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.

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.

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.

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

A key message from FM Family Law on so-called Divorce Day 2023

A key message from FM Family Law on so-called Divorce Day 2023

“Divorce Day” – the first business day or the first business Monday of the new year. So-called by the media as the day marks (apparently) an annual rush to engage a lawyer or apply to the family courts to start the divorce process after an intense period over the Christmas break. There are also expectations that in 2023 there will be a greater increase in divorces due to the no-fault divorce laws that were introduced in 2022 which has made it easier to start a divorce.

FM Family Law does not support the media hype that encourages people to make rash and hasty life changing decisions.

We are mindful that the holiday season can be a particularly stressful time for some couples, and that a 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. We recommend that if you are experiencing relationship issues, before making any major decisions, take time to reflect and ensure you get any support you need to be in the best headspace for making important 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. You may want to consider speaking with a professional therapist or counsellor, or confide in a trusted friend or family member.

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

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

4. Seek professional support: There are many resources available to help you navigate the challenges of a relationship breakdown. You may want to consider joining a Facebook group or other online or face to face support groups or seeking the guidance of a trusted professional, such as a counsellor, family lawyer or mediator. FM Family Law have 9 specialist family lawyers, 2 of which are also trained mediators, who would be able to offer initial legal advice and support.

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 about your future. Once you have done that, and if you wish to speak to a member of our trusted team, we would be happy to support you – please do not hesitate to contact us here.

Latest figures reveal marriage rates fall as couples opt to cohabit instead

Latest figures reveal marriage rates fall as couples opt to cohabit instead

Recent data published from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the number of opposite-sex marriages had fallen by 47% since 1972 whilst cohabiting couple families continue to be the fastest-growing family type.

It is notable that same-sex couples are in fact bucking this trend as the number of married same-sex couples has doubled since 2017. 

Despite this surge in marriages amongst same-sex couples, the overall share of married couple families (for opposite-sex and same-sex couples) has declined over the past decade.

The ONS commented that the long-term decline in the rate of marriages was likely to be as a result of more men and women delaying marriage or couples choosing to cohabit instead.

With the number of couples opting to just live together increasing, it is important to raise awareness of the fact that unmarried couples do not have as much protection compared to married couples.  This means many people, to their surprise, could be left financially vulnerable if their relationship ends.

However all is not lost! Whilst we wait patiently for the current law to be reformed, a cohabitation agreement, also known as living together agreement, can be a great option.

This type of relationship agreement can set out how couples wish to arrange their financial affairs and responsibilities during and after their relationship.  It provides couples with certainty as to where they will stand financially in the unfortunate event of their relationship ending in the future. 

If you would like to discuss putting a cohabitation agreement in place or if you have any other queries about the issues covered in this article please do not hesitate to contact the team – we would be happy to help.