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    Divorce rates fall by 30%

    Divorce rates have fallen by 30% according to the Official for National Statistics (ONS).
    ONS statistics released this morning have revealed that the number of divorces granted in 2022 fell by 29.5% to 80,057, in comparison to the previous year’s 113,505 divorces. This is the lowest number since 1971.
    Family lawyers have widely been anticipating an increase in divorce rates and enquiries. Whilst the statistics have come as a surprise, it is not so surprising when examining the impact of various factors which have caused such a significant decrease in divorce rates.
    The introduction of no-fault divorce in April 2022 is likely to have had a significant impact on the overall divorces granted. Although some couples were waiting for no-fault to be introduced, which removed the need to attribute blame, to proceed with their divorce and there was a surge in enquiries at this point, no fault divorce introduced mandatory waiting periods. It is likely that these extended periods meant that fewer divorces were actually granted in 2022.
    In addition, the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that 2021 saw a 9.6% increase in the number of divorces on 2020’s figures. The pandemic caused significant disruption to the family courts, meaning fewer divorces were processed that year. However, whilst the pandemic and lockdowns continued through 2021, the family justice system introduced remote hearings and more divorces were granted. Thus, in comparison to 2022, it is possible that this was artificial inflation caused by a surge in 2021.
    However, the drop in rates in 2022 is so dramatic in comparison to both 2021 and 2020 figures that this cannot be explanation on its own.
    The impact of the cost-of-living crisis is being cited as a key reason for the downward turn as many couples who were wanting to separate postpone their divorce for cost reasons. As gas and electricity prices soared, food, bills and housing all increased and money did not, and has continued to not, stretch as far. Worries over future finances and going from a dual income household to a single income household was at the forefront of many couples’ minds.
    Here at Stowe Family Law, we conducted a survey on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on relationships. 30% of respondents said that they were staying in their current relationship because of fears they could not afford to live alone.
    In addition to these factors, ONS reported last month that marriage rates in England and Wales had fallen below 50% for the first time since comparable records began. Only 49.4% of adults over 16 were reported to be married or in a civil partnership in 2022. This has direct links to the number of divorces as without marriage there can be no divorce.
    Family lawyers will be interested to see over the coming years whether the decrease in divorce rates is an ongoing trend, or whether they are a direct result of the economic and social factors of the last few years.
    Useful Links
    Can I afford to divorce my partner?
    The rise in birdnesting after divorce
    What happens to the family home?
    Client Guide: Divorcing during the cost of living crisis

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    Stowe Talks How To: Part 2

    Stowe Talks How To
    Our next instalment of our Stowe Talks How To videos are now freely available to watch.
    To recap, these videos are guides for some of the key aspects of the divorce process, so you can be taken through step-by-step accompanied by our expert lawyers.
    We know that divorce can be overwhelming and stressful at times, which is why we have produced these practical videos and accompanying guides for you to download for free.
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    The supporting guides can be found here.
    A full playlist of all the Stowe Talks How To videos can be found here.
    Other Useful Links
    Introducing Stowe Talks How To
    Stowe Support – a huge range of free resources (blogs, guides, podcasts etc) covering all matters family law including divorce, child arrangements, unmarried couples, finances, and much more besides. More

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    January Stowe Support roundup

