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FAQs around family law
Unless the contrary is shown, the court presumes that parental involvement in a child’s life will further the child’s welfare. This does not dictate any particular division of time but reinforces the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both parents after family separation, where that is safe and in the child’s best interests.
Your ex-partner should not, therefore, stop you from seeing your child unless there are welfare reasons to do so. If they do, you can ultimately apply to the Court for a Child Arrangements Order which will set out who the child will live and spend time with. You ex- partner may be viewed unfavourably if they have unjustifiably stopped you seeing your child. In the interim, try and come to some kind of agreement with your ex in order to maintain contact with your child even if that is supervised contact via a trusted third party like a grandparent or a friend or indirect contact via Zoom, Skype or Facetime. You should also ensure that your child does not get placed in to the middle of any arguments between you. Consider using parenting tools now available online such as Our Family Wizard and amicable co-parenting.
Tensions can often run high when a relationship breaks down. You should consider what arrangement is in the best interests of your child. If you are unable to reach an agreement with your ex about child arrangements, you should speak to a Family Solicitor or use an alternative dispute resolution service such as mediation or family therapy before issuing Court proceedings.
Child maintenance is a payment made by a parent with whom the child does not live with (or with whom the child lives with less often) to the parent who the child usually lives with.
Parents are encouraged to make their own arrangement, agreeing how much child maintenance ought to be paid and then arranging the payments directly. However if a parent refuses to pay, the first port of call is often the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
As a starting point, it provides a free “no obligation” calculator on its website allowing you to calculate for yourself how much child maintenance you ought to be receiving. If you do not have enough information to use the calculator, you can ask the CMS to carry out a formal assessment. There is a charge for this service but the CMS can access your ex-partner’s tax records to see how much they earn to produce an accurate assessment.
Once you have a calculation, you can see whether your ex-partner will voluntarily agree to pay this amount. If they still refuse, you can use the “collect and pay” service through the CMS in which the CMS will collect the child maintenance payment from your ex and pay it to you. There is however a cost for using this service so it is best to try arranging it yourself if possible.
Parental alienation is where one parent adversely influences their child in a way that causes the child to develop hostile feelings towards the other parent for no valid reason.
Examples of behaviour that can lead to parental alienation can range from frowning or ignoring the child whenever the other parent is mentioned, to one parent bad mouthing the other parent. Behaviour that can cause parental alienation is in essence, anything that causes the child to perceive the other parent in a negative light, such as one parent encouraging the child to be disrespectful towards or behave badly towards the other parent, lying to the child to make the other parent appear in a negative light or not passing on telephone messages or gifts.
It should be noted that the court has absolute discretion to make any order it sees as necessary when considering the arrangements for children and therefore if the court determines that there has been parental alienation it can make an order to alter the amount of time that the child spends with each parent, or it can in exceptional cases make an order changing which parent the child lives with.
In most circumstances, grandparents do not have an automatic legal right to see their grandchildren. They can, however, ask the Court for permission to apply for a Child Arrangements Order which will set out who the child is to spend time with. When deciding whether to grant permission, the Court will consider the nature of the proposed Application, the grandparent’s connection with the children and whether the application would disrupt the child. A successful permission Application will not automatically mean grandparents will get an Order to see the children, but it is the first stage of the 2 stage process completed.
If permission is granted, the Court will then determine the Application for a Child Arrangements Order. The Court will consider the welfare checklist (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/section/1). The children’s best interests are the Court’s paramount consideration. The Court will take into account any hostility between the parents and the grandparents and consider whether there is any risk of emotional abuse to the children by being caught in the middle of an adult conflict.
If possible, any disagreements regarding grandparents seeing their grandchildren should be resolved through mediation, family therapy or any other alternative dispute method before the Court process is utilised. Grandparents should also be aware that although they will want to see their grandchildren as much as possible, this must be balanced against setting contact at a realistic level which is workable for the children in the circumstances of the case.
A pre-nuptial agreement is a legal agreement made between two individuals before they marry. A pre-civil partnership agreement (or a pre-registration agreement) is a legal agreement made between two individuals who are planning to become civil partners. These agreements work in the same way as pre-nuptial agreements.
The pre-nuptial agreement usually sets out how the couple wish their assets to be divided between them if they later separate or divorce. Some agreements also detail how the couple currently arrange their finances and how they will arrange their finances during the marriage or civil partnership.
A pre-nuptial agreement can provide the benefits of transparency in relation to financial affairs, certainty as to how assets would be divided if the parties separate or divorce and protection for assets (such as inherited wealth or pre-marital property) from a later financial claim.
Pre-nuptial agreements therefore reduce the risk of there being uncertain, emotionally draining and financially costly court proceedings if the marriage does break down in the future.
If you believe that you may require a pre-nuptial agreement or have any questions about these agreements you should seek legal advice from one of our specialist matrimonial solicitors.
Cohabitation agreements are used by people who live together to record their legal and beneficial ownership in their shared property and to regulate their financial and living arrangements, both during cohabitation and if they ever cease to live together.
The parties to the agreement do not have to be in a romantic relationship, but they can be. Often, cohabitation agreements are used by couples who have decided not to marry or enter into a civil partnership. The property concerned can be rented, owned solely by one cohabitee, owned by one or more cohabitees together or with a third party, or owned jointly by cohabitees in equal or unequal shares. Whatever the situation, it can be written into the agreement.
Having a cohabitation agreement in place and discussing each person’s rights and obligations at the outset of living together can help parties to avoid the personal negativity, cost and uncertainty of litigation if cohabitation ends. Cohabitation agreements can help to provide a sense of reassurance and financial security for the parties. For example, provisions can be put in place for financial support for the former partner if the relationship ever ends, particularly if they have children together.
