Spotlight on Stalking for National Stalking Awareness Week

Spotlight on Stalking for National Stalking Awareness Week

National Stalking Awareness Week is taking place this week (22 – 26 April 2024). The theme this year is “Join Forces Against Stalking” and highlights the importance of multi-agency approach to help support victims. In support of this campaign, FM Family Law will be sharing content across our platforms to raise awareness around stalking and what can be done to combat it.

In this article, we explain what stalking is, the types of behaviours to look out for, practical tips for staying safe and where to turn to for help. The sophisticated ways in which digital technology is currently being used by perpetrators is also addressed.

What is stalking?

Stalking and harassment is when someone repeatedly behaves in a way that makes the victim feel scared, distressed or threatened. It can often be combined or overlap with other offences such as harassment. There are different types of stalking and harassment and anyone can be a victim. 

Stalking and harassment are criminal offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

Stalking and similar behaviours that take place in the context of relationships or former relationships are considered to be forms of domestic abuse. An application can be made to court for an order preventing a perpetrator from contacting the victim or coming near the victim if they need protection – this is known as a non-molestation order.

Examples of stalking behaviours

  • Fixated, obsessive, unwanted and repeated behaviour that makes the victim feel pestered and harassed
  • Following the victim
  • Standing/loitering around places the victim frequents (whether public or private)
  • Unsolicited post and gifts
  • Repeatedly texting, emailing and leaving voice messages
  • Befriending the victim’s friends and family
  • Digital stalking – Cyber-stalking or ‘tech abuse’

Digital stalking

Common internet-connected devices such as smartphones and laptops are routinely used for online stalking and other forms of abuse. Perpetrators may exploit location tracking features of certain apps such as Apple’s ‘Find My’ function. Perpetrators may also use dedicated spyware designed to covertly monitor and gather information about a device, allowing them to look at messages and photographs, access a device’s camera, record screen activity and track its location without the victim’s knowledge or consent.  

Home security systems, wearable devices and remote control of internet-connected home appliances can also be used by the perpetrator.

Things you can do

If any of the above examples apply to you, and the behaviour is making you feel fearful, harassed or anxious, then know that it is not something you should have to live with, and there is help available for you.

  • Keep a diary– Write down the date, time, location and details of what happens. It’s also a good idea to include information about any other witnesses who can confirm what happened.

  • Keep copies of all communication – letters, text messages and emails, and take screenshots of other online messages (e.g. on Facebook or WhatsApp).

  • Do not engage your stalker.

  • Be physically safe  – carry a personal alarm, vary your daily routines, instal an alarm or security camera at home and make sure windows and doors are locked.

  • Don’t block your stalker on social media – this can escalate their behaviour if you are already connected. Instead, limit what you post, who sees your posts, or set up a different account.

  • Don’t give away personal information – You can carry out an online search of yourself to see what information is already published about you and take any necessary steps to remove or secure it.

  • Digital check – Turn off location and tagging settings, keep antivirus software up to date and, if you think your phone or laptop has been hacked, stop using them and either take them to a specialist or replace them.

  • Inform & report. Secrecy fuels stalking behaviour – if nobody knows what is going on that gives the stalker the power to keep going. If people around you know, they can help keep you safe. You can report what is happening to the police either by calling 101 (if it’s not an emergency) or 999 (if you are in immediate danger).
  • Get legal advice – consider the possibility of a non-molestation order.

If you are, or someone you know is, being stalked or harassed, get in touch with our team of approachable family law experts at FM Family Law. We have extensive experience in obtaining personal protective injunctions such as non-molestation orders to achieve an end to unwanted behaviours, as well as working with criminal law specialists who can advise on the criminal process.

Not to be reproduced without permission.

Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any specific circumstance.

Dangers of a DIY Divorce

Dangers of a DIY Divorce

This month marks the second anniversary of the introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorce in England and Wales. Since the law came into force on 6 April 2022, one of the biggest shifts we have noticed at FM Family Law is the rise in separated couples managing their own divorce/dissolution without the benefit of specialist legal advice. In this article we highlight some of the main risks associated with a DIY divorce/dissolution when finances are left unresolved.

 

It is perhaps unsurprising following the introduction of the ‘no-fault’ divorce law that separating couples are looking to take matters into their own hands. The DIY route is a tempting option for those looking to save costs in the short term, especially amid the ongoing costs of living crisis.

