Are you considering taking on employees for the first time?

Here at Meaby & Co we help many start-ups and small businesses with their legal needs especially from a commercial and an employment perspective.   It is often the position that the decision-makers are so busy and focused on developing their business models and maximising profits and that they also have multiple responsibilities for financial, HR and marketing and other matters.

As a start up or small business, hiring salaried HR professionals to deal with recruitment and staffing issues cannot be justified on the basis of cost and so Meaby & Co can act as a cost effective HR support function for such businesses with a view to  minimising legal exposure and risk.

If you are considering taking on employees for the first time in your business then there are some very basic legal requirements that as an employer you need to be aware of to avoid breaking the law.

This article helpfully sets out some of the main responsibilities and obligations that you need to be aware of as a new employer.

  1. Does your prospective employee have the right to work in the United Kingdom?

As a potential employer there is an obligation on you to check that your prospective employee has the right to work in the United Kingdom.   This is fundamental otherwise you will place the business at risk of breaching immigration laws. You will need to ask the potential employee to provide evidence of the right to work in the country for example a passport and national insurance number and/or proof of visa or other relevant documentation.   It is recommended that you take a copy of all documentation for your HR file and that you treat all prospective employees the same, even UK nationals to avoid breaching any discrimination laws.

  1. Don’t forget to register as an Employer

You will need to register as an employer with HM Revenue & Customs and you also need to arrange  payroll internally or to outsource it and arrange to issue an itemised payslip to your employee showing gross and net earnings and the tax and national insurance payments that have been deducted.  There is a legal obligation to inform HMRC of all payroll information in advance and an obligation to issue an annual P60 to the employee at the end of each tax year.

  1. A Written Statement of Employment Particulars

It is a legal requirement to provide employees with a written statement of employment particulars within two months of the commencement of their start date.  This needs to detail salary, place of work, job title, holiday entitlement, and any disciplinary and grievance procedures and other information.   The penalty for not providing this is an award of either two or four weeks pay in the event that your employee complains to the employment tribunal.

  1. Creating an employment relationship

As an employer you create an employment relationship and employment contract (even if it is not in writing) once you have made an unconditional offer of employment to the employee which is accepted.   This may take place before the employment starts.   Even if there is no written contract of employment, there are likely to be implied terms and conditions for example hours of work and salary entitlement.   You can also make an offer of employment conditional by making any employment subject to satisfactory references and in some instances subject to a satisfactory medical.

  1. Probationary Periods

It is always sensible to have a probationary period and we would recommend a minimum of six months which is sufficient to monitor performance and to evaluate whether your employee is suitable for the role.   Once the probationary period has been successfully competed it is a good idea to confirm that the role is permanent.   We would also recommend that performance is regularly monitored and that any problems are discussed with the employee as and when they arise as opposed to ignoring any problems.

  1. The National Minimum/Living Wage

There is also a legal requirement to pay minimum hourly rates depending on the age of the employee.  The full time national living wage for employees aged 25 and over is now £7.83 with minimum hourly rates for younger employees whose rights are governed by the national minimum wage regulations.   These payments usually increase every April and so it is important to be aware of any proposed increases set by the Government.

  1. Holidays and Working Time Rights

Your employee is also entitled to protections under the Working Time Regulations which includes having a minimum full time holiday entitlement of 5.6 weeks per year.   This equates to 20 days holiday plus the eight UK public holidays.   Part time employees’ holiday entitlement is usually pro-rated.   In addition your employee has the right not to work more than 48 hours per week (usually measured over a 17 week reference period) although they can opt out of this entitlement.  There is also a legal entitlement to a 20 minute rest break if your employee works six hours or more or 30 minutes if they are under the age of 18.   Your Employee is also entitled to one day off per week or two days every fortnight – assuming that they are contracted to work shift-patterns or more than five days per week.   These rights are health and safety based.

