationships to come to a fair conclusion. However, as reported in the Law Gazette this month, that’s all changed. Family law solicitors up and down the country have welcomed the introduction of HM Courts & Tribunals mandatory digital portal, which is already slashing the time it takes to process financial issues in a divorce from three months to as little as seven days.

Previously, contested financial remedy cases were taking an average of 77 days to reach their conclusion. However, creating the digital portal has sliced through the paperwork and made it faster and easier for family law solicitors and their clients to get the result they want, even if a case is referred to a judge more than once.

Now, rather than filling in the notoriously complicated D8 form, divorce applications go through the MyHMCTS online portal. The exceptions to this changeover are civil partnership dissolutions, judicial separation and nullity.

Hailed as a success by family law solicitors

Since the portal became an option in 2018, more than 150,000 divorce applications have been processed. The system has been deemed to be such a success that as of 4th October, paper applications will come to an end and everything will be done digitally. The system, which was introduced as part of the government’s courts reform programme, has been hailed as a success by family law solicitors across the country.

The digital system has also cut down dramatically on the number of returns, with only 1% of online applications requiring amends, compared to around 20% of paper submissions. Overall, HMCTS has enabled the courts to finalise divorces in around 20 weeks on average, compared to the previous 60 weeks for paper applications. This makes a huge difference to couples who simply want to get on with their lives and don’t want to be stuck in the limbo of divorce for over a year.

A couple of stumbles along the way

For a government-backed digital system, the problems have reasonably manageable. The system hasn’t been all plain sailing, and there have been a few issues along the way. The Law Gazette also reported the fact that the system cannot handle a Notice of Change if an individual decides to transfer responsibility to a legal representative after initiating the process as a petitioner litigant. In this instance, the case needs to transfer back to the old paper method, which could delay the process considerably.

Divorce solicitors are recommending that couples who may anticipate conflict when it comes to the divorce process should go through legal counsel from the outset to avoid this issue. For others, the availability of the portal means that while couples are sorting out the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the process online, divorce solicitors can focus on the financial arrangements, which are often the most complex (and apart from child access) the most important aspect of a separation.

Solicitors offering financial remedies legal advice are using the portal as a matter of routine, and apart from the issue surrounding the Notice of Change, it appears to be working remarkably well. The HMCTS portal is also being activated to take on a range of other processes as well as divorce and financial remedy including probate, immigration and asylum appeals and family law. Anticipation is that it will streamline the legal process, allowing solicitors to provide clients with a more personalised and focused service in the long run.

If you’re going through a divorce and need financial remedies legal advice, talk to one of our expert team in confidence today. We offer a full service including access to the best divorce solicitors in the region and are here to help you get the resolution you want. For more information please email or phone 020 8349 0321.

North London family lawyers shortlisted for LexisNexis Family Law Award

Head of Family Team, Graeme Fraser, has been shortlisted in the Partner of the Year category at the LexisNexis Family Law Awards 2021, while Associate Solicitor, Holly Covington, has been shortlisted in the Young Solicitor of the Year category.

Graeme is a well-respected figure amongst family lawyers, having served in senior committee positions with Resolution, including as current Chair of the Cohabitation Committee, and having recently been appointed to the Family Procedure Rule Committee (FPRC).

He is a past winner of the Family Law Commentator of the Year category at the Family Law Awards and his team was also shortlisted the Family Law Firm of the Year category at the 2020 awards

Meanwhile, up-and-coming Family Solicitor, Holly Covington, was nominated for the Young Solicitor of Year accolade, having impressed since joining the firm in September 2019. Since then, Holly, who qualified in November 2018, has handled complex matters usually reserved for much more experienced lawyers, winning praise from colleagues and senior members of the bar alike.

She also volunteers for the charity, Rights of Women, on the Family Law Advice Line.

Graeme Fraser said: “Family law touches on the fundamental elements of our clients’ lives, finances and identities in ways that few other areas of law do. It is vital that we deliver the best possible service to each and every client, taking every opportunity to reduce unnecessary conflict where possible.

“Holly has really impressed over the last two years. Not only does her technical skill belie her experience, but she has also demonstrated impressive dedication to clients and, particularly to improving outcomes for women in the family justice system.

“I am delighted to have been shortlisted and it is great to see Holly shortlisted too.”

Holly added: “It is wonderful to have been shortlisted and to have been recognised in this way by the judges.

“Our firm is strongly dedicated to its clients and this has allowed me to make a real difference over the last two years.”

The winners of the Family Law Awards 2021 will be announced at a ceremony in London on 24 November 2021.

Family Law Journal – International Cohabitation Practice and Policy

Partner and Head of the family department, Graeme Fraser has written an article in the Family Law Journal, which summarises the regulation and treatment of unmarried cohabitants in Britain, Canada and Australia. Cohabitation law and practice operates very differently in each of these jurisdictions.

The article has now been been published on the Family Law website. Read the full article here.

