Woman wins legal fight over right to partner’s pension

A woman who had been denied payments following her partner’s death has won the right to a “survivor’s pension.”

Denise Brewster had challenged a previous ruling that she was not entitled to money from the scheme on the basis that she had not been married to Lenny McMullan.

The couple had lived together for a decade and owned a home together in Coleraine, Northern Ireland.

The pair had got engaged on Christmas Eve 2009, but tragically Mr McMullan had died just a couple of days later.

Ms Brewster, aged 42, was originally told that she was not entitled to money from the occupational pension scheme that her late partner had set up with Translink, the public transport company where he had worked for 15 years.

While she would have received payments automatically if the couple had been married, the fact that they were not meant that Mr McMullan would have had to “nominate” his partner.

The High Court had originally ruled she should be eligible, but this decision was later overturned at the Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court was then called upon to deliver a definitive ruling, having heard evidence late last year.

Today it was announced that the five Judges had unanimously ruled in her favour.

Throughout proceedings, Ms Brewster had made representations that she had been a victim of “serious discrimination” and her legal battle could be an important test case for other cohabitees.

Speaking previously about why she had decided to pursue the matter, she said:  “My case is simple: bureaucratic rules like this which discriminate against long-term cohabitees should not be permitted.

“A positive decision from the Supreme Court is likely to impact on discrimination against cohabitees across a wide range of areas, not just pension rights.”

For further information about this update please contact Peter Martin, on 020 8349 0321 or by email.

Husband loses fight to have maintenance payments stopped

A university lecturer has won a legal battle against her former husband, who had tried to argue that he should no longer have to pay maintenance now that she has returned to working full-time.

Kathleen Liddell, an academic at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Law, had increased her working hours following the break-up of her marriage to Goran Mickovski.

She had said that she needed to return to full-time work in order to “survive financially”.

But Mr Mickovski had sought to use her change in circumstances to have a previous settlement amended, arguing that he should no longer be required to pay the £723-a-month maintenance payments now that she was earning a more substantial salary.

Now Judges have rejected the suggestion that Ms Liddell doesn’t need the money and ordered that her one-time spouse pay the £34,000 maintenance that has been accrued over the past four years.

The court heard that the couple had separated after 11 years of marriage. When they divorced, a settlement was reached whereby Ms Liddell would receive a £555,000 lump sum and the monthly maintenance payments in return for signing over her half of the home that the couple had shared in North London.

Her ex-husband, who has since remarried, still lives at the address.

A Judge, Markanza Cudby, had previously praised Ms Liddell’s work ethic and rejected the suggestion that the maintenance was no longer necessary.

This prompted Mr Mickovski – who has previously served as a minister in the Macedonian government – to take the case to the Court of Appeal, but the Judges this month upheld the original ruling.

Explaining their decision, Lady Justice Macur said: “The wife says ‘I need to work in order to survive financially’. She was struggling. Each month her outgoings exceeded her income.

“That is why she needs maintenance going forward and why the Judge made the findings that she did.”

For further information about this update please contact Peter Martin, on 020 8349 0321 or by email.

Family courts to stoop to tabloid levels

OGR Stock Denton’s head of family law, Peter Martin, has warned about the possible consequences of allowing some proceedings to be held in public.

Peter said: “It is hugely important that the process of family proceedings is fully understood by the public at large.

“However allowing the public into hearings, particularly those involving children, does nothing but feed the frenzy for “public interest” in people’s private issues.

“From my 40 years of experience in family law I know that if a matter gets to court it is usually because one or both parties are being unreasonable and that sort of dispute is rarely edifying.  This is unnecessary and wrong.”

Sir James Munby, who is the president of the High Court’s family division, announced wide-reaching reforms which he said would allow for greater transparency.

It is expected that orders will remain in place to protect the identities of the parties involved in a case, but these safeguards have not dispelled the reservations held by many legal bodies.

Resolution, the Family Law Bar Association and the Family Justice Young People’s Board are among those who raised concerns when the proposals were previously put out for consultation.

Joanne Edwards, the previous chair of Resolution, said: “There is strong opposition to any further opening up of the court amongst the professions.

“For us it is about safeguarding the interests of children who, unlike in criminal proceedings, invariably become embroiled in family proceedings through no fault of their own. There is a real risk of jigsaw identification and once details of their private family life are out there, they can never be retrieved.”

