Family Law

We aren’t lawyers first, we’re family members – brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters.

We understand what it’s like to be part of something bigger and we understand what it feels like when that unit is under threat. If you need to instruct one of our lawyers as you deal with a divorce, separation, or any other issue relating to family breakdown, you can be assured that the person handling your case will treat you with the sensitivity and care that you need because, well, it’s what they would want too.

You can find out more about the services we offer below. Or why not just get in touch and we can discuss how we can help.

Joanna Abrahams

Joanna Abrahams

Head of Family Law

Free 30 minute family law consultation

GET IN TOUCH

Setfords Solicitors offers a free 30 minute family law consultation nationwide, where you can speak to us on the phone for advice on family related issues.

If you are in need of family advice, get in touch now.

All too often, when a relationship breaks down there can be an enormous impact on the children. To safeguard their interests, issues involving children need to be dealt with quickly and efficiently.

We will therefore help you focus on their welfare to achieve what is in their best interests, whether through negotiation, mediation or by an application to the Court.

Issues relating to your children are equally important outside a marital situation. We can guide you through your rights and responsibilities as a mother or father and take whatever action is agreed to be necessary.

A court can be invited to make a Child Arrangements order that is to decide with which person a child shall live and with whom he/she shall spend time. For example, the court may order that the child shall live with his mother in week 1 and live with his father in week 2. This has replaced the old residence and contact orders.  We do still see orders making reference to contact but this terminology is, it seems, being replaced with “spend time with”.

Some categories of individuals can make an application to court for a child arrangement order, without having to seek permission of the court first to so do. Those who can apply without permission include the parents, (or guardian or special guardian) anyone with PR (see below),anyone who has had the child live with them for 3 years, anyone who has an existing residence order, or any party to a marriage or to a civil partnership where the child is classed as a child of the family. We can advise on the application and whether leave (permission) needs to be sought.

Parental responsibility is shared between all married parents even after divorce. Others can apply to the Court for parental responsibility, such as step-parents, those who have formed a civil partnership and unmarried fathers. Unmarried fathers who have children born after 01/12/03 obtain parental responsibility automatically if they are named on the birth certificate. if you have an existing order for residence, you automatically obtain parental responsibility.

The Court can make other orders limiting parental rights and duties or to resolve a specific issue that has arisen.

The Court will consider:

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child (considered in the light of the child’ age and understanding)
  • The child’ physical, emotional and educational needs
  • The likely effect on the child of any change in his/her circumstances
  • The child’ age, sex, background and any other characteristic the Court considers relevant
  • Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
  • How capable each of the child’ parents is of meeting the child’ needs
  • The Court will not make any order unless it is better for the child that there is an order as opposed to no order at all.

There is a presumption that the Court should not get involved. You are the parents and best placed to decide what is best for your child. The Court will only intervene if there is a dispute. To avoid costly Court proceedings you may like to consider a mediation service which we can refer you to.  indeed the court will require the parties to have attempted mediation unless there are good reasons not to so do – these reasons are set out in categories on the application form C100 . We will advise you on this.

The team at Setfords Solicitors can advise on any aspect of dispute where children are involved and discuss ways of resolution which are conciliatory and beneficial for the future.

There has been a huge increase in co-habiting couples over the last decade. If you and your partner are intending to set up home together or are already living together, you should think carefully about setting up a Cohabitation Agreement.

This is a formal written agreement for couples who choose to live together but not to marry. No one wants to think negatively at the beginning of a relationship but it’ important to understand that, should the relationship break down in the future, cohabiting couples have no legal status.

Unfortunately, couples often do not take legal advice when making joint financial decisions such as buying a house and this can cause problems in the event that the parties’ relationship breaks down. The law treats unmarried couples differently to married couples and contrary to belief in England and Wales there is no such thing as a ‘common law spouse’ and, if couples separate, they must rely on complex property and trust law to establish who owns what. It is therefore very important that the parties’ intentions in relation to contributions towards any financial assets are recorded to avoid a contentious dispute in the future.

In this respect, Cohabitation Agreements and Declarations of Trust can be entered into to record both parties’ intentions.

Good reasons why you should consider a Cohabitation Agreement:

  • It will help to protect your finances by clarifying financial commitments, working out how income and expenditure responsibilities are to be shared
  • It is sensible when only one of you owns the home you both intend to share
  • If you buy your house together a trust deed can make clear your plans for mortgage payments, share in the property and how the proceeds of a future sale should be divided should you separate or one of you die
  • It allows you to look ahead and put in place contingency plans for unexpected events such as children, separation, long-term illness or death
  • There is some financial protection for the children of unmarried couples; however couples with children or thinking of having children outside marriage should seriously consider taking legal advice
  • Discussing what goes into an agreement can be emotionally difficult but can bring a maturity to the relationship by talking through major decisions

Right now a Cohabitation Agreement is not enforceable or binding by law, but Judges are increasingly placing weight on the contents when they are given in evidence in Court following a breakdown in the relationship. If both of you share information honestly, and both get independent legal advice to form the Agreement, then there is a much better chance that the Courts will hold each party to their side of the bargain.

In the event that there is a financial dispute between cohabitees where no legal document exists defining each party’ financial interest, we are able to advise you on reaching a settlement with your former partner in relation to this. There are legal principles which set out how property should be divided and a settlement can be negotiated and if this is unsuccessful, Court proceedings can be instituted.

It is also advisable for couples who live together to make Wills because, without one, any assets owned by you will go to your next of kin and not to your partner.

