Child Arrangement Orders and the Pandemic

Leona Shala (Student)

This pandemic has been difficult for all of us, but it has been reported that some parents have even used it as a means to stop ex-partners from seeing their child or children. Those ignoring child court orders could end up facing legal action. 

The guidance concerning parents who are living apart is very clear in that children under the ages of 18, upon sensible assessment and only if the children are not being put under any risk, can move between parents ‘homes. However, for some parents trust and communication has broken down and agreements about child visits seems to have become impossible. 

Sir Andrew, who is in charge of family courts in England and Wales states that “If the parents are acting in a cynical and opportunistic manner, then that’s wrong, and the courts will regard it as wrong” .He makes it clear that anyone using the pandemic as an opportunity to stop their partner from seeing their child is wrong and could face court action. 

It is made clear that child safety during the pandemic is down to the parents and the courts will not interfere with that unless that parental power is being abused to change child arrangement orders and parents are using the pandemic as an opportunity to do this. 

In order to get a child arrangements order you would be expected by the courts to have tried mediation. This is where you and your partner and a mediator, who is there to help you and your partner come to an agreement and try and resolve the problem between you, get together to attempt to resolve the problem. If mediation does not work, then you would apply to the courts and complete a C100 form.  The welfare of the child is paramount. 

At Staffordshire Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on family-related matters. Students are supervised by a qualified solicitor. If you wish to book an appointment with us, then please either call us on 01782 294800 or alternatively email us at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk. 

 

 

Have You Made a Will?

Linda Wara (Student) 

Up to 60% of people do not have wills, by some estimates.

 To protect your assets, a will is needed as this safeguards your property, money, sentimental items, including jewellery and valuables.

This is a legal document that ensures your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

You will require an executor who will be responsible for administering your affairs This could either be a close friend or your relative or could even be a firm of solicitors. Your executor will dispose of your assets and provide your beneficiaries with their share in accordance with the terms of your Will.

Your will should set out the following:

  • Your beneficiaries
  • Who will be your children’s legal guardian if they are under the age of 18
  • Your executor
  • What happens if your beneficiary dies before you

For a will to be legally valid, the following criteria needs to be met:

  • You must be over 18 years of age
  • You need to be aware of the extent of your assets
  • Your Will should be written
  • Should be signed by two witnesses, both of whom need to be over the age of 18 years (and not beneficiaries under the will)

Your will should be reviewed every 5 years or after any changes in your life, for example

  • Getting married
  • Separation or divorced
  • Having a child
  • Relocation
  • If the executor named in the Will dies

If you die without a will, your assets will be distributed amongst family members according to a predetermined formula which may be against what you would have wished for.

At Staffordshire Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on probate matters (although we do not draft wills). Students are supervised by a qualified solicitor.

A free appointment can help you find out your rights and legal position.

Call us on 01782294800 or alternatively email us at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

Is this the future for family courts?

Charmaine Watkins (Student) 

Many parents are having to appear alone in family court proceedings due to the lack of legal aid. In addition to the stress this causes Covid-19 has caused further problems as many court hearings, including family hearings, are now remote. In the circumstances, many parents are appearing alone and often without the correct technology at these, often life changing hearings. 

Despite this in a survey carried out by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory out of 1300 people 86% of legal professionals believed that courts are now running more smoothly and being remote has many benefits. 78% of them agreed that fairness and justice was being achieved in many remote cases. This response was not shared by the litigants in person and 88% of parents reported that they were concerned about the way cases were being dealt with, with 66% feeling that the cases have not been dealt with well. 

Family law cases are often confusing and stressful for people who are representing themselves, but it appears that dealing with this from home has caused more issues with 40% of people saying that they did not understand what was happening in trials. Remote hearings involving issues such as domestic violence can cause trauma and stress and having to listen, talk to or see the alleged abuser when they are in their own home can cause further trauma. Another issue with remote hearings is that it can be difficult to create an empathetic and supportive environment for those that need it most. 

Another area which has caused distress is cases that involve interim care orders, particularly relating to babies from families shortly after birth. In many of these cases the mother is having to join the hearing by phone from the hospital which again causes further distress. 

Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the Family Division has said in response to a report raising these issues that  many professionals have worked more effectively and there were some benefits for those working remotely however the issues raised need be addressed as it is clear to see that some cases need additional support when remote. 

The president of the Law Society, David Greene, has suggested that cases relating to care proceedings or domestic abuse should have face to face interaction with a professional who can give support and ensure that the people involved fully understand what is going on in the case. He did, however, agree that delays may have a damaging impact on a case, so some cases need to be dealt with quickly to avoid this. He also acknowledged that remote hearings are the only option during the pandemic. 

At Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on Family related matters. If you wish to book an appointment with us call 01782 294 800 or alternatively email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk  

 

Domestic violence During the COVID – 19 Lockdown

horizontal background woman in isolation at home for virus outbreak or hypochondria .

Reshahn Allen (Student)

New studies have revealed that during the Coronavirus lockdown, there has been a surge in domestic violence against women. Over two thirds of domestic violence survivors who responded to a Women’s Aid survey, reported that the violence had got worse during lockdown.   

Using statistics that have been obtained following a freedom of information request from the police, the BBC Panorama programme revealed that there was one domestic abuse call every thirty seconds within the first seven weeks of the first lockdown. The recorded calls had included reports of violent offences such as kidnapping, arson, revenge porn and poisoning.  

From the beginning of the lockdown, more than forty- thousand calls had been made to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline and those figures are rising according to the charity. The telephone helpline, which usually receives approximately two hundred and seventy calls from women, family and friends who need support had increased by seventy – seven per cent in June.  

During the first week of July, there was a fifty – four per cent increase in women who were in urgent need of accommodation in comparison to the final week in June, which was the highest number of women needing emergency accommodation during the lockdown.  

Domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs has now called for the government to help put a plan in place to tackle abuse at home. She had commented that there would be a surge during the autumnal months and labelled the seventy – seven per cent rise during June as “stark”.  

On an interview with BBC radio 4’s Today programme, Nicole Jacobs had stated that “there has been some government funding, but just to point out that the funding is in place and has been given charities and services until the end of October. Of course, this surge is going to go well beyond that so one thing the government need to put in place is a plan post – October and that is quite urgent to do now because we can see the evidence is right in front of us.”  

Nineteen days after lockdown had started, the government had proclaimed it would give an extra £2 million to domestic abuse helplines, and they had launched a social media campaign to encourage people to report domestic abuse. The CEO of the women’s aid charity, Solace, Fiona Dwyer, had told Panorama that the timing of the government was ‘dreadful’ and that it should not have taken them nineteen days to muster any action. Dwyer said that domestic violence and abuse was not a priority for the government and the £2 million was a ‘poor effort’.  

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) offers free legal advice for matters regarding domestic abuse and family issues, in conjunction with Lewis Rodgers Solicitors. SULAC is offering appointments online, through Microsoft Teams due to COVID – 19. For additional information, or to book an appointment please call on 01782 294800 or email at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk  

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

Furloughed ethnic minorities and young hit hardest by job losses

Lucy Cooper (Student)

Since the Corona Virus pandemic hit the UK significant changes have had to take place in the working environment. Many people have had to work from home or have had to stop working and be paid through the Furlough scheme. The Resolution Foundation said that recently there has been a large number of job losses with black and Asian and minority workers being significantly affected with one in five ethnic minority workers losing their jobs. 

It has been acknowledged in a recent YouGov survey that unemployment has been most common among workers in the black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, 22% of BAME workers and 19% of young workers have become unemployed. These numbers are significantly higher than the average 9% of furloughed adults who are now no longer working. 

The furlough scheme has since been extended by the Government until the end of March and provides employees with 80% of their current salary, for hours which they have not worked up to a maximum of £2,500. Under the new scheme the cost to employers of retaining workers will be reduced compared to the scheme which was in place which caused thousands of ethnic minorities and young people to lose their jobs. 

In addition to this businesses which have been forced to close will receive grants worth up to £3,000 per month under the Local Restriction Support Grant, this should help businesses to keep hundreds of people in jobs so that they can keep the business afloat and, hopefully, keep people in employment. 

The Job Retention Scheme has been extended for a further month which means any employers small or large are eligible for the extended Job Retention Scheme, this means that business will have flexibility to bring furloughed employees back to work on a part time basis or furlough them full time, and they will only be asked to cover National Insurance and employer pension contributions, which accounts for just 5% of total employment costs.  

To be eligible employees must be on an employer’s PAYE payroll by 23:59 on 30th October 2020. This means a Real Time Information (RTI) submission notifying payment for that employee to HMRC must have been made on or before 30th October 2020. 

These new measures should help to keep people in employment however for those who have already lost their jobs and are struggling to find a new one the Government has suggested getting financial support through the New Style Jobseekers Allowance, Universal Credit and Pension Credit. 

If you need any advice on the issues which have been discussed above Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) offers free legal advice on employment related matters, if you wish to book an appointment with us please call 01782 294 800 or alternatively email on SULAC@staffs.ac.uk 

 

 

 

The pandemic and Evictions.

Leona Shala (Student)

During this pandemic, a lot of people have been struggling financially due to being made redundant or there being less work available. This has had an impact on an individual’s ability to pay their rent or mortgages. Tenants have had threats of eviction from landlords due to not being able to pay their rent and have been faced with the worry of potentially being evicted.

