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Finance and protecting the kids
Episode 28th August 2022 • Splitting Up • Joanne Major
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In this second episode of Splitting Up Dot Pod, Joanne Major revisits Mandy's separation story to dig a bit deeper into the problems she faced over finances and protecting her daughter.

Mandy was financially abused as her partner controlled the family finances - but when she discovered all his gambling debts, it was the final straw.

First Joanne speaks to specialist independent financial advisor Fiona Sharp of Verve Financial planning who shares her experience of dealing with the financial arrangements around separation.

Then Joanne hears from children's legal specialist Sam Carter at her firm Major Family Law, who talks about how to think about the children when separating.

Transcripts

Joanne 0:16

Hi there and welcome to the second episode of splitting up dot pod where we delve into the issues that matter when you're facing a divorce or separation. I'm Joanne Major, and I've been a family lawyer in the Northeast of England for many years, and I created the website splitting up.com.

Joanne 0:35

The site is a place where you access what you need to know and who to turn to, should you find yourself in this situation. After years of experience, I realised people needed one place to go for all the relevant information they might need, rather than turning to Google for help.

Joanne 0:54

I’ve just got to say at the outset that as everyone’s situation is different although our podcast is intended to be helpfully informative and thought-provoking it cannot be taken legal advice – for more information on this all important disclaimer please go to the website’s podcast page.

Joanne 1:17

In the first episode we heard from Mandy: Mandy was a client of mine who went through a pretty harrowing experience before she decided enough was enough. Fortunately, we were good friends, and I was able to step in and help. But it was her experience of not knowing where to go for reliable information that partly inspired me to set up the website and this podcast. Today we're going to take a deeper dive into some of the issues Mandy raised about money. In her case, her husband ran the family finance and was a gambler. But we're also going to go on and discuss how divorce affects children like Mandy's daughter. But first, he's a little reminder about Mandy's story and a bit more about her financial situation

Mandy 2:03

I had suicidal thoughts, I'd got up to 22 stone I had put nearly 12 stone on my marriage. I was mentally tortured, financially abused...and they were the darkest days thinking should I leave should I go? Do I stay for financial reasons? Do I stay for my daughter? Do I live in hell for any longer than I needed to?

Mandy 2:27

I found a lot of debt and I thought right I have to leave or I'm going to lose everything: not only going to lose myself, but going to lose my family, my daughter, going to probably lose me because I'm not going to have the strength to probably stay alive

Mandy 2:41

My ex-husband was very difficult because it was financial that I left him for, and there was a lot of hidden money and mind games and credit card statements coming through the door and bounce-back loans and I've never ever seen this kind of money in my life I've never ever seen any debt. We had two good incomes, two good jobs and it was just..it was a real shock.

Mandy 3:10

So for me to try and get back on my feet again and pay bills - I'd never paid a bill for 15 years. I'd never paid rent, food shopping, nothing; my husband did at all. So trying to get to work, make as much money as I could it was it was quite tough.

Mandy 3:28

It was in lockdown I had no income. So I was thinking which way do I turn to? What do I do? Can I afford to stay in the house with the mortgage?

Mandy 3:39

So the first thing I did was check my credit report, which I'd never ever done because I was financially abused at home. My husband took all my wages off me, and you know, paid all the bills - so he was saying he was. So I built myself a credit report. I Googled what to do and how I would know if I could be eligible for a mortgage on my own. And I found out everything that was linked to us and what I could do what I could afford what I couldn't. So I went down the Universal Credit route, and I was allowed to stay in the marital home once the divorce was going on.

Mandy 4:13

And when I left, they were the darkest days - they were horrendous, you know, there were days I didn't want to get out of bed but I had to. And I just kept going and kept on. Nineteen month isn't a long time, but for me, I'm in the best place that I've ever been you know it's the best thing I've ever done. There's there's light at the end of the tunnel. My daughter's in an amazing place, I'm financially better. I've been able to be independent, get my business back on its feet you know, have savings in the bank and you know have a mortgage on my own. You can do it. You really really can do it. If you try. Those days are so much better - you do not need to be in a relationship like that.

