We understand that dealing with family matters can be incredibly difficult. We are therefore focussed and committed to working with you to minimise the stress and make your journey as smooth as possible. You will be provided with tailored advice in an empathetic and supportive manner, helping you to navigate what is considered one of the most difficult periods in your life.
We are committed to working efficiently and in a cost-effective manner for you. Our specialist Family Lawyers advise and represent clients on a range of comprehensive matters including:
- Financial disputes
- Arrangements for children
- Cohabitation agreements
- Separation agreements
- Pre and Post-Nuptial agreements
- Civil partnerships
- Judicial separations
- Protection from domestic abuse
We have outlined below what each of these mean and how we can work with you to reach the best outcome for you.
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The divorce process can be a challenging time for you and your family, we understand this and have the expertise to guide you through the legal process in simple and efficient way. There are often children, shared assets, pensions and the family home to think about, this can be become over-whelming.
We can help you decide on who should commence the divorce process and which of the 5 facts will be used to support your petition. We will handle all of the stress and pressure for you as we guide you through the process.
Procedure for divorce
Usually the Legal Representative for the Applicant will write to the Respondent first to inform them that the divorce petition will be sent to the Court. The completed divorce petition will then be sent to the Court who will provide a copy to the Respondent spouse together with the Acknowledgment of Service form for them to complete and return to the Court. It is on the Acknowledgement of service form that the Respondent will confirm whether or not they intend to defend the petition for divorce and whether or not they agree to pay the Applicant’s costs for the divorce. Costs will usually be awarded if the divorce petition is based on adultery or unreasonable behaviour on part of the Respondent. The Court will then send a sealed copy of the Acknowledgment of Service to the Applicant’s Legal Representative who will then prepare the next stage of the divorce, which is the application for Decree Nisi. The Judge will at this stage consider granting the Decree Nisi without the attendance of either party at Court. Attendance will only be necessary where there is a dispute as to costs of the proceedings or if the divorce is defended by the Respondent. This is very unusual, only in exceptional circumstances would the Court refuse to divorce a couple.
Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute
Following consideration of the documentation by a District Judge, the Applicant’s Legal Representative will receive a Certificate of Entitlement to a Decree Nisi together with a date confirming when the Decree Nisi will be pronounced. The Decree Nisi is the first decree in the proceedings and does not dissolve the marriage. Once Decree Nisi has been received the Applicant will need to wait six weeks plus one day before they are able to apply for the Decree Absolute, which is the document that will formally dissolve the marriage.
It is common for the Applicant not to apply for the Decree Absolute until the financial aspects of the divorce have been resolved, particularly in cases involving entitlement to a pension or a right to occupy the matrimonial home because these entitlements might otherwise automatically end upon the Decree Absolute. In some circumstances, if the Applicant does not apply for the Decree Absolute, the Respondent may apply after an additional three months from when the Applicant could have applied. If a year lapses between the Decree Nisi being pronounced and the application for the Decree Absolute, permission to apply for the Decree Absolute must be sought from the Court. At any time up to the application for the Decree Absolute, an Applicant may withdraw from the proceedings. The Decree Absolute is the final stage of the Divorce and is the document which officially ends the marriage and proves you are divorced. You will need this document should you wish to remarry or form a civil partnership in the future
The divorce process will require both parties to the marriage to reach an agreement about how they will divide the assets of the marriage, which will include joint assets and assets in their respective sole names. All of these assets are usually considered ‘matrimonial assets’, with the exception of inheritance received by either party. Inheritances may be excluded if the housing needs of both parties can be met from the matrimonial assets and they have not been mingled with other matrimonial assets.
In order to work out the best way of dividing the matrimonial assets, it is necessary to ascertain the extent and nature of the same. This is often done by the parties voluntarily competing a Form E financial statement. This is a comprehensive document and requires each party to state (with evidence) their capital, income, liabilities, outgoings, values of properties, business and requirement for housing going forward. Once both parties are happy that full and frank disclosure has been made, negotiations for a final settlement can begin. Where a final agreement is reached, this will be recorded in a Matrimonial Consent Order and will be sent to the Court for consideration and if satisfied sealed as an Order of the Court (no attendance necessary).
The nature and extent of the financial settlement will be determined by reference to following legal principles;
• The income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources of the parties,
• The financial needs of the parties,
• The standard of living enjoyed by the family prior to the breakdown of the marriage,The ages of the parties and the duration of the marriage,
• Any physical or mental disability of either of the parties,
• The financial or other contributions which each of the parties has made to the marriage,
• The conduct of each of the parties, if that conduct is significant and related to finances,
• The loss of any benefit to the parties as a result of the breakdown of the marriage.
Financial Remedy Proceedings
In some cases, it may not be suitable for the parties to provide financial disclosure on a voluntary basis, which we will discuss with you in detail before issuing Court proceedings. Court proceedings will only be issued when absolutely necessary in order to provide our clients with a cost-effective service.
The Court will set a timetable and framework for completing financial disclosure and will list the matter for a series of hearings in order to settle the case. This does not prevent the matter from being settled at any time via negotiations. If the matter remains unsettled after the second hearing, known as the Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing, there will usually be a Final Hearing where the Court will determine how the matrimonial assets will be divided. The Court will make a series of Orders which the parties must comply otherwise costs sanctions may apply.