Eviction is the legal process used by a landlord who wants his or her tenants to leave their property for any specific reason. If the tenancy has come to an end, then the landlord will have to issue a Section 21 notice; this is called a “no-fault eviction” as the landlord does not have to give a reason for their decision.

The Government announced, at the beginning of March lockdown, that there was to be a ‘complete ban on evictions’. This was a relief to many tenants struggling to pay their rent. The Government has also increased the minimum notice period from two to six months which will continue to at least March 2021. Clearly there is a balancing act to ensure that Landlords are not prejudiced by this as they may also be suffering with financial difficulties but the Government is clearly trying to ensure that fewer people are made homeless during the pandemic.

At Staffordshire Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on property related matters. Students are supervised by a qualified solicitor. If you wish to book an appointment with us then please either call us on 01782294800 or alternatively email us at SULAC@staffs.ac.uk .

 

 

When Should a Parent Stop Providing Their Child with Financial Assistance

Millie Parkes (Student)

In a recent case a 41-year-old qualified solicitor, was denied continued access to his parents’ funding due to their relationship deteriorating.

Although judges have powers to order parents to provide financial support based on laws regarding marriage and children, in this case, the judge found there was no case in this instance. Sir James Munby, the Judge on this case described the case as ‘most unusual’ and ‘unprecedented’ to his knowledge.

The Claimant is said to have a degree in modern history, a master’s degree in taxation and is a qualified solicitor. This evidently intelligent man has however been unemployed since 2011 due to ‘various difficulties and mental health disabilities.’ In light of this, his parents, who were very wealthy, provided him with financial assistance allowing him to reside in a Central London flat that they own, and paid for some of his bills The man claimed that his parents had “nurtured his dependency”.

The man’s appeal was rejected by the courts on the basis that an adult child ‘should not be able to take his parents to court to obtain finance.’ It was argued that provisions in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the Children Act 1989 and under human rights law allowed payments to support young children and sometimes adults if they are still in education or if they had special circumstances including a disability. The court said this did not apply in this case.

This court found that these provisions could only be applied when a court order for financial support had already been made when the child was young, and when the parents are not living with each other – which was not the case for the man.

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) offers free legal advice on all financial matters relating to children and divorce SULAC is currently offering appointments online via Microsoft Teams due to the global pandemic. For more information, or to book an appointment please contact: SULAC@staffs.ac.uk or call on 01782 294800.

Invisible discrimination and Covid

Charmaine Watkins (Student) 

 What is a Disability? 

In the Equality Act 2010, a disability is defined as ‘a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities’. Substantial means more than minor, such as it takes longer to complete a daily task like getting dressed and long term means more than 12 months.   

 Disabilities can be both visible and invisible. It is commonly reported that people with visible disabilities come across discrimination in everyday life however it is not so commonly reported about discrimination against those with hidden disabilities. Nevertheless, this has become clearer since the introduction ofthe requirement for face coverings to be worn across the United Kingdom.  

Due to COVID-19 face coverings are mandatory in the majority of locations across the United Kingdom, to help stop the spread of the Virus. This has led to many issues for businesses and those with hidden disabilities. The Government has been very clear on the Law behind face coverings however not so clear on how it will be enforced until recent weeks.   

 What is a face covering? 

 The government has defined a face covering as something which safely covers your nose and mouth, which can be single use or reusable. Items of clothing such as scarfs, bandanas, homemade coverings or religious garments are classed as face coverings providing they fit securely around the side of your face. It does not have to be a form of medical PPE.  

 The law behind face coverings 

 Face coverings must be worn in certain places by law cross the United Kingdom these places include public transport, shops, restaurants and places of worship. The police are now able to take action if a person does not comply with the law without a valid exemption. Fines have been put in place to enforce this. On your first offense you could receive a fine of £200, this will double for each offense committed. There are however exemptions to this law, and these include people with various disabilities. These exemptions always include mental disabilities such as wearing or removing a facemask would cause severe distress for example.  

 In 2016 the hidden disabilities sunflower scheme launched. The scheme was intended to notify people that the wearer of the sunflower lanyard needed additional support. This has been adopted globally by many airports and venues and in more recent times supermarkets, emergency services and many small and large businesses. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the sunflower scheme has been developed to also include exemptions from wearing a face covering. There is not a list of disabilities that qualify however illnesses and conditions such as asthma, COPD and other chronic illnesses could be regarded as a hidden disability. In the UK one in five people have a visible disability however it is suggested that 80% may have a hidden disability.  