There is some uncertainty about whether the terms of a cohabitation agreement will be upheld and enforced by the court, however, the general view is that if the cohabitation agreement is properly drafted as a legal contract, then it is more likely to be enforceable. Cohabitation agreements can be a complex area of law and therefore if you wish to discuss this further we would advise that you speak with one of our specialist family solicitors.
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.
A declaration of trust is a legal document which sets out who owns what. It is a document in which one person declares that they hold assets on trust for the benefit of one or more beneficiaries. A declaration of trust is a legally binding document which can be used to formally record the financial arrangements between owners of a particular asset.
A declaration of trust is most commonly used in family disputes in relation to property which has been purchased jointly by a couple, and/or with the financial assistance of someone else, such as a gift/ inheritance from parents. Within the declaration of trust you are able to record who has paid the deposit for a home, and how you would want to split the proceeds of sale in the future if you were to separate. It can provide clarity at what may be a difficult time, and hopefully reduce any disagreements in the future in the event that you separate from your partner and wish to protect your parents’ bequest.
Common law marriage is a term coined by the media for couples who have decided to live together but not marry. There is a common misconception that once a certain amount of time has passed in these circumstances, the couple will have rights to claim against each other’s assets in the event of a breakdown of the relationship but this is not the case. Unmarried couples have very limited claims against each other, and those relate to where children are involved (maintenance through the Child Maintenance Service and maintenance and capital claims through Schedule 1 of the Children Act) and properties. The latter is covered by complex Trust Law and can involve costly litigation through the Civil Court.
It is, therefore, extremely important to consider taking legal advice if you are moving in with your partner as you may wish to enter in to a Cohabitation Agreement or Trust Deed to ensure you have an interest in the property in the event of a breakdown, especially if you are making contributions to it. A Cohabitation Agreement can also set out what will happen in the event of a breakdown e.g. who will be able to live in the property and how long the other person will have until they have to leave. An agreement whilst together is better than trying to reach one apart, it can save time, heartbreak and costs if that relationship ends.
Mediation is a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution used to settle a dispute away from court. It can be used to settle many different disputes including those concerning arrangement for children following a separation and financial matters. It is entirely voluntary and requires both parties to engage in the process with an open mind. The parties would often provide each other with some preliminary information, in the case of a financial matter, this may be an exchange of financial disclosure, and then the role of the mediator is to facilitate discussions to help the parties reach a mutually acceptable settlement. Mediation can be tailored to fit the situation so if the parties are willing everybody can all sit in the same room to discuss matters or there may be shuttle mediation whereby the couples sit in separate rooms and the mediator moves between them relaying messages and opening up the discussion.
Mediation can be advantageous in many ways as it can be quicker and less expensive than court based resolution and it allows the couple to reach an agreement they both want rather than a decision being imposed on them by a court. However, they do require co-operation and openness from both parties. Couples can attend mediation without solicitors but solicitors can attend if both parties agree. It is also common to have solicitors representing clients in the background so that they understand their legal positon and consequences of the settlement they are negotiating.
Arbitration is a method of private dispute resolution that can be used to settle private family disputes. A family arbitrator is appointed and paid for by you and your partner (whether married or not) to make a decision that is binding. The family arbitrator listens to both sides of the dispute and then comes to a decision. This decision can be made into an Order by the Court, meaning it has to be upheld.
Family arbitration can be used to help separating couples resolve disputes relating to finances, property, child maintenance and arrangements concerning children (such as where and with whom they live; who they spend time with and, their schooling).
Family arbitration is likely to produce a result more quickly and it can be more cost effective than using the court process to resolve your dispute. Your lawyer can attend your arbitration sessions and support you throughout.
A non-molestation order is a form of injunctive relief used when there is harassment / domestic violence within a domestic setting. It is commonly used when you or your children are the victim of domestic violence committed by a partner/ex-partner, but it can also be used if the acts are committed by a relative or by somebody who has had an intimate personal relationship with you. Such domestic violence can take many forms but is typically acts of physical violence, intimidation or harassment as well as more subtle forms such as coercion.
When non-molestation orders are granted, they usually require the perpetrator to stop:
- Using or threatening violence against you
- Intimidating, harassing or pestering you
- Contacting you including in person, by phone, letter or electronic means including social media
- Damaging or threatening to damage your property and possessions
They also prevent the perpetrator from encouraging somebody else to do these things on their behalf.
In addition, a non-molestation order may prevent the perpetrator from coming within a particular distance of your home or your child’s school
Breaching the order without a reasonable excuse is a criminal offence so the perpetrator can be arrested and punished by way of a fine or up to 5 years imprisonment.
As the law stands, the financial rights of unmarried couples are limited. It is a myth that somebody can become a common law spouse if they have lived together for a number of years. If a couple is not married, there is no entitlement to maintenance (income on an ongoing basis) or to a share of the other’s assets no matter how long they have been together for. A person who has enjoyed a particular lifestyle, living in their partner’s house and with their partner meeting the day to day living costs may find themselves in a difficult financial position on separation as the financially stronger party is not obliged to provide housing nor to continue meeting living expenses.
That said, there are two indirect options to consider.
If there are children, they may be able to claim child maintenance from their partner and depending upon circumstances, they may be able to obtain an order to be provided with accommodation for them and their child until the child turns 18. However the house is normally returned to the party who has provided it once the child turns 18.
Another option to consider is whether you have or have acquired an interest in property belonging to a partner due to agreements reached and the way you have conducted your finances. This however can be a complicated area of law which is very fact specific and requires specialist legal advice.