Joanne 4:56

Thanks again Mandy for sharing your experience. Dealing with big money worries were perhaps the biggest challenge that Mandy faced, and finances often play a big part in the breakdown of a marriage. So if you've not been running the family finances, it can be confusing and a source of worry and anxiety where to start. So to help us unravel a few of these issues today I'm joined by Fiona Sharp a Verve Financial Planning. Fiona is a specialist independent financial advisor who has a lot of experience dealing with the financial arrangements and issues many clients have to deal with when they're facing separation, or going through divorce for the first time.

Joanne 5:32

Hello, Fiona.

Joanne 5:34

Hi, Jo.

Joanne 5:35

So thanks very much, Fiona, for joining me today, perhaps you could just explain to the listeners today, who you are and sort of your experience as an independent financial adviser.

Fiona Sharp 5:44

Yes, I'm independent, which means I'm not tied to any one company. And I've got over 20 years experience of working within the divorce arena. And I'm accredited as a divorce specialist by resolution, which is the Family Law organisation that I know you're also a member of.

Joanne 6:05

That's right. So you've suddenly got the badges and whistles then, haven't you, Fiona? To say that you know what you're talking about today?

Fiona Sharp 6:10

I hope so, yes.

Joanne 6:13

Okay, so Mandy mentioned earlier that she had concerns when she was facing the separation and divorce, particularly about the family home, which I know also as a divorce lawyer is often the central asset of the family finance. So can you tell us from your experience, Fiona, The things that Mandy and others, perhaps should be doing to help themselves from a financial perspective?

Fiona Sharp 6:34

Yes, sure. Obviously, the home, as you know, is the hub normally of the the financial settlement, and with it comes a lot of emotion. People sometimes want to stay there, or they don't necessarily want to sell. But it's important, I think that anybody who is separating or divorcing gets the right advice. There are generally three options with the home: the most obvious one is is to sell, although that may not necessarily be practical. Potentially, you could sell the house later at a certain point. So perhaps when the children are 18, and are technically off the books, so to speak. Or it might be possible for one party to buy out the other. But it is really important to get the right advice, and to see a qualified mortgage broker to make sure that you don't fall into any bear traps.

Joanne 7:37

I mean, I understand that very much, actually. And it's something that resonates a lot, because when I'm giving initial free consultations, I often say to clients at the outset, exactly the options that you've just set out, Fiona in terms of Can you can you afford to keep it? Do you need to consider a buyout? Will you have to think about re-mortgage? Are we looking at a sale? And I think, going back to what Mandy was saying earlier, one of the concerns that she had was about credit issues because of the gambling and debt she didn't even know about. And I suppose, because of the various financial issues you had that can impact on a mortgage can't it, and certainly the lenders criteria?

Fiona Sharp 8:12

Yes, and so it's really important to get your ducks in a row before you apply for any mortgage or any other borrowing. So the first thing that I normally advise clients to do is to check their credit history via Experian. Experian will give you a 30 day free trial, but it's very important to cancel if you don't want to continue it, because it does cost money. But for 30 days, you can get as much information out of their system as is possible. And you can see if there's anything on there that a lender might find discriminatory. So even if you've moved house, it's important to remain on the electoral roll, because that will show up well on your credit score. And if you have got debt, then make sure that you keep up any regular payments, even if it's just the minimum for the time being. Because lenders will always look at how you have managed your debt in the past. It might take you a little while to, as I say get your ducks in a row, but if you go and see a good mortgage brokers that you feel comfortable talking to, they can point you in the right direction as to watch you need to do to maybe extricate yourself from those gambling debts. If they're not yours, Experian may be able to remove them from your own credit history. So it's important that your record is as clean as it possibly can be before you apply for any extra borrowing.

Joanne:

Oh, that's really helpful Fiona and actually the splitting up.com website. There's a section on there called links, and they're useful links really for anybody to access, free of charge of course, and Experian and the electoral roll links are actually listed under those links. One of the things that sort of struck me following on from what Mandy was saying earlier was that because she had poor income as a consequence of COVID, and she had poor credit, she was also in receipt of Universal Credit. And I think one of one of the things I often advise clients is that even though you are in receipt of Universal Credit or different benefits, and this applies, I suppose, in many cases to women, is that that also can be considered as income, and some lenders will actually take that into account. And perhaps you could just talk us through that Fiona, because I think sometimes people may misunderstand what sources of income lenders want to take into account when thinking about somebody's mortgage and borrowing capacity.