  1. Pensions

All employers must enrol employees into a qualifying auto-enrolment pension scheme.  It is a legal requirement that employees currently pay a minimum of 3% of their salary into the pension scheme and employers must contribute 2%.   The Government NEST scheme is popular and the cheapest option for most start-ups and small businesses.   Any failure to arrange a qualifying pension scheme can result in a fine from The Pension Regulator who now have more teeth to deal with any employers who fail to set up a qualifying pension scheme.

  1. Sick Pay

If your employee is signed off sick by a doctor with a fitness for work certificate then they might be entitled to the minimum payment of statutory sick pay which is currently £92.05 per week, although you might have more generous sick pay provisions in your contract of employment.   Employees must also currently earn more than £116.00 per week to qualify and there is an entitlement to statutory sick pay for up to 28 weeks.

  1. Pregnancy and family friendly rights

Your employee may be entitled to maternity leave and pay is she announces that she is pregnant.   Qualifying employees are entitled to statutory maternity pay and leave of up to a year with a legal right to return to the same or an equivalent role.    There are also statutory adoption and statutory paternity leave and pay too.   These statutory maternity and adoption payments are 90% of salary for the first six weeks and then it reduces to  £145.18 for the remaining 33 weeks.  There are also other legal rights that these employees are entitled to including the right to shared parental leave arrangements with their spouse or partner and the right to paid time off to attend ante-natal appointments.   You employee also has the right to request flexible working arrangements which can include seeking a change in working hours and/or working from home.  There is a legal process to follow where such flexible working requests are made by your employee.

  1. Place of work

It is important to clarify where the employee is expected to work.  Usually it is at the work premises but it is also increasingly common for employees to work from home especially where there is only a virtual office.   It is important as an employer to appreciate that you owe a duty of care to your employee and that there are health and safety obligations to fulfil to include arranging a risk assessment on the workplace including any home working.  You will also need to take out sufficient employer’s indemnity insurance cover.   If your employee works from home then they ought to also have insurance cover and to your satisfaction.

  1. Performance and employee complaints

Your written particulars of employment needs to set out your disciplinary and grievance procedures.  This is a legal requirement and there is an ACAS Code of Practice setting out the minimum requirements for dealing with performance and conduct issues and also employee complaints.   Employees usually need to complete two years continuous service before attaining unfair dismissal rights but there are quite a few exceptions.  It is good practice however to use a fair process such as a disciplinary procedure for dealing with performance and conduct issues which ensures that your employee knows what is expected of them.

  1. Redundancy

There may be concerns at to what will happen to the employee if the business fails and you have to make them redundant.  Employees are only entitled to statutory redundancy after two years’ continuous service and the current rate is £508 per week.   The employee will in addition be entitled to a minimum period of notice either to be worked or paid in lieu of at least one week for each completed year of service up to a maximum of twelve weeks after twelve years’ continuous service.

  1. Employee Benefits

The only statutory benefit that employees are entitled to are to be auto-enrolled into a qualifying pension scheme.   Some Employers introduce for example additional private medical and dental schemes, subsidised gym membership, life assurance and bonuses.  We would recommend that these additional benefits are clearly set out in any written policies as ‘non-contractual’.

  1. Employee status

Depending on the type of business you might decide to hire somebody as a contractor or a freelancer on a self-employed basis where they invoice for their payments and are responsible for their own tax and national insurance and where there is no intention to create an employment relationship.  Even in this scenario you will need to be very careful because notwithstanding the label attached to the arrangements, the courts and employment tribunal can look behind this and declare that the contractor is in reality an employee or a hybrid category of worker.   There is more of a risk if you control the work that the ‘contractor’ performs and if they are required to attend work at set hours and times.  If a contractor is declared an employee or a worker then they are entitled to various legal rights and protections some of which have been set out in this article.

As ever it is important to seek timely legal advice if you have any concerns about taking on any employees to minimise any legal exposure and to understand your obligations as an employer.

