Weightmans is a top 45 UK law firm with 11 offices around the UK, including Knutsford, Liverpool and Manchester, employing more than 1,400 people, including more than 180 partners, writes Johanna Bolhoven
The firm can trace its Cheshire roots back to 1827 when it started life as Grundy Kershaw before merging with Sedgley Caldecott in the late 1800s, and then again with Mace & Jones in the mid-1900s.
The latest Knutsford iteration saw Mace & Jones merge with Weightmans in 2011.
It has continued its growth in Knutsford and the team of expert solicitors, including an established Wills, trusts tax & probate and family law team, are a visible part of the local community.
Before Christmas, I was lucky enough to have coffee with Fiona Turner, partner in the family law team.
Fiona joined the Weightmans’ family in 2015 bringing with her 20+ years’ experience dealing exclusively with family law issues, having practised in London with leading family law firms, including Irwin Mitchell.
She has a vast amount of expertise in divorce and financial settlements, co-habitation disputes, children disputes, including relocation abroad, and pre- and post- marital agreements. “It’s an extremely exciting time for family law; there are lots of changes in legislation which, although won’t come into force overnight, will potentially change the direction of family law.”
Fiona and the team provide a bespoke, tailor made service for each individual client. “We are committed to providing a full range of family law services nationwide, and our family and private client departments are widely recognised for their experience in technically and financially complex matters.”
Indeed, one of Fiona’s financial cases was described by the Court of Appeal as ‘one of the most complex we had ever had to deal with’.
Described by legal directory Legal 500 as ‘a rising star who is unflappable’ and ‘an incredible force in family law’, it’s not surprising that Fiona herself is recognised as a leader in her field by fellow professionals.
She is charming, friendly and approachable, and my hour with her just flew by.
Our chat turned to issues prevalent to the time of year. “Traditionally January and February are always busy times for family lawyers. Christmas, together with the New Year, birthdays, anniversaries, Valentines Day and holidays, are key times when we all, consciously or not, assess how happy or sad we feel.
The New Year is often the time when we take stock of our lives, look back over the previous year and forward to the new one.”
The first Monday following the festive break is often referred to as Divorce Day or ‘D Day’ as some divorce lawyers report that year upon year there is a surge of new enquiries following the Christmas holidays.
Some see the New Year as a time for a fresh start. Some separated couples start moving ahead with the process in January, even though the decision to separate was taken months before.
Most families do all they can to separate in a principled and constructive way. There can be a ‘good divorce’ and recent social media trends, particularly in the States (#divorceselfies) show us countless couples that feel that they have achieved this.
Family lawyers are tirelessly campaigning to reduce conflict in divorce, and continue to press for legislative change to enable divorce to proceed without attributing blame (#abetterway), with many suggesting that modern divorce law isn’t fit for purpose.
Weightmans are proud supporters of this campaign and hope that 2017 makes positive steps in that direction.
Where there’s a will…
Having a Will is one of the most important things you can do for yourself and your family yet research suggests over half of UK adults have not written a Will; a poll of 2,000 adults by adviser search website Unbiased.co.uk and Certainty.co.uk, the National Will Register, found that 58 per cent of us do not have a Will.
“Too few people are aware of the security a Will provides. Writing a will is especially important if you have children or other family who depend on you financially. If you want to be sure your wishes will be met after you die, then a Will is vital.”
Fiona outlined just a few reasons why you should put a Will in place:
- Co-habiting family? The law currently provides no protection; if a co-habitee dies without a Will their partner will not benefit from their estate.
- Inheritance Tax? Ensure your lifetime’s hard work is passed on to your chosen beneficiaries and not to the tax man.
- Business owner? Make sure your Will contains the appropriate provisions. Will the business continue without you? Who would run it? Should it be sold and the assets distributed to your loved ones?
- Getting married? It is vital you review, put in place a new Will, because marriage automatically revokes a Will.
- Getting divorced? Who is to benefit from your estate if you were to pass away before or after a divorce is finalised?
- Starting a family? If you are expecting or have children under the age of 18, is your choice of Guardian is in place.
A pre-nup, how romantic…
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, thoughts turn to engagement, marriage, or maybe asking a partner to move in, or share your home.
Whilst not wishing to crush the romance, Fiona outlined the importance of considering how this commitment could alter your legal status. “In truth, there are far more situations that warrant a pre-nup than you imagine.
Couples are getting married or forming civil partnerships later in life, and it is likely that you or your intended spouse have acquired assets prior to your union.
A pre-nup simply sets out how you would divide these assets if you were later to separate.”
There are specific rules to follow to ensure your pre-nup is as binding as it possibly can be. Taking advice from a Family Law specialist is therefore essential.
Common law, no more…
In 2016, married or civil partner couple families remained the most common type of family in the UK although cohabiting couple families were the fastest growing family type over the last 20 years, more than doubling from 1.5 million families to 3.3 million families.
Being one half of a co-habiting couple myself, I was disappointed to learn that there has been no equivalent change in law and the law still fails to properly recognise a non-marital / non-civil partnership relationship.
Subsequently, if a co-habiting relationship breaks down, there is very little protection for the financially weaker party.
“Unlike married couples, a co-habitee has no legal right to maintenance for themselves or a share in the capital assets, regardless of the number of years the parties lived together.
This is true even if the co habitee was financially supported during the relationship.
There is no such thing as a ‘common law spouse’, despite popular belief.”
A properly drafted co-habitation agreement, prepared at the outset of a relationship by a family law specialist, will provide certainty and reassurance should the relationship end.
Weightmans provide a personable approach to law; they blend their knowledge and experience with a genuine concern for providing value to their clients.
I instantly felt at home when I walked through the door of their Knutsford offices. That can, in part, be attributed to the friendly welcome I received from their lovely receptionists, Melanie and Carolyn.
And during my chat with Fiona is became clear that Weightmans have built a firm that feels like a family.
When asked why she joined the firm, Fiona replied: “Weightmans are recognised as one of the premier family law practices in the country and I was particularly drawn to the collegiate approach within the firm, working with the talented and innovative lawyers in all of Weightmans’ teams.”
Law really is their business! www.weightmans.com.