Kate Stovold – on Women in Law panel for her former school

On 23 November, LMP Partner Kate Stovold joined a panel of women to speak about her career in Family Law. Hosted by Woldingham School, where Kate studied for her GCSEs, the virtual event saw the meeting of successful lawyers working in the US, Hong Kong and London. Each woman shared the story of their journey from leaving school to present day providing careers advice and tips along the way. Following introductions, students had the opportunity to ask questions.

Speaking after the event, Kate notes:

“Growing up, I didn’t know anybody working in the law. I had no contacts; no connections. I had to create opportunities for myself, whether making endless applications for Training Contracts, pushing firms for work experience or thinking outside the box to enhance my CV.

That I am now in a position to give back gives me great pleasure. Whether speaking at an event like the one hosted by Woldingham, meeting a student to chat through their CV or offering work experience, each opportunity makes a difference to a young and aspirational lawyer.

Whilst increasingly difficult to remember my school days, I am confident that had this opportunity been presented to me, I would have grabbed it with both hands!”

Kate is looking forward to supporting future events at Woldingham School and hopes for in-person networking on the next occasion.

Co-parenting on separation – Kate Stovold writes for Vantage Point

LMP Partner, Kate Stovold, continues to write for Vantage Point, the community magazine in Farnham, Surrey. The focus of this latest article is co-parenting on separation

Kate recognises that the breakdown of a relationship has many consequences, including financial and emotional. Children can often be caught in the cross fire but it is important to shield them from the animosity as much as possible.

Kate says this: “I am pleased to again share my expertise in my home community and hope that my article provides support to families in need. Managing a strained family dynamic from the outset can pave the way for an easier and less turbulent separation. That must always be the aim and as a specialist family law solicitor, it is my goal.”

To read the article in full, please follow the link here.

Should you need any advice about child arrangements or family matters generally, please contact Kate: [email protected]

Prenuptial agreements. What and why? And wherever!

LMP partner Kate Stovold talks about prenuptial agreements in her latest article for Vantage Point, a magazine circulated to families and businesses in Kate’s home town of Farnham in Surrey.

Kate debunks some of the common myths surrounding prenups and argues that far from being unromantic, the agreement represents shrewd financial planning and wealth management.

This piece is from a series of articles on family law which Kate is writing for her local community magazine and she explains why this is important to her:

“Before the national lockdown in March 2020, and like so many others, I commuted to London every day.  However, to adapt and to do so quickly was crucial for business.  LMP transitioned to remote working overnight meaning that I was no longer a ‘London family lawyer’; simply a family lawyer.  It has been a pleasure to represent clients living in and out of London (and abroad) during the pandemic.  The show must go on!

Whilst I have now returned to the office, I am operating a flexi working schedule that facilitates the best of both for me and, most importantly, my clients.  I remain active in my London network and continue to expand my professional connections in Farnham.

I see numerous advantages for my clients including:

  • That LMP is a boutique family law practice offering a “tailored top drawer service” (Legal 500).  That service is available to all regardless of geography.
  • My firm’s ongoing commitment to excellence.
  • My relationships with the best barristers and third party experts ensuring a collaborative approach to your case.
  • The convenience of being local to you, whether in London or in Surrey.  Access to the best legal advice is now a moveable feast.”

You can read Kate’s article here.

To contact Kate for advice about prenups or any family law matter: [email protected]

Ending the Blame Game

It is almost a year since legislation was passed to enable couples seeking a no-fault divorce.  This followed years of campaigning from lawyers calling for reform. Cara Lahnstein comments on the recent much-awaited Government announcement.

No-fault divorce is now set to become reality. Yesterday the government committed to the introduction of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 on 6 April 2022. This reform has been long awaited and will be the biggest change to divorce law in our lifetime. Separating couples will no longer need to assign blame in the divorce process.

Originally, the Act received royal assent on 25 June 2020 with plans to implement in autumn 2021. Understandably delayed because of the pandemic, 6 April 2022 is now fixed as a matter of Parliamentary record, rather than the indicative timetable previously being worked toward.

The new law will replace the need for evidence of conduct, such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour, or proof of separation, and instead will only require divorcing couples to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown. It will also do away with the possibility of contested divorce applications, as the statement will act as decisive evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Human nature can dictate that if someone has been wronged, there should be a consequence for the other party. However, courts and lawyers try to be more forward thinking and recognise that wishing to blame your partner creates an unnecessary disruption for many couples during the divorce. The focus should be on reaching a resolution as quickly and painlessly as possible.

We may still have a long way to go in terms of legal reform to accurately reflect the needs of today’s more complex “family” and relationship structures. However, finally stamping out the archaic concept of “fault” and the negativity associated with the need for one spouse to bear the full brunt of the blame for the relationship breakdown, must enable a healthier, kinder and more constructive start for a couple embarking on separate futures. We can expect the change to particularly benefit children, so often caught in the crossfire of their parents’ emotional power struggle.  It is hoped that the no-fault culture will encourage a more civilised and calmer environment in which to discuss co-parenting and a fair provision for future family life.

We see first-hand the emotional cost of divorce proceedings when conducted in a spiteful and unnecessarily acrimonious manner. It is not anticipated that this change in the law will encourage more people to divorce but it is hoped that it will enable divorcing couples to focus on the practical consequences of their separation, particularly when there are children, without getting caught up in the “blame game”.

This reform will help couples shift their attention away from why the breakdown occurred with a focus instead on what is needed, by them both, to move forward with their lives as positively as possible.

We at LMP wholly support this new legislation.

SPIP – can it help separating parents adopt a more joined up approach?

Kate Stovold reflects on the challenges for separating parents and the benefits of the Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP).

I recently attended the informative and thought provoking evening with Dr Aric Sigman, an American Chartered Psychologist and experienced lecturer on PSHE health education for school pupils, parents and medics; see news post here.

With prevention of mental illness in children and young adults being a focus for the evening, and the need for parents to adopt a proactive yet instinctive approach to their parenting, I reflected on the difficulties facing separating / separated parents.

Where the family unit is strong, parents can work together to battle the potential issues discussed with Dr Sigman, whether body confidence, screen time addiction, alcohol, lack of sleep etc.  Parents can aim to present a united front and encourage, support and nurture their child as best as possible.

It is, unfortunately, more difficult for separated parents, not least because they are trying to present the united front from two homes, rather than one.

It is complicated further when separated parents have different parenting styles (which may have been a factor in the breakdown of the relationship), perceive problems to be of varying severity and cannot communicate effectively between themselves.

These are barriers to effective co-parenting.

How then can separated parents facilitate a more joined up approach?  What if they need help to improve their communication skills and their ability to work together as parents notwithstanding potential animosity and entrenched conflict and dislike?

Reflecting further, I considered the Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP).

The SPIP is a course aimed at separated parents and is designed to help parents understand how to prioritise children during the separation and beyond.  The course helps parents learn the fundamental principles of managing conflict and difficulties.  There is a focus on better communication between parents and how this can be channelled to assist mother and father recognise the best interests of the child(ren).

Positive communication is a key ingredient to any relationship, whether mother and child, father and child, between parents, teacher and student, lawyer and client.

When parents can improve their communication, it is fair to assume that co-parenting becomes easier as a result.  The hope therefore is that separated parents can be equally well placed to support their child with any concerns or worries.  A united front from two different angles.

It is therefore no surprise that when the Court is asked to intervene and adjudicate the arrangements for children from separated families, the Judge will often direct the parents’ attendance on the SPIP.

The SPIP (and similar courses with similar aims and objectives) can be sourced privately too.

Mediation is another option available to separated parents who may need to agree living arrangements for their children, or who want to address a specific issue that has arisen during the family breakdown or as a result of that breakdown.  To find out more about mediation, click here.

Within mediation, there is an option for the child to have a voice.  This can be beneficial for older children, particularly if they feel torn by divided loyalties.  Family counselling and family therapy can also facilitate the ‘voice of the child’.

 

For more general advice about child arrangements, you can contact Kate Stovold at [email protected]

Civil partnership reform sneaks through whilst “no fault divorce” is delayed as the country heads for a general election

Georgina McCluskey comments on recent developments in family law

Good news for mixed-sex couples wanting a civil partnership

In one of its last acts before Parliament was dissolved last week, the House of Lords took the necessary steps to ensure that the Civil Partnerships, Marriage and Death Acts would be implemented this year.

This means that, from New Year’s Eve, mixed-sex couples will be able to enter into civil partnerships.  This comes following a ruling by the Supreme Court last year which said that the restriction of civil partnerships to same-sex couples was a breach of human rights.

This is welcome news, particularly for heterosexual couples who want the legal security provided by a civil partnership, but do not want to be married, with the connotations that may have.

“No-fault divorce” put on ice.  

However, there is wide-spread disappointment amongst family law practitioners as other, long overdue, reforms have been side-lined whilst politicians prepare for the forthcoming general election.

Back in April, I reported that the government had announced that the widely anticipated “no fault divorce” was going to be introduced. (See News post here). At that time, it had been hoped that these long-awaited changes could be introduced in as little as 3 months.

That, it is now clear, was wishful thinking.

There has long been pressure for reform to our current system, under which parties can only divorce on the basis that their marriage has broken down irretrievably as evidenced by one of 5 facts. If a long period of separation cannot be proven, then the most frequently used facts involve an element of blame.  It is also open for one party to defend the divorce, which increases costs and tensions from the outset.

The campaign for reform ramped up following the case of Tini Owens who was forced to remain married to her husband until next year as he did not consent to a divorce, and the Court did not find that her reasons for the divorce were sufficient.

Unfortunately, The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, under which one party will not be able to stop the divorce if the other has initiated it, and under which there would be no element of blame, did not complete its passage through parliament before it was dissolved.

It is hoped that this will be soon addressed by whichever party wins the election, but there will undoubtedly be further delay.

Another casualty of the election was the Domestic Abuse Bill which would have broadened the definition of domestic abuse and meant that complainants could not be cross examined by their allegedly abusive partners in family court proceedings.

Parental Alienation

Kate Stovold explores the issue of parental alienation and its assessment by the Court. 

  • Relationship breakdown has ramifications not only for the couple but also any children of the family.  Unfortunately, there are times when children can be caught in the middle of the conflict, and when the animosity between parents is especially high, there can be more serious consequences including one parent actively denying the other parent their relationship with their child(ren).
  • When parents separate and need to discuss the arrangements for their children, the starting point is enshrined in the primary piece of legislation relating to children is the Children Act 1989 and it includes, at s.1(2A), a presumption that the involvement of both parents in the life of the child will further that child’s welfare (unless the contrary can be shown, for example in the event of drug and alcohol abuse).
  • An unjustified denial of contact by one parent of the other is often referred to as parental alienation and / or implacable hostility.
  • In October 2018, CAFCASS* published a new assessment framework to support Family Court Advisers, known as the Child Impact Assessment Framework.  Promotion of an understanding of the issue of parental alienation is a focus.

* CAFCASS is the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and represents the child in Court proceedings concerning children.  On their website CAFCASS say that “we put children’s needs, wishes and feelings first, making sure that children’s voices are heard at the heart of the family court setting, and that decisions are made in their best interests. Operating within the law set by Parliament (Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000) and under the rules and directions of the family courts, we are independent of the courts, social services, education and health authorities and all similar agencies.”

 

  • CAFCASS recognises parental alienation as “when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.”
  • CAFCASS identifies the following as features of parental alienation:
    • The child’s opinion of a parent is unjustifiably one sided, all good or bad; idealises one parent and devalues the other;
    • Trivial, false, weak and / or irrational reasons to justify dislike or hatred;
    • Vilification of rejected parent;
    • Reactions and perceptions are disproportionate to the parent’s behaviour;
    • Extends dislike / hatred to extended family or rejected parent.

These are but some examples.

  • Family Court Advisers are encouraged to assess the wishes and feelings of the child concerned, with this assessment reflecting on the reasons for the resistance or refusal to spend time with the other parent.
  • Following an assessment by a Family Court Adviser, recommendations are made to the Court with a focus on the child and how the situation can be improved for them.
  • Recommendations to the Court can include:
    • Therapeutic treatment for the child; and
    • The appointment of a guardian so that the child can be separately represented in the proceedings.
    • A change of residence, in the more severe cases of parental alienation.

Should you need any advice in relation to child arrangements or if you have concerns about potential parental alienation, please contact Kate Stovold or another member of the LMP team.

“Can my court hearing still go ahead in lockdown?”

Kate Stovold reports on how the Courts have adapted to remote working.

In October 2019, I received notification of a three day Final Hearing in May 2020.  It was listed in a regional Court, out of London, before a District Judge.  In March 2020, Boris Johnson announced the nationwide lockdown.  Whilst I admit to some initial concern about whether the Hearing (and indeed the other Hearings in my diary) would proceed, and the impact for my client if it did not, my fears were allayed.

I am pleased to report that the Hearing took place, as listed.

How? Via Skype for Business.

The administration for the Hearing was different, in that there were specialised directions in place to ensure that all parties (clients, solicitors, barristers and the Judge) could join the call.  There was a requirement for a ‘practice run’ ahead of the first day.  I think this was as reassuring for me as it was for my client.

Other directions including in relation to the filing of evidence and the preparation of the Court Bundle were broadly the same as with ‘normal’ hearings, and the lawyers really pulled together to ensure that the Hearing could be effective, notwithstanding the lack of physical attendance.

Skype for Business worked well as a platform, and the Judge was clear about how he wanted the Hearing to proceed.  He took control, within the framework of the witness template that had been provided to him in advance  I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of talking over each other, and Court room etiquette was followed by all.

Many of my colleagues, including Laura Geraghty have had similar positive experiences with remote hearings.  Laura has had a number of court hearings heard by telephone and has been very impressed with how well they have been handled, even with the other party not represented.  It may well be that post-lockdown some hearings may continue to be heard remotely for expedience.

Some of the larger court buildings have already opened up for ‘face to ‘face’ hearings.  There is however likely to be a back log with certain matters requiring judicial assistance at the earliest opportunity.  Whilst acknowledging that there are still improvements to be made, and lessons for us all to learn as we adapt to remote hearings, it is clear that we can and should press on.

Business as usual!

Telephone Hearing: A joined up approach in lockdown

Kate Stovold continues to share her positive experiences of remote hearings and in particular the constructive involvement of  CAFCASS.

I was recently involved in a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment at a Court in the South West.  It was conducted via telephone, as is fast becoming the new ‘normal’.

In accordance with directions, all parties provided their telephone numbers to the Court – clients, barristers and solicitors.  We were all joined into the call by the Deputy District Judge.  The Hearing started on time, with arrangements for the e-filing of the Bundle being made in advance.

To my mind, the most positive aspect of the Hearing was evidenced by the proactive and child-focussed involvement of the duty social worker from CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service).  This body, “independent of the courts, social services and education and health authorities, represents children in family court cases, putting children’s needs, wishes and feelings first and making sure that children’s voices are heard at the heart of the family court setting, and that decisions are made in their best interests.”

Under normal circumstances with a Hearing at a Court building, the duty social worker would have been at Court too, moving between the parties and assisting with discussions about interim child arrangements.

As we all know, lockdown requires flexibility and so for this Hearing, the social worker spent much of the morning on the telephone.  She spent time with the father, and time with the mother.  She reported back.  She suggested compromise options.  She was both proactive and reactive.  In short, she helped the parties narrow the gulf between them, and appeared to do so in a friendly and constructive way.

That the social worker was then able to join the Hearing and provide further insight and guidance to the Judge served only to further enhance the effectiveness of the Hearing.  In particular, the Judge was able to hear the social worker’s views on one discrete issue.  This enabled the Judge to make a careful and informed decision.

This was joined up approach.  The solicitors preparing the case.  The barristers conducting an effective Hearing.  The social worker sharing insight and recommendations.  The Judge making child focussed orders and directions.

A positive step for this family, and proof that remote hearings in lockdown work and can be successful.