Family Law

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Family Laws

Our team of divorce barristers are highly experienced and will work with you to make an informed decision as to whether a divorce, dissolution or formal separation is appropriate for you and if so, when it would be in your interests to start the divorce process.

They aim to adopt a non-adversarial approach to resolving matters and encourage use of Mediation and the Collaborative Law

They are issue focused and will look to achieve practical and cost-effective solutions.

You direct access barrister will consider the options, provide you with guidance and advice and signpost you to relevant third parties, including counsellors to support you through the process.

Your own personal circumstances will generally determine which process will be adopted if you decide that you wish to formally end your relationship. For example only the dissolution process can formally end a civil partnership and divorce will end a marriage. You and your partner may, however, consider that an informal or a judicial separation may be more appropriate for your particular family. It is often the grounds and facts that will be relied upon within those proceedings that can be difficult to discuss with your spouse/partner.

What are the options available to discuss and resolve matters with my spouse/partner?

Kitchen table – i.e. you and your spouse/partner having informal discussions about what you are going to do. You may need legal advice to see what is the best option for you and your family.

Mediation – you will both meet with a mediator who will facilitate the discussions and then provide a written record of what was discussed, what information was disclosed and what agreement was reached.? This may be particularly helpful when discussing the grounds for the divorce or dissolution for example and you can involve a family consultant in this process.

Collaborative – through one or more meetings with your Collaborative Lawyers set against a background of having identified what you are both looking to achieve, discussions take place and in an open way everyone looks at ways of achieving what you both want. Third parties can be brought in to assist the discussions, such as a family consultant and financial experts.

Do you feel you and your partner could work together, rather than against one another, to consider the options and try and find workable solutions to resolve a family dispute? Your direct access barrister will discuss all the options with you, what they feel would best suit your requirements and the circumstances of your case. We will discuss what the alternatives are likely to cost so you can make an informed decision about the divorce process that is going to be right for you and your family.

Divorce

Divorce can be a painful, often confusing process. But our barristers have helped many people through the process with clear, friendly, affordable advice. 

There’s only one ground for divorce in England and Wales: that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. To prove this, you need to show one of these five things:

·      Unreasonable behaviour

·      Adultery

·      Desertion

·      Two years separation with consent

·      Five years separation without consent

To begin the divorce process, one spouse completes a document called a divorce petition. 

Every divorce is different. Some are relatively simple, whereas others can be very complex. We’ll talk you through each step of the process and handle all the applications for you. Everything goes at your pace – we don’t take any action unless you’re comfortable for us to go ahead.

Financial Matters

Our barristers always encourage both parties to discuss finances and come to an agreement by themselves – though mediation, if needed. This avoids the need for a lengthy and costly court process.

If this isn’t possible, a court will need to settle the dispute. The court will usually set a timetable and ask both parties to submit all the important documents by a given date. Your barrister will work with you to prepare all these documents, including a Statement of Issues, Questionnaire and Chronology.

At the first court date, the judge will set out an agenda for your case and a date for a Financial Dispute Resolution appointment. At this appointment, most spouses reach an overall financial settlement. The judge then makes an order to put the settlement into action.

If you don’t reach a settlement, the judge will set a date for a final hearing where they’ll arrive at their own ruling. The whole process can take 9-12 months, but it’s generally much less when (as in most cases) there’s no need for a final hearing.

Non-Molestation Orders

Nobody should have to put up with domestic violence. If you think you or your children are in immediate danger, you should call the police straightaway.

The next step is to make sure you’re not at risk of domestic violence in the future. This is what a Non-Molestation Order is for – to stop your partner or ex-partner harming you or your children. In this case, harm includes physical violence, threats, harassment, intimidation and psychological abuse.

Anyone can apply for a Non-Molestation Order against an abusive partner or ex-partner

This applies equally to same sex and mixed sex partners. It includes:

·      A spouse or ex-spouse

·      A civil partner or previous civil partner

·      A fiancé(e) or ex-fiancé(e)

·      Someone you’re living with or used to live with

·      The father or mother of your child

·      Someone you’ve had an intimate personal relationship with

·      A family member

Violating a Non-Molestation Order is an arrestable offence

Anyone breaching a Non-Molestation Order will usually be arrested by the police and could face up to five years in prison.

You can apply without your partner knowing

Legally this is called “ex-parte”. It can give you more protection and it can be granted almost straightaway. When this happens, the court might order another hearing to consider any evidence presented by the other side.

