Photo Credit: hmmlargeart via Compfight cc

Going Through A Divorce? Here Are Our Top 5 Tips

Divorce is a painful process – everybody knows it, and there’s no point pretending you’re going to go through separating from your childhood sweetheart or the parent of your children without experiencing a few emotional obstacles along the way.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are our top five tips to go through a divorce relatively unscathed, not just for your own sake, but for the good of your ex-spouse and any other relatives and children too.

1. Keep emotions out of it

There are times when emotions are a useful part of the divorce process – if you are staying close friends, for example, or if your love for your children makes an amicable agreement a necessity.

But sometimes emotions can flare up, and divorce can turn bitter. If you can avoid this, do so, as it rarely leads to any one party being happier in the end, and it usually drives up the legal costs.

2. Be honest

Whatever lies and deceit may have led to the divorce, put them behind you and engage in the process with openness and honesty.

You don’t want to get found out trying to hide any past indiscretions, sources of income or secret savings, so make sure you declare everything, at least to your own solicitor who can advise on whether or not it’s classed as ‘fair game’ in the division of assets.

3. Put the children first

It’s worth mentioning it again: when there are children involved, especially young children, they should be your priority.

Make sure maintenance agreements will give the child a good quality of life, and don’t get petty over visitation rights either; ultimately it’s better for everyone if both parents continue to share responsibility, unless for example the divorce is due to substance addiction or domestic abuse.

4. Keep it quick

Even amicable divorces can start to drag on when you get into the minutiae of who gets what, and the faster you can get through everything, the less you’ll both have to pay in legal fees.

Remember too that divorce isn’t free – one or both of you will have to pay for the process, including any court and solicitors fees, so don’t be shocked when the bill comes through.

5. Representation

Finally, get a solicitor you trust. The problem here arises if you have a family solicitor already, because it might be a conflict of interest for the same firm to represent both parties.

In many cases the first major disagreement in divorce comes over who gets to use the solicitor you know and trust, and who has to find a new one of their own – if it saves time and trouble, take the moral high ground and agree to find new representation, even if you only do so as a gesture of good faith early in the process.

By R A Wilkinson & Co Solicitors 

Lewisham

Freehold VS Leasehold Property – What’s The Difference?

When you’re buying a property, you’ll probably need to know whether it is freehold or leasehold, but you might not really understand the difference between these two definitions.

In practice, there is often very little difference, but if you are considering a property whose leasehold is soon to expire, you should be very careful before agreeing the purchase.

Freehold essentially means you own the property and the land on which it is built; it is yours to do with as you wish, you can own it and bequeath it in perpetuity, and you can dispose of it when you want too (subject to all of the usual caveats like inheritance tax and so on).

Leasehold means you have a landlord – you don’t really own your property, you’re just renting it – but in most cases leasehold agreements last for a very, very long time, often around 100 years and in some cases close to 1,000 years. It’s safe to say, in many cases, you’ll never have to deal with the consequences of your lease expiring.

So what are the immediate issues to deal with? Well, first of all there’s the question of ground rent, and this is typically a token sum paid annually to your landlord on a leasehold property.

It might date back hundreds of years and still be set at just a few pence (or even shillings converted into decimal currency) but if the surviving landlord shows up wanting payment, you’ll still need to hand over the amount owed, however small it might be.

Complications can occur if you’re buying a leasehold property where the rent has not been collected for a very long time, as these small amounts can add up to an outstanding debt of several pounds – typically something to be aware of, but not usually a deal breaker.

You might find your landlord shows up soon after you buy the property, and offers you the opportunity to buy the freehold – again, it can be hard to predict this in advance, but it might be worth keeping a few hundred pounds in reserve just in case, as it’s a good opportunity to add some instant resale value to your property.

Confusingly, there may be instances in which the property is owned freehold, but you are not the sole owner – you might, for example, share ownership of a freehold property that has been converted into flats, and this can be a complex arrangement.

Meanwhile, if you purchase every storey of a leasehold apartment block from floor to roof, this may ‘unlock’ additional rights regarding your opportunity to buy out freehold ownership of the building.

Finally, if a leasehold property is nearing its lease’s expiration date, this can impact on the price as you don’t technically have the right to ownership of the property beyond that date; however, there are generally legal protections in place to avoid you being kicked out of your home.

If it sounds like a complicated issue, that’s because it can be, although it’s usually not a major problem in the vast majority of property transactions.

