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.

FM Family Law launches voucher scheme for Family Mediation Week 2024

FM Family Law launches voucher scheme for Family Mediation Week 2024

FM Family Law is proud to be supporting Family Mediation Week this year which runs from 22 January to 26 January 2024. This is a great opportunity to raise awareness of family mediation and the many benefits it can bring families experiencing separation.

Mediation is a way for you to discuss and resolve issues away from lawyers and away from court. The role of the mediator is to remain neutral, facilitate and support discussions, as well as to help explore various options. Where appropriate, family mediation can be a great option for you to take control, make decisions together and build a positive future for themselves and their family, particularly if there are children involved.

In support of Family Mediation Week, FM Family Law is pleased to announce that we will be offering a voucher scheme. The voucher will provide a contribution of £500 (£250 each) towards the cost of the first two joint mediation meetings. The voucher will be available on request and is subject to availability. Full details and terms below.

We have three experienced Resolution Family Mediators at FM Family Law: Sue Bailey, Christina Hale and Emma Wager.

If you would like to enquire about booking your mediation meeting with one of our mediators please contact us:

Contact us on 01223 826000 (Cambridge) or 01603 343660 (Norwich) to enquire.

You can also read more about our family mediation service here.

Terms and Conditions

  1. Each joint mediation meeting is charged at £500 inc vat (£250 inc vat per participant) for 90 minutes at the standard rate, thus the total cost for two joint mediation meetings at the standard rate would be £1,000 inc vat (£500 inc vat per participant).
  2. The voucher offers a total discount of £500 inc vat (£250 inc vat per participant) exclusively against the cost of the first two joint mediation meetings with FM Family Law, therefore the voucher will reduce the cost of each joint mediation meeting to £250 inc vat (£125 inc vat per participant).
  3. To qualify for the voucher:
    – The voucher scheme must be specifically requested at the time of booking;

    – each participant must have completed their initial intake meeting with their mediator;
    – should both participants agree to mediate after their respective first individual meetings, and the mediator considers the matter appropriate for mediation, then the first two joint mediation meetings will be arranged, invoiced and paid in advance.
  4. The voucher applies providing there are two joint mediation meetings or more. If in fact only one joint mediation meeting takes place, no refund is offered to participants as the £250 inc vat cost after applying the voucher is to cover the cost of the first two joint mediation meetings.
  5. The voucher does not apply to other work related to mediation or to further mediation sessions, the costs of which can be provided on request.
  6. If the first two joint mediation meetings over run the allotted 90 minutes (each) then the extra time will be invoiced after the meeting.
  7. The voucher has no cash value and cannot be transferred, or exchanged for alternative services.
  8. This offer is limited and subject to availability, and FM Family Law reserves the right to modify or withdraw the scheme at any time.
  9. Meetings will be allocated on a first come, first serve basis.
  10. FM Family Law reserves the right to refuse or terminate mediation services if any participant breaches the terms and conditions outlined herein.

By participating in this voucher scheme, participants agree to abide by these terms and conditions.

Co-nesting following relationship breakdown

Co-nesting following relationship breakdown

WHAT IS CO-NESTING?

A living arrangement, colloquially referred to as ‘nesting’ or ‘bird-nesting’, and which we at FM Family Law consider is best described as ‘co-nesting’, involves continued co-parenting within the same ‘nest’.

Co-nesting is when the family home is kept as a home for the children, and separating parents take it in turns to live in the former family home and at alternative accommodation. This enables separating parents to continue to care for their children. It’s an arrangement  that we are seeing become increasingly popular. It can be used in the early stages of separation, also enabling parents to take their time to work out their longer term living and shared parenting arrangements.

 

WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT IT?

Co-nesting can have many advantages, especially for children.  It allows children to maintain a sense of stability and continuity, making it less difficult for them to cope with their parents’ separation. They get to stay in their own rooms, go to the same schools, and have their own routines.  In that sense, it allows arguably a more child-centred approach to separation as a lot of the burden of adjusting and moving falls to parents and not their children.

When not at home, parents may choose to stay with friends or family, in a hotel, house-sit, rent a room in a shared house, or split the cost of a small apartment or house big enough for one person at a time. There may be financial advantages in the short term, as the family is not having to fund the cost of two households large enough for the children to stay in which is particularly prudent in the current cost of living crisis.

