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Listen to our Sophie Hughes on "Good Morning Wales" yesterday discussing the major change in divorce law -25 mins in
"Lord Neuberger is speaking out now as the reality of what the cuts will mean to individuals and the courts are hitting home. It is to be welcomed that he is getting publicity for this – warnings from individual lawyers and profession organisations such as the Law Society and Resolution like have largely gone unnoticed to date.
One can easily see how individuals may be effected. Say parents separate and have an issue over the children. Dad keeps the child and refuses to return after contact – what can the mother do? If there are no welfare concerns the police won’t act – and unless she can afford to pay privately for court action she will have to do it herself – or take direct action!
Drawing attention now is timely but too late as far as changing policy is concerned – lawyers and the judges are bracing themselves for the unknown post April, but the real losers will be the vulnerable adults and children who will no longer have access to justice."
Legal aid will still be available to help parents whose children have been taken into care and for the victims of domestic violence, but anyone thinking they may be eligible will have to provide proof in writing from other professionals. The details of how this is going to work is still being worked out. So anyone who thinks they might still qualify will need to speak to a speak to a member of our family team.
For those who do do not qualify for Legal Aid, Watkins and Gunn are introducing an innovative range of fixed fee family law services to allow clients the certainty of knowing what their bill will be will be and to budget accordingly.
In short - it is a case of watch this space!
Jonathan Wellington, Partner at Watkins and Gunn, gives his reaction to the Francis Report.
The Francis Report has highlighted “appalling” standards of care at Stafford Hospital and a “culture where the patient was not put first” and has made 290 recommendations.
Amongst those is a Duty of Candour and criminal offences for failing to adhere to basic standards of care leading to death or serious harm and for hiding information about care.
It is vital that the patient is put at the centre of the process. I believe that a duty of candour is long overdue and that the victims of medical negligence or poor care should be entitled to information regarding failings in care.
It seems right that prosecution should follow for those who seek to cover up failings. However prosecutions for failings in care provided is a more controversial issue where the devil will undoubtedly be in the detail and the definition of basic care will be vital. I am sure there will be support for prosecution following systematic failings; however, the position will be less clear following one off “human” failure.
It strikes me there is also a danger that the fear of prosecution in those circumstances is likely to be at odds with the duty of candour.
Watkins & Gunn has expanded its team with the appointment of two new solicitors.
Aron McMahon, 35, from Cardiff and Leah Ruddock, 31, from the Llyn Peninsula will work from the firm’s new Cardiff office in Llandaff following its opening in November.
Aron, a private client solicitor specialising in wills, trusts, probate, powers of attorney and tax planning, has obtained the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners’ (STEP) Diploma . He joins from the Co-operative Legal Services. Aron and is also a member of Solicitors for the Elderly, due to his experience in managing the financial affairs of the elderly and incapacitated.
Welsh speaker Leah joins the family law team from Harding Evans Solicitors. Having trained and qualified as a solicitor at the firm after studying law at Cardiff University, Leah has developed a wealth of experience in divorce and family matters.
On joining Watkins & Gunn, she said: “The Sophie Hughes and her family team have an excellent reputation. I have always heard good things about the firm and how they invest in their staff and so I really wanted to join them. I’m looking forward to helping grow the new Cardiff office. I’m looking forward to becoming a part of the vibrant Welsh speaking community in Llandaff and Pontcanna.”
Aron added: “I’m delighted to join Watkins & Gunn Solicitors. From the outset I was immediately struck by the partners’ drive and passion for the firm and their friendly and approachable manner. I admire the firm’s ethos of consistently delivering a service which exceeds clients’ expectations and hope to use the experience and expertise I have developed in my career to date to benefit the firm and grow the private client department further.”
Managing partner, Clive Thomas said: “Aron and Leah join us at a really important time having just opened our new Cardiff office. They are fantastic appointments for the firm as they are both highly regarded and experienced solicitors, each with a unique skill-set.
“Our new office is in an excellent location allowing us to service the increased demand for our legal services from our Cardiff clients. I believe that Leah and Aron will play an instrumental role in developing the office and building new relationships with the local community.”