Just remain vigilant during the buying process, and flag up any concerns with your solicitor, who should be able to advise you if your particular situation is more complex than most.

By Pricketts Solicitors

Houses

Conveyancing Costs Among Smallest Increases Since 2004

Figures from Post Office Money show that, despite an overall 58% increase in the cost of moving house since 2004, solicitors’ conveyancing fees have been one of the smallest contributors to the amount people must pay in total.

The total cost for all the usual services associated with moving house was £11,894 in 2014 on average, up by almost three fifths from £7,475 in 2004.

Of all the measures included in the study, removal companies represented the smallest increase of just 21%, and now account for less than a tenth of the total cost of moving house – perhaps because of the rise in services like self-drive removal van hire.

But the next smallest cost is solicitors’ conveyancing fees, which the survey said average £1,419, just 12% of the total fees – this is down from 14% in 2004, when conveyancing fees averaged £1,039, and is an increase of just over a third for the decade in between.

All the remaining costs have increased by more than half – surveyors up by 51% from £402 to £607, estate agents up 61% from £3,229 to £5,214, and stamp duty by 87% from £1,950 to £3,620.

Part of the explanation could be that estate agents’ fees and stamp duty are both typically linked to the value of the property, so spiralling house prices in the past decade have driven those costs higher too.

But it’s also testament to the genuine competition that exists between different conveyancing solicitors, and the benefits this has for customers looking for a good service at a good price.

John Willcock, head of mortgages at Post Office Money, said: “Forecasts indicate that the cost of buying and moving will only continue to rise over the next five years.

“With research indicating that 84% of prospective homebuyers have underestimated how much they should budget for this, many potential home buyers could be left with surprising costs at a time when they are already financially stretched.”

By H Pipes & Co Solicitors

 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Rolande via Compfight cc

Lib Dems prioritise Digital Rights Bill

The Liberal Democrats are only likely to be in power – if at all – as part of a coalition government following the upcoming general election, but they have still set out plans for a Digital Rights Bill to make its way through Parliament within the first six months of the new session.

Following several high-profile data breaches, including NHS patient records being leaked, the Lib Dems are keen to lock down the UK’s digital rights, with a raft of measures to take stricter sanctions when infringements occur.

Their proposed Digital Rights Bill would include:

  • Prison sentences for illegal data sales and large-scale data theft.
  • ‘Beefed up’ disciplinary powers including fines imposed by the ICO on government bodies.
  • Compensation for customers who sign up to misleading Ts & Cs.
  • A Code of Practice for online services including a duty to correct inaccurate information about individuals.
  • A government responsibility to defend the free press, including citizen journalists.
  • Prevention of the government ‘watering down’ encryption and cyber security measures used by British businesses.

Commenting on the proposals, Nick Clegg said: “The way in which we work, socialise, buy products and use services has changed at lightning speed since the digital revolution.

“However, government and politicians have responded at snail’s pace, and failed to ensure that the rights of consumers, businesses, journalists and children are protected in the online world.

“Our Digital Rights Bill will finally enshrine into law our rights as citizens of this country to privacy, to stop information about us being abused online, and to protect our right to freedom of speech.”

By Marsh Brown & Co Solicitors

Photo Credit: theglobalpanorama via Compfight cc

Conservative manifesto extends Right to Buy

The Conservatives have pledged to extend the remit of Right to Buy if they win the upcoming General Election.

Under the scheme, first introduced under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, substantial discounts totalling over £100,000 are available to council house tenants, if they decide they want to buy their house.

It was originally a plan to move council house tenants on to the first rung of the property ladder, although it has come under criticism for shifting many council houses ultimately into the hands of private landlords.

The rules of the scheme up until now have also included tenants of properties owned by housing associations, but not at the full discount rate.

But the Conservatives say that if they are in power after May, they will provide housing association tenants with the full potential £103,900 discount, affecting some 800,000 individuals.

A further 500,000 people who currently are not within the remit of Right to Buy would also be given the opportunity to buy their home, the party has said.

However, critics have already raised concerns about whether any such move might force housing associations to sell their assets at substantially less than their true market value – and whether the government might be forced in turn to compensate them for doing so.

Unveiling the manifesto, David Cameron said: “We are the party of the working people, offering you security at every stage of your life.”

For many low-income households, the prospect of owning rather than renting could be good news, especially if schemes like Right to Buy make it affordable without stringent cuts to other areas of their spending.

However, it remains to be seen how this might impact housing associations and the property market as a whole – or even whether the Conservatives will be in power after May.