 

Crucially though, if you have chosen to DIY your divorce or dissolution it is important to understand that the final order in the divorce/dissolution does not automatically deal with any financial aspects arising from your separation.

 

There can be significant risks and financial losses if the financial outcome (culminating in a court-approved order) is not formalised, such as:

 

1. Loss of survivor benefits

On divorce/dissolution, you will cease to be entitled to any widow’s, widower’s or civil partner’s pension under your former spouse/civil partner’s pension scheme. This could represent a potentially valuable asset and future source of income which will be lost in the event your former spouse/civil partner predeceases you.

 

2. Re-marriage trap

Depending on how your divorce application was completed, if you remarry or enter into another civil partnership without first resolving the finances from your previous marriage/civil partnership, you may be caught by the ‘re-marriage trap’. This would bar you from being able to make certain financial claims against your former spouse/civil partner.

 

3. Unwanted tax issues

There could be potential tax implications for you or your former spouse/civil partner that apply. Without input from a specialist tax advisor, you could be liable to pay tax you did not expect. A tax advisor can also help explain your options for structuring a financial settlement in the most tax efficient way so as to mitigate any tax liabilities.

 

4. Litigation

You and your former spouse/partner may have agreed between yourselves how your finances should be divided at the time of your divorce/dissolution, but without the protection and certainty of a binding and enforceable court order, there is nothing to prevent either of you from later changing your minds. If you are unable to agree a way forward (for example, whether or not your original agreement should be upheld), then it might become necessary to engage dispute resolution services or involve the court.

 

5. Impact on immigration

A divorce or dissolution could impact on your, or your former spouse/partner’s, immigration or visa status as well as your, or their, ability to stay in the UK.

 

6. Risk of family home rights of occupation ending

Marriage and civil partnerships give rise to ‘home rights’ which applies when the family home is owned in one spouse/civil partner’s sole name. This means the non-owning spouse/civil partner is entitled to occupy the family home and, if they have already left, they are entitled to enter the property with permission from the court. However, this right automatically comes to an end on completion of the divorce/dissolution, unless there is a court order in place extending this right.

 

Above are just some examples of how managing your own divorce/dissolution without expert legal guidance could result in unintended and unexpected consequences. Unravelling issues caused by DIY solutions can make for a painful and stressful process requiring input from professional advisors, potentially costing you more in the long term.

 

It is always best to seek specialist advice at an early stage so you can make informed decisions about you and your family.

 

At FM Family Law, we are costs conscious and we are dedicated to ensuring specialist family law services are available to you to suit your budget.

 

If you would like advice in relation to your separation and resolving the related financial matters, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me and I will be pleased to advise further.

Carla Morphett

Carla Morphett

Associate and Practice Development Lawyer

Not to be reproduced without permission.

Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any specific circumstance.

Friday Focus on Emma Wager

Friday Focus on Emma Wager

We asked Emma Wager, who joined FM Family Law in October 2023, a quick Q&A as part of our Friday Focus series to give you the opportunity to get to know a bit more about her. If you missed any of our previous posts, you can find them here.

 

What’s your role at FM Family Law?

I am an Associate Solicitor and Mediator.

 

What do you most enjoy about what you do?

I genuinely enjoy getting to know my clients and their key concerns and objectives for themselves and their family. In some cases the relationship between a client and their solicitor/mediator can be a long one and so it’s important that it’s a good fit. 

 

What is your proudest professional achievement?

There are many times when I feel like I have been able to make a difference to my clients’ lives, whether this be by way of reassurance in our first meeting, or at the other end of the journey as they are able to move forward with their lives.

I am personally very proud of my qualifying and building my mediation practice, having undertaken a lot of training alongside my legal practice in 2021. I am very passionate about resolving matters outside of court wherever possible and really like being able to offer this service myself. My experience as a mediator also complements my work as a solicitor and means that I am able to offer insightful support and advice for clients alongside the mediation process. 

 

When did you realise you wanted to go into law and what pathway did you take?

I have been working in law firms since I was 16 years old, when I worked as an office assistant in a local law firm in Plymouth one afternoon a week.

I had quite a long pathway to how I got from there to where I am now, involving a number of cities…! I studied Law and German at Cardiff University, including a year studying in the town of Passau in Germany. After university, I went straight into work as a paralegal at a national law firm based in London, and later moved to Southampton when that firm opened a new office.

Upon qualification I moved back to London, where I worked in the family team of a top-tier law firm for just over 6 years before joining FM Family Law and relocating to Cambridge in October 2023.