Led by partners Clive Thomas, Sophie Hughes, Jonathan Wellington and Sarah Williams, Watkins & Gunn Solicitors opened a new 1,000 sq ft office in Llandaff, Cardiff in December, adding to the firm’s offices in Newport and Pontypool.
January each year sees a rise in those seeking a divorce. Sophie Hughes – head of the family team explains some of the reasons why.
Why is it true that January is a popular month for divorces, and can you give us an idea of how the figure rises during that month?
In January, we see the number of divorce enquiries double. Most clients that I deal with will have been experiencing problems well before Christmas but will stay together during this time for the sake of their children and families. Over the Christmas period, families are forced to spend more time together in the confinement of their homes and cracks in a relationship are exacerbated. Alcohol and over-indulgence fuel arguments and inappropriate actions and feelings are pushed to breaking point. The new year brings with it the opportunity for a ‘fresh start’ and many people will look for ways to improve their lives. While some people do this by joining a gym, other people do it by divorcing their significant other.
What advice would you give to a couple contemplating divorce in January?
Don’t rush things and take time to consider if this is really what you want. If it is a route that you want to take make sure you get the best possible advice. Divorce is a life-changing event that needs to be carefully managed; not only for the individual, but also for any children. Despite emotions running high, try to take a constructive approach to divorce proceedings as unnecessary acrimony can increase tension at an already difficult time, as well as increasing legal costs, making less money available for financial settlements. Consider a Collaborative approach using specially trained lawyers to find a fair and honest solution to minimise the pain of family breakdowns and avoid the courts.
Can you agree with the ONS statistics from 2011 that found the divorce rate among 25-29 year-olds was twice the average across all age groups – does that ring true with your experience?
From our experience there are two age groups where divorce is on the rise. Younger couples where marriage is no longer considered for life and more mature couples whose children have flown the nest and who have discovered that they no longer have anything in common. The affairs of clients in the latter age group are more complex due to amongst other things pensions, so getting expert advice is crucial.
What sort of issues will be facing younger couples marrying these days?
Young couples can face a number of issues early on in their marriage – job uncertainty, money worries, wanting or not wanting a family – all of these issues can put a strain on a relationship. We are finding that more and more young couples are taking out pre-nuptial agreements before they get married to cover them if the worst happens.
What kind of factors lead to divorce in a person’s 20s?
Most couples who plunge into wedlock early often do so for the wrong reason. They’re simply too excited about their relationship, about being married and getting the big white dress and don’t really think about the long term circumstances. Some have expectations or have idealised how the marriage is going to be and when it doesn’t match up to that divorce is seen as an easy option.
This is coupled with the fact that society no longer places importance on the concept of life-long marriage. It is no longer a stigma to get divorced. We live in an age in which greater choice and personal ambition are seen as increasingly important.
And, younger couples aren't willing to settle if something isn't working out. If they don't have kids, they are looking at the situation and thinking, 'This hasn't worked, but I have enough time to find someone else and maybe have a family with someone else.'
Do you agree that celebrities are helping to promote ‘starter marriages’ amongst young people, that often end in divorce soon after?
Absolutely, you only have to flick through one of the tabloid newpapers or glossy magazines to read about another celebrity couple’s whirlwind marriage that has quickly ended in divorce. The concept of the ‘starter marriage’ - and the idea that if you are going to get divorced, do it before you have kids - has become more widely accepted due to the number of celebrity reportings.
Do you see more people marrying young, and hence more divorces, or are we seeing a shift?
At our firm we’re seeing more people marrying slightly later in their 30s once they have established themselves personally and in their careers. We’re also seeing more couples having children before they get married which is a shift from twenty years ago. And it’s not all doom and gloom, young love does last. I know plenty of couples that got married young and are still happily married 30 years later.
Sophie Hughes is head of the family team at Watkins & Gunn Solicitors and the Chair of the South Wales Region of Resolution, an association of specialist family lawyers dedicated to resolving family disputes in a constructive way. Sophie is one of a select group of lawyers in Wales trained in Collaborative Law and has extensive experience in high value divorces, often involving an international element.
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