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What is family law?

Family law solicitors help people through the legal aspects and implications in a difficult period of their life. This can include dealing with property, tax, child custody arrangements and prenuptial agreements. Most issues need to be handled extremely delicately

Marriage and civil partnership – if you and your partner plan to get married or enter into a civil partnership, you may need or want to make certain legal arrangements beforehand. For example, a prenuptial agreement that protects your finances and property in case of separation. If the relationship breaks down, the agreement will outline who should get what and how assets should be divided. Good quality family law solicitors are essential.

Cohabitation –couples who live together but aren’t married, and who want to set out what should happen to property and assets if they should split up can do so in a cohabitation agreement, similar to a prenuptial agreement. Crucially, it protects the rights of unmarried couples, especially those who have been in a relationship for a long time and have many shared assets. Family solicitors are experts at drafting these arrangements.

Divorce – the breakdown of a relationship is when many people need expert legal advice the most. A lot of marriages end in divorce every year – about 100,000. In many cases it is not easy to untangle the complicated web which is everyday life, and emotions are likely to be running high. High quality divorce solicitors can prove invaluable – the financial aspects of marriage breakdown need to be addressed before the divorce is finalised.

It can, and does, take a long time for some divorces to go through – others are happily more straightforward.

Key steps in a divorce:

  1. State reasons for the divorce:
    • Adultery – either by admission, or by proof
    • Behaviour – you will need to explain what, but it doesn’t need an admission.
    • Separation by 2 years, with agreement
    • Separation by 5 years, with or without agreement.
    • Desertion for 2 years – rarely used.
  2. Divorce petition – the petitioner starts the process and the respondent responds.
  3. Submit the petition, and pay the fee. Deal with the tricky issue of finances
  4. Await response – if not defended the court may award the decree nisi (interim divorce).
  5. Apply for decree nisi
  6. Apply for decree absolute – 12 months after the decree nisi.

Domestic violence – if you have experienced domestic violence, legal advice is essential. A family solicitor can help with the legal arrangements to keep you and your children safe, and offer advice to help start a new life.

Parental responsibility– these are the legal rights, duties and responsibilities a parent has for a child, as well as property the child owns. To have a say in the important decisions in a child’s life, such as where they go to school and live, you need to establish parental responsibility. Birth mothers have automatic parental responsibility, while the situation can vary when it comes to fathers. Establishing parental responsibility is a legal issue involving many different factors, requiring legal expertise. All further arrangements involving custody (child arrangements), child maintenance and other matters following a separation will hinge on parental responsibility, so it’s important to get it right.

Child custody arrangements – this is usually one of the biggest issues in any separation. Where children will live, who will look after them and how child arrangements will be split or shared are all matters that need to be decided for the good of the children. It can be very difficult for a couple at loggerheads to reach an agreement, and animosity between parents can easily reach a point which is harmful to their children. A family solicitor can help to navigate this and work with you towards reaching an agreement that is fair to all. If you feel your rights as a parent are being ignored or that an arrangement agreement is unfair, it’s important to seek legal advice as soon as possible to find out what your options are.

Children's rights – if a couple splits up, the rights of their children need to be protected and upheld in just the same way as their parents. A family law solicitor can make sure that children get a fair deal in a divorce or other difficult family situation.

Child protection – when steps are taken to safeguard a child from harm, the courts are often involved. This is why a child custody solicitor is needed, to help protect the child’s rights, represent the parent and navigate the family towards a positive outcome.

Adoption – the adoption process can be drawn out and complicated, causing frustration for people who simply want to welcome a new member to their family. Family law solicitors with experience of the process can help to streamline and make it easier as well as quicker. 

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