Graeme Fraser appointed to the Family Procedure Rule Committee (FPRC)

OGR Stock Denton LLP is delighted to announce that the Lord Chancellor has appointed Graeme Fraser, Partner and Head of the Family team, as a practitioner member to the Family Procedure Rule Committee (FPRC) from 1st March 2021.

Graeme Fraser commented: “I am delighted to have started a three-year term as a Solicitor member of the Family Procedure Rule Committee.  It is an exciting time to be involved, with considerable changes to family legislation afoot.  I look forward to fully contributing my practitioner experience to this role.” 

What is the Family Procedure Rule Committee?

The FPRC was established under Section 77 of the Courts Act 2003 to make family procedure rules. It aims to develop clear, easily understandable rules to create an accessible, fair, and efficient family justice system.  The Family Procedure Rules were implemented in 2011.  The Rules and supporting Practice Direction continue to be reviewed and updated to ensure they are in line with new legislation and policy initiatives.

Members do not receive remuneration for their work (except for reasonable out-of-pocket expenses).  The selection process is exceptionally rigorous, as Members need to demonstrate not only a solid working knowledge of Court and administrative processes within the family jurisdiction, but they must also be committed to valuing diversity and understand the impact of Family Procedure Rules and Practice Direction amendments.

About Graeme Fraser

Graeme Fraser is a Family Law Solicitor specialising in finance and children cases.  He has experience at High Court and County Court levels of the Family Court.  Graeme is a Resolution accredited specialist in complex financial remedies and cohabitation, the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 and has the Law Society Family Accreditation.  He is also Chair of Resolution’s Cohabitation Committee.

About OGR Stock Denton LLP

Based in North London, OGR Stock Denton LLP is a full-service law firm that has been assisting businesses and people with legal matters for over half a century.

A Two Minute Guide To The Domestic Abuse Bill 2021

One of the unspoken tragedies of the Coronavirus pandemic is the dramatic increase in domestic abuse. According to a House of Common’s Insight,  although there is no official data so far on the impact of lockdown on domestic abuse, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that by mid-May 2020, there was a 12% increase in the number of domestic abuse cases referred to victim support. And between April and June 2020, there was a 65% increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, when compared to the first three months of that year.

For many years, women’s groups, Family Law Solicitors, and law enforcement agencies have asked for tougher legislation to protect victims.  Former Prime Minister, Theresa May took up the cause and in July 2019 introduced the Domestic Violence Bill 2019-21 to the House of Commons. On 29 April 2021, the long-awaited Bill received its Royal Assent.

On the day Royal Assent was received, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, said:

“Today marks an historic moment for victims and survivors of domestic abuse when change is needed the most.

The act sets out my legal powers which I will use to support all victims across England and Wales by first tackling the ‘postcode lottery’ of services.

So many campaigners, charities and individuals have worked incredibly hard to make the bill as robust as possible and there is no doubt that the legislation, which now includes non-fatal strangulation as a standalone offence, is much stronger as a result.

Legislation won’t transform things overnight and we know there is more to do, so and I will work with partners to advocate for further changes.”

The Domestic Abuse Act (DAA) 2021 is wide-ranging.  It creates new offences, extends existing law, and amends other legislation.  Its main provisions include:

Domestic abuse and economic abuse have been defined

For the first time, domestic abuse has been defined in legislation.  A definition of economic abuse is also provided:

Definition of “domestic abuse”

(1) This section defines “domestic abuse” for the purposes of this Act.

(2) Behaviour of a person (“A”) towards another person (“B”) is “domestic abuse” if—

          (a) A and B are each aged 16 or over and are personally connected to each other, and

          (b) the behaviour is abusive.

(3) Behaviour is “abusive” if it consists of any of the following—

          (a) physical or sexual abuse;

          (b) violent or threatening behaviour;

          (c) controlling or coercive behaviour;

          (d) economic abuse (see subsection (4));

          (e) psychological, emotional or other abuse;

and it does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct.

(4) “Economic abuse” means any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on B’s ability to—

          (a) acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or

          (b) obtain goods or services.

(5) For the purposes of this Act A’s behaviour may be behaviour “towards” B despite the fact that it consists of conduct directed at another person (for example, B’s child).

The police and the Courts are given greater powers

The police and the Courts are at the heart of protecting victims of domestic abuse. Under the DAA 2021, the police can issue Domestic Abuse Protection Notices, providing victims with immediate protection. The Courts can make a Domestic Abuse Protection Order that demands perpetrators take responsibility for their actions and seek mental health support and/or drug and alcohol rehabilitation if required.

Domestic abuse victims to be given housing priority

Local authorities will have to prioritise those who have been made homeless due to abuse. The DAA 2021 also places a duty on local authorities to ensure victims receive therapy, advocacy, and counselling in safe accommodation.

Non-fatal strangulation is now an offence

The DAA 2021 has made non-fatal strangulation an offence and expanded the scope of the offence of ‘revenge porn’. Furthermore, the defence of “rough sex gone wrong” in cases where death or serious injury occurs has been tightened. 

