Senior Partner Marilyn Stowe featured on Radio Verulam on Monday morning to answer listeners’ questions about divorce and separation.
Mrs Stowe was asked about paying maintenance and bankruptcy, initiating the divorce process, remarrying a partner after the decree absolute has been granted, and division of assets.
Transcript from Marilyn Stowe on Radio Verulam
PR: Phil Richards
MJS: Marilyn Stowe
PR: Marilyn Stowe from Stowe Family Law solicitors who are in St Albans amongst other places in the UK joins us now on the phone. Lovely to have you with us again.
MJS: Thank you, good morning.
PR: Now, divorce time: “I split up from my husband 6 months ago after 2 years of unhappy marriage. I really want a divorce but am on a very low income and can’t afford expensive legal fees. Is Legal Aid still around and would it apply in this situation? If not, what can I do to keep costs to a minimum whilst getting a divorce?”
MJS: Well legal aid for most people was ended on the memorable date, April fools days 2013. Legal aid is still available for those who qualify for it and that is not a high number of people because of the financial tests but it is still available for mediation and also where there has been some form of violence by a spouse. Where legal aid isn’t available, I decided to do something about it and in late 2012, early 2013, I actually wrote a 300 page book which is on Amazon and it’s for sale for 99p. It has become a best seller and all of the proceeds go to the Children’s Society, that’s for children in care coming out of care. I wrote it as if you were going in to see a solicitor had all sorts of questions and didn’t know the first thing about how to get divorced, what the law is in relation to every possible thing I could think of. The watch-word is to be commercial, to be sensible, and to look at something pragmatically, not to allow your emotions to cloud your judgement. Please do download the book, it is called Divorce and Splitting Up, and I am not just recommending it because it is me but it is a best seller and it will give you a very good start. The other thing I would say is a lot of lawyers do offer a free first appointment and don’t, please don’t do anything without legal advice.
PR: That sounds great and a fantastic publication. Now, this one sounds interesting to me and I am excited to see what you think: “My wife and I have agreed on a divorce. She recently sold her half of a property rental company to her partner director for £1 which I suspect she will have sold back to her after our divorce. I suspect this is all to dodge having to split the asset with me when we divorce. What can I do about this?”
MJS: Wouldn’t it be easy if everyone could do that but of course the answer is you can’t. How the court will treat this is, first of all you can look and what the value of this rental company is and you can do one of two things. You can ask the court to set aside the transaction on the basis that it was done with a view to defeating claims and the court has power to do it, or you can well she has got rid of that worth so much, that value should be on her side of the asset sheet and therefore I require out of the rest of the assets that value on my side please. So anybody who thinks they are being clever by getting rid of potentially a very valuable asset for a pound should think again. You have to be full, frank and honest in your disclosure and don’t play games because it rebounds.
PR: Yes, he thought he was going to get away with 50p there by the sounds of it. “My husband and I split up recently and we both want a divorce. We married in the UK, but he is now living in another European country and says he wants to divorce in that country. Is this possible or can we only divorce in the UK where we originally married?”
MJS: It may well be possible for him to divorce somewhere else and it is vital, absolutely vital that the person who has written this question gets legal advice immediately and the reason is, whoever kicks of the divorce first in a European country is where the divorce will be heard. The law, particularly when it comes to finances, can be different. For example, in this country if you issue in England, you will still be entitled to claim maintenance, spousal maintenance – which is a very valuable asset. If the divorce is heard in a European country that may not be the case and you can lose out big style. So if you think that there is a potential jurisdiction race where it is in Europe or in this country, please take urgent legal advice and don’t delay.
PR: Right, thank you. The next one: “My wife and I split up several years ago but haven’t divorced as yet. I used to give her money each month to support our two children but have recently been declared bankrupt. I have no money and a very small income but my wife insists that the maintenance money should still be paid even though I can’t afford to. What are my options here?”
MJS: Sorry but no excuse. Bankruptcy doesn’t affect income. And what will happen, the trustee in the bankruptcy will want to know what the details of the bankrupt’s income are, maintenance can still be paid obviously, to family. The trustee will see whether or not he requires any of the income to pay the creditors. That might happen whether voluntarily or by a court order but please don’t think that going bankrupt ends your obligations to a wife or a husband because it doesn’t because maintenance can still be paid.”
PR: Yes but if he is bankrupt without even a penny to his name I suppose he can’t pay anything then can he?
MJS: Well no you can’t get blood out of a stone but that applies to everybody. All the circumstances of everybody are very different. What the court will do if necessary is look at what the income is, look at what the contribution the husband or wife can make to the other person’s income and make order. The court has to deal with what is call reasonable needs, it doesn’t have to slam one party and reward the other, it doesn’t work like that. It is a case of looking pragmatically at what there is and it should be reasonably divided up.
PR: Okay and finally, I can’t believe this one it is quite amusing: “I divorced my husband a year ago but we have recently got back together and are very happy. Can we have our divorce cancelled and our marriage reinstated or do we have to marry again?”
MJS: Divorce is a two stage process. You go first of all, following the issue of a petition to what is called decree nisi / decree and less, then you move on to something that is called decree absolute. When decree absolute is issued by the court it is a certificate to both parties the marriage is over. What happens then is if you want to subsequently remarry, you have to remarry and start again.
PR: That is fantastic, thank you very much indeed.
MJS: My pleasure.
PR: Advice from Stowe Family Law in St Albans, where are your other offices, Marilyn?
MJS: Central London, in Gray’s Inn just off High Holburn. We are opening one in January in Winchester. We have offices in Leeds, in Wilmslow and Hale just outside Manchester. We’ve got offices in Harrogate, Ilkley, Wetherby as well as Leeds in Yorkshire so there are nine offices at the moment.
MJS: It is great isn’t it?
PR: Taking over the UK eventually.
MJS: Well I think we offer a very good service and the public recognise it so very grateful, thank you.
PR: Thank you very much for joining us again on the programme.
MJS: Thank you.