Family courts were first opened to the media in 2009, but Judges retained powers to limit journalists’ attendance and impose tight controls on what (if anything) could be reported.

The fresh set of reforms appears to have drawn some inspiration from family courts in Australia, which were closely studied by Sir James prior to him outlining the proposals.

Further details about the trial are expected to be released in the months to come.

For further information about this update please contact Peter Martin, on 020 8349 0321 or by email.

Businessman to go to Court of Appeal over divorce settlement

A wealthy businessman is calling on the courts to review his divorce settlement, having argued that his success as a financier needs to be taken into consideration when deciding how much he should be awarded.

Last year, the High Court ruled that a £140million fortune should be divided equally between Randy Work and his estranged wife Mandy Gray. The couple, who have two children, had married in 1995 and separated three years ago.

Mr Work has contended that he had made a “special contribution” to the couple’s wealth through his talent as an investor and, with this in mind, the court should leave aside the usual principle of splitting assets 50/50. He maintains it would be appropriate for him to receive a two thirds share.

While there is provision under the Matrimonial Causes Act to disregard “equal division” when the court deems it would be inappropriate, Mr Justice Holman had ruled last year that there were not sufficient grounds to do so in this case.

At the previous hearing, the Judge concluded that Mr Work’s contribution to wealth creation was not “wholly exceptional.”

In particular he had challenged claims that the American financier was a “genius”.

“I personally find that a difficult, and perhaps unhelpful, word in this context,” he had said.

“To my mind, the word ‘genius’ tends to be over-used and is properly reserved for Leonardo Da Vinci, Mozart, Einstein, and others like them.”

However, Mr Work has now been granted permission to take the case to the Court of Appeal.

Intriguingly, part of the forthcoming hearing may focus on what constitutes a “genius”, given that Mr Justice Holman had appeared to suggest that the term was a “prerequisite” to making special provision.

The Court of Appeal session is scheduled to take place in February.

For further information about this update then please contact Peter Martin, on 020 8349 0321 or by email.

The divorce rate among older couples continues to rise

One particularly noteworthy aspect of the UK’s most recent divorce figures is that the number of over 55s looking to bring their marriage to an end continues to increase.

While last week’s statistics showed a fall in the overall number of divorce petitions, in fact the number of older couples who are separating is growing.

The volume of silver splitters has been remarked on a number of times in recent years, with debate about the circumstances driving the trend.

It does not appear there is one definitive reason for why a growing number of older people are seeking divorce, with family law practitioners and relationship counsellors tending to argue that a number of factors are likely to influence a decision.

Generally speaking, over 55s are in a more secure position financially, with their savings and pension schemes making a split a more plausible option.

There is also the fact that a couple who had stayed together while their children grew up, may be more comfortable about parting ways once their sons and daughters have left home.

Other potential factors include the possibility that people are more likely to re-evaluate their lives as they approach or enter retirement and the fact that age gaps, which may not seem all that significant when a couple are younger, pose more of a problem later in life.

Rebecca Amboaje, from OGR Stock Denton’s family department, said: “The number of divorces in 2014 was highest among men aged 45 to 49 and women aged 40 to 44.

“There is no doubt that attitudes to divorce have become more relaxed over time. There are also an increased number of people cohabiting who decide not to get married, so these statistics show the changing face of modern society.”

For further information about this update then please contact Rebecca Amboaje on (0)20 8349 5483 or by email.

‘Adultery’ and ‘unreasonable behaviour’ most common reasons for divorce in UK

‘Adultery’ and ‘unreasonable behaviour’ are the most common reasons for divorce in the UK, according to analysis of new data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The latest ONS figures into divorce trends across the UK, which were released Monday 5 December 2016, reveal that the number of people divorcing in England and Wales fell by 3.1 per cent in 2014.

Analysis of their data suggests that there were 111,169 divorces recorded in total – and as many as 66,588 (60 per cent) of divorces involved either ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or ‘adultery’.

Commenting on the statistics, Nigel Shepard, Chair of family law foundation, Resolution, stressed that such trends could be prone to change in the near future due to the potential introduction of no-fault divorce.

He said: “For those 111,169 of couples that did divorce, we know that nearly two-thirds will have apportioned blame – whether they wanted to or not.