By R A Wilkinson & Solicitors 

What is a Postnuptial Agreement?

We’ve all heard of prenuptial agreements, or prenups, which set out certain promises made by a couple before they get married – often to ensure that if one partner is very wealthy, they do not lose half of their fortune if they divorce later.

So what is a postnuptial agreement? Well as the name suggests, it occurs after you are already married, but in most other respects it is the same as a prenuptial agreement.

Either type of contract can cover a very broad range of different issues, from the division of assets and finances upon divorce, to setting out the couple’s views on custody arrangements and so on.

And the same rules apply as with a prenuptial agreement – if you have agreed on something the courts consider is unfair to a vulnerable individual such as a child, they will probably ask you to make other arrangements to ensure their welfare is safeguarded.

Interestingly, prenuptial agreements have historically not been considered legally binding in the UK; a divorce judge might take any such agreement into account as an advisory note, but they have generally not been deemed to be a contract that must be followed to the letter.

The reason for this is simple – if one person wants to get married, and the other says they will only marry if a prenup is signed, then the courts have always considered this to be an example of signing under duress.

With a postnuptial agreement, the marriage has already been made, so the courts consider any contract signed to have been entered into freely and willingly by both parties.

So despite being the less well-known term in the UK, a postnuptial agreement is probably the more legally binding and relevant of the two documents – and is therefore your best bet if you are in a marriage or civil partnership and genuinely want to set something down in writing.

By Pricketts Solicitors

Networking

Why should I regularly review my Will?

Writing a Will isn’t the most fun you can have, nobody’s denying that – and just as many of us don’t like to think about death, many people also don’t want to think about their Will once it’s written, signed and witnessed.

But putting it totally out of your mind can be risky, even if you don’t feel like your plans for your estate have changed, and it’s worth digging it out of storage once in a while and looking whether or not anything needs updating.

There are certain obvious changes you might want to incorporate into your Will, for example if you have had a child since it was written, have given a child up for adoption who was previously mentioned (they legally forgo any right to your estate once they are adopted), if you have become divorced, and so on.

It’s sad to think about, but there is also the possibility that one or more of your intended beneficiaries might have died before you – this is particularly the case if you have named friends of roughly your own age or older, or if you originally intended some of your estate to go to an older sibling if you happened to die young.

But even without these major life events, there’s all sorts of things that might happen. You might have acquired an heirloom or a particularly high-value item like an artwork, and want to incorporate it into your Will for a specific beneficiary.

Perhaps you have saved a substantial amount of money, and want to divide it between more people than you had planned; or have spent a large sum of your savings, and need to reduce the number of people who will share what’s left.

It may be worth reviewing your Will for tax purposes, or to change which charities will benefit from your legacies, if your priorities have changed over the years; or you might simply have changed your mind about certain things.

Often it is easier and no more costly to write a new Will from scratch, rather than trying to alter an existing one; just remember if you do this, to destroy any copies of your old Will and make sure your new one is stored in a safe place, and that somebody other than yourself knows where it is and how to get to it.

By H Pipes & Co Solicitors 

Photo Credit: dankogreen via Compfight cc

What is Japanese Knotweed and how might it affect my house sale?

If you’ve ever had Japanese Knotweed on your land, you’ll know how quickly it can grow – that’s why it’s officially labelled as an ‘invasive plant’.

The plant doesn’t actually create seeds in the UK, but it spreads through natural cloning, either via stems cut during attempts to remove it, or via its root system.

You don’t have a legal obligation to remove it, although it’s illegal to deliberately plant it, and you could also face legal action if you allow it to spread to a neighbour’s land.

As such, you should be particularly wary of Japanese Knotweed close to boundaries, and when it comes to your house sale, look out for signs of it growing within several metres of your walls.

Look for fast-growing (up to 20cm a day, and a height of 1.5m in May and 3m in June) bamboo-like hollow stems, with large green leaves shaped like hearts, and arranged in a zigzag along the stems.

The first signs are fleshy red shoots, so if you’re really on the ball, or watching for the spread of an existing infestation, these are what you should be trying to find.

Some mortgage providers won’t lend on a property with Japanese Knotweed close to its structure, so you should give serious thought to taking action if you find it growing on your land.

It spreads fast, so prompt action is probably the best approach – and speak to your neighbours, to see if they have it on their land too.

You might be able to claim compensation if a neighbour has clearly allowed it to spread to your property, or at least encourage them to eradicate it too so it can’t spread back on to your land a second time.

