Legal Aid update

Since April 2013 there have been fundamental changes to Family Law and, more particularly, the way in which clients need to fund family matters.

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 removed Legal Aid from the majority of private family matters. In order to qualify for Legal Aid since April 2013, clients must have suffered domestic violence, have a child who has suffered abuse or be an “exceptional case”.

Unfortunately for most clients evidence of domestic violence seems to be hard to find. The Legal Aid Agency requires certain evidence of domestic violence such as Police evidence, medical evidence or referrals from domestic violence refuges. Clearly, due to its nature, this evidence is often difficult to come by and, therefore, many clients simply cannot qualify for Legal Aid. The result is that many clients are left without assistance.

If this were not enough, the cases which fall under the “exceptional” category are even fewer. In fact, nationally, only 14 of 1012 made last year were accepted by the Legal Aid Agency.

Despite this, Hartley and Worstenholme continue to make successful Legal Aid applications. Additionally, our staff are dedicated to finding a way of providing advice to those who cannot afford to fund it. Each Wednesday at Pontefract and Tuesday at Castleford we offer free legal advice from 4.30pm to 6.00pm for family matters. In addition, Castleford also offers litigation advice.

Hartley and Worstenholme welcome those who may require our help when many firms are turning their backs on those who need it most. We can provide either cost effective solutions or detailed information as to the evidence needed to apply for Legal Help and can assist victims of domestic violence when protective orders (such as injunctions) are needed.

Please contact the Family Department for more information.

Prenuptial and Living Together Agreements

Prenuptial (Pre-marriage) Agreements (known to newspapers and gossip columns as ‘Prenups’) are something we hear a lot about in the press and on TV. Most people imagine them to be reserved for celebrities or the extremely wealthy. What are they?

A Prenup is an agreement or contract between you and your soon-to-be spouse. They state, in essence, what would happen should your relationship break down in the future. They seem like a very unromantic idea when embarking upon a marriage to the person you love. However, approximately 42% of marriages end in divorce. Prenups might be unromantic, but they are very clever.

Prenups appeal to those who wish to retain their financial independence, those who want to be sure that they are marrying only for love and perhaps those who have been married before and wish to avoid any acrimony that often follows post-separation.

Although Prenups are becoming more popular among all types of clientele, in England and Wales, they are not yet legally enforceable. However a landmark case heard in the Supreme Court has changed the law’s attitude towards them. The courts are now attaching greater weight to Prenups when deciding in the divorce, ‘who gets what’. In fact, the courts are very likely to enforce a Prenup and follow its provisions unless to do so would be unfair upon one of the parties to the divorce.

Prenups are now so useful, popular and accepted that Parliament has responded to the growing trend. Parliament is proposing a law which would make Prenups legally enforceable.

Those who cohabit but are not married are not being left out either. Cohabitees can enter into a very similar arrangement to a Prenup called a ‘Living Together Agreement’. Again, this is an agreement between couples which can state not only each parties’ responsibilities during the course of the cohabitation but also what is to happen should the relationship break down. As the law currently stands, these agreements may be legally enforceable but there can be no guarantee of this. Cohabitees need also to clearly recording shares in which any joint property is owned, make suitable will provision as well as consider making nominations to receive benefits under pensions and/or life policies upon death.

These are agreements which appeal to clients who wish to feel prepared and protected against the unknown future. Here at Hartley and Worstenholme, we draft and advise on both Prenuptial and Living Together Agreements. Please contact the Family Department if you would like to know more.