You can contact Steven Eckett at Meaby & Co for timely advice: seckett@meaby.co.uk or call 0207 703 5034.

Blogs

The General Data Protection Regulations – Trustees and Personal Representatives

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will introduce a new data protection regime in the UK from 25 May 2018.  The rules represent a tightening of the obligations owed by trustees and personal representatives (PRs) to their data subjects.

How does the regime apply to trustees and PRs?
Trustees and PRs may find that they have access to data about beneficiaries (such as addresses or sensitive information) from letters of wishes, wills and other testamentary documents.  The GDPR applies to any type of processing of that data, including gathering, storing and using information to assist with estate administration.

Under the GDPR, the data controller must only process personal data on the basis of one or more of several grounds, which includes having obtained prior consent, and legal obligation.  In most cases, the PRs will not have gathered data about a beneficiary with their consent, and may therefore seek to rely on the ground that they are legally obliged to hold information about the beneficiaries as part of their duties in running the trust or administering the estate.

Sensitive data
A special category exists for the processing of sensitive data, which includes information relating to an individual’s relationships.  Take for example a testator who in his will has created a right for his wife to occupy the property while she is alive, such right terminating if she remarries or cohabits.  During the lifetime of the trust, it is discovered by the PRs that the surviving spouse has begun cohabiting with someone else.  In order to be able to gather and retain this information, the PRs must comply with one of the more stringent special conditions laid out in the GDPR.

Rights and obligations
Trustees and PRs generally have a discretion as to whether to disclose information relating to a trust to the beneficiaries, however, the GDPR cuts across this by providing beneficiaries with rights to information about the trust or administration.  This includes the general right to access the data (e.g. an adult beneficiary who has an interest in possession under a trust is entitled to know the existence of the trust, and the nature of his interest), the right to request that information be erased, and the right to complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office of any abuse of the regulations.

The PRs will have an obligation to ensure, amongst other things, that the data is being processed securely, and that they are transparent about the nature of the processing.

Trustees and PRs should already be aware of their duties to beneficiaries as data subjects, however with the new rules coming into force in May, they should review their arrangements and put in place new processes if necessary, to avoid falling foul of the stricter regulations and facing the large fines that may be imposed for a breach.

For information on wills and trusts generally, please do not hesitate to contact Laura Sentkovsky in the Private Client department on 0207 703 5034 or at laura@meaby.co.uk

Important appeal decision on shared parental leave and direct sex discrimination.

An Employment Tribunal decision which ruled that it was direct sex discrimination to have different enhanced maternity pay rates for female employees compared to payments on offer for male employees has been dramatically overturned by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

In Ali -v- Capita Customer Management Limited  2017 (UKEAT/0161/17/BA) the Employment Tribunal originally ruled that it was direct sex discrimination against a male employee who was only allowed two weeks’ leave on full pay compared to 14 weeks’ for female employees.

The facts of this authority involve Mr Ali’s wife who had been signed off sick with post-natal depression being advised to return to work to help improve her medical condition.   Mr Ali needed to take time off for child-care and was allowed to take up to two weeks’ paternity leave on full pay following the birth of his child.     This compared to female members of staff who could take enhanced maternity pay of up to 14 weeks’ on full pay.

The Employer – Capita Customer Management Limited,  decided to appeal the decision to the employment appeal tribunal and were successful.   The Employment Appeal Tribunal found that the original Employment Tribunal had erroneously interpreted that Mr Ali’s circumstances were comparable to those of a female employee who had recently given birth where both had to care for their new-born child.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal went on to clarify that the purpose of maternity pay and maternity leave is to recognise the health and well-being of  woman in pregnancy, confinement, and after recent childbirth and that such things can only be experienced by women.

Accordingly, payment of maternity pay at a higher rate falls under Section 13(6)(b) Equality Act 2010 as special treatment afforded to women in connection with pregnancy or childbirth.

