Happy New Year to those of you we have not yet spoken to, met or connected with this year and a very warm welcome to our latest Family Law newsletter.
DeBrieF FACT SHEET
Anita Shepherd – Partner and Head of Family – discusses the emotional stages of separation.
Sadly, January is a very busy time in the Family department when it comes to divorce and relationship breakdown, with reported spikes in the second week of January when children have returned to school and the public to work. This increase in the number of marriage dissolution enquiries throughout the first month of the year is a sad fact of life and the way that the Family department respond is to work on connecting positively with clients to build trust to effectively provide support during a significant life event.
The legal advice can often be the most straightforward aspect of my team’s role; whereas the emotional turmoil is a much more complex beast to manage which a lot of family lawyers struggle with. It is extremely important in the role of a family lawyer to have a good understanding of the emotional process and emotional stage the spouses may be at when advising, as this level of perception is important when supporting and advising clients when dealing with entrenched disputes, stalled negotiations or uncooperative spouses.
A lot of the time the issue lies with the spouses being at different stages of the emotional separation spectrum. For example, it is often the case that one spouse makes the decision to separate, which has been something they have been working through psychologically and emotionally for some time; whilst the other spouse may be in shock and struggling to come to terms with the enormity of what they are facing. One spouse may also want a quick divorce and the other wants the process slowed down to enable them to cope with the enormity of the changes they are experiencing.
With this in mind, the key question is: What then are the emotional separation stages you need to be aware of?
A good starting point for practitioners and clients is the widely recognised Kubler-Ross five stage model of grieving.
The five stages are:-
- Denial – minimising or belittling a partners decision to leave or simply refuse to accept that the relationship is over;
- Anger – violent, harassing, intimidating or pestering actions towards the other person or people associated with them.
- Bargaining – efforts to reconcile with the their partner by way of making unrealistic promises to fix the relationship difficulties;
- Depression – clients may present as disinterested, detached and apathetic. Careful management of this phase is required as clients often struggle with giving instructions, making decisions and even completing simple forms;
- Acceptance – this is a very important stage of the cycle as it can be the difference between achieving closure to the separation and ability to move on to a new chapter of your life or staying stuck in conflict or long running litigation. Clients need to take ownership of the solution which in turn means they can accept and cooperate with the outcomes better thereby avoiding lasting resentment, sabotage of the current arrangements resulting in future litigation and costs.
Assessing these stages throughout a case ensures that the Family Lawyer is providing legal advice and solutions that are tailored to the emotional functioning of the client which makes for better outcomes. I routinely refer clients to family therapists and divorce coaches to assist them with adopting better coping strategies. I have found this to be a very effective and invaluable way of managing high conflict family disputes.
DeBrieF TOPICAL ISSUE/LEGAL DEVELOPMENT
Anita Shepherd – Partner and Head of Family – discusses a sharing award with “broadly assessed discount” to reflect husband’s pre-marital wealth and post-separation endeavours (High Court).
The husband (H) and wife (W) married in 1999 and had four children. In 2000, H started a very successful company. W developed alcohol addiction, necessitating intermittent hospital stays from 2008 until 2013 when she stopped drinking. The parties separated in 2012.
H argued the case should be treated as a needs case as his contributions to the family’s welfare so exceeded W’s contributions that any sharing award would amount to less than W’s needs. If a sharing approach was adopted, the following justified unequal division in his favour:
- Pre-marital wealth contributions.
- “Special contribution” of exceptional wealth through his “spark of genius”.
- Post-separation endeavours transforming the company.
- Exceptional contribution to the family’s welfare, caring for the children and home during most of the marriage, given W’s alcohol dependence.
The Judge made a sharing award with a broadly assessed discount to reflect H’s unmatched contribution of pre-marital assets and post-separation endeavours. The contributions were not so unequal to justify treating the case as a needs case.
Despite H’s “business genius”, he had not demonstrated the spark of innovative genius required to establish a “special contribution”.
H’s increased contributions to the family’s welfare could be fairly disregarded as W’s inability to make an equivalent contribution was beyond her control when disabled through alcoholism and more recently because the children did not wish to see her.
Computation issues included whether a discretionary trust was an available resource, whether the value of H’s company shares should be discounted given his unique importance to the business, and the date at which the share price should be taken.
W’s award of 37.5% equated to £13.85 million, which met her reasonable needs (though estimated at £21.8 million).
This case emphasises that computing assets is not an exact science; the court’s main concern is a fair outcome. It also illustrates how a sharing award may amount to less than a needs award where there is an unmatched contribution.
Case: X v X (application for financial remedies order)  EWHC 1995 (Fam), 26 July 2016 (Bailii).
DeBrieF TEAM SPOTLIGHT: Holly Rogalski, Trainee Solicitor
What does your role at Davis Blank Furniss involve?
I currently work in both the Family department and the Private Client department as a trainee solicitor. I assist the Family department with a wide variety of matters including divorce proceedings, financial matters on divorce, and disputes regarding children.
What is the best thing about your job?
I enjoy meeting with our clients and knowing that we are providing support to them during what is often a very difficult and stressful period of their lives. I enjoy learning from the other members of the department and working with them to achieve the best possible outcome for our clients.
What is the best case that you have been involved in?
Recently we had a case where the parties had lived together for a long time before they were married, however, they were only married for a short time. During the period that they had lived together, one of the parties had bought a property in their sole name. Our client had contributed in various ways towards the mortgage and cost of renovation of the property during the long period that they had lived together as well as during their marriage. We argued that our client had an interest in the property by virtue of the contributions that she had made during the course of their long relationship. The Court agreed with our argument and awarded our client a proportion of the equity in the property.
Name the person who has had the biggest influence in your career?
My parents have been the biggest influence in my career. They have encouraged me to work hard to achieve my goals.
If you were not a lawyer, what would you be doing?
I would probably be working in a policy or project management role.
The Family team have been busy over the past few months…
Manchester Free Legal Advice
Our Family team is committed to providing access to justice for separating families and has teamed up with Manchester Free Legal Advice (https://www.lawworks.org.uk/legal-advice/individuals/manchester-free-legal-help) to run a pro bono family law clinic at Manchester Civil Justice Centre. The clinic takes place every fortnight, on a Friday, from 10am-12 noon. The next clinic will be taking place on Friday 3rd February 2017.
School of Law Legal Advice Centre at The University of Manchester
The Family team has also been invited to work with the School of Law Legal Advice Centre at The University of Manchester. This will see us provide support and guidance to law students who are giving up their free time to assist some of the most vulnerable members of the public with family law enquiries. More information about this will be on our website in due course.
Anita Shepherd Granted Reaccreditation with Resolution
Anita Shepherd has been granted reaccreditation with Resolution as an Advanced Accredited Specialist in Domestic Abuse and Advanced Financial Provision. She completed a rigorous reassessment of her skill set, and has now been granted this status for a further three years. You can read more here: (http://www.resolution.org.uk/memberSearch.asp?page_id=45).
DBF Continues Involvement with HOTPOD
HOTPOD (http://resolution.org.uk/hotpod/), which launched in March 2013, is a professional practice group that actively promotes and raises the profile of the collaborative law option for clients. Kirsty Morbey has worked tirelessly in Glossop to continue promoting the benefits of this very valuable family law service. HOTPOD held a networking event on 10th November 2016 at Glossop Cricket Club which had a fantastic turnout of professionals from the region and made for interesting areas of discussion whilst raising awareness of the collaborative option to achieve healthy divorces. Further networking events will be advertised on our Events page……. https://www.dbf-law.co.uk/events/.
Glossop Working Mums
The Glossop Working Mums’ and Ladies Networking Group is still going strong having been set up by Kirsty Morbey in 2013. It now has a greater uptake of delegates showcasing their services and is proving to be a valuable referral network in the Glossop/Derbyshire area. Details of the next event will appear on our website shortly.
If you have any queries or require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact our team of specialist solicitors on 0161 832 3304.