The order comes into effect as soon as your partner (or ex-partner) is served with it

This is so the courts can confirm the person knows about the order. (A person can’t be charged for breaching a court order they don’t know exists.)

A Non-Molestation Order can run indefinitely or for a fixed period

Usually it continues to run until it’s cancelled by another court order.

To apply, you need to fill out an FL401 form 

It’s a fairly long form that runs to ten pages, including the supporting information. You need to sign three copies of it and take it to your family court. Your barrister can help you do this.

You can appeal a Non-Molestation Order if you think it’s unfair

Non-Molestation Orders are sometimes wrongly served – because, for example, the applicant has been dishonest. If you believe this has happened to you, you can appeal to the courts. Domestic violence is a crime, so if you think you’ve been wrongly accused, you should seek legal advice.

Occupation Orders

An Occupation Order usually exists to remove a domestic violence offender from the family home. But there are other situations it can cover. For example, it might protect a person’s right to live in the family home when their partner has made an unreasonable attempt to throw them out.

An Occupation Order can also regulate a person’s entry to the family home, or exclude them from certain parts of it. 

When you apply for an Occupation Order, the court will consider things like:

·      Who has a legal right (like being a part-owner or tenant) to live in the family home 

·      The risk of harm to the applicant or their children

·      The conduct of both parties

·      The housing needs and resources of both parties 

·      The financial resources of both parties

·      The effect any the children 

An Occupation Order can last indefinitely, or until a specific date or event. In most cases, the order lasts only until the person affected has found another place to live.

Ancillary Orders

When a court gives a person an Occupation Order, they can also attach certain obligations to it. This is called an Ancillary Order, and typically covers things like:

·      Repair and maintenance

·      Paying the rent, mortgage or other outgoings

·      Periodic payments (where the person is entitled to occupy part of the home)

·      Possession of furniture or other contents

·      Taking reasonable steps to secure furniture and other contents

As with the main Occupation Order, the court will consider each party’s financial needs, resources and obligations.

Case law has thrown a fair bit of doubt on how realistic and practical it is to enforce Ancillary Orders. But even when they can’t be effectively enforced, it can still be a good way of formalising responsibilities.

Child Arrangement Orders

‘Child Arrangement Order’ is a broad term for ‘Residence and Contact’ orders. It allows a court to rule on things like:

·      Who a child will live with

·      Who a child will spend time with

·      Who else can have contact with the child

·      Where a child will go to school

·      Who a child can travel abroad with

A Child Arrangement Order typically lasts until the child turns 16

The details of the order can change though. As a child’s needs and circumstances evolve, it’s often necessary to revisit and adapt the order for the best interests of the child.

In exceptional circumstances, an order can last until the child turns 18. This is always stated in the court order.

Any parent or guardian of a child can apply for a Child Arrangement Order

You have an automatic right to apply for contact with your children if you fit one of these criteria:

·      You’re part of a marriage where children are a part of the family.

·      You’ve lived with the children for at least three years in the last five years (but you must apply within three months of not living with the child).

·      You have the consent of all persons who hold Parental Responsibility over the child.

·      The child is in care and you have the consent of the Local Authority.

·      There’s already a Child Arrangement Order in place and you have the consent of the person the child lives with.

If you don’t fit any of these criteria, you’ll need to seek leave or permission from the court before you can apply. The court will consider:

·      Your connection to the children

·      The merit of your application

·      Whether granting the application will cause any harm

Children can also ask the court for permission to grant a Child Arrangement Order. But the court must be satisfied that they sufficiently understand the consequences of making the order. 

Pre-Nuptial Agreements

A Pre-Nuptial Agreement (‘pre-nup’) makes certain finances, property and possessions exempt from the usual process of dividing them up during a divorce. 

So if you’re getting married or entering a civil partnership, a pre-nup can guarantee something you want to keep isn’t awarded by a court to your spouse.

You can include almost anything in a pre-nup

The most common things covered include:

·      Personal wealth, savings and assets

·      A house you might have owned before the relationship started

·      Inherited property

·      Valuable items like cars, jewellery or artworks

·      Pets

A pre-nup can protect your business assets

If you own or have a share of a business, your spouse can waive all rights to interest in the business upon divorce or your death. You can also make an agreement that gives them the option to buy any shares you own in a business if you pass away.

A pre-nup can also protect you from creditors

If your spouse-to-be has significant debts, your marriage or civil partnership could give creditors the right to seize your assets in the future. You can use a pre-nup to protect against this possibility.