What is a separation agreement?
A separation agreement is a legal agreement entered into by two individuals who have decided to end their romantic relationship and go their separate ways. Parties entering into separation agreements can be married, civil partners or cohabiting couples. The separation agreement sets out the agreed financial arrangements for the period of separation; it does not end the marriage or civil partnership. To end a marriage or civil partnership, a divorce or dissolution is required. It is important to acknowledge that the court’s jurisdiction in financial remedy proceedings on divorce can override the terms of a separation agreement.
Some couples may wish to enter into a separation agreement if they do not wish to divorce for religious, cultural or personal reasons. Alternatively, a separation agreement can be the first step toward divorce proceedings, or it can be used as a test to see if separation is the best thing for the couple.
Separation agreements are usually only appropriate where parties have already separated, or are going to separate in the near future, but do not want to start divorce proceedings straight away. If you would like some advice on whether a separation agreement would be the right thing for you and your partner, our specialist team of family solicitors would be glad to provide some legal advice.
- Employee pensions contributions are often paid by way of salary sacrifice arrangements.
- Use of such arrangements may reduce the amount of wage an employer can claim under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, as the reimbursement is calculated by reference to an employee’s actual pay as at 28 February 2020, hence post sacrifice pay.
- Using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme does not in itself bring a salary sacrifice arrangement to an end, but where an employer wishes to maximise the amount of an employee’s pay that will be covered by the CJRS, the employer and employee(s) concerned may agree to terminate the salary sacrifice arrangement as part of furlough. HMRC has recently announced that the Covid-19 pandemic will be considered a “life event” (i.e. one of the permitted reasons to break a salary sacrifice arrangement mid-term), if the employment contract is updated accordingly.
Many will have worked collaboratively with their suppliers and customers to deal with the immediate public health crisis. This will have meant offering flexibility as to contractual arrangements, whether in delivery dates, volumes of goods or services supplied, or even in the specification of what has been delivered.
If this is the case, it is important that businesses now do their legal housekeeping and make sure they have a proper record of what has been agreed. Unfortunately, our experience shows that many legal disputes arise out of amendments to contracts, typically where the parties to the contract each have a different view about what exactly they agreed to change.
We would therefore advise businesses to review any amendments that they might have agreed either verbally, by email, or otherwise, and consider whether they need to be captured in a more formal way which will make clear exactly what has been agreed to be varied, and (where appropriate) how long that variation will remain in force.
It’s also important to remember that some contracts contain provisions that set out specific requirements about how amendments are to be made. For example, they might require that amendments are made in writing (rather than verbally). These “No Oral Modification” clauses are commonly found in commercial contracts, and the courts have recently shown that they are willing to enforce them.
Failing to deal with amendments in accordance with contractual requirements could therefore have a serious impact on businesses as they recover from the disruption caused by the lockdown. If they end up in dispute with a customer or supplier, a business could find that the contract has not actually been amended in the way that they think – potentially leading to legal costs and liabilities at the worst possible time.
The change in the law has the potential to place much greater financial risks on suppliers, making it more difficult to exit a contract with a customer of doubtful solvency. This will place increased emphasis on appropriate financial due diligence and credit checking before entering into supply contracts.
In addition to the obvious issues around financial risk, suppliers will also need to think carefully about how their contracts are drafted. For example, any form of right that is drafted so as to be triggered on customer insolvency will clearly be problematic. These could include:
- Retention of Title provisions, which are commonly drafted so that the right to enter premises and retake possession of the goods is triggered on insolvency;
- Provisions for brand protection, which seek to control how goods are dealt with on termination of the contract.
This is potentially a very significant development for many businesses. We would strongly recommend specialist advice be obtained so that:
- businesses understand the potential increased risks faced; and
- where possible, contracts are updated so that appropriate protections are maintained.
During the COVID-19 global pandemic, trials and hearings have been mostly conducted over Skype for Business and various other online platforms. Looking forward to the future, what we have experienced during the lock-down may continue and we believe will make litigation a more streamlined, user friendly experience for litigants.
One example of a regime which has been introduced is hybrid trials for lower value claims. Hybrid trials allow for parties and their witnesses to be linked into the court room by video link, whilst the judge and advocates are present in court. This makes it easier and frees up more time for witnesses, which would otherwise be spent in travel and waiting time, especially for those with other commitments.
With hybrid trials, clients still get a full legal experience and the judge will still apply normal legal principles during the trial. The procedure for the case is the same, both leading up to the trial or hearing and during the case itself; except without the need to physically attend court. It may also mean that there will be less of a backlog arising from the current crisis with cases continuing to be heard, allowing for matters to be listed earlier and a quicker outcome for the parties involved.
The shift to the use of online platforms may prove more practical for all those involved in legal matters. Interim hearings can be heard remotely resulting in a time and cost saving for litigants. Even for the final hearing only the legal representatives need to attend court – again resulting in time and cost savings for all concerned.
Solicitors can be authorised to sign contracts for their clients – a signed letter of authority should be scanned and sent to avoid posting potentially contaminated documents.
Solicitors should exchange supplemental agreements on behalf of their clients to agree to postpone exchange and completion dates if it has been agreed to push these back.
The Law Society advises that electronic signatures be used as much as possible for contracts, to avoid possible contamination. However, the Land Registry confirms that the legal transfer document cannot be validly executed with an electronic signature. Solicitors should agree a completion undertaking that the original transfer document will be sent when received and after the restrictions have been lifted.
The Land Registry’s latest guidance https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-impact-on-hm-land-registrys-services published on 14 May states:
We accept deeds that have been signed using the ‘Mercury signing approach’.
For land registration purposes, a signature page will need to be signed in pen and witnessed in person (not by a video call). The signature will then need to be captured, with a scanner or a camera, to produce a PDF, JPEG or other suitable copy of the signed signature page. Each party sends a single email to their conveyancer to which is attached the final agreed copy of the document and the copy of the signed signature page.
Solicitors should be willing to adopt this procedure for completing transactions to enable them to be registered by the Land Registry.
The execution of a transfer is a deed and must be witnessed. Members of the family can witness signatures so long as they are not also a party to the document. A witness will be more credible if they are 18 or over, but this is not a legal requirement. The legal requirement is for the witness “to be present” when the document is signed. It would be possible for a witness to be on the other side of the room or the other side of a window, and validly witness the execution of a deed. The witness does need to take precautions to avoid possible contamination from the document.
A statutory declaration does not need to be witnessed but must be administered by a solicitor or commissioner for oaths. There is no legally prescribed process for this, and there is nothing to suggest that this could not be validly done via a video telephone call if the signature on the declaration can clearly be seen by the person commissioning the oath when the oath is made.