In 2020 it was 'lockdown' and in 2021 it was 'NFT' (non-fungible token) but what was Collins Dictionary's Word of the Year for 2022?
PERMACRISIS - defined as 'an extended period of instability and insecurity'.
Just as we felt we were finally turning the corner from Covid-19, we were hit with war, political instability and economic uncertainty: a 'permacrisis' indeed. The lack of clarity and certainty in many areas of life, but most notably the economy, has had an impact on most business sectors. The legal profession is no exception.
During a crisis, people crave comfort and control - something family lawyers have noticed in terms of an increase in new instructions since the turn of the year. Taking action can help clients to restore control and overcome feelings of hopelessness or helplessness.
They say that nothing is certain but death and taxes. Going through a separation is a turbulent time and often only those who have been through it can properly attest to that. Legal advisors have a duty to flag to clients the areas in which they can control, regulate or plan for their future.
Future finances (with and without a ring)
A pre-nuptial agreement can be a hard sell to the client wearing rose tinted glasses.
However, the use of such agreements is becoming increasingly common. For many HNW clients, protecting family wealth is important. Pre-nuptial agreements give clients choice and control. In Scotland, as long as the terms are fair and balanced, the client can be assured that such agreements will be difficult to set aside. These agreements are something of an insurance policy and of course, people sign up to contracts regularly – a new mobile phone, a rental agreement or TV subscription. They all have T&Cs and lay out what happens if the relationship between consumer and provider breaks down – so why not the same for a marriage or civil partnership? It is important that clients do not lose sight of what promise (or indeed contract) is being made when the words 'I do' are uttered.
In Scotland, changes may be on the horizon in relation to the rights of cohabiting couples on separation. The Scottish Law Commission's report on cohabitation, published on 2 November 2022 recommends various changes to the existing law, and follows a lengthy consultation process with lawyers, advocates, academics and the public. Decision makers have a wide discretion in cohabitation cases in Scotland; as a result, advising clients as to possible outcomes is inherently difficult. A large element of judicial discretion is likely to remain, even if the recommended reforms make their way into the existing legislation. As such, Scottish cohabitants are advised to enter into cohabitation agreements.
With the political and financial ups and downs of the last few months, there's been a loss of control over things which, until recently, worked smoothly. Petrol prices shot up, resulting in disputes between parents as to who should take responsibility for ferrying the children between houses. Where people were made redundant or suffered salary cuts, child maintenance payments were impacted.
This has resulted in increased instructions – often from existing family law clients – to renegotiate contact arrangements or maintenance payments.
The pandemic saw a rise in the acquisition of a new type of asset for many couples and families – a family pet. Could we soon see a new 'P' on the block; pet-nups? To some couples, a four-legged puppy is the 'ultimutt' equivalent to a two-legged toddler. The writer cannot be the only one to have drafted a separation agreement wherein the longest and most detailed clause related to the future care arrangements for the cat.
Encouraging clients to enter into some sort of agreement regulating the future care of the pet in the event of separation may well save them considerable anguish and legal expense down the line.
It is imperative that family law clients are in a head space which allows them to properly focus on and understand matters, to empower them to make decisions. Having a support network around them assists. While friends and family have their place, that support network might include a financial advisor, counselor or divorce coach and lawyer.
As solicitors, advocates and barristers, we can – and should - be highlighting to clients the various ways in which they might regain some sense of control at a time when they feel most lost.
This article was first published with ThoughtLeaders4 HNW Divorce Magazine.