Tuesday, 13 March 2007

Rich husbands wait for £48m divorce ruling

A Shropshire solicitor claims a multi-million pound divorce case which has been hitting the national headlines could turn the tide for rich husbands.

Nadia Davis, who leads the Family Team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, Telford, said the case was being seen as a landmark hearing for husbands who were unhappy about the payouts their wives could receive.

“The case is being heard at The Court of Appeal, and it really could bring a change in the way divorce settlements of this kind are considered.”

Nadia said the current case was an appeal by a wealthy husband against the court’s decision to award his wife a sizeable share of the family assets.

“The husband is an insurance tycoon who was ordered to pay his wife £48 million in their divorce settlement, which was the equivalent of 37 per cent of their overall assets.

“He had spent 35 years building up their £131 million fortune from almost nothing, and his wife had been the homemaker throughout their long marriage.

“But the husband claims it was thanks to his exceptional contribution that their fortune had grown, and that the amount paid to his wife was grotesque and unfair.”

Nadia said the tycoon’s wife claimed her contribution as his wife and the mother of his children entitled her to a substantial part of their joint wealth.

“If The Court of Appeal agrees with the husband in this case, and reduces the payout to his wife, it may well give hope to husbands everywhere who have built up substantial assets while their wife stayed at home to look after the family.

“When the marriage breaks down, husbands in this position often have to split the assets equally with their wife, but if the court allows this change, things could be very different in the future.
“It’s clear that the outcome of this case will have a real impact on the way divorce cases are dealt with by the lower courts, no matter what their financial value.”

Monday, 12 March 2007

Getting a better deal for tenants

Commercial tenants facing huge increases in service charges may be able to fight back, according to a Shropshire solicitor.

Sarah Heath, who leads the Commercial Property Team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said some small businesses had reported increases of over 50 per cent in their annual service charge.

“The problem is that service charges in commercial leases, unlike residential leases, are unregulated.

“So the starting point is to make sure when you negotiate your original lease, you agree acceptable terms. If possible, try to agree a set limit on the service charge payable each year, or at least agree a percentage.

“If that wasn’t done at the time, read through your lease carefully – if it fails to mention service charges at all, you can refuse to pay your landlord’s demand.

“But it’s more likely that it will contain a service charge clause, so you should check what it covers."

Sarah said the clause should include phrases such as “costs and expenses reasonably and properly incurred”.

“If it does, you can at least challenge the landlord’s demand, and if the charges are unreasonable, you don’t have to pay it.

“The way forward is to request copies of invoices the landlord claims to have paid, for example for redecorating, and get at least three other quotes so you can compare them before you challenge the charges he’s asking for.”

Sarah said The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors was set to introduce changes in April this year to its voluntary code, in a bid to give clearer guidelines on what a landlord can and can’t do.

“But as this is only a voluntary code, it’s difficult to see how this can be regulated – the best thing to do is take expert advice to make sure the charges you’re being asked to pay are fair.”

Pic: Sarah Heath - Head of Commercial Property - Martin Kaye Solicitors

Hours policy warning

Shropshire employers must beware when it comes to refusing flexible and part-time working.

John Mehtam, Employment Law Specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, Telford, said changing legislation meant companies should ensure they were complying with the very latest regulations.

“The latest developments follow a case where an employee took her employers to a tribunal as they refused to let her work part-time after the birth of her child.

“She sued her employers under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, as she said the requirement to work full time discriminated against women as, in the majority of cases, they were primarily responsible for child care.

“And she said at times, many women needed a part-time option, to make room for their family responsibilities, so the policy of only employing full-time workers was unfair.”

John said the case had been settled out of court, with compensation being offered, and the company involved was now reviewing its policies on part-time and flexible working.

“In a world where many people are juggling their job and caring for their families, whether that’s children or dependant relatives, companies need to ensure their policies are seen as fair.

“Currently working parents have the right to ask for flexible working, and from April this year, the right will be extended to people caring for relatives too.

“This means businesses will have to make provision for employees to work more unusual hours, or maybe give them the opportunity to work from home more often.
“Of course this could cause difficulties in terms of continuity in the workplace, but if employers begin to review their policies well before the rules change, it gives them the chance to seek professional help to draw up a new strategy that will benefit everyone.”

Warning on software

Shropshire company directors must ensure their computer software is legal or they could face court action.

Stuart Haynes, of Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said a third of all software installed in the UK was illegal, and directors could face having to take personal responsibility for the crime.

“If you’ve bought computer software, it would be easy to assume that you can do whatever you like with it,” said Stuart.

“But that’s just not the case – when you purchase software, the copyright will almost always belong to someone else and all you have actually bought is a licence to use it.”

Stuart said this agreement would contain restrictions about who could use the software and for what.

“If you do anything that goes beyond this, you’ll be breaching the copyright and guilty of software piracy.

“And the Business Software Alliance has made it very easy for you to get caught out, as they offer a reward of up to £20,000 for employees to tip them off about illegal use.”

Stuart said directors may not even realise they were breaking the terms of the licence agreement.

“Maybe you are using the software on more computers than the licence allows – if so, you could face criminal and civil action, and as a director you could receive a criminal record as well as being struck off if you ignore the situation.”