“At Resolution, we believe in a better way for separating couples that allows them to divorce without blame, conflict or argument.

“Over 90 per cent of our members support a move to no-fault divorce, and last week 150 family lawyers gathered in Parliament to meet with MPs and lobby for change.

“We are pleased with the positive reception our calls for no fault divorce received among MPs and we will continue our call for this much required, widely supported legislative change”.

Peter Martin, Head of Family Law at OGR Stock Denton, added: “The real problem with our divorce laws is this: If you have not been separated for a period of a project years, then you have no choice but to blame the other person.

“This is why the majority of divorces are based on blame, as most people can’t separate without sorting out the finances and, in particular, the sale of the home.

“Lawyers have been seeking no-fault divorce for four years. For some reason politicians feel that if this is supported they will be accused of attacking family values. As usual, the politicians are wrong”.

Bigamist was exposed after her husband found wedding photos online

A woman’s bigamy was discovered when her husband came across wedding photos on Facebook, a court heard this month.

Lisa Everard was still married and living with her husband Elliott when she secretly tied the knot with another man, Michael Hughes.

Mr Everard was stunned to discover the pictures of his wife’s clandestine nuptials on the social networking site, but when he confronted her she originally tried to claim that the photos of her wearing a wedding gown were from when she had been a bridesmaid for a friend.

Not convinced, her husband checked the records at his local register office and discovered that she had indeed exchanged vows with Mr Hughes.

Cardiff Crown Court heard that Mrs Everard, 35, had since admitted bigamy and has now left the couple’s home to live with her partner.

The mother-of-four’s defence team argued that the Everards’ relationship had ended some years before she had “re-married.”

Passing sentence, Judge Philip Harris-Jenkins said:  “You should have borne [the impact on the family] in mind before you acted in the selfish way that you did.

“This was not an act of naivety. This was a deception.”

He took the decision to spare Mrs Everard, from Gwent, in Wales, jail, arguing that a custodial sentence would not be in the public interest. Instead he made the defendant the subject of a rehabilitation requirement and ordered that she complete 150 hours’ unpaid work.

Cases of bigamy are now fairly unusual, although those convicted could still face a prison sentence of up to seven years. While custodial sentences are still imposed by UK courts – there have been a number already this year – most tend to be a period of several months.

Peter Martin, head of OGR Stock Denton’s family department, said: “Whilst bigamy is now unusual, it was once more common in the days when obtaining a divorce was very difficult.

“Will it  become more of an option for people who, as a result of legal aid cuts, cannot sort out their divorce and finances in the present day?  A potential bigamist should also remember that one of the major problems they will face is two mothers-in-law.”

For further information about this update then please contact Peter Martin, on 020 8349 0321 or by email.

Resolution takes its campaign to Parliament

A delegation from the family law association Resolution travelled to Westminster yesterday to make their case for MPs to legislate for no-fault divorce.

150 members visited Parliament to set out their case for a change in the law, discussing their concerns about the current regime with representatives from both the House of Commons and the Lords.

Resolution has long argued that the current system, which often results in a party having to attribute blame even if they don’t want to, tends to increase arguments and makes an acrimonious break-up more likely.

The campaign for change has the support of a number of senior members of the judiciary and was recently the topic of a Commons briefing paper, but successive administrations have shown little appetite for pushing through a change in the law.

Nigel Shepherd, Resolution’s national chairman, said it was quite clear that the current legislation was “not fit” for modern society.

“Divorce is already difficult enough, we don’t need it being made harder by the law pushing couples into conflicts and arguments,” he said.

“For so many to descend on Parliament to lobby MPs and Peers shows that it is time for politicians to act, and bring an end to the blame game.”

Suzy Shepherd, who recently divorced her husband of 14 years, is among those who have expressed their dissatisfaction with current arrangements.

She felt that her only choice was to cite “unreasonable behaviour” on the divorce forms, which she wasn’t comfortable with. Her experience has convinced her that a new option of “irreconcilable differences” should be recognised under UK law.

Rebecca Amboaje, Partner in OGR Stock Denton’s family department, said: “Resolution plays an important role in campaigning for improvements to family law and the family justice system.

“It is positive that Resolution are lobbying the government on this issue and it is important that the law moves with the times and proposes changes which can be considered by Parliament so that voice of practitioners and the public who use the family justice system is heard.”