These are agreements which are drafted to protect the rights of unmarried couples who are cohabiting together. Property disputes between cohabitees are resolved by using existing property and law and the law of Trusts. This is a very complex, uncertain and expensive area to litigate upon. Its therefore critical to enter into a detailed Cohabitation Agreement to avoid litigation at a later stage. We would advise you to seek advice if you are considering entering into a Cohabitation Agreement or if you have received a copy of an Agreement from your partner.
These are agreements which are drafted to help parties reach an agreement concerning money and property upon the breakdown of the relationship. The parties can include the terms they wish in this agreement to cover all aspects of their financial situation. They can offer breathing space should parties not wish to commence divorce or dissolution proceedings. The agreement should be comprehensive as well as realistic. We would advise you to seek advice if you are considering entering into a Separation Agreement or if you have received a copy of a Separation Agreement from your partner.
Pre-Nuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements
A pre-nuptial agreement is signed before marriage/civil partnership and a post nuptial agreement is signed after marriage/civil partnership. These agreements set out what each person can expect financially during and after the marriage or civil partnership. Although not currently binding in England and Wales, over recent years the Courts are placing more weight on these types of agreements, depending upon the circumstances of the case.
Same-sex and opposite-sex couples are free to enter into a Civil Partnership as an alternative to marriage. Civil partners have broadly the same rights as married couples and the Court has the power to make orders in relation to finances and children.
Just as for opposite-sex couples, same-sex couples can also get married as provided for under The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.
This is an alternative to divorce and means that you remain married but the obligation to live together as a couple no longer exists. This option can be preferable due to religious reasons. Parties may still apply for financial orders (except a pension sharing order).
Issues around children matters often arise following the breakdown of a relationship. The law around children is covered under the Children Act 1989 and there are key principles which the Court take into consideration; the welfare of the children (this involves the Court using the Welfare Checklist), the no-delay principle and the no-order principle. The wishes and feelings of the child (depending on their age, level of maturity and understanding) in addition to the capabilities of the parents amongst other things are also considered..
The Court can make various orders when dealing with child arrangements;
Child Arrangement Orders including who a child should primarily live with (‘live with order’); and when and with whom the child should spend time with the other parent or another person (‘spend time with order’)
Specific Issue Orders – this allows the Court to make an order concerning an issue which has arisen in connection with a parent exercising their parental responsibility, for example changing the surname of the child, issues involving which religion the child should follow, which school the child should attend etc.
Prohibited Steps Orders – this order allows the Court to prevent a specific action from occurring in connection with a child, for example where one parent wishes to relocate with the child which would result in removing the child from the jurisdiction of England and Wales
Parental Responsibility Order – this grants the (unmarried) biological father or second female parent parental responsibility for the child.
Domestic abuse can cover physical, psychological, sexual, financial and emotional abuse.
The law provides protection from harassment and abuse under the Family Law Act 1996 by way of non-molestation orders or occupation orders (injunctions).
Non – Molestation Orders are orders designed to protect a person or relevant child from violence, threats of violence and emotional abuse (amongst other things) by an ‘associated person’.
Occupation Orders are orders designed to protect you and any relevant child’s right to return to or remain in occupation of your family home. An occupation order can also be used to exclude a perpetrator from the property and a specific area around the property.
The Court will use the ‘balance of harm’ test to balance any harm which the Applicant or relevant child will suffer if no order is made against the harm that the Respondent will suffer if the order is made. The usual duration for these orders is six months but can be extended to 12 months by the Court.
In all matters, our approach is simple, if we can resolve your matter though mediation and by working collaboratively through negotiations, then we will do just that. The Court process is always the last resort, as it should be. Having said that, if we feel your matter has reached the point where it is best resolved by issuing Court proceedings then we will advise you accordingly.
We strive to deliver clear, honest and professional advice to help you achieve the best possible solution for you and your family.
We are members of Resolution and we therefore understand the importance of providing compassionate, professional advice in a constructive, non-confrontational way in respect of family law matters.
Divorce & Business
Divorce and separation can also affect a family business, partnership or trust. We have a dedicated team of Commercial Lawyers who can advise you and will collaborate with us to ensure you are receiving the best possible service.
Quite a number of our clients run their own businesses, whether as single shareholders or with a group of business partners who might be family or friends. Because we treat our clients as individuals whose business and personal lives are inextricably linked, we have always worked hard to ‘future-proof’ the companies we help to look after with robust shareholders agreements. However, life can take unpredictable twists and turns and we have also found ourselves supporting clients through family proceedings where orders have been made around share sales – we have even advised family judges on company law to ensure the best outcome for our client and the long-term health of the business.
How we work
We will provide you with a quote at the outset of your matter for each stage that may be required. Wherever possible, we will offer a fixed fee so that you do not need to worry about being charged for every interaction and can feel confident to consult us whenever you need to. Fixed fees are subject to our fair usage policy and will be based on the particular circumstances of your case. We will ask you for a payment on account (a proportion of the fee quoted for the first stage). Once the initial funds have been used, we will provide you with further quotes or fixed fees, taking into account the progression of your case. We also provide regular costs updates throughout your case.