Relationships can go through many changes during their lifetime. The ending of a marriage can be a distressing time whether you have taken the decision or your spouse has taken it for you. We appreciate how traumatic the end of a marriage can be and we aim to assist our clients giving consideration to the emotional stress they will be going through by taking away the burden of dealing with the legal formalities involved in a marriage breakdown.

We can advise and guide you through this process, drafting the necessary papers and dealing with the Court on your behalf. In the event of you having received a divorce petition, we can deal with this quickly on your behalf to protect your interests.

There is one ground for divorce in this country – the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, based on one of five facts which must be proved by the person asking for the divorce (the Petitioner):

  • Adultery of the other partner
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Separation over two years with the other party consenting
  • Separation of five years where consent is unnecessary
  • Desertion (rarely used)

It is not possible to petition for divorce within the first year of marriage (although this does not apply to petitions for the annulment of the marriage or judicial separation actions).

The Court process can take between four and six months from the issue of proceedings to the grant of the Decree Absolute (the final decree which dissolves the marriage). This does not necessarily include dealing with financial issues and/or children disputes which may arise and the time can vary from Court to Court. You may of course be advised not to apply for the Decree Absolute until the finances have been resolved.

Our aim in all cases of divorce is to bring about a successful conclusion to your case & with the minimum of distress. Dealing with matters in a conciliatory way is always advisable. The family law department at Setfords Solicitors follow the Code of Practice of Resolution, adopting a robust but sympathetic approach to your problems with the expertise and assistance needed at this difficult time.

The financial aspects of separation can often give rise to more concern than the separation itself. You may be concerned about how much you will receive or how much you may to have pay.

Having fully identified and understood your financial resources, we can discuss with you the options available. These may include maintenance payments by you or for you or your children, payment of lump sums of money, transfer or sale of property and dividing up pensions.

No two cases are the same. We will look at your case and its unique facts and apply the law to help you achieve the most suitable solution. Initially, we will attempt to resolve any outstanding issues through negotiations however if this fails, it may be necessary to institute Court proceedings and we will advise and act for you until conclusion of the matter.

Our team is focused on managing the client’s expectations. With the expertise we have available, you will be given a realistic assessment of your case. The team has a range of other professional experts and Barristers with whom it has a good working relationship if further advice is required.

Our Mediation department handles all aspects of Family Mediation. Our mediators are also qualified family law solicitors who understand the law as well as being trained in mediation skills.

What is Mediation and how can it help me?

Mediation is an alternative method to resolving the issues that result when couples decide to separate. It is a voluntary process whereby a qualified Mediator assists the participants to reach a mutually acceptable agreement with the least tension and hostility and avoids costly contested Court Proceedings.

A mediator does not provide legal advice or counselling but provides impartial input to enable couples to reach an agreement that they are both content with. Our mediators are trained to help couples reach an agreement about how to make the best arrangements for the future. This is typically considering the way that the children may be cared for, or how finances will be organised. Mediation is considered one of the most amicable and cost effective ways to agree issues arising from separation.

Mediators guide couples away from the concept of rights and liabilities, and assist them to reach an agreement which meets their children’s and their own needs and interests. Decisions are made by the participants rather than a Court ‘imposing’ a decision that neither may be happy with. Agreements reached in mediation enable the participants revolve around reaching practical and fair solutions to both involved and any children.

Agreements reached in Mediation can be formalised into Consent Court Order, where appropriate, and then become legally binding.

http://youtu.be/RDxpWwA9NU4 – short animation by Ministry of Justice outlining the benefits of mediation

How many sessions are involved?

Mediation is a flexible process so there is no set number of sessions. However, typically there will be between 3 and 5 sessions each lasting 1.5 hours. However, sometimes agreements can be reached in 1 or 2 sessions.

Mediation Information and Assessment meetings (MIAM)

Since April 2011 anyone who wants to make a court application in relation to the vast majority of private family law matters, which includes any applications relating to either finances or children’s issues, needs to attend a meeting with a suitably qualified mediator. This is an opportunity for the mediator to provide information and assess whether the matter is suitable for mediation. If not suitable for mediation, the mediator can provide an FM1 form which then enables the parties to commence court proceedings or explore options other than mediation.

Our lawyer/mediators can provide MIAMs at a fixed rate.

Child Consultation and Mediation between parents/ older teenage children

Many parents feel it is beneficial for their children to have a voice in the decisions that are being made on their behalf. Our mediators can provide ‘Direct Child Consultation’ which involves the mediator meeting with a child/ children to ascertain their views in an informal manner. Parents often find this information useful when discussing ideas and making decisions in regard to the arrangements for their children. Mediators undertake further extensive training in order to be able to carry out ‘Direct Child Consultation’.

Some parents find it useful to have a mediation session with their older teenage child if problems have arisen within the relationship that may be resolved by both attending a meeting with an impartial third party- the mediator.

What next?

Setfords Solicitors provide a complete service for our clients and are committed to the resolution of family problems by negotiation and conciliation wherever possible.

We offer a free initial informal telephone consultation to discuss your individual circumstances. At your initial consultation, we will provide you with advice as to the next steps and outline the options available to you.

Pre-marital agreements, sometimes known as Prenups, are becoming more popular in this country even though they can seem to be un-romantic. However, many people enter into such agreements as a realistic and positive step. Pre-marital agreements can provide clarity and certainty for the future for a couple about to enter into a life long commitment.

There are many reasons why a pre-marital agreement may be a good idea for you:

  • To predict the outcome of any divorce settlement before you marry
  • To save on costs and acrimony that sