Thursday, 24 May 2007

Warning over DIY divorce aid packs

Shropshire couples who opt for a cheap do-it-yourself divorce could find it costs them greatly in the long-run.

Nadia Davis, who heads the Family Law Team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, issued the warning after Tesco launched a divorce advice pack costing just £7.

“DIY divorces can work well for cases where there are no children or assets from the marriage involved, but they are generally not suitable for more complicated cases.

“And although on the face of it, the self-help package seems like a cheap option, it could cost couples dearly in the future.”

Nadia said many people did not realise that even when there has been a Decree Absolute, both partners still have the right to pursue financial claims arising from the marriage – and this process can continue until they get remarried or die.

“At Martin-Kaye, we are seeing increasing numbers of people who have dealt with their divorces themselves and who are now facing difficulties.

“They thought they had resolved their financial issues amicably with their spouse at the time of their separation, only to find themselves on the wrong end of a court application for financial support several years later.

“These clients are horrified to learn that their former spouse can seek further financial relief, no matter what was previously agreed.

“And even worse, the Court will consider their financial situation as it stands at the time of the new application, when their finances have often significantly improved.”

Nadia said with proper legal advice at the time of the separation, the couple could ask for a Clean Break Order to be made alongside their divorce, to ensure they were protected.

“This ensures any agreement reached is recorded and takes away the power of the former spouse to pursue further claims, which means both partners can get on with their lives.

“Ultimately, people stand to lose a lot more if they are ordered to pay their former spouse financial relief, and that cheap DIY divorce could end up being very expensive indeed.

“Professional advice at the time of the separation is the best way forward, and will help protect both parties in the future.”

Fears over maternity pay rules

Small businesses in Shropshire will struggle to cope with new rules over extended maternity pay, according to a local solicitor.

John Mehtam, Employment Law Specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said the changes meant statutory maternity pay would be paid to mothers for 39 weeks, rather than the previous 26 week period.

“This is of course great news for families, but a real blow to small businesses who are already struggling to manage and administer the long-term absence of employees on maternity leave.

“And with the news that the Government is committed to increasing paid maternity leave to a year and introducing additional paternity leave of up to six months by 2010, the situation will just become even more difficult.”

John said the changes under the Work and Families Act also included an increase in the number of days which a person could go into work during maternity leave without losing entitlements.

“Until now, women who worked for even a single day during their maternity leave have lost some statutory maternity pay, and employers have been unsure whether they are allowed to contact them while they are on leave.

“But now they will be allowed to work for up to ten days to help ease them back into the workplace, and help them keep up-to-date about major changes and training opportunities – it will also help employers plan more easily.”

The changes mean mothers will get 90% of their salary for six weeks, and then a maximum of £112.75 a week for another 33 weeks. They will also need to give employers two months’ notice of when they are intending to return to work.

The Act also allows fathers the right to ask for up to 26 weeks’ unpaid paternity leave.

“All these changes are extremely positive for families, but it’s clear that the burden on businesses is growing all the time,” said John.

“Helping families is a very welcome step, but businesses deserve support too and it’s important that action is taken to protect the local economy at the same time.”

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Landlords may scrap deposit

Shropshire landlords may consider axing traditional tenant deposits rather than take part in a new protection scheme.

The new rules introduced earlier this month mean all deposits taken by landlords for assured shorthold tenancies in England and Wales must be protected.

Sarah Heath, who leads the Commercial Property team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said the ruling would affect thousands of property owners.

“A national survey has shown that large numbers of tenants claim to have been cheated by landlords refusing to pay back their rent deposit – but now, under the new regime, landlords will have to choose either a custodial or an insured scheme, and provide their tenants with the contact details.”

Under the custodial scheme, the tenant pays a deposit to the landlord who has 14 days to send it to the scheme. At the end of the tenancy, the scheme returns the deposit.

Under the alternative insurances schemes, the tenant pays the deposit to the landlord, who retains the amount, but the landlord must also pay a premium to the insurer.

Both schemes feature alternative dispute procedures that can be used to help settle potential disputes.

“But many landlords are looking for alternative ways to approach the question of tenant deposits, rather than taking part in the schemes – simply not asking for one though means the landlord has no protection,” said Sarah

“You could consider taking post dated cheques, or charge higher rents and offer cash back at the end of the tenancy if there are no problems. Both these options though would require you to take part in the tenancy protection scheme.

“One solution could be to charge two months’ rent in advance – but although this may give the landlord some sense of comfort, the rent in advance could not be used to repair damage in the future.

“It’s clear that landlords need to be fully aware of the implications of the new rules, and ensure their procedures meet the guidelines. Taking care to draw up the right agreement in the first place will help prevent difficulties in the longer term.”