Keep Christmas for the children

Christmas celebrations for children are too often marked by family divisions when relationships break down.   

According to statistics from the ONS around 100,000 children per year see their parents divorcing, with many of those families breaking up immediately after a last Christmas together, and family lawyers seeing a surge in enquiries for divorce each New Year.  Alongside, there are many more children who will be affected by family breakdown, but who are not shown in those statistics, where their parents are not married.

And while the break-up may offer hope of ending a difficult time, too often it marks the start of a new challenge, with couples engaged in a drawn-out and combative process, instead of collaborating to find common ground.

For many families, the final Christmas will be marked by arguments and behaviour that may come to be used as an example of the unreasonable behaviour that will form grounds for divorce.  To secure a divorce, the marriage must be shown to have broken down irretrievably, with most being ‘fault-based’ – adultery, unreasonable behaviour and the rarely-used fact of desertion. The only alternative is a period of separation of at least two years before issuing the divorce petition, but separate living arrangements can be difficult to achieve before assets have been divided through the process of divorce. And while the break-up for unmarried couples appears to offer a simpler exit strategy, it underlines the lack of legal protection for cohabiting partners.

There have been calls for a change in the law to allow for ‘no fault’ divorce without long separation, with those advocating the change arguing this could reduce animosity and provide a better environment for children.  Most recently Baroness Hale, the first female president of the Supreme Court, spoke out to say that the law should be changed to address injustices, including ‘no fault’ divorce, statutory backing for pre-nuptial contracts and greater rights for cohabiting partners, who have been shown to be at greater risk after a break-up, with few routes for financial protection.

Explained family law expert Tracy Cross of Coventry based Band Hatton Button solicitors: “Many people who have been living together for any length of time, sharing a home and bringing up children, think they have some special rights through a ‘common law marriage’. But there are no such protections unless something is legally owned between the two of you – for example if your name is on the title deeds for a property, as joint tenants or tenants in common, or if you have a jointly named savings account.

“The lack of financial remedy for cohabiting couples is often the biggest issue.  While a parent can be made to contribute to the maintenance of their children, there is no such protection for a former partner to claim maintenance if they cannot work while bringing up the children of the relationship.  Similarly, they may find themselves with nowhere to live.”

She added: “Whether starting out, or in a committed relationship, and whether married or cohabiting, it’s sensible to think about protecting assets through a pre or post nuptial agreement or a cohabitation agreement.  For many couples, simply having the frank discussion that goes into making such an agreement can help to create a positive, open attitude in a relationship from the start.  While pre or post nuptial agreements are not yet binding in the UK, they have increasing weight after being tested in the courts.”

And for those couples anticipating their last Christmas together, the advice is to seek collaborative approaches to arrangements for both children and financial matters.  For divorcing couples, mediation will usually involve sorting out such arrangements separately from the actual divorce proceedings, with the resulting agreement likely to be presented to the Courts for a formal consent order to be made.

“Collaboration and mediation is the best way to face up to the pain of separation.  Most couples find it’s a way to get things sorted out more quickly and easily, and helps to put children’s interests first,” said Tracy.  “The actual process of divorce has become much simpler in recent years, and many couples are taking a DIY approach, but involving a specialist mediator, and having guidance over your rights, can make the difference between a good or bad break-up, particularly where children are involved, and that’s true for cohabiting couples too.”

Christmas gifts that keep on giving

Christmas shopping usually means a visit to the high street or browsing online retailers, but the season of giving can be a good time to make sure you’re maximising your opportunities for inheritance tax reliefs, whether to family, friends or charity, while spreading some seasonal cheer.   

While larger gifts may be taken into account, anyone can make smaller gifts or gifts out of surplus income without it being taken into account for inheritance tax purposes, as long as some simple rules are followed.   

Broadly, these come under two headings: gifts where the allowance is automatic if the gift fits the rules, and those where the exemption must be claimed after death, such as gifts out of surplus income.  The automatic allowances include gifts to charities or political parties, gifts on marriage or civil ceremony, an annual exemption of £3000, and small gifts up to £250 per person.    

Any number of so-called small gifts can be made each year, of up to £250 per recipient, with no limit on the number of recipients, as long as no one person receives more than £250. If anyone receives more than £250, then the whole small gift exemption in relation to that recipient is lost for the year, not just the excess.   

Alongside, the annual exemption of £3000 can be used to make gifts to one or more people.  There’s an added benefit if the allowance isn’t fully used in any year, as any remaining allowance can be carried forward one year.  It cannot be combined with the small gift exemption for any one individual.   