Professional herbicide companies can tackle the problem, but make sure they use chemicals that won’t damage trees you want to keep.

In some cases you can get a limited guarantee on the work – although usually not against reinfestation from neighbouring land – and this may even be transferable to the new owner, which should help to put some confidence back into your property sale.

This is an issue that has cost some people their mortgage, and seen house sales fall through across the board, so be very wary if you think you have Japanese Knotweed on your land – it’s likely to show up on the survey, and it’s better to be proactive about dealing with it, rather than having to try and get rid of it when you’re already halfway through selling the house.

By Marsh Brown & Co Solicitors

Photo Credit: Roger Bunting via Compfight cc

I have a Boundary Dispute with my Neighbour, what should I do?

When you buy a property, you might imagine somewhere there’s an exact blueprint of what you own, and what belongs to your neighbours.

This isn’t always the case though, and often even the Land Registry documents only include a ‘little plan’, showing the general boundaries of the plot.

Even if you know exactly where your land ends, there’s a myriad of potential boundary disputes, from structures placed close to the boundary, to overgrowing trees, and even issues like noise coming from next door.

It’s worth remembering, unless you have agreed in advance with your neighbour, there’s no specific laws on who owns the walls and fences along a boundary.

This is why it’s sometimes best to build a new wall or fence slightly on your own land – although this raises the risk of ‘losing’ a few inches to your neighbours in a subsequent boundary dispute.

If you need to access your neighbour’s land, for example to repair your own property, you’re legally entitled to do so, and if they won’t let you, you can apply for an access order – seek professional advice on how to do this.

This also applies to certain amenities that you have written permission to use, such as buried water pipes, but remember you can’t just destroy your neighbour’s property, and will have to make good any damage caused.

If you don’t know who is financially responsible for repairs, and no one party is willing to incur the full cost, the obvious answer is to split it equally between you; you may also have a landlord you can ask to pay.

Fences and walls are always a big issue, and if legal documents name a specific owner, it obviously gives that person much more freedom than their neighbour.

If you are the sole owner of the fence or wall, for instance, your neighbour is not permitted to hang anything on their side without your permission, and you’re not obliged to repair it if it breaks, as long as it does not become dangerous.

For other disputes such as noise, talk to your neighbour first, explain to them if, for example, you are a night shift worker and need to sleep in the daytime.

You might be able to appeal to your council or local authority to intervene in cases of ongoing antisocial noise nuisance, and they can also take action against car and house alarms that have been going off for a long time, and noise from licensed premises if it reaches unacceptable levels.

There are endless other disputes that might arise, and it’s usually best to just speak to your neighbour and ask them to be reasonable – stay calm, and try to see their side of the argument too.

If this fails, the local council can sometimes help, or you should seek legal advice on potentially costly disputes such as the position of a property boundary.

By R A Wilkinson Solicitors

Will the General Election affect the Help to Buy ISA?

The Help to Buy ISA unveiled in this year’s Budget sounds like free money for first-time buyers; pay in £200 a month to save towards a property deposit, and the government will boost it by 25%, up to £3,000.

But that’s potentially 60 months of saving – enough to take you not only through the upcoming General Election, but possibly as far as the next one too.

So how might this opportunity be affected once the votes have been counted? The big question is, will it be available at all?

Obviously it depends on who wins, and it’s likely that the next government will be either Conservative-led, Labour-led, or some coalition including one or both of the two main parties.

The Help to Buy ISA is a Conservative idea, so if they are still in power, it’s likely to remain available for the foreseeable future at least.

If Labour win, what will happen? Well, Ed Miliband has already spoken of his support for the Help to Buy ISA in general terms.

Specifically, a recently announced Labour policy will ensure that any deposits made into such ISAs will be used by the banks to fund house building, at least until they are withdrawn by the accountholder to pay for a property deposit.

It’s an extension of the Conservatives’ original idea, and Labour are calling it the Future Homes Fund, so it pretty much cements the existence of the Help to Buy ISA.

However, it’s still a good idea to get your name on an account sooner rather than later, if you want to make sure you are ‘on the list’, as it should be harder to enforce any later changes on existing accounts, even if the scheme is closed to new entrants.

The flipside of this is if the terms of the scheme are made much more favourable for any reason in the new parliamentary session – and as always, any investments you make are at your own risk, so weigh up the pros and cons or seek professional advice before making a final decision.

By R A Wilkinson Solicitors