 

IS IT SUITABLE?

Co-nesting typically requires a high level of cooperation and communication. It  can be emotionally and financially challenging.  There needs to be some level of respect and trust between parents as they are co-existing in the same space, albeit at different times.  But for some separated parties, it can be a valuable child focused way to co-parent their children and maintain a sense of stability for their family.

Generally, co-nesting is more suitable where the separation is amicable and there is a good level of healthy communication between parents. It is unlikely to be appropriate in cases where there are allegations of domestic abuse or child abuse or if there are safeguarding concerns.

 

TOP TIPS

There are a number of ways parents can set themselves up for co-nesting success.

 

1. AGREE GROUND RULES

Before the new living arrangement begins, parents should sit down and agree the ‘rules of engagement’, to include communicating their expectations, anticipated timeframe, preferences and boundaries (which may include agreeing that new partners may not attend the home).

Parties may decide to continue to have dinner together once a week in the family home, or simply agree that a civil and brief handover in the hallway when the other party returns home is all that’s needed.

 

2. CREATE A SCHEDULE

This could include a clear schedule for each parent’s time in the house and a schedule for activities and chores.  It is vital that both parents have a clear agreement about where each of them will be and when for the arrangement to succeed. The use of a parenting communication app, such as Our Family Wizard may assist with maintaining a healthy dialogue of communication.

 

3. INVOLVE THE CHILDREN

If the children are of an appropriate age, parents could involve them in the decision-making process and consider their needs and preferences. This would be usual for children of around 10 years of age and upwards.

 

4. HAVE A BACKUP PLAN

Parents should always have a backup plan in the event something unexpected arises. This can include in instances of sickness or issues with travel.

 

CAN CO-NESTING WORK LONG-TERM?

While it may sound like a positive outcome for co-parenting in the short to mid term, and at critical stages in a child’s life, it is unlikely that co-nesting will work effectively as a long-term solution.

It is inevitable that co-nesting maintains a level of connection between the adults, which of course may bring difficulty at a time when people may need to feel a sense of closure moving on or starting afresh. This may be exacerbated further when one party commences a new relationship, if not handled sensitively.

Co-nesting also fails to achieve financial separation between parties, which may leave parties feeling vulnerable and unable to achieve independence.

In the shorter term however parents who are able to agree a co-nesting plan for their children might be more successful in being able to navigate and agree some of the more challenging longer term aspects of their separation. Arguably, the value of a co-nesting plan provides an excellent foundation for separating parents to later embark on the next stage of their own lives after divorce or separation.

If you wish to discuss your co-nesting options, or the fallout of your separation in greater detail, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me and I shall be pleased to advise further on whether this will work for you and your family.

Kerry Read

Kerry Read

Solicitor

01603 343669

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.

A key message from FM Family Law on so-called Divorce Day 2024

A key message from FM Family Law on so-called Divorce Day 2024

“Divorce Day” is generally considered by the media to occur on the first working Monday of the new year. Allegedly it is the day on which there is a rush to engage a lawyer or to apply to the family courts to start the divorce process. This alleged peak in enquiries about separation/divorce is thought to arise at the end of the festive holiday season and or the start of a new year. Certainly it can be a particularly sensitive and intense time for some families. The alleged rush may also be caused as a result of some couples wishing to avoid upsetting family dynamics over the holidays and instead deferring to take action about their relationship until the new year.

In what has developed into our annual “Divorce Day” message, FM Family Law does not support any media hype that encourages hasty decisions about a family breakdown or which has a risk of glamorising what can be a painful break up.  We do not encourage our clients to make rash and hasty life-changing decisions. We are mindful that the holiday season can be a stressful time, and that the new year can also bring a renewed sense of hope and a desire for change. However, divorce or separation is a major life event that can have significant financial, emotional, and practical consequences and is not something that should be considered lightly.

If you are experiencing relationship issues, before making any major decisions, we encourage you to take time to reflect and ensure you get all the support you need to be in the best headspace for making life changing decisions. Here are some things you can do to help:

1. Talk to someone: It can be helpful to talk to someone about your feelings and concerns if you feel unable to speak to your partner. You may want to consider speaking with a professional therapist or counsellor, or confide in a trusted friend or family member.

