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 www.watkinsandgunn.co.uk 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.”

Discrimination

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.

Cardiff lawyer takes the helm at prestigious legal society

By Raspberry Jim,

A Cardiff-based lawyer is ‘delighted’ following his appointment to a coveted role at a high profile legal society.

Clive Thomas, Managing Partner of award-winning firm Watkins & Gunn has taken the reins as President of Cardiff and District’s Law Society, after being selected by its Council.

As Managing Partner and head of personal Injury at Watkins & Gunn, the award-winning legal expert has over 25 years of experience and extensive knowledge of his sector.

Mr Thomas, who has previously held the title of President at Monmouthshire Law Society and the Association of South Western Law (ASWLS), will now oversee the 2,000 members of the distinguished Cardiff and District Law Society.

As part of his new role, Mr Thomas will be promoting a new initiative known as #legalCardiff, a campaign created to help, support and engage local lawyers in Cardiff, while also promoting the outstanding legal work taking place in the area.

The initiative was launched in July at Cardiff City Stadium at its Managing Partners and Directors lunch.

With speeches from Legal 500 and Welsh Government, the event, sponsored by Legal Network Wales and Lloyd’s Bank, saw senior lawyers representing the leading law firms in the area discuss the opportunities for the legal sector in Cardiff.

Mr Thomas said he was “delighted and honoured to be appointed as the society’s new president.”

He said: “I’m thrilled to start working with the society in such a pivotal role. It’s an honour to be leading over 2,000 members and working with the council to implement new ideas.

“While we’re celebrating the incredible legal work being done in Cardiff and District, we’re also working hard to nurture young talent and engage lawyers from all disciplines.

“With #legalCardiff, our aim is to spread awareness of the outstanding legal professionals in the area and provide insight with a series of events.”

Watkins and Gunn offers a wide range of legal services including Accident Claims, Medical Negligence, Wills and Probate, Employment and HR services, Education Law, Public Law, Business Law, Divorce and Family Law, Childcare Law, Criminal Law, Road Traffic Law and Property.

Campaigners ‘over the moon’ after vital leisure centre saved

By Raspberry Jim,

aerial Pont Leisure Centre 1 Day

Determined campaigners are “over the moon” to have safeguarded the future of a much-loved Pontllanfraith leisure centre dubbed a “community lifeline”.

Members of the Save Ponllanfraith Leisure Centre campaign group were thrilled with Caerphilly County Borough Council’s decision to defer the closure of the much-loved community facility.

Group member Dean Jones, whose under 12s team trains at the leisure centre, said the decision would be welcomed by thousands of families, community groups, and users across the county.

The Blackwood resident, who has coached at the facility for eight years, said: “This is a fantastic result, not just for people across Pontllanfraith, but also others across the county who vitally depend on this community lifeline.

“We are absolutely over the moon with the council’s decision, which will safeguard this amazing facility for so many people for generations to come.

“Our campaign group and its dedicated members have worked tirelessly, from the minute the potential closure was announced. They have been incredible and we can’t thank them enough.”

Fellow member Kate Alderson, who uses the leisure centre through a GP referral scheme, added: “This is amazing news and myself and the other group members are incredibly pleased with the council’s decision. I’d also like to specifically thank independent councillor Kevin Etheridge, whose motion to call-in the original decision really enabled us to fight on.”

The council’s U-turn comes after it announced plans to close the leisure centre, which features a range of amenities includes a sports hall, fitness centre, and football pitch, in December.

Following this, around 30 outraged residents formed the group with a view to challenging the “devastating” plans.

Since September members, including Ms Alderson and Mr Jones, have undertaken numerous activities including organising a petition to save the leisure centre, which attracted almost 1,700 signatures, they also held a demonstration outside the county council building in January, lobbied the Regeneration Scrutiny Committee alongside various cabinet members.

However, the turning point came when members sought the legal advice of specialist solicitor Michael Imperato at Watkins & Gunn Solicitors.

Mr Imperato, a public law specialist at the Cardiff, Newport and Pontypool-based firm, challenged the decision with the council, leading to its reversal.

He said: “The people of Pontllanfraith and its surrounding areas were rightly devastated by the threat to their leisure centre, which is used by community groups, as well as schools, and vulnerable users.

“We challenged the closure decision with the county council, citing various flaws in the consultation into its proposed closure.

“Specifically, we highlighted that the consultation may have been misleading in relation to the availability of Islwyn School, which may not have been able to cater for the displaced Pontlanfraith  users. We also highlighted the necessity of the facility for many elderly and vulnerable groups, who rely on it weekly.

“Finally, we also raised the Council’s failure to consider options put forward such as for the centre to be taken over by Blackwood Town Council;.

“When presented with these arguments the Council rapidy backed down. It was evident that the council recognised the need to reconsider its decision to ensure it reached a more fair and informed conclusion.

“We are delighted for the many dedicated campaigners whose hard work helped to save this treasured leisure centre.”

Michael Imperato is a partner at Watkins & Gunn with extensive experience covering some of Wales’s most complex legal cases. Alongside being a specialist in Public Law, he also heads up the Education and Administrative Law departments, offering his expertise in group actions to local authorities, educational institutions, and youth organisations.

 

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

Law firm expands with new business law offering

By Raspberry Jim,

Regional law firm Watkins and Gunn has made a high-profile appointment to its award-winning team to support the continued expansion of the business.

Faris Dean has been recruited to head up a new team focusing on business law.

The firm, with offices in Newport, Cardiff, Pontypool and London, will now provide a wealth of corporate and commercial services including partnership and investment agreements, buying and selling of businesses and shares, shareholders agreements, advising on commercial contracts and drafting terms and conditions of business.

Joining the team from Richard Nelson LLP with 15 years of experience, Mr Dean, who is also a qualified accountant and fluent Arabic speaker, will assist the firm in developing the new department.

Providing both local and national SMEs with legal support, Mr Dean will also work to develop Watkins and Gunn’s international business offering, particularly targeting the Middle East, where it is already acting on behalf of an airline company.

Speaking of his new role, he said: “I’m thrilled to have joined the team here. Watkins and Gunn is a progressive firm. It has an excellent reputation in South Wales and has won a number of awards to back this up. I was interested in joining to expand its offering and develop the business internationally. My goal is to set up and expand the corporate commercial service to a level that makes a positive contribution to the firm.”

Clive Thomas, managing partner at Watkins and Gunn said: “We are delighted to have someone of Faris’s calibre join the team. His reputation precedes him and his experience will undoubtedly benefit us as we continue to expand the business.”

“We’re looking forward to offering new and existing clients a full range of corporate and commercial legal services. It is a very exciting time at Watkins and Gunn, with so many new developments and opportunities, and this appointment is the latest example.”

Watkins and Gunn offers a wide range of legal services including Accident Claims, Medical Negligence, Wills and Probate, Employment Law, Education Law, Public Law, Business Law, Divorce and Family Law, Childcare Law, Criminal Law, Road Traffic Law and Property.Untitled design-21