In any tax year, you can also give a cash gift when a friend or family gets married or has a civil ceremony.  The limit is £5000 for a child and £2500 for a grandchild, or £1000 for those outside immediate family, whether a friend, niece or cousin.   

You can also make payments to help with another person’s living costs, such as an elderly relative or a child under 18.   

And if giving to charity is important to you at Christmas, it’s worth knowing that gifts to charities and political parties will not count towards the total taxable value of your estate. You can also cut the Inheritance Tax rate on the rest of your estate from 40% to 36%, if you leave at least 10% of your ‘net estate’ to a charity. 

“These allowances are automatic, unlike the gifts from surplus income, but even so, it’s a good idea to track any gifts as it will help to ensure that you keep inside the rules, and makes it easier in any later dealings with HMRC,” said inheritance, wills and trusts expert Michelle Gavin, Partner and Head of Wills, Trusts & Probate at Coventry based solicitors Band Hatton Buton.   

When it comes to relief on gifts from surplus income, record-keeping is essential as the gift will only qualify for exemption if it is part of a regular pattern of giving, and if you can demonstrate that you maintained your normal standard of living after making the gifts and all other usual expenditure.   

She added:  “To make gifts from surplus income, it’s essential you record your intention in writing, setting out that you  mean to make the gifts regularly, and then keep a record of income and outgoings to demonstrate the money you gave was indeed out of surplus income. It doesn’t need to be too complicated, just a simple log of your income received during the year and the amount spent, figures which could come from monthly and annual summaries on bank account statements.” 

The exemption for gifts from surplus income must be claimed after death, by the executors of a person’s will, and can be used for any regular payments, such as monthly contributions to a grandchild’s savings account or payment of school fees, or making regular gifts on special occasions such as birthdays and Christmas.  

Any other gifts made, unless they go into a trust, will be potentially exempt transfers (PETs), which become exempt if you survive the making of the gift by seven years.  Otherwise, the value will be brought into account for inheritance tax purposes.  

Said Michelle: “Making gifting part of an annual review is a good idea as the rules do change from time to time, and it’s good practice to check back what you’ve done each year, just as it’s important to keep your will up to date as circumstances change. 

“And if you’ve reached the end of inspiration on gift ideas for your spouse or civil partner, it’s worth remembering that you can give them as much as you like during your lifetime, as long as they are living permanently in the UK”. 

Web site content note:   

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.   

 

We’re Law Firm of the Year

Band Hatton Button has been named Law Firm of the Year at a prestigious regional awards ceremony.

Band Hatton Button, based in Coventry city centre, claimed the title at the annual Warwickshire Law Society Awards in front of around 150 legal professionals at the Manor Hotel in Meriden.

The Warwickshire Law Society was established in 1915 and aims to provide members, ranging from new-starters to partners and key decision makers, with professional support and representation.

Mark Moseley, Managing Director at Band Hatton Button, put the firm forward for the award after a strong year.

He said: “This recognition is testament to the variety of work that has been going on behind the scenes to ensure we remain as competitive as ever, both in terms of our customers and retaining and attracting the best talent.

Sarah Jordan, Head of Marketing & Client Relations added, “A happy and engaged workforce are central to business success, and we have very much focused on developing both the team and individuals this year.

“All of our lawyers have attended networking training which has helped to ensure they have the skills and confidence to go out there and grow their profiles, and that of the firm, and everyone is also currently going through training around client expectations.

Our Wills, Trusts and Probate team have all become Dementia Friends and the solicitors within the team have also each passed their Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) qualifications.

“We have also committed to taking on at least one new trainee solicitor every year; and we have two trainee Legal Executives with us currently – this is really important for Band Hatton Button to attract up and coming talent while also supporting the industry’s future as a whole.

“We have also made great strides in our customer service. We have recently launched a Client Relations Team who deal with all new business enquiries, which frees up more time for our lawyers to focus on their caseloads.

“It’s also really motivating for our staff to see what we are performing above the industry average score for anonymous customer service scores – LawNet (of whom the firm is a member) shows we are currently trading at 61 per cent, two per cent above the average, and we have targeted ourselves with a marked improvement next time we are assessed.

We have also become Lexcel accredited and have continued with our ISO accreditation.

“Our app is also performing since its launch just over a year ago – recording more than 5,000 downloads in just over a year.

“We have also developed many relationships this year by hosting more events, ranging from seminars to quizzes and golf days.

“All of these steps have been taken to future proof the business, and we are confident of another solid year of trading in 2018.”