    Stowe Support is a dedicated home for Stowe’s free resources designed to help inform and support anyone with family law concerns.
    With new blogs, guides, podcasts, videos and events shared each month, here’s a handy Stowe Support roundup from the past month in case you missed anything.
    Latest blogs from Stowe
    What is in store for family law in 2024?
    The Importance of Pensions in Divorce
    Thinking about divorce this ‘Divorce Day’?
    Navigating the path to divorce and what to do next
    Expansion of Family Court Transparency Pilot to 16 more courts
    Dissolution and Divorce – What’s the Difference?
    Navigate the Complexities of Separation and Divorce with Family Mediation
    Marriage Rates Fall Below 50% in England and Wales
    A Guide to Financial Dispute Resolution
    Platonic Co-Parenting – Can I really have a baby with my friend?
    Watch our recent webinars
    The Break-up Club: Building a new life after divorce
    Stowe talks: Making your money go further after divorce
    Listen to the latest Stowe talks podcasts on Spotify
    Stowe talks 26: The unique challenges of a relationship break down in the LGBTQIA+ community
    Stowe talks 27: Creating financial wellbeing following a divorce or separation
    Stowe talks 28: How to prepare for your financial settlement in divorce
    Watch ‘Stowe talks: How to’ guides
    Stowe talks: How to get divorced online
    Stowe talks: How to pull together information for a financial settlement
    Stowe talks: How to obtain a financial consent order
    Stowe talks: How to represent yourself in court
    Stowe Support
    To explore our full range of resources dedicated to helping people with family law matters, visit Stowe Support.
    Here you’ll find a wealth of helpful guides, videos and blogs on divorce and separation, finances, children, domestic abuse, cohabitation, alternative parenting, mediation, as well as support with relationships and wellness More

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    Expansion of Family Court Transparency Pilot to 16 more courts

    In another significant step towards enhancing transparency within the family justice system, the judiciary has announced the expansion of the transparency reporting pilot.
    Described as a ‘huge step,’ this initiative aims to provide insight into family court proceedings.
    The transparency implementation group reporting pilot, which began in the family courts of Leeds, Cardiff, and Carlisle in January 2023, is set to expand to 16 additional courts across England, including Liverpool, Dorset, and Milton Keynes starting January 29th 2024.
    2024 Expansion of Family Court Transparency Pilot
    Under this ongoing pilot, accredited media and legal bloggers can report on the proceedings, subject to strict rules of anonymity. Judges presiding over the courts involved in the pilot will issue transparency orders outlining what information can and cannot be reported.
    The judiciary emphasises that this reporting initiative is being carefully piloted to ensure it can be conducted safely and with minimal disruption to those involved in the cases and the functioning of the courts.
    Sir Andrew McFarlane, Family Division president, hailed the extension as a continuation of the ‘pioneering year of reporting’. He expressed the judiciary’s commitment to increasing transparency, improving public confidence, and fostering a better understanding of the family justice system.
    Sir McFarlane invited members of the media to familiarise themselves with the provided guidance and visit family courts to witness the vital and challenging work undertaken in these settings.
    Understanding the impact of family court reporting
    The announcement has garnered positive reactions from legal professionals, with many viewing open reporting as a crucial step in addressing the challenges faced by family courts, such as backlogs, and hopes it will contribute to public understanding.
    Jake Mitchell, Leeds-based Stowe family lawyer echoed this “One of the biggest barriers to people seeking help with their legal issues is the amount of misinformation which is readily available and repeated.”
    Although some have raised concerns that journalist presence could cause potential discomfort to people going through the family courts, its hoped that journalists will use their newfound rights to raise public awareness of the workings of financial remedy courts and the strain they face due to under-funding.
    Locations included in the expansion of the Transparency Pilot
    The 16 courts participating in the pilot include Liverpool, Manchester, West Yorkshire, Kingston-upon-Hull, Nottingham, Stoke, Derby, Birmingham, Central Family Court, East London, West London, Dorset, Truro, Luton, Guildford, and Milton Keynes.
    Jake Mitchel continued “My colleagues and I welcome the expansion of transparency in the family courts. The more the public knows what goes on inside a court room, the greater the trust and confidence will be and that should lead to the right result for more people.” More

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    INTRODUCING Stowe talks: How to

    Ever wished you had step-by-step instructions to help guide you through typical divorce processes?
    We know that divorce and separation can feel like a minefield cluttered with complicated paperwork, legal jargon and complex processes.
    That’s why we’ve produced Stowe talks: How to a new range of free step-by-step videos and guides.
    What you can expect from Stowe talks: How to
    Each edition includes a video and accompanying guide available to download for free. The focus on offering practical, to-the-point information and guidance from a family lawyer on a specific topic related to divorce or separation, including:
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    Explore more Stowe talks: How to resources
    Watch Stowe talks: How to videos
    Download the accompanying guides More

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    What is in store for family law in 2024?