Fiona Sharp:

Yeah, sure. And, of course, every lender is different, and some are more sympathetic to separating and divorcing clients than others, and again, that goes back to getting the right advice from a good mortgage broker. But if you're thinking that, oh, well, you know, my income from my employment or from my self employment is quite low, you might find that your mortgage capacity can be bolstered by secondary income. And secondary income could be, for example, child support payments. Universal Credit, as you said, fostering allowances.

Joanne:

But I suppose also income from other properties, because lots of clients also have by to let's and investment properties, and I suppose that's also income that could be taken into account is it?

Fiona Sharp:

Well, possibly: it depends on how much is going out in terms of expenditure. So it's also really important to prepare a good budget for a lender and make sure that your expenditure matches your bank statements. Because all lenders now lend on affordability as opposed to multiples of income. So although you might feel that you can afford your monthly mortgage payments, the lenders calculator may say otherwise. So there are various sorts of pitfalls to be aware of, but again, if you get the right advice, somebody should help you prepare and package up your application in the best possible way, so that you have the most chance of success.

Joanne:

Well, that's really helpful. And I think really what... I'm taking from this is, I suppose the sooner that you start making those inquiries, the better because really wide why wait until you're halfway through a process of divorce? It's something you can do at the very outset, isn't it?

Fiona Sharp:

Yes, you can certainly start to make inquiries. It might be like with Mandy, for example, there are things on her credit history that need resolution. However, you know, that gives you time so that you're not at the last minute trying to scramble around trying to work out whether somebody will lend you the relevant amount. And it helps everybody to manage all the expectations of all parties.

Joanne:

Yep. Really, really helpful. Well, thanks very much Fiona. I appreciate today that we've pretty much just focused on the area about lending and borrowing connected to properties, and especially the family home, but as I said at the outset, that is, of course, one of the main concerns that clients often have, certainly when they're having a consultation with a divorce lawyer for the first time. So I know one of your other main specialist areas, of course, is pensions and divorce. But we obviously don't have time to deal with that today. But if it's okay with you, Fiona, would you be happy to join us again at a later discussion to talk about this area that particularly excites you?

Fiona Sharp:

Of course, I would Jo, of course I would.

Joanne:

Well, that's great. Well, thank you very much, Fiona. That's fantastic.

Fiona Sharp:

Thanks Jo, I'll speak to you soon.

Joanne:

So that's Fiona Sharp from Verve Financial Planning.

Joanne:

So we've talked about Mandy's separation from her perspective and what it means for her, but what about her daughter? I'm pleased to introduce one of our children law specialists at Major Family Law, Sam Carter. He's now a senior associate for the firm, and he specialises in children law cases.

Sam Carter:

Yes, Joanne, that's correct.

Joanne:

So what sort of initial advice would you give to Mandy in respect of the arrangements for her daughter following the breakdown of her relationship and the subsequent divorce proceedings?

Sam Carter:

Well, I think first thing Joanne to say is that separation can be equally difficult for for children as it is for the adults going through it, and I find from experience it can be especially difficult for older children. So although those who are separating, like Mandy, need to think about the consequences for them of the separation, and the way forward, it's a good idea as well to also consider the child or children involved. From experience. I would say Joanne, that most parents ultimately manage to come to an agreement on the arrangements for their children following separation. And some do this directly with each other, but in cases like Mandy's, where there are difficulties and perhaps a power imbalance between the parents, it can be a sensible idea to get good legal advice and representation and proceed to instruct solicitors to negotiate these issues on the parents behalf.

Joanne:

Do you think the reason for that, Sam, is just sometimes by instructing a solicitor it's a sort of third party, so it sometimes diffuses some of the tension rather than having to deal with the conflict directly between the parents?

Sam Carter:

Perhaps Yes, I sometimes have clients who instruct me on the back burner, if you will. And their ex is not aware of my involvement. And the parents are able to have that discussion themselves and client comes to me really for some help and advice around that. But you are right, in some cases it's just not appropriate in the aftermath of a volatile separation, it can be a sensible idea to have that trusted third party on board.

Joanne:

I know from experience, even though I'm not a specialist, children's lawyer, but I know that sometimes sadly, it doesn't always work out. And people can't always resolve the problems between themselves or even in the way that you're describing by helping someone behind the scenes. Those are the cases where maybe they're just parties, parents just simply can't agree. And what would they expect if the court were asked to make decisions on arrangements in respect of children?