Christmas 2017 Opening Hours

Please note below our Christmas 2017 Opening Hours.

Friday 22nd December – Open as usual
Monday 25th December (Bank Holiday) – Closed
Tuesday 26th December (Bank Holiday) – Closed
Wednesday 27th December – Closed
Thursday 28th December – Open as usual
Friday 29th December – Open as usual
Monday 1st January (Bank Holiday) – Closed
Tuesday 2nd January – Open as usual

Our normal office hours are 8.45am – 5.30pm.

May we wish you a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Lessons for business from the #metoo headlines

Following the allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein and other leading figures, businesses need to make sure they have clear policies to inspire the right culture in their workplace.

The initial revelations about the Hollywood mogul inspired many to open up about their experiences of sexual abuse and harassment, flooding social media with millions of posts and tweets using the hashtag #metoo.

That response was reflected, also, in figures from a ComRes poll on behalf of the BBC, which showed that more than half of all British women and a fifth of all men had experienced some form of sexual harassment in their place of work or study.

Such harassment may come in many forms, but includes any unwelcome sexual advances, whether by touching, standing too close, asking for sexual favours, or displaying offensive materials. Employees are protected in the workplace by the Equality Act 2010, which makes it unlawful for an employer to allow any job applicant or employee to be subject to any harassment related to sex or of a sexual nature.

The research commissioned by the BBC showed that many who had suffered sexual harassment at work could not face the process of reporting an incident. Of those who said they had been harassed, 63% of women and 79% of men said they didn’t report it to anyone.

Said employment law expert Mark Ridley of Band Hatton Button solicitors of Coventry: “Many employees will not report incidents because they’re embarrassed or ashamed, or may feel they will not be believed, as it is usually one person’s word against another. Any complaint must be brought within three months and the individual must be prepared to prove the conduct was ‘unwanted’.

“This makes it difficult, as there are often circumstances where those being harassed may feel a passive position is the safest way to handle the situation, so the other party may argue it was mutual. Similarly, different people may have different ideas of what is acceptable; someone might think it’s ok to make racy jokes or engage in ‘banter’ or flirting, where the other may find it offensive or humiliating.”

Resources published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and conciliation service ACAS recommend that every business has a written policy, setting out how harassment at work is unlawful and making sure all staff understand that such behaviour will not be tolerated and may be treated as a disciplinary offence. Examples of what constitutes unacceptable behavior may help people understand the boundaries, particularly if they are relying on what may have seemed acceptable in previous years, together with guidance to staff on how to respond and deal with such behaviour. Then, most importantly, a clear process for what steps the organisation will take if anyone feels they have been subject to any form of harassment, including a safe environment for reporting and handling any complaints.

He added: “However large or small the company, top of the agenda should be a focus on the best possible attitude towards equality and diversity in the workplace. With research such as the BBC’s showing that it is usually a junior member of staff experiencing the harassment, management should lead the way in demonstrating that everyone, from the top down, has zero tolerance to inappropriate behaviour. Staff should be confident they can report any concerns, knowing they will be heard in a supportive, positive way.”

 

Web site content note:

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

 

 

Golf Day for Good Causes

A charity golf day held at Stoneleigh in memory of two avid fundraisers has generated thousands of pounds for local causes.

More than £3,500 has been raised from The Coventry Leofric Lions Charity Golf Day and Gala Dinner at Stoneleigh Deer Park Golf Club, which attracted 15 teams from across the region.

All of the proceeds will be shared amongst the Coventry Leofric Lions charities, and the Meningitis Research Foundation. Local Lions groups such as the Coventry Leofric Lions and Kenilworth Lions fundraise around £30,000 every year for good causes across the region.

The day was held in memory of David Dunbar and John Price who both passed away in 2016.

David and John were members of the Coventry Leofric Lions and Kenilworth Lions respectively, and used to jointly organise golfing events to raise thousands of pounds for local charities.

The 18-hole event was organised by Nick Button from Band Hatton Button Solicitors and Bill Green from Shortland Horne Estate Agents.

Nick, who is also Vice President of the Coventry Leofric Lions, said: “We had nearly 70 participants turn out on the day from a variety of backgrounds which was a terrific effort. The weather was terrible but did not seem to deter the ardent golfers!

“The winner was too close to call at times, but Ken Brown’s team, called ‘Brown and Proud’, were the eventual winners, shooting a round of 108 – a decent score in what were very wet conditions!

“David and John went to great lengths to fundraise, and both would have been appreciative and proud of the day and the difference it will make to causes in the local community.