    2024 has the potential to see the conclusion of a number of UK government legislation amendments and consultations. Each carefully considered change will have a far-reaching impact on family law and those dealing with the personal impact of family law matters. So, as we begin the new year, we look at important changes on the horizon and suggest what may be in store for family law in 2024.
    Financial Remedies Court reporting pilot
    The spotlight on ‘transparency in the Family Court’ continues in 2024. Following on from last year’s introduction of measures to increase understanding and scrutiny of the system, a new pilot scheme is set to start on January 29th.
    The Financial Remedies Court (FRC) reporting pilot will allow accredited journalists and bloggers to report on financial remedies proceedings. These include financial issues arising from divorce and civil partnership dissolution, and child support cases.
    The FRC pilot will initially cover three trial courts: the Central Family Court, Birmingham, and Leeds. Notably, certain hearings, like Financial Dispute Resolution, will maintain confidentiality, preserving the privacy of those involved.
    Proposed amendment to Victims and Prisoners Bill affecting parental responsibility
    In January 2024 the Ministry of Justice’s proposed amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill moves to the next stage. The proposal announced in 2022 seeks to automatically remove parental responsibility for parents convicted of the murder or voluntary manslaughter of their co-parent.
    The legislation change emerged after the death of Jade Ward, whose partner and father of her child murdered her in 2021. He was found guilty and sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in jail. Since then, Jade’s family have lobbied for a change in the law to automatically remove parental responsibility so that convicted offenders can no longer seek information about their children or make key decisions about their lives.
    The Ministry of Justice have confirmed that there will be exemptions in cases involving domestic abuse.
    Possible outline of future financial remedies reform
    In 2023 the Law Commission of England and Wales launched a comprehensive review of financial remedy orders. The review examines how finances are divided among couples post-divorce or civil partnership dissolution, currently governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and Civil Partnership Act 2004.
    The aim of the review is to evaluate the effectiveness of current laws and ensure fairness for divorcing couples. Among other factors, the review set out to analyse discretionary powers of judges, explore wider powers for orders involving children over the age of eighteen, assess pension-related orders, review the mechanics and structure of post-divorce financial payments.
    The findings, anticipated in a scoping report in September 2024, may pave the way for significant reforms in future financial remedies legislation.
    Family court fees to rise
    Last month the UK Government completed a consultation which looks to increase court fees by up to 10% in 2024.
    The Ministry for Justice wants to increase revenue generated by the courts to ensure that they remain ‘sufficiently resourced’ to protect access to the courts for all those who seek justice.
    Users of His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), including the family court, contribute to the cost of the justice process by paying fees. Court fees generated £727 million of the total £2.3 billion cost to run HMCTS in 2022/23, with the remainder funded by the taxpayer.
    By increasing court fees by 10% the UK government is expected to generate up to £42 million per year. The key objectives of the price increase are to keep pace with increased costs, improve service delivery, subsidise the cost of free services, and reduce the overall cost to the taxpayer.
    Key 2024 family court fee increases include:

    Application for a divorce, or civil partnership dissolution – fees will rise from £593 to £652
    Application for a parental order – fees will rise from £232 to £255
    Application/permission to apply for adoption – fees will rise from £183 to £201
    Application for a financial order (other than consent order) – fees will rise from £275 to £303.

    Resolving family matters out of court
    In 2024 we’ll see a continuing emphasis on encouraging parties to seek resolution of their disputes outside of the court system. Last year the UK government carried out a consultation ‘Supporting earlier resolution of private family law arrangements’ to review mediation in family law.
    As a result, in 2024 we could see mandatory mediation for all suitable low-level family court cases (excluding those which include allegations or a history of domestic violence). The aim is to divert family disputes away from stretched courts and protect children from the impact of acrimonious and long-running court cases.
    It’s hoped the proposals will mean more people can make decisions and achieve resolutions with the support of a qualified mediator, rather than placing the decision with the family court.
    General election
    While the date of the next UK general election is still to be announced, it’s widely anticipated that the current Conservative government will call for an election in 2024.
    The latest voting intention polls suggest that Labour may win the next election, meaning a change in government. Whilst no parties have yet released their election manifestos, and the exact nature of any proposed changes to family law is yet unknown, we can expect to see some impact. More