The arguments in favour of the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s decision are that maternity leave is an important historical safe-guard for women which cannot be equated with ‘child-care’ which is what paternity and parental rights are designed to promote.  Whilst these family friendly rights for working fathers, for example paid parental and paternity leave are important, they should compliment and not undermine the rights of working mothers – in this instance the right to receive maternity pay.

Another school of thought is that if the original decision had not been overturned then many Employers forced to pay the same benefits to men and women on shared parental leave,  would modify or stop offering enhanced maternity pay altogether.

However equally there are valid arguments to suggest that the decision does nothing to promote the involvement of fathers in child-care arrangements or to promote the equality of both parents being involved in such child-care arrangements.  This was after-all the purpose for introducing the legislation.

The only real way that the rights of fathers can be improved is for the Government to legislate further and to introduce higher rates of parental and paternity pay which will encourage them to take up these arrangements.

Currently affordability is an obstacle for many fathers and always has been on the basis that they simply cannot justify taking time off where it will impact and reduce their income at a time when they need as much financial support as possible, and where such family friendly rights are only  payable at capped statutory rates of pay.

Some small employers will also argue that they cannot afford to pay fathers at enhanced contractual rates or higher rates of pay and therefore the Government should consider re-imbursing these costs, although in such circumstances any such burden will ultimately fall onto the tax-payer.

This is a delicate area for both men and women at a time when equality issues in the work-place are in the spot-light.  However it would seem that the Employment Appeal Tribunal’s rationale and approach is correct in distinguishing between the purpose of maternity rights compared to other family friendly rights and that common sense has prevailed.

If you have any questions relating to your maternity and other family friendly policies then please contact Steven Eckett at Meaby & Co for timely advice: seckett@meaby.co.uk or call 0207 703 5034.

High Court rules against Google in claim for right to be forgotten

Mr Justice Warby has today handed down Judgment in long running claims against Google.

Finding in favour of one of the Claimants, a businessman, Mr Justice Warby has said that “an appropriate delisting order” should be made.

Both claims concerned publications listed on the Google platform which related to historic criminal offences.

It was argued that the convictions were now spent and that the ongoing publication amounted to misuse of private information.

The second claim where the criminal offence committed was more serious, failed.

If you feel you have a similar case please contact Chris Waters, Partner at Meaby & Co at cwaters@meaby.co.uk or telephone 0207 703 5034.

Irish Series: The hum of activity coming from Ireland

I left my flat in London at 7am and by 11.30am I am sitting in a hotel lobby in Dublin City Centre with my laptop infront of me, preparing for a busy day. Commuting to Dublin has become almost routine for me; travelling “across the pond” once or twice a month for meetings with clients, contacts or like-minded professionals, exploring avenues and ways to expand our business into Ireland. Having qualified in Ireland, spending time in Dublin working and nurturing the long-standing relationships that I, along with almost every Irish person, have across all sectors seems natural.

As I walked up Grafton Street and took a seat in the hotel foyer to catch up on the morning’s emails, I noticed what a hive of activity Dublin is. Every shop was open and buzzing, and looking around the hotel lobby I noted introductions being made, hands being shaken and business being done at almost every table. The City is humming and it is inspiring to see.

With Ireland set to become the fastest growing euro zone economy up to 2024 and projected GDP growth of 3.5% in 2018, we can see the country firmly re-establishing itself in world economics. There is an optimism that can be seen in the levels of business transactions taking place in the capital and across the country.

Ireland has seen a significant influx in multinational companies settling in the country and a rise in Foreign Direct Investment (‘FDI’). With 9 of the top 10 global ICT companies, 8 of the top 10 global pharmaceutical companies and 8 of the top 10 gaming companies locating the hub of their European operations in Ireland, the country has become the second most attractive country globally for FDI, after Singapore*.