After lots of moving around, I am hopeful that Cambridge is going to be by home for many years to come, and indeed my home in the FM Family Law team too.  

 

What legal-themed book/film/TV-series would you recommend to others?

I really enjoyed US shows like Suits and The Good Wife, and of course Legally Blonde – all of course for entertainment purposes… while I love what I do, I can’t say the real life experience is as glamorous!  

 

What’s the best advice you give clients?

I am always conscious to ensure that clients have the right support around them. Going through a separation and/or divorce is one of the most difficult and stressful life events that anyone can experience and so it’s essential to have not just good legal support, but also the support of family, friends and often additional therapeutic support.

 

Emma Wager

Associate

01223 826002
07756 295957

emma@fmfamilylaw.co.uk

FM Family Law announces partnership with Run Norwich

FM Family Law announces partnership with Run Norwich

We are delighted to announce we will be sponsoring Run Norwich this year.

 

Run Norwich is organised by Norwich City Community Sports Foundation, a charity which improves the quality of life for those who need it most and helps thousands of people in the Norwich and Norfolk community every year achieve their goals through sport.

 

Run Norwich, the Foundation’s flagship event of the year, is an award-winning 10km race in the heart of the beautiful and historic city of Norwich. Each year the race has enjoyed huge success and is a calendar highlight in the local community.

 

One of the main aims of the race is to support and raise awareness of local charities. Proceeds generated from the race also go towards supporting the Foundation’s charitable work which benefits people of all ages, from children through to later life.

 

We are delighted to be supporting such an iconic event which is a fantastic opportunity to bring families and communities together.

 

Sue Bailey, Partner and Head of the Norwich Office at FM Family Law says:

 

We are excited to be partnering with Run Norwich as part of FM Family Law’s ongoing commitment to community investment. Run Norwich offers amazing support and opportunities in our community and we are proud to help fundraise for an event that makes such a positive impact”.

 

With a new autumnal date, Run Norwich will take place on Sunday 8 September 2024.  More information about the race can be found here.

Former cohabitants: take legal advice before sending that email

Former cohabitants: take legal advice before sending that email

 

Numerous emails are sent every day. You may send an email to your former partner about a property you own together, or you may instruct a lawyer to do this for you.

If you decide to try and resolve this yourself it is important to appreciate the potential pitfalls, especially without having the benefit of legal advice.

Lawyers are trained in law and are paid to communicate on your behalf. They know what to say, when to say it and in what format. You may consider a lawyer’s fees are too high, that lawyers do not bring value to you, or that the law cannot be that complex and you can navigate it by yourself.

The case of Hudson v Hathway [2022] EWCA Civ 1648, is the most recent reminder of the need for former cohabitants to be careful in how you communicate with each other. It reinforces the value of seeking legal advice before making any final decisions on how the beneficial interest in a property should be held.

The facts very briefly are that the Ms Hathway and Mr Hudson were unmarried and had children. They co-owned their home. There was no written document known as a Declaration of Trust defining their beneficial interests (their ‘shares’ in the property). Mr Hudson left the home in 2009. Ms Hathway and the children remained in the property.  In 2013 through a series of emails between the pair, Mr Hudson offered to forego his share of equity in the property if Ms Hathway made no claim against his pension and shares.  He said specifically of the house they owned that he wanted “none of the proceeds of that either…” and he signed the email with his first name.

He later changed his mind and wanted 50% of the net equity upon sale.  It was held that Mr Hudson’s emails did amount to a release of his interest in the property; they evidenced “a clear intention to divest himself of that interest immediately, rather than a promise to do so in the future” and that, as he had signed his emails with his name, the statutory formalities required by 53(1)(a) and (c) of the Law of Property Act 1925 were met.

Therefore Mr Hudson had, in the moment he sent his email to Ms Hathway, expressly released his interest in the home to Ms Hathway.

One other point of note here is that Mr Hudson seemed to believe that Ms Hathway had a claim on his pension and on his shares, hence his offer to walk away if she made no claim against either. He was wrong. As they were unmarried she had no claim against either. However, despite Mr Hudson’s belief being wrong, this did not change the outcome.

If you wish to speak to someone about your property rights or ownership on separation, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me and I shall be pleased to assist.

Karen Fox

Karen Fox

Associate (MCILEX)

Not to be reproduced without permission.

Note: The content of this article is for general information only and does not constitute legal advice. Specific legal advice should be taken in any specific circumstance.