Companies should carry out an audit of all their equipment and what software is being used, and check the small print on any software licences the company holds.

“You should then draw up a software register so you know exactly what software you have and how you can use it – this way you should avoid being caught out in the future,” said Stuart.

“To protect yourself, steer clear of any software that seems very cheap, that may be badly packaged, or that comes from a supplier you don’t recognise – not only might it be illegal, but it may also damage your computer network.”

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Rules will ban wind turbines from gorge

Shropshire’s world famous Ironbridge Gorge could be off limits to the growing invasion of controversial wind turbines, thanks to a new ruling.

The Government has announced “buffer zones” around the 24 recognised World Heritage Sites across the UK, in a bid to protect them from skyscrapers and intrusive home improvements, such as stone cladding and satellite dishes.

And a Telford solicitor believes the new guidelines could also protect the Shropshire landmark from the growing national threat of wind turbines.

Graham Davies, of Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, said the new laws were being introduced following concerns from UNESCO that Britain’s World Heritage Sites were being put at risk.

“They were worried that sites such as the Tower of London were in danger as a result of skyscraper developments being allowed nearby.

“And with the growing interest in seeking alternative power sources, the enormous wind turbines proposed in several areas of the UK could also be a threat.

“But thanks to the new ruling, the Ironbridge Gorge, and other listed sites across the country, would be protected from any future proposals for such developments.

“This is excellent news, as it’s vital that important historical sites like Ironbridge are preserved for future generations, without facing the onslaught of new developments which could ruin them forever.”

As well as protecting historic skylines from new high-rise buildings, the Government proposals suggest new powers to restrict stone cladding, dormer windows, and satellite dishes near the designated heritage sites.

This would ensure the landmarks are given the same kind of protection as national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.

“It’s clear that the Government is keen to protect World Heritage Sites across the UK, and I’m sure the new rules will be warmly welcomed here in Shropshire,” said Graham.

“The Ironbridge Gorge is one of our county’s most famous attractions, renowned all over the world, and protecting it from future development is definitely an important step which needs to be taken.”

Pic: Graham Davis - Martin Kaye Solicitors

Monday, 5 March 2007

Italian Job for County Lawyer

A Telford solicitor put his business development skills to the test as part of an international networking conference in Rome.

Graham Davies, Senior Partner at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, of The Foundry, in Euston Way, represented the firm at the latest meeting of the Integrated Advisory Group, IAG International.

“We are one of the founders of the organisation, which now has members from more than 70 firms across the world,” said Graham.

“It is made up of lawyers, accountants, tax advisers, and other professionals from across Europe, North and South America, and the Middle East.”

At the conference in Rome, Graham was asked to join a committee to organise an exhibition stand to promote IAG at a business forum in Rotterdam later this year.

“We are constantly looking at ways of attracting international business, as IAG has members all over the world who can offer invaluable advice to an increasingly wide range of clients.

“Thanks to my experience of working on business development strategies and long-term marketing plans for Martin-Kaye Solicitors, I was able to share my knowledge with other members of the committee, and we’re planning a really high profile presence at the Rotterdam show.”

Graham said at the latest meeting, two new members of IAG were introduced, from Mumbai and Argentina.

“Members are personally invited to join IAG, and we work very hard to select key firms from emerging markets across the world in order to build up the group and its networking opportunities.

“Martin-Kaye’s involvement with IAG has proved invaluable in helping us to attract clients here at home who are keen to develop their services overseas, as we are able to call on the expertise of other IAG members if we need specific advice.

“This has helped us to handle many cases where businesses want to set up all or part of their firm overseas, or where they need to become involved in cross border transactions.”

IAG International meets regularly to give members the opportunity to network with colleagues from other countries, to build strong international partnerships, and to develop business opportunities.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

Family law expert warns of pressures

Shropshire families are facing a tough future when it comes to balancing work and home life, a local solicitor has warned.

Nadia Davis leads the Family Law Team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, and she said research had shown many families were dreading the long-term prospect of trying to work and care for their extended family at the same time.

“The research was commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission, and showed that almost three quarters of people in the UK think things are only going to get more difficult over the next ten years,” said Nadia.

The figures showed that 82 per cent of people felt it was already difficult for parents to balance work and home life, and 72 per cent believed it would get worse in the next decade.

“It’s clear that if we are going to make life more comfortable for the majority of families, there will need to be changes in the workplace, with more widespread flexible working available, and improved childcare facilities.

“But it’s not only parents caring for children who are finding life difficult – more and more families are facing the prospect of caring for dependant relatives such as parents or grandparents.

“And the pressure can be unbearable when it comes to trying to balance out priorities and still hold down a full-time job.”

Nadia said the survey also showed that spending quality time with the family or finding time for key relationships was the biggest concern for 64 per cent of people, both men and women.

“This worry came ahead of money, health, work and local safety, so it’s obviously a major concern in a great many households – and interestingly, it was fathers who were most worried about the lack of time they spent with their family (74 per cent, compared to 68 per cent of mothers).

“The family unit has changed greatly over the years, and it’s frightening to think that so many families are now dreading the next decade – we need to work hard to develop a better balance between work and home life, and this has to start now.”