In order to support this exponential growth, the country’s infrastructure has to advance and develop. Housing, transport and social and economic infrastructure has been forced to develop to meet the demands. Accommodation remains an issue, with rent at an all-time high and developers slowly starting to reawaken from their celtic-tiger induced slumber. Many businesses have however taken inspiration from their European counterparts and developed to meet the demands. Restaurants and bars to cater for all tastes and budgets have emerged, co-working spaces have sprung up and the red and green luas lines have finally been linked, to mention but a few.

The Irish people and all those who live and work here are engaging their world-renowned skills of diligence and development and are setting the country alight again. Sitting looking around me, tapping away on my laptop in Dublin City Centre, I know that Ireland has a lot to offer and this is the place to be for emerging and developing business.

At Meaby & Co, we specialise in dealing with UK based legal issues for Irish based individuals and businesses. We can connect you with professionals based in Ireland and with our frequent trips to Dubllin there is no need to travel to meet with us.

Contact me on cboyce@meaby.co.uk to discuss any issues.

*Education in Ireland

Why Move to Peckham?

According to Wikipedia, Peckham is a Saxon place name meaning the village of the River Peck.  The River Peck has since been built over.  At the beginning of the 19th Century, Peckham was a “small, quiet retired village surrounded by fields”.  Peckham has experienced significant development since then and is now a built-up, bustling and lively area.  Peckham has in recent years undergone extensive regeneration and has increased in popularity over the last few years.  Despite being in Zone 2 and being close to Central London, many people feel that some parts of Peckham have a villagey feel to it with there being lots of local and independent shops and cafes.

There are plenty of eating and drinking options in Peckham.  The Hope, The Rye and The Royal Albert are local pubs that offer gastro-pub style food.  The Prince of Peckham is a pub that serves Jerk Chicken, Jerk-seasoned fries and other Jerk seasoning-inspired food.  If you prefer your pubs to be unicorn-themed, then John the Unicorn on Rye Lane is an option.  If you like to have a drink while enjoying panoramic views over London, Frank’s Wine Bar, at the top of a multi-storey car park,  is worth a visit.

The Begging Bowl on Bellenden Road offer Thai-style street food; if you go with friends, you can order small tapas-sized dishes to share with sticky rice.  Ganapati near Warwick Gardens is a small popular South Indian restaurant.

If you like your green spaces, Peckham Rye Park and Common is a large park where you can play sports, laze in the sun, take your kids to the playground, workout at the outdoor gym, visit ornamental gardens or grab a cup of tea at the café.  Warwick Gardens is a small, local park popular with dog walkers which also has a playground and sports facilities including table tennis tables.

If you’re a film lover, The PeckhamPlex shows the latest releases for a fiver a ticket.  In the summer, there is the rooftop cinema on the roof of the Bussey Building.  There is also a free film festival at various venues in the area.

There are a number of events held in Peckham each year.  The Peckham Festival is held at various places in Peckham in September and offers markets, food, films, exhibitions, arts and crafts and music events.  Peckham Feastival is an event held at Copeland Park which celebrates street-style food.  Peckham Rye Park also hosts a village fete at the end of summer.

Peckham has Peckham Rye, Queens Road and Nunhead stations.  It has National Rail services and is also on the London Overground Line.  There are also many bus services which link Peckham with Central London and other parts of London.

If you’re looking to sell or buy a property in Peckham or the surrounding areas, please contact Brian Craig on 020 7703 5034 or bc@meaby.co.uk for timely advice.

Government plans announced to professionalise the estate agency industry

The Government has unveiled plans to further regulate and to professionalise the estate agency industry.

Housing Secretary Sajid Javid announced last week his intentions to drive up industry standards and to bring an end to “rogue managing agents”.

Government research indicates that 62% of buyers and 69% of sellers have experienced stress during the conveyancing process, and 24% of sellers said that they would use a different estate agent if they went through the process again.  Nearly a third of buyers and sellers also expressed dissatisfaction with the other party’s solicitor (who is often recommended by the estate agents).