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    The Impact of the Housing Crisis on Divorcing Couples

    Whilst the impact of the cost-of-living crisis is ongoing, the housing crisis in the UK has taken a front seat in the media. The market has seen record high mortgage rates which has become a battleground for divorcing couples, as well as sky-high rental prices and a lack of housing.
    These issues are having a significant impact on divorcing couples across the country.
    Housing is often a contentious subject in divorce proceedings, as couples fight over whether to keep the family home, and, if they do, who gets to live in it. As mortgage rates have risen, what to do with the marital property has become an increasingly tricky subject.
    What happens to the home in divorce?
    Generally, there are three options for divorcing couples when it comes to property. The first is to sell the house and pay off whatever mortgage is left. They then divide any equity. This money is used to put a deposit down on a new house or to rent a property.
    The second option is to keep the family home and the mortgage in both names. The couple agree to sell the property at a later date, for example when their youngest child turns 18.
    Finally, in some divorces, one party will buy out the other’s interest in the house and transfer ownership into their sole name.
    If you decide to sell the marital home, equity is apportioned according to various factors, including the borrowing capacity of each party.
    Nevertheless, being able to afford two separate properties is not always guaranteed especially in the current climate.
    If you are unable to come to an agreement with your ex-spouse about your marital property, it may be necessary for the court to step in. Although the court’s starting point will be a 50/50 split of the assets, the decision will be based on fairness, depending on the needs of each party, their future earning capacity, the wellbeing of any children.
    For those going into renting, no-fault evictions are a concern. The government has again delayed the Renters (Reform) Bill. This piece of legislation would improve security for renters as it would impose restrictions and obligations on private landlords, preventing them from evicting tenants without proof under Section 21 of the Housing Act.
    What options are there?
    The housing crisis is making property decisions increasingly difficult. Combined with the impact of the cost-of-living crisis, couples going through divorce are having to think outside the box.
    Birdnesting is one such avenue. This is where the children stay in the family home, and their parents rotate into and out of the house. Each parent will have a set amount of time in the house, dependent on the child arrangement agreement.
    However, this means that they will also need a separate living arrangement, but many turn to friends or family as a temporary solution.
    However, this is not always possible. As the housing crisis continues, we will likely see more divorcing couples coming up with creative solutions to the housing issues.
    It is important to discuss all the avenues available to you with a lawyer. When there has been full financial disclosure, negotiations can begin on what the marital pot will allow.
    Useful Links
    Property in Divorce – what you need to know
    How to financially plan for your divorce: Watch on YouTube
    Top 3 Financial Considerations
    Budgeting Solo in the Cost of Living Crisis: Watch on YouTube
    Can I afford to divorce my partner?
    Dangers of a DIY Divorce: Listen on Spotify
    Taking control of your finances on separation and beyond: Listen on Spotify More

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    How to manage the Cost-of-Christmas Crisis

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
    But it’s also one of the most expensive.
    The Cost of Christmas Crisis, as it has been coined, is taking its toll again this year. Recent research from easymoney has revealed that people are cutting down on their Christmas spending this year, as the cost-of-living crisis has an ongoing impact. 59% of us are looking to make cuts this year, with 55% of respondents stating that whilst they usually have an extra savings pot put aside for Christmas, they have saved less than planned.
    Financial Planner Jodie Phelps has put together some top tips on how to manage your money in the Cost of Christmas Crisis when the purse strings are tighter than ever.