Sam Carter:

Of course, yes, unfortunately, we do have those cases where we try our best through solicitors discussions, both on and off the record to move things forward, and we also have cases where we've exhausted other types of dispute resolution, such as mediation, where if if it's agreed, parents would sit down with an independent mediator, who helps them to, to come to an agreement, and in some cases, the mediator will invite the child as well, to join, so that their voices heard But as you say, Joanne, in some cases, we do have to go to that last resort of courts.

Joanne:

That's really interesting, Sam, about the mediation sometimes involving the children. I guess that must be children of a certain age, though, is it?

Sam Carter:

Yes, it is. And not all mediators are qualified and experienced to provide that level of service, because for obvious reasons, there are different skill sets. For what you'd say normal mediation service where they mediate with the adults directly. It's generally if children are to be involved it's generally older children. There's no limit as such, but from experience, I would say 13+. Normally, the child's voice will be communicated to the court through an independent social worker from CAFCAS..

Joanne:

Can you tell us a little bit then about the role of CAFCASS and what CAFCASS is I know, it's a sort of a central independent body dealing with children's matters...

Unknown Speaker:

CAFCASS stands for children, and family court support and advisory service. They are trained social workers, they are described as the eyes and the ears of the family courts. They are trained social workers who don't work for social services, but work for the court system. So they are independent, and it's their job to speak with the parents, in some cases, speak with the child, as well as schools to provide the judge information in respect of the situation on the ground. They play a very important role. But what I do think is important to stress, Joanne, is that if a case gets to court, it will have to go through a process of safeguarding checking just to ensure that there's no risk presented to the child. So every case that goes to the courts, CAFCASS are involved at the start, but that in most cases, `CAFCASS will not consider it necessary to remain involved. Like all public bodies, they have a finite budget, and they prioritise what they would see as the more complex cases.

Joanne:

And that's really interesting. And it's interesting to hear from you, Sam, that you say the majority of matters that you're dealing with that go to court aren't involving CAFCASS. Can you kind of just give the listeners an example of what sort of disputes or issues that are going to court that don't involve CAFCASS, then?

Sam Carter:

The majorityof cases will go through the safeguard and check process and CAFCASS will conclude that there's no need for further investigation given there's no safeguarding issue and therefore, the way that CAFCASS would see it as a private dispute between two parents, which a judge can determine from hearing from the parents only. So this can be the obvious Joanne, so where a child lives the contact or spend time with is the new parlance so of the other parent what what those arrangements should be. We also have disputes in respect of more specific issues such as, should my child have the COVID-19 vaccination, which is a topical one?

Joanne:

I can imagine that was something that you were probably inundated with work about that one, weren't you?

Sam Carter:

Yes, yes. I feel like I'm nearly a expert on polio vaccinations now, but we also have other disputes. Things such as holidays, taking child abroad, if there's no agreement, ultimately, a judge needs to make the decision. And you've got on the one hand, asking for permission to do something, whereas on the other hand, you may be asking the court to make an order stopping something - so prohibiting one parent doing a particular thing with a child. So this could be as taking child outside of jurisdiction, moving the child to a different area of the country, or moving the child's school, for example.

Sam Carter:

Thank you very much indeed, for your time today, Sam, Thank you.

Joanne:

That's Sam Carter, children's legal specialist at my own law firm, Major Family Law. We look forward to speaking to you again in future episodes, Sam, on some of the other issues surrounding the impact of separations and divorce on the children of the family.

Joanne:

If you'd like to get in touch with Sam or our financial expert, Fiona, please head over to splitting up.com where you'll find a load of free information and contacts for them, and for lists of other experts in various fields. Every divorce or separation is different, and it's often difficult. And so the website will guide you to the right person to help you through the other side, just like it did with Mandy.

Joanne:

If you have a situation you'd like to talk about on this podcast, or an experience you've already been through that you'd like to share, please do drop us a line through the website, so your story can perhaps help other people going through a similar thing. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of splitting up dot pod. Thanks to Mandy and to our guests. And if you found this helpful, please do share it and sign up for the series wherever you get your podcasts. I'm Joanne Major, and I'll see you next time.

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