The new plans will require estate agents to obtain professional qualifications and to provide greater transparency about referral fees received from solicitors, mortgage brokers and surveyors.

Other measures are proposed to reduce stress for consumers, including the use of reservation agreements to crack down on gazumping (although the suggestion that these agreements would be voluntary does not fill me with confidence), and strengthening the power of Trading Standards to ban certain estate agents.

Another measure which would certainly seem to simplify the process is the proposed further regulation of managing agents.  At present, managing agents are able to charge a fee of their own choosing for providing information pertaining to the freehold and the management of the building – information which the seller must pay for, and which the buyer cannot proceed without.  The proposal is to bring in a set fee and an agreed timescale for this information.

The Government have indicated an intention to create guides on how to buy and sell, and to work with consumer groups and the Land Registry to be better able to indicate the performance of conveyancers, and to digitise the process further in the interests of speed.

Like the Home Information Packs created in 2008, this idea is sound in principle, but it remains to be seen whether the legislation involved will suitably enforce the changes, or if (like Home Information Packs) it will merely leave loopholes to be exploited by the very rogue agents that the Government are seeking to outlaw.  On the face of it though, this appears to be a positive move from Mr Javid.

If you are buying or selling a property, please contact Andy Roscoe at Meaby & Co for advice: andy@meaby.co.uk or call 020 7703 5034.

Irish Series: Will the “Right to be Forgotten” be forgotten?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (EU) is a regulation in EU law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union. When the GDPR enters into force on 25 May 2018, all companies that collect data on citizens in EU countries will need to comply with strict new rules around protecting customer data.

A recent Irish High Court decision may well set the standard, or at least provide a persuasive guideline, as to how rights of individuals protected by the GDPR should be balanced with potentially competing rights, such as public interest and freedom of expression.

The case in question involved a claim brought by a Plaintiff against a decision taken by the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC). In 2014 the Plaintiff requested that the ODPC require the removal of certain information posted about him on an online discussion forum, Reddit. The post in question referred to the Plaintiff as “North County Dublin’s Homophobic Candidate” which appeared in Google search results when the Plaintiff’s name was searched for. He argued that the post contained inaccurate information and that it was not clear that it was an expresssion of opinion, thereby leading people to believe that there was some credence to the statements. The ODPC concluded that the Reddit user was expressing a personal opinion based on election material published and that as a result there was no contravention of the Data Protection Acts. They refused to re-index the postings.

The Plaintiff appealed this decision to the Circuit Court who ruled in favour of the Plaintiff, stating that it was likely that people would consult an online forum and might consider the unverified statement to be true. The Court ordered that the information contained in the link be edited and the results presented in a Google search made it clear that the comments were opinion only.

The High Court overturned this decision on appeal by the ODPC and ruled that the appropriate legal test had not been applied in coming to the Circuit Court decision. The Reddit post must be taken in its entirety and indeed that in order for Google to comply with the Circuit Court decision, they would have to engage in editing functions beyond those previously contemplated and set down in the 2014 Google Spain case, which established the “right to be forgotten”. The High Court agreed with the initial ODPC decision that the refusal to remove the link did not contravene Data Protection Acts.

This decision brings to light the “right to be forgotten” (to be referred to as the “right to erasure” under the GDPR) and demonstrates that placing it on a statutory footing may well be justified. There must however be a balance between this and the rights to information and freedom of expression. The right to be forgotten is not absolute under the GDPR and is subject to certain exemptions and derogations. Whether this decision will create reluctance among Irish Google users to seek to vindicate their perhaps diminishing right to be forgotten is yet to be seen.

For more, contact our dual-qualified solicitor Caoimhe Boyce on cboyce@meaby.co.uk.

Blogs

Prenuptial Agreements – An Essential Guide

A  Prenuptial Agreement is a written agreement between two people who are intending to marry which makes provision for the division of their assets and income in the event of a divorce.