Perpetrators can no longer cross-examine victims in person

Being cross-examined by an abuser in Family Court proceedings is incredibly traumatic for victims. The DAA 2021 amends the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 barring anyone convicted of, given a caution for, or charged with a domestic abuse offence from cross-examining in person a witness who is the victim or alleged victim of the abuse, and vice versa. The Court can provide alternatives to cross-examination or appoint a Solicitor to undertake cross-examination of the witness.

Victims will also be given further protection from intimidation by having access to special measures such as being able to give evidence via video link and protective screens.

Children recognised as victims of domestic abuse

Children who hear, see, or experience the impact of domestic abuse are recognised as victims under the DAA 2021.

Final words

Domestic abuse is a scourge on all societies and does not discriminate against sex, age, race, or sexual preferences. The DAA 2021 has been long anticipated and provides robust measures to further protect victims.

If you or your children are in immediate danger, please call 999 and ask for the police. You can also call the 24-Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

Further help and support are available from the below organisations.

National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) – 0800 970 20 70

Refuge – 0808 2000 247 (24 hours)

Women’s Aid 0808 200 0247 (24 hours)

ManKind – 01823 334 244

Galop LGBT Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428

To make an appointment with one of our Family Solicitors based in North London please email or phone 020 8349 0321.

Resolution Podcast – Cohabitation Law Reform (Episode 2)

Partner and Head of the family department, Graeme Fraser appears as a guest speaker on the Resolution podcast on Cohabitation Law Reform (episode 2), hosted by Anita Mehta and Simon Blain.

The podcast looks at the case for cohabitation law reform in the light of experiences north and south of the border.

The podcast has now been been published on the Resolution website. Listen to the full recording here.

Webinar – Divorce and financial planning

OGR Stock Denton LLP would like to invite you to join our live webinar – Divorce and financial planning

12.30pm, Friday 23rd 2021

Zoom webinars

Join our live webinar on divorce and financial planning, where our family law experts look at the practical evaluation and structuring of financial settlements on divorce. By reference to case scenarios, provision for meeting needs during middle life and retirement is explored through mortgage capacity evaluation; funding options; pension sharing; and cash flow modelling.

Hosted by Graeme Fraser, Head of Family OGR Stock Denton LLP, with guest speakers Claire Heppenstall, Barrister at 1 GC Family Chambers, and Helen Howcroft, Chartered Financial Planner at Equanimity IFA.

If you would like to join this webinar, please register here.

Webinar – Cohabitation TOLATA property disputes and the Dispute Resolution Toolkit

OGR Stock Denton LLP would like to invite you to join our live webinar – Cohabitation TOLATA property disputes and the Dispute Resolution Toolkit

4.30pm, Thursday 8th April 2021

Zoom webinars

Join our live webinar, where our family law experts use case studies to analyse the benefits and drawbacks for our clients of Dispute Resolution in solving problems of Cohabitation TOLATA property disputes.

TOLATA litigation in the context of cohabitation claims can be risky, uncertain and expensive both financially and emotionally.  The COVID19 pandemic has encouraged professionals to move towards Dispute Resolution, including mediation, early neutral evaluation, private FDRs and arbitration, as an alternative method to litigation. This webinar will explore how these methods can be utilised in Cohabitation TOLATA property disputes.

Hosted by Graeme Fraser, Partner and Head of Family team at OGR Stock Denton LLP, and guest speaker Elizabeth Darlington, Barrister at 1GC | Family Law

If you would like to join this webinar, please email Ali Kabani:

akabani@ogrstockdenton.com

 020 8349 5514

Webinar – Covid and divorce, 12 months on…

OGR Stock Denton LLP would like to invite you to join our live webinar – Covid and divorce, 12 months on…

4.30pm, Thursday 11th March 2021

Zoom webinars

Join our live interactive discussion, where our experts reflect on the past 12 months and consider the issues for family lawyers as we come out of the second UK lockdown.

Topics covered in this webinar include:

  • What are new clients reporting in terms of separation and divorce due to lockdown issues
  • Reported case law during COVID-19
  • What will never be the same for divorce lawyers again post lockdown
  • What could improve when we are out of lockdown
  • Professional practice points and the future outlook for divorce lawyers

Hosted by Graeme Fraser, Partner and Head of Family team at OGR Stock Denton LLP, and guest speaker Max Lewis, Barrister and Arbitrator at 29 Bedford Row Chambers.

If you would like to join this webinar, please email Ali Kabani:

akabani@ogrstockdenton.com

 020 8349 5514

Webinar – How secure is the Bank of Mum and Dad?

OGR Stock Denton LLP would like to invite you to join our live webinar – How secure is the Bank of Mum and Dad?

1.00pm, Tuesday 2nd March 2021

Zoom webinars

With the introduction of the Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) holiday in England & Wales there has been a surge of applicants borrowing money from their parents to purchase either their first and second home

This webinar will look at the legal and tax implications of parents lending money to their children to purchase a home, particularly where spouses and cohabitees are involved, including some recent case examples of how we helped clients in similar situations.

If you would like to join this webinar, please email Ali Kabani:

akabani@ogrstockdenton.com

 020 8349 5514