Some transport companies have suggested that ‘fake lanyards’ are being used to avoid the necessity of wearing a mask, however no evidence has been produced to suggest that this is the case. People with genuine hidden disabilities have said that they feel discriminated against, leaving them feeling isolated and scared to leave their houses as they cannot wear a mask. Some people feel like everywhere they go they get challenged for not wearing a mask despite wearing the lanyard. Stephen Buckley, from the Mind charity has said “It’s really important not to make assumptions about other people you come across who don’t have their faces covered… openly challenging this is likely to negatively affect their mental health.” 

Government guidelines state there are exemptions to the requirement to wear face coverings and say that no proof is needed, they have now however, provided an exemption card that can be printed out and more businesses now support the sunflower scheme.

At Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on equality and discrimination related matters. If you wish to book an appointment with us call 01782 294 800 or alternatively email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk  

 

 

Covid and Redundancy

Brad Allmark (Student)

The number of employers that notified the government in June 2020 about plans to cut 20 or more jobs was five times higher than in June 2019. According to the BBC a freedom of information request showed that in June 1,778 employers said they were intending to cut more than 139,000 jobs in England, Wales and Scotland. In June 2019, only 345 firms had plans to cut 24,000 jobs.

Covid 19 was the cause of the cuts due to the reduction in the UK economic output. Employers that are planning to make 20 or more staff redundant have to notify the government using a form called an HR1 Advance Notice of Redundancy. The Government saw an increase in these forms over the financial crisis rising from 500 in March 2020 to 1800 by June 2020. This does not include businesses that plan on removing less than 20 staff as they do not have to notify the Government.

Redundancy is a form of dismissal from your job. It can occur when employers need to reduce the number of employees. If you are being made redundant then you may be eligible for certain things, these include redundancy pay; notice period; a consultation with your employer; the option to move into a different job andtime off to find a new job. If your employer is insolvent, then you have specific rights to deal with this. If you have been made redundant due to COVID 19 then your employer may be able to re-employ you and pay 80% of your wages using the Job Retention Scheme.

The redundancy process does not happen overnight. It includes a consultation period of a minimum 30 days for 20 staff and over, and 45 days for 100 staff or more. If you are selected for redundancy it must be done fairly. This means that you cannot be selected because of age, gender, or if you are disabled or pregnant. If you are then you could claim unfair dismissal. You can be made redundant while on furlough, but the same rules of fairness apply. You cannot be made redundant, or put on notice, while your employer is claiming money from the Job Support Scheme to help fund your role. Some people will have redundancy rights in their contract which may be more generous than the legal minimum.

The economy made a small recovery after the unprecedented economic downturn that happened over the previous months, as workers were asked to go back to work and customers were encouraged to spend more money with schemes like the Eat Out To Help Out restaurant vouchers. However, a number of employers from many of the hardest-hit sectors, such as retail and restaurants, announced big redundancy plans, including Debenhams, DW Sports, Marks & Spencer, Pret a Manger, currency exchange company Travelex, and WH Smith.

At Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) we offer free legal advice on employment related matters. If you wish to book an appointment with us call 01782 294 800 or alternatively email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk

 

 

 

An increase in divorce rates across the UK during the Coronavirus lockdown.

Emma Peake (Student)

Work and other activities give couples the opportunity to have time apart. However, this has changed during the Coronavirus lockdown, forcing couples to be together all day every day. This has caused divorce rates to rise.  

In 2019, divorce rates were around 7.5%. However, 9 months into 2020 saw divorce rates rise to 33.3%. Certain law firms have claimed that they have seen a 40% rise in divorce during lockdown, with more expected. A statement from Co-Op Legal Services states that ‘we saw a rise in divorce rates of 42%. It is normal for us to see a rise mainly after the Christmas period, due to finances, stress and other factors however, this year seems to have doubled in figures.’ The BBC also released a statement stating, ‘The impact of Coronavirus has reshaped our personal relationships, forcing us to live with people and isolating us from other people.’ 

‘A spike in divorce was expected’ claimed Nelson Law, ‘couples have been together 24/7 with financial worries, fear, stress and illness. Though, divorce should not be a rushed decision.’ Over 54% of people have lost income or taken a pay cut. A further 39% have applied for unemployment benefits, putting strain on relationships. Leading expert in Family Law, Laura McGuire claims that ‘It is best to undertake mediation or marriage counselling before divorcing.’  

 ‘Domestic violence and alcoholism have increased, also leading to divorces claims Aisha Vardag, a divorce specialist in London.  

Lockdown has given people the time to realise what they want for their future, and in most cases, divorce was long overdue meaning that the pandemic has given people confirmation that divorce was the correct option.  

Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC) is a Pro-Bono service providing free legal advice. Students are supervised by a qualified solicitor. If you have an issue regarding Divorce, or contact with children, please do not hesitate to contact us. We will advise you on the legal aspects of the area.  Please call 01782 294458 or email SULAC@staffs.ac.uk for an appointment