It can be difficult for a person who is planning to marry to broach the subject of a Prenuptial Agreement with their partner. Having such a conversation can often seem mercenary or unromantic. However, a well drafted Prenuptial Agreement can avoid the uncertainty which results if the Court is left to determine the division of assets and income.

Here are some common situations where a Prenuptial Agreement can be particularly appropriate and effective in order to prevent/reduce claims from the other party:-

  • a party owns a property acquired before the marriage
  • a party has inherited wealth or may receive a significant inheritance during the course of the marriage
  • a party’s parents or other family members have contributed money towards the purchase of the family home
  • a party is a high earner

At the moment Prenuptial Agreements are not legally binding, which means that a judge dealing with the divorce does not have to uphold the terms of the Prenuptial Agreement if s/he does not think that they are fair and appropriate in all of the circumstances of the case. There are steps which can be taken to give the Prenuptial Agreement the best possible chance of being upheld, should the marriage end in divorce. These include the following:-

  • the Prenuptial Agreement is prepared well in advance of the wedding, allowing plenty of time for negotiation, so that neither party feels under pressure
  • both parties have received independent legal advice on the contents
  • the terms are broadly speaking fair and within the range of orders which a court would be likely to make
  • both parties have made full and frank disclosure of their assets, income and liabilities and schedules setting out the disclosed information are attached to the Prenuptial Agreement
  • the Prenuptial Agreement includes provision for review

If you would like more information regarding Prenuptial Agreements to help you to decide whether one is right for you, please contact Head of Family Law,  Joanna Toloczko at Meaby & Co for timely advice jtoloczko@meaby.co.uk or call 020 7703 5034.

Some Light Entertainment from the Bank Holiday Weekend

As a result of the horrible weather over the Easter holiday, I spent most of my time watching The Crown and reading a novel by Amanda Craig called The Lie of the Land. They both featured family law issues.

The Crown did not shy away from portraying the problems that had arisen in the marriage between the Queen and Prince Philip at various points. The interesting thing was that they both accepted that divorce would never be a possible outcome for them. Did that mean that they worked harder to make their marriage a success or did it mean that one or both them was forced to overlook unacceptable behaviour on the part of the other? What are the lines that should not be crossed in a marriage? Have they changed over the decades?

The Lie of the Land was essentially a murder mystery and a black comedy, but it also featured a theme about marriage – what makes a successful marriage? Is it better to forgive some transgressions for the sake of the family? What are the compromises that are worth making? It also explores the relationship between money and marriage.

The book tells the stories of Quentin and Lottie who both lost their jobs in the recession and cannot afford to divorce; the ageing rock star Gore Tore married to a beautiful and much younger Australian woman who has a lover in her homeland; the sheep-farmer’s wife, Sally who has resigned herself to the fact that she has just not been lucky enough to have children until she finds a letter from a clinic to her husband about his infertility.

The novel revolves around the plot of who killed Oliver Randall and why did they decapitate the body? It turns out that the murderer is the mother of Oliver’s  daughter, Dawn. Oliver refused to marry her when she discovered she was pregnant so she didn’t name him on Dawn’s birth certificate. He moved to Devon to be close to them and started to see Dawn in secret, but the mother was insanely (literally) jealous of their relationship and terminated it by killing him. Although the novel was hugely entertaining, as a family lawyer, I couldn’t help but think that Oliver would have been better off applying to the Family Court for Parental Responsibility and a Child Arrangements Order!

On a more serious note, if you are experiencing problems in your relationship, but you are not sure whether you have reached the point where you are sure that you want to bring the relationship to an end, and you would like some initial advice, please do not hesitate to contact me for a relaxed and understanding consultation. Many of my clients come to see me for advice prior to making the final decision – some instruct me to proceed straight away; some take time to make up their minds and others decide not to proceed. I always take things at the client’s chosen pace.

For queries relating to Family Law please contact Joanna Toloczko at Meaby & Co on jtoloczko@meaby.co.uk or call 020 7703 5034.