“The day also enabled the Lions to interact with new people from various corporate sectors, which we are hoping will lead to some new members.

For more information about joining the Coventry Leofric Lions visit www.leofriclions.org.uk or to join the Kenilworth Lions visit www.kenilworthlionsclub.co.uk

To find out more about the other charities Band Hatton Button supports please see http://www.bandhattonbutton.com/our-charities/

Charity Quiz Hailed a Success

A Charity Quiz event held to help a Kenilworth club attract younger members and raise thousands of pounds for Zoë’s Place has been hailed a success.

Family Finances Make Divorce Negotiations Increasingly Complex

Family finances make divorce negotiations increasingly complex

Divorce rates are on the rise, according to the latest statistics, and with the increase in the value of family assets, couples should do more to face up to financial affairs during the good times according to professionals.

According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the overall rate of divorce for opposite-sex couples has increased for the first time since 2009, at 5.8% in 2016, with men and women aged 45 to 49 recording the highest number of divorces.

Women continue to be more likely to petition for divorce in opposite-sex marriages, at 61% in 2016, and this trend was reflected among same-sex couples, with female couples accounting for 78% of such divorces.

The most common ground for divorce continues to be unreasonable behaviour, with 36% of all husbands and 51% of all wives petitioning for divorce on this ground.

And although the overall number of divorces remains well below its 2003 peak, experts say that the process of divorce, negotiating over finances and family arrangements, is becoming ever more complex, and suggest couples should be more open to making agreements and understanding finances from the outset.

The increased value of family assets means more is at stake, particularly for middle-aged couples, when couples come to hammer out a fair division after a marriage breakdown. Wealth statistics from ONS show that by 2014 half of all households had total wealth of £225,100 or more.

And although family property tends to be thought of as the biggest asset, the figures show private pension wealth was the largest component of aggregate total wealth. Values have surged thanks to stock market increases, and changes in legislation have opened the door to greater flexibility in accessing pension pots, making them increasingly important in divorce negotiations.

As a result, many more partners are seeking a share of pension arrangements on divorce. Ministry of Justice figures show a 43% increase in pension sharing orders, at 11,503 in the 2016-17 tax year, compared to 8,027 in 2015-16. Pension sharing orders are issued by the court, setting out the share of a pension an ex-wife or husband will receive from their former spouse.

In recent years, spouses divorcing after a long marriage have come to expect an equal share of all assets, irrespective of any decision on needs, and whether or not one was the home maker.

But a recent Court of Appeal ruling in Hart v Hart, saw a wife awarded £3.5m, out of total resources of just under £9.4m, in a decision which some have interpreted as a shift in attitude. The judgement gave greater weight to the pre-marriage wealth of the husband, despite a 23-year marriage, with the wife’s settlement based on a calculation of needs, rather than equal sharing of assets.

Said family law expert Tracy Cross of Coventry-based solicitors Band Hatton Button. “This case was a complicated one, and it is unusual to see pre-marital wealth being given such consideration after a relatively long marriage, during which finances may have mingled.

“But, together with the increasingly complex finances of those embarking on second or subsequent marriages, it’s an outcome that may encourage more new couples to seek pre-nuptial agreements, or sometimes post-nuptial. While such agreements are not automatically legally binding in England and Wales, they are likely to be upheld, if done properly, following the 2010 landmark case of Radmacher v Granatino. It’s a way of clearly setting out what each person has brought into the relationship, in case of any later division of assets and final payout.”

She added: “What is important is open communication and understanding of financial affairs, and making such an agreement can help couples to have a more frank discussion at the outset. Often, one partner may take the lead on finances, or some couples may just avoid it, as they think it’s a tricky topic. But understanding what you have today, in a positive, settled relationship, may mean you can better cope if the worst happens and things become difficult in future.”

Hart v Hart [2017] EWCA Civ 1306 (31 August 2017) 

Radmacher (formerly Granatino) v Granatino [2010] UKSC 42

ENDS

Web site content note:

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

Legal Marketing Professional Recognised With Award Win

A legal marketing professional has been recognised for transforming her firm’s profile and role within the community.

Sarah Jordan is Head of Marketing and Client Relations at Coventry law firm Band Hatton Button, and collected the Achieves in Business award at the Ladiesfirst Business Awards at Nailcote Hall in Berskwell.

The awards recognise the business achievements of women across Warwickshire and the West Midlands.
Sarah joined Band Hatton Button in January 2016 with more than 15 years of marketing experience, and since then she has undertaken a plethora of projects relating to staff, clients and digital marketing.

The firm has undergone a brand refresh, website revamp and a new advertising strategy, as well as the introduction of a Band Hatton Button app to make their services available at the touch of a button – resulting in web traffic and social media followers nearly doubling in the past year.

Another successful project includes the introduction of a behaviour assessment tool – called DiSC – which enabled every staff member to be profiled, which has helped to improve the firm’s teamwork and internal relationship building.

The firm has also created a Client Relations Team to take calls on initial enquiries to free up time for “lawyers to be lawyers” to improve their efficiency by concentrating on their active cases.

Band Hatton Button has also improved its community presence under Sarah’s guidance. Last year the firm’s Charity Ball at Coombe Abbey Hotel raised more than £6,000 for local causes, while a group of lawyers have also become corporate members of the Kenilworth Rotary Club, and they recently organised a charity golf day raising over £3,500 for local charities.

Sarah said: “I was thrilled to be nominated and recognised for the great progress we have made as business over the last couple of years.

“The changes we have made have laid solid foundations for the firm to grow even further in the future in terms of head count, turnover and building on our reputation as a well-respected law firm.

“Looking ahead to the future we will also be looking to host more events in order to build stronger links with businesses and charities, while expanding our advertising strategy and diversifying our services where possible.

“I’m really proud to have won this award with the support of such a hard-working team, and look forward to developing the business even further in the years to come.”

ENDS

“Selfies” Signal End to Informal Financial Management

International payment processor Visa is launching a platform to allow banks to integrate biometric security that will use selfies, fingerprints or voice records to approve purchases in the drive against fraud.

In the first six months of 2017, over £500 million in attempted card fraud was prevented, with actual fraud losses coming in at just under £290 million1. And while the figures were 11% lower than the same period in 2016, following coordinated action by financial institutions and the police, tackling fraud remains a top priority for the sector.

As well as hitting the fraudster, the increased use of biometric identification will also affect those who allow family or friends to informally manage their financial affairs, and professionals are encouraging everyone to get formal arrangements in place, that can work alongside such safeguards.

Said Michelle Gavin, with Coventry-based Solicitors Band Hatton Button: “There are many reasons why you may want to allow someone else to manage your finances. The obvious situation is if you are elderly or ill, but it’s just as likely to be needed by someone undertaking long term travel or working overseas for a corporate employer. Even day-to-day management of family finances may see couples sharing access to their single named bank accounts.

“But it’s not a good idea to have informal arrangements in place, even when it’s family left in charge, as you’re likely to be breaching the terms and conditions of your account, and leaving yourself exposed. Combined with stricter requirements by banks and others, it’s something that should be dealt with through formal agreements.”

By using a Lasting Power of Attorney – known as LPAs – people can appoint someone to look after their financial affairs on their behalf. While many imagine these are something for the elderly to consider in case of dementia, they have an increasingly important place, for asset protection and to manage today’s strict security procedures.

She explained: “By making an LPA and appointing an attorney to manage things for you, they will have power to enter into any transaction, unless you have specifically forbidden it, so they will be able to deal with investments and to write cheques.

“But the important consideration is choosing the right person to be an attorney. So, think about how well they look after their own finances, how well you know them and how sure you are that they will make the right decisions for you. As an added precaution, you can appoint two attorneys who must both be involved in each decision, although that can make transactions more complicated if they must both be involved at the same time. Another option is to appoint a family or friend to act, but also appoint a professional, and they can undertake regular checks on how matters are being handled.”

As well as Property & Financial Affairs LPAs, used to appoint someone to look after your finances, there are also Health & Welfare LPAs, used to appoint someone to deal with issues such as where you live and medical treatment if you become mentally incapable.

Any LPA must then be registered with the Office of the Public Guardian, which is the administrative arm of the Court of Protection, before it can be used, and involves a fee of £82 per LPA. The registered LPA can then be submitted to any institution such as a bank or utility provider so they can deal directly with any appointed attorney named in the LPA.

She added: “LPAs are often thought to be for older people, but they can be just as important when you are younger – for example, it can be invaluable if someone is involved in an accident which leaves them incapable of managing their affairs, or if you are travelling or working out of the country for long periods and unable to manage your affairs directly.”

The other advantage of an LPA is that without one, where someone has become mentally incapable, for whatever reason and at whatever age, their financial and personal affairs will have to be managed by a deputy appointed by the Court of Protection. This is a slow and expensive business for most families, as relatives may be forced to get permission from the Court for each transaction that they carry out. The deputy is also required to produce annual accounts, and there are legal and Court fees throughout the process.

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.