Newport legal expert explains “long overdue” divorce changes

By Raspberry Jim,

A proposed change in divorce law which would allow couples to separate without assigning blame, has been praised by a Newport legal expert as a game changer.

Sophie Hughes, of award-winning local firm Watkins & Gunn, said the proposed new legislation, which would replace archaic divorce laws, would be a “turning point” for couples and present a less confrontational alternative.

Mrs Hughes, who is the head of the Family Law team at the firm, has spoken out following Justice Secretary David Gauke MP’s decision to support legislation that would introduce a “no fault” divorce last week.

Currently, unless a couple has been separated for more than two years, the law requires couples to allege fault in order to dissolve their marriage, which often causes complications and can even create long lasting devastating family feuds.

In order to rectify this, campaigners have long fought to change the current system to allow for a blameless end to a marriage.

Mrs Hughes said that when introduced, the new changes would allow for separated couples to enter divorce proceedings without assigning fault.

She said: “Divorce is an incredibly delicate process, and the current law requires couples to start on the wrong foot; having to allege blame that can become antagonistic at an already difficult time. This means that couples have to make allegations of conduct, such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour, this makes for an even more distressful process.

“For years, campaigners have been trying to persuade successive governments that the blame game serves no purpose when a relationship ends, and we are finally seeing some political will to change the status quo.”

After nearly 50 years of divorce which requires fault to be assigned, Mrs Hughes said the Government’s change of heart was “long overdue”.

Sophie Hughes, head of Family Law at Watkins & Gunn
Sophie Hughes, head of Family Law at Watkins & Gunn

She said: “Over 20 years ago, the Family Law Act put onto the statute book the concept of no-fault divorce, but unfortunately, it was never introduced and resulted in repeal.

“In the intervening years organisations such as Resolution have campaigned tirelessly, but it was not really until the summer of 2018 did a ground swell of opinion form, following the case of Tina Owens.”

In a widely publicised case, The Supreme Court ruled that Tina Owens could not divorce her husband until a period of five years had elapsed since they separated. Mrs Owens alleged that her husband had behaved unreasonably but Mr Owens denied the allegations and the Supreme Court found that Mrs Owens could not prove that he had done so.

The family-law expert said: “One has to ask the question that, simply by taking their case to the highest court in the land, must have established that the marriage between Mr and Mrs Owens had broken down beyond repair. Nevertheless, whatever the court of public opinion may think, the Supreme Court had to base their findings on the law as it stands and the evidence before it.”

Before new changes can be made to transform future divorce proceedings, Mrs Hughes advises that there is much to be worked through as to what the new law looks like and how it can be best implemented.

“Whilst it seems that positive change is on the horizon for couples, there is a considerable amount of work and consultation to be done,” she said.

“However, hopefully, common sense will prevail and that, after nearly 50 years, the legislation that brings a marriage to an end can be brought into the 21st century.

“Divorce is a sensitive and complicated matter, and it’s important to use a trusted family lawyer to handle the proceedings. At Watkins & Gunn, our family law team are experts at managing such issues with a non-confrontational, jargon-free approach, making the process easier for everyone involved.”

Legal expert offers crucial advice ahead of Divorce Day

By Raspberry Jim,

While the festive season brings joy and happiness for many who celebrate their new engagement, the first Monday of the New Year has become notorious for divorce enquiries and proceedings.

With many couples facing marital disillusionment by the New Year, the first working Monday in January is known for a spike in separation enquiries with January 7 dubbed Divorce Day by lawyers.

With over 100,000 divorce cases in 2017, according to recent figures from the Office of National Statistics, a legal expert offers crucial advice for the newly separated and recently engaged.

Sophie Hughes, head of the family law at award-winning firm Watkins & Gunn Solicitors, discusses why more couples seek a “life-changing” divorce in January and how newly engaged couples can prepare for the future.

Why is January so notorious for divorce enquiries?

In January, we see the number of divorce enquiries double. Most clients that I deal with will have been experiencing problems for a long time but will stay together over Christmas for the sake of their children and families.

Christmas is notorious for bringing problems to boiling point, with families forced to spend more time together in a confined space. While some people are only home for a few days, the home can easily feel like a pressure cooker for many, and feelings can be pushed to breaking point.

Alcohol and over-indulgence can become far less merry than expected, fueling arguments and inappropriate actions, with cracks in a relationship quickly exacerbated. With the new year presenting a fresh start, many people will look for ways to improve their lives and make a positive change. While some people do this by joining a gym or adapting a healthy lifestyle, other people do it by divorcing their significant other, identifying their relationship as a source of unhappiness.

What advice would you give to a couple contemplating divorce in January?

Don’t rush things based on a temporary emotion, make sure you’re calm and logical when considering separation and take some time to yourself to make sure this is really what you want and need.

If divorce is the route you choose, expert advice is crucial to reduce the stress of such a disruptive process. Divorce is a life-changing and heartbreaking event that needs to be carefully managed; not only for the individual, but also for any children.

Despite emotions running high, try to take a constructive approach to divorce proceedings as unnecessary acrimony can increase tension at an already difficult time, as well as increasing legal costs, making less money available for financial settlements. Consider a collaborative approach using specially trained lawyers to find a fair and honest solution to minimise the pain of family breakdowns and avoid the courts.

How can newly engaged couples prepare for the realities of marriage?

While it’s understandable that many couples enjoy the romantic whirlwind of a new engagement, it’s important to think about the realities of becoming a union, which is a legal process. With many couples celebrating saying “Yes” over the festive season, it’s a good time to start thinking about how they might want to protect themselves in the future.

Over the years, we’ve seen an increased popularity in pre-nups, and not only with more mature couples who have a fair share of assets to protect.