Peter Martin, head of the department, said: “Forcing people to blame the other party really does not help. Some solicitors really go ‘over the top’ in their petitions and upset the other person, which sets a bad tone for the divorce. This can then affects matters concerning both the children and finances.

“At OGR Stock Denton we always try to take a reasonable approach if possible. When people agree that they want to divorce there should be no reason why a simple petition stating that fact should not be enough.”

For further information about this update then please contact Rebecca Amboaje on (0)20 8349 5483 or by email.

Hopes that new funding will be a “lifeline” for victims of domestic abuse

Ministers this month announced a £20million grant to bolster domestic violence services around the UK.

The funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government is the first part of a new financial package to support those who have suffered abuse.

The cash injection was first outlined in last year’s Spending Review and the money will start to be made available from next year.

Local authorities can bid for a share of the funding, which will be used to ensure the future of existing facilities and help in the creation of new accommodation.

Securing support will be dependent on councils giving an undertaking that they will be willing to provide assistance to victims from outside their local area.

The announcement of additional funding follows concerns that the domestic violence support network around the country had been pared back or, in some cases, stopped altogether.

Many non-statutory services have been reduced and the strain on budgets pushed many authorities into implementing a “local connection” policy, whereby only victims from the nearby area were eligible for support.

Domestic violence charity Refuge said that the grant would be “a lifeline” for those who needed protection.

Chief executive Sandra Horley said: “Refuges are often the only escape route for women and children in fear of losing their lives.

“Refuges provide [them] with much needed safety, expert support and the building blocks they need to begin a new life, free from fear.”

Domestic violence can be a factor in the breakdown of a couple’s relationship and it is common knowledge that reports increase over the Christmas period.

Peter Martin, OGR Stock Denton’s head of family law, said: “People sometimes make the assumption that domestic violence only affects small sections of the population, whereas unfortunately it is a problem which can cut across all strata of society.

“In my experience the victims are often embarrassed about telling their solicitor about the difficulties they have experienced. This can be because they wrongly feel they are to blame for what has occurred.

“It is important to bear in mind that it is only if we are told that we can provide victims with the necessary help and advice.”

For further information about this update then please contact Peter Martin, head of our family law team, on 020 8349 0321 or by email.

Businessman challenges court’s decision to award his ex-wife almost £3million

A man has gone to the Court of Appeal in an attempt to have a previous judgment – which saw his ex-wife awarded £2.7million a decade on from the couple’s original divorce settlement – overturned.

Millionaire businessman Glen Briers has built up a vast fashion empire after starting a business in the family’s garage almost 30 years ago.

His relationship with Nicola, with whom he has three children, had ended in 2002, by which time his firm was already making an annual turnover of more than £1million.

When the couple divorced three years later, they came to a settlement which involved Mr Briers paying off the mortgage and allowing his wife to keep their £700,000 home. She would also receive an annual “salary” of £10,000 and child maintenance payments.

But when her relationship with a new partner ended, Mrs Briers went back to the courts to make the case that she should be awarded a more substantial package.

A Judge ultimately ruled that she should receive a £2.7million share of the businessman’s fortune, which according to newspaper reports stands at around £10million.

Mr Briers said the terms were “excessively favourable” and has gone to the Court of Appeal in an attempt to have the previous decision overturned.

He argues that, for almost ten years, his ex-wife had given no indication that she felt she had an outstanding claim, while she has maintained that she played a significant role in the formation of the company and that the business has to be considered a matrimonial asset.

Mr Briers’ company, which encompasses popular brands including Vision and Lambretta, now turns over in the region of £30million a year. The 61-year-old tycoon had been working as a teacher when he started the enterprise from less than £100 in savings.

Peter Martin, head of OGR Stock Denton’s family team, said: “It is essential when settling a case that you also get a court order which finalises matters. There are numerous occasions where litigants in person or clients say that they have an agreement and they don’t need to do this as it only incurs extra costs.

“The extra costs that Mr Briers would have incurred doing this at the time pails into insignificance against the £2.7 million he may now have to pay. We always try to ensure that our clients get the court orders they need. Saving pennies costs pounds.”

For further information about this update then please contact Peter Martin, head of our family law team, on 020 8349 0321 or by email.