    Be aware of the potential for emotional spending during the holidays. Stay mindful of your emotions and instead of using retail therapy as a coping mechanism write a list of other things you enjoy doing so when you feel yourself about to spend do the other things on your list instead (eg. take a bath, go for a run, call a friend)
    BUT, recognise the emotional challenges that may arise during the holidays and prioritise self-care; allocate budget for activities that bring you joy and contribute to your well-being
    Develop a budget that reflects your changed financial circumstances and keep track of your spending
    Create a list of people you want to buy gifts for and allocate a specific amount for each person
    Consider creative and thoughtful gifts that don’t necessarily have to be expensive (eg. photo collages, scrap books, experiences). Remember, the holidays are about spending time with loved ones and creating meaningful memories, not just about the gifts.
    If you have a large family or friend group, consider setting limits on the amount spent on gifts or participating in a Secret Santa
    Plan your holiday meals in advance and create a shopping list. This can help you avoid last-minute, impulse food purchases/takeaways
    Be mindful of impulse purchases, especially when faced with holiday sales and promotions
    Look for discounts, compare prices, and consider using cashback or price-tracking tools to find the best deals
    After the holidays, review your spending and assess what worked well and what didn’t. Use this information to plan for the next holiday season.
    Make a note of your Christmas pay date when budgeting, as it’s usually earlier in December. Plan for the long stretch between Christmas pay day and January pay day
    Start saving a monthly amount for next Christmas so that next year you have money allocated for you to enjoy Christmas.

    You can find out more about Jodie on her LinkedIn.
    Relationship Tensions
    Financial tensions are a huge driver in divorce enquiries, and in a survey that we conducted, 60% of respondents said that the crisis was negatively affecting their relationship.
    If you do find that tensions around money build between you and your partner around this time of year, here are some suggestions on how to safeguard your relationship at Christmas. It’s important to remember that Christmas does not cause divorce and relationship breakdown. However, it can expose pre-existing issues, so getting to the root of the problem is very important.
    Stowe Solicitor Abi Jones has some top tips on reducing tensions around the festive season:

    Communicate – communication is central to healthy relationships and talking through your worries with your partner can help to alleviate pressure
    Lean on friends or family members outside of your relationship for support if needed
    Figure out where your priorities are, and if they are different to your partner’s
    If you have differing priorities, try to compromise and find where your middle ground lies
    Consider speaking to a financial planner or another professional – you can find our recommended partners in our Divorce Directory
    Try to focus on the positives, even if they seem insignificant. Small changes can make big differences over time
    Come up with interesting ways to celebrate this time of year together without the pressure of money
    Try to have some time together. Christmas can be a very busy time so spending time with each other is essential. It does not have to be big or expensive. It could be as simple as having a movie night together when the children are in bed.

    First Christmas After Separation
    Abi discusses how to manage your first Christmas after separation.
    It may be that this is your first Christmas after divorce or relationship breakdown. If this is the case, you may be more worried about money than you usually are as you may well have gone from a dual income household to single income. Not only this, but the routine and traditions of the day may also suddenly be different.

    Create experiences, rather than physical gifts
    Downsize your giving
    Use second-hand website such as Vinted or ebay
    Do Secret Santa instead of buying gifts for everyone
    Make home-made gifts
    Keep the celebrations small
    Don’t be tempted by payday loans, as this may cause more issues later on
    If you have young children, toy appeals may be available. Certain charities have toy appeals where individuals can donate toys which are then distributed between families
    Try not to compare your Christmas to others, either of your past or other people’s
    Manage the expectations of any children – let them know that change is normal but ensure they are informed of what changes, scheduling, what will be happening, where and when.

    Remember that Christmas is one day. There is a great deal of pressure for Christmas Day to be perfect, but it is just one day in the year.
    Think about how you want to spend your Christmas. Would you like to spend it with a friend, with family or even alone. This is an opportunity to make new traditions.
    Lastly, Christmas does not necessarily have to take place on 25th December. If this is the first year you do not have the children after going through a divorce or separation you can always pause your Christmas until the day after or have it before.
    Useful Links
    Financial Wellbeing with Jodie Phelps or watch on YouTube
    Surviving Christmas after Separation
    Child arrangements at Christmas
    Christmas alone with divorce and break-up coach Claire Macklin
    Budgeting solo during a cost-of-living crisis: Listen on Spotify or Watch on YouTube
    Supporting children through divorce: Listen on Spotify More