We are finding that more and more young couples are taking out pre-nuptial agreements before they get married to cover them if the worst happens. It might not be the most romantic thing in the world, but it’s a necessary precaution for many people entering a marriage.

Do you think couples today are more aware of pre-nuptial agreements?

Absolutely. With many people choosing to establish their careers and build foundations for a successful life, a lot of couples are marrying slightly later. Those who are entering their second marriage are also more aware of how they need to take steps to safeguard against legal complications further on down the line.

The concept has become more widely accepted due to the number of celebrity cases and has made the pre-nuptial agreement much more popular.  Though not absolutely binding in law at the moment in England and Wales they can certainly help protect one’s assets. 

It’s not all doom and gloom, young love does last but taking that extra step ensures peace of mind for both parties and makes sure they are entering marriage for all the right reasons. 

I know plenty of couples who are still happily married 30 years later, including myself, so while a pre-nup needs to be handled carefully and professionally by a family law expert, there’s no need to let this dampen your spirits. 

Sophie Hughes is head of the family team at Watkins & Gunn Solicitors and the Chair of the South Wales Region of Resolution, an association of specialist family lawyers dedicated to resolving family disputes in a constructive way. Sophie is one of a select group of lawyers in Wales trained in Collaborative Law and has extensive experience in high value divorces, often involving an international element.  

Watkins & Gunn has offices in Cardiff, Newport and Pontypool. For more advice from the family law team at Watkins & Gunn visit or call 01495 768932

The top Christmas party issues causing festive gloom for employers

By Raspberry Jim,

With December just around the corner, many businesses are looking forward to a month of annual leave, Secret Santa gifts, and the highly anticipated Christmas party.

However, the aftermath of the annual festive bash can cause more than a Prosecco-fuelled headache for employers, and can even create issues that can plague businesses long after the new year.

Local award-winning law firm Watkins & Gunn is urging employers to consider potential problems ahead of Christmas party season.

Lisa Guscott, Partner and Head of Employment & HR Services at Watkins & Gunn advises employers to approach Christmas parties with “a positive but cautious approach”.

The Newport-based legal expert said: “A good starting point is to view all parties as an extension of the workplace. The rule of thumb is that if it wouldn’t be acceptable in a working environment, then it wouldn’t be acceptable outside of it.

“It is important that employers are aware that they can be held vicariously responsible for the acts of their employees and this responsibility extends to these types of situations.  It is therefore good practice to send out a clear message to employees before any significant social gatherings.”

Here Miss Guscott discusses the top issues that employers might need to combat this Christmas …

Sexual harassment

Unfortunately, Christmas parties are notorious for unwanted sexual attention, and what may appear to the pursuer like harmless flirtation under the mistletoe can easily become a bigger problem with serious consequences.

Inappropriate physical contact is not the only thing to be avoided, as sexual remarks or jokes presented as “banter” can often lead to the discomfort of others and result in legal problems.

Miss Guscott explains that employers must ensure that they have a firm anti-harassment policy in place, stating that “implementing these policies is vital in preventing unacceptable behaviour against co-workers, clients or any third parties”.

She said: “This kind of behaviour includes written or verbal comments, including jokes or questions of a sexual nature, sharing explicit images, sending emails containing sexual references or content, and unwanted physical contact. It’s good to remember if someone has not given you consent to do or say something, then it is not acceptable.”


It may seem obvious that discrimination in any form is unacceptable, as well as being in bad taste. However, there are also legal ramifications to this kind of behaviour.

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is unlawful to discriminate against others for any reason protected by the act, including age, race, nationality, sex, sexual orientation, disability, marital status, pregnancy and transsexuality.

Miss Guscott warns: “It is therefore important that all employees are made aware that such inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated in any circumstances, whether inside or outside of the workplace.”

Mobile phones

Employers may also want to consider the way in which employees engage with social media during the festive season, which can also lead to complaints.

With most employees eager to document their Christmas parties across social media, it’s worth making sure there is a firm social media policy in place to avoid any problems.

Miss Guscott advises: “Whilst there’s nothing wrong with a harmless selfie or fun photos to be shared between the team, the last thing you want is for employees to go on a drunken rant about clients or co-workers on social media, which could also lead to issues of harassment, discrimination or bullying.

“A social media policy for employees is always good practice, especially during the festive season.”

How employers can reduce risk

All social events come with a risk, especially when alcohol is involved and can increase the risk of employee conflict or unacceptable behaviour. Many employers may be unaware that is their responsibility to ensure that measures are put in place to minimise the risk of disorderly behaviour, as well as making sure their employees get home safely.

Miss Guscott said: “At this time of year, particularly when alcohol is involved, there in an increased risk of disorderly behaviour.  Employers should consider taking appropriate measures in order to minimise the risk, for example if they are putting on a free bar for employees at their Christmas party, then they may wish to consider providing food to ensure that they have eaten to avoid them drinking on an empty stomach. They may also wish to consider providing them with transport or ensuring that they are able to get home safely.

“With enough awareness, information and consideration, these issues can be avoided. However, if employers find themselves in a legal bind following their Christmas parties, it’s important to seek trusted legal advice to avoid further hassle and disruption.”

Whilst bearing all these points in mind employers should remember that the Christmas party is a time for staff to let down their hair and enjoy themselves after working hard all year. In taking the above into account employers can ensure that everyone has a great end to the year with no fireworks at the start of the new one.

Going into business this year? Here’s what you should know

By Raspberry Jim,

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The new year presents itself as a fresh start for many people, with a number of us using the opportunity to revaluate our career aspirations and goals.

For some, this could mean a journey into self-employment or building a new business. If 2018 is the year you plan on going it alone, or embarking on a new business venture, it can be tricky to know where to start. With financial responsibility and legal requirements, it can seem like an intimidating process. … Continue reading