2. Reflect: It can be helpful to take a break from the situation and give yourself some time and space to think independently. This might involve taking a short day trip, going for a walk, or engaging in a hobby that you enjoy.

3. Practice self-care: Make sure to prioritise your physical and emotional well-being. This may involve exercising, hydrating, reducing alcohol consumption, eating well, getting enough sleep, and finding ways to relax and de-stress.

4. Professional guidance: There are many resources available to help you navigate the challenges of a relationship breakdown. You may want to consider joining an online or face to face support group or seeking guidance from a trusted professional, such as a counsellor, divorce coach, family lawyer or family mediator.

5. Initial no obligation legal advice: FM Family Law have 10 specialist family lawyers, 3 of which are also trained mediators, who can offer tailored advice and support to help you work out the right way forward for you.

The initial impulses of the new year may pass, but the impact of a decision to separate or divorce will be long-lasting. So on “Divorce Day”,  FM Family Law encourages you to take a moment to reflect, prioritise your mental wellbeing, and seek support before making any major decisions for your future.  Once you have done that, and if you still wish to move forward with a separation or divorce, then we would be happy to support you – please do not hesitate to contact us here.

Separated but not apart

Separated but not apart

The economic situation in the UK is currently not something that can be avoided especially for couples who are on the brink of separation. The news reminds us daily that the economy is fragile; with interest rates currently at a 15 year high of 5% and UK inflation currently at a 50 year high of 8.7%. Food inflation is said to be at a 13-year high. The Bank of England has warned that interest rates could top 13% at its peak, the highest rate since the early 1980’s. The average five-year fixed rate mortgage now has an interest rate of more than 6%.

10 million of the UK population are struggling to meet their household expenses according to the Financial Conduct Authority and 43% of adults in the UK are finding it difficult to pay their rent or mortgage payments.

At times like this, families living in one household are really feeling the pinch. The situation is potentially magnified for couples who are in the process of separating. In times of economic downturn – couples are often forced to ask themselves: can we even afford to separate? For many the answer is no, the cost of two homes is simply not affordable.

FM Family Law have considered this crisis for ‘separated but not apart’ families. There are a number of practical measures to help separating couples in this situation.

Finances

The first step to sorting out new or transitional financial arrangements can often be the most uncomfortable. However, we recommend sitting down and discussing expenses and budgets. Work out what is affordable and what payments could be stopped. Do this as early as possible to help manage expectations and set clear boundaries.

If you have a mortgage there are a number of short-term changes to finances which might be made to help alleviate some immediate financial pressure. Talk to your mortgage lender about the possibility of a mortgage holiday or moving to an interest only mortgage. This may affect credit ratings and may not always be options. We recommend speaking to your mortgage provider and a financial advisor about the long-term implications of these options.

Support for mortgage interest is a loan from DWP to help you pay the interest on your mortgage or home loan.

Are you entitled to benefits now that you are separated? Check benefits such as child benefit and universal credit.  Talk to your local tax credit provider and explain the situation to them. You may be considered as separate for the purpose of entitlements even if living in the same house, however do take care to notify HMRC of all changes to avoid a risk of tax fraud.

If you have a joint bank account, it is important to discuss how they are going to be used. Each co-owner of a joint bank account is legally entitled to withdraw any funds and spend them as they see fit. However, if the account is overdrawn each account holder is also severally liable for the whole of the debt, even if the transaction was now down to you. In order to avoid disagreements over spending habits and potential lack of trust over how the funds are being spent – consider minimising the use of joint accounts or else closing them altogether.

Debt management is key at this time. If you are managing debt as part of your finances, sites such as the Citizens Advice Bureau and Money Saving Experts offer practical tips on debt management which may form an important consideration in how you manage your finances.

If you are over 55 and have pension assets, consider a drawdown of your pension, of which 25% should be tax free. However, pensions are important and complex assets in the overall financial settlement to be reached on separation – so do take advice from a Pensions on Divorce Expert or Financial Advisor when considering any draw down of pensions.

Equity release – Most couple’s wealth is tied up in their home – and access may be needed to that resource in order to rehouse both of the couple longer term. Interim measures could include one person renting whilst the financial arrangements on separation are ironed out – but with the rising cost of rent and mortgage rates, for many this is a not an option.

Living arrangements

Setting out ‘ground rules’ whilst living together but not apart separation early on can help to avoid tensions This could include:

  • Moving to separate bedrooms if there is room;
  • setting times when one person will be out of the home;
  • agreeing times to use communal areas in the house;
  • divide chores more formally than was previously necessary
  • agreeing how to food shop and how that will be funded.

Children

Explaining to your children that their parents are separating can be very difficult. Professional support can help you communicate this in an age-appropriate way; whether this is by agreeing together what they are told or considering ‘child inclusive mediation’, family counselling or additional support through the child’s school. Generally, it is considered best for parents to agree the same message to the children and give the children lots of assurances that they are loved and that the separation is not about them.

To assist in the transition to two homes, it can be helpful to start to build new routines early on. Setting out a plan for childcare as if there were two physical homes can help to build the new co-parenting routines whilst making sure each parent enjoys quality time with the children.

In some cases, this may simply be setting out the school run timetable and designated days for activities. In other cases, this may go so far as each parent taking it in turns to vacate the home to allow the other parent to care for the children. This is known as ‘nesting’; the children stay centred in the family home whilst the parents take turns to not be in the house. There may be financial implications of this approach if staying with friends/family locally is not an option and nesting may not work for every family.

Support and advice

There are a number of difficult topics to address when any relationship comes to an end – but more so where remaining in the same home and managing the childcare and financial implications of a separation. FM Family Law are experts in children law, divorce and financial arrangements and can help you to navigate these situations whether by legal advice or mediation support.

Going through a separation is a difficult time for anyone – but there is an additional layer of practical and emotional stress when remaining in the same home. It is important to reach out for support where needed; be this friends and family, your GP or a specialist service such as Home | Relate.

 

Authors Fiona McLeman and Caitlin Levins who are both specialist family law solicitors.

 

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. The above should not be reproduced without consent.

FM Family Law launches innovative way of working with couples following a ‘one lawyer, two clients’ approach

FM Family Law launches innovative way of working with couples following a ‘one lawyer, two clients’ approach

We are delighted to announce the launch of a new and innovative way of working with couples going through divorce, dissolution or separation: Resolution Together.

 

Resolution Together is a model which allows couples going through divorce, dissolution or separation to get advice and help from one lawyer rather than each having their own lawyer. This model follows ground-breaking changes in the law which allow couples, for the first time, to make joint divorce applications.

 

Using the Resolution Together approach, we can support couples with achieving a financial settlement, arrangements for caring for any children and, where necessary, prepare legal documents for approval by the court. Resolution Together means overall costs are likely to be less, yet couples receive the same top-tier advice and professional guidance to achieve a consensual outcome in a dignified and amicable manner.

 

Our experienced family law experts supporting couples with this approach include Fiona McLeman, founding Partner of FM Family Law, and Christina Hale, Partner and Family Mediator.

 

Fiona and Christina are both experts in their field and highly regarded family lawyers. They both repeatedly receive personal recommendations as a true testament to their excellent reputations and client care.

 

Resolution Together offers lots of benefits to couples:

 

  • Cost effective – There is no duplication of work, and the fees can be shared and paid jointly by the couple.
  • Reduce delays – we will guide couples to reach their own agreement as soon as is practicable and help couples reach decisions, as well as advise on possible fair outcomes and options.
  • Tailored solutions – we will focus on the work needed to achieve each couples’ priorities and shared objectives.
  • Limit conflict – by meeting with one lawyer together as a couple, information is shared at the outset. This promotes trust and confidence rather than starting from a place where separate lawyers are instructed which can feel oppositional.
  • Defined process – The model involves initial individual meetings followed by a series of joint meetings that includes considering full financial disclosure, providing detailed legal advice and facilitated discussions aimed at reaching solutions that ensures the needs of the family are met. Once an agreement is reached, it can be drawn up by us in an agreed court order which will provide couples with security and finality.

 

We are excited to be launching this new service and look forward to helping more couples find the best solutions for them and their family.

 

If you would like to learn more about how Resolution Together could benefit you, please contact your local office:

Cambridge – 01223 355333

Norwich – 01603 443333

Newmarket – 01638 453700