January has come and gone, and we are now well into February, with half term coming up. This is traditionally the period when most divorces are started, and we have been seeing a rise in new enquiries in the Temple Heelis Family department in the last few weeks.

We have saw some changes to the department in the new year. Wendy Blakely has joined the team as Andrew Hill’s new secretary and is settling in well to the role. If you have any questions, she will be happy to speak to you and pass on messages or deal with enquiries. Please note, however, she is not able to give legal advice.

Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill

The bill, which aims to remove the current need to prove conduct or separation ‘facts’ on divorce and replace it with a statement of irretrievable breakdown, has received it’s second reading in the House of Lords and was passed on to the next stage, which is the Committee Stage. This means the bill will be examined by a group of MPs line by line and may be amended. The process is due to start on 3 March 2020.

In addition to removing the ‘fault-based’ grounds for divorce and effectively removing the right to challenge the divorce, the bill also aims to introduce a minimum 20 week period from the start of the proceedings to the confirmation that a conditional order of divorce (currently known as the ‘decree nisi’) can be made. This is on order to allow parties to agree practical arrangements for the future where a reconciliation is not possible. The minimum six week period between the making of the conditional order to the final order of divorce (currently called the ‘decree absolute’) is likely to remain.

There are currently no proposals to change the law in relation to financial claims, which is contained in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, and it is still advisable to take legal advice on settlement of financial claims prior to issuing the divorce proceedings and, in any event, before applying for the final order of divorce. Given that many divorces are now issued on-line, it is likely that divorcing couples are overlooking the importance of having a formal order of the court dealing with the financial claims, which otherwise remain open to the parties indefinitely, unless dismissed as a result of remarriage. Subsequent changes in circumstances can lead to claims which could be avoided if the claims had been dismissed at the time the divorce proceedings were concluded.

Increase in amount spouses and Civil Partners can claim from intestate estates

As from 6 February 2020, if your spouse or civil partner dies without making a will, you will be able to inherit the first £270,000 from their estate. Prior to this the limit was £250,000. The increase has been welcomed by lawyers. Any amount left in the estate over and above this is divided between the surviving spouse and children.

Please note that close friends and unmarried partners do not have the automatic right to a share of the deceased estate on death. The same applies to stepchildren. Failure to provide for cohabitants and other dependents might entitle them to a claim on the estate under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975. It is, therefore, important to make a Will in all cases. Otherwise, the result might be expensive litigation which reduces the estate in costs. If you would like to discuss making a Will, please contact a member of our Private Client department on 01539 723757 and they will be happy to have a ‘no obligation’ discussion with you about this.

If you think you have been left out of your former partner’s estate, you can contact Andrew Hill or John Sim for an initial chat about the matter.

If you would like to discuss a family law issue in confidence, please call Andrew Hill on 01539 723757. We offer free initial appointments for new clients and fixed fee options for divorce. Andrew deals with all aspects of divorce, separation, financial claims, child arrangements and family disputes and has over 28 years’ experience as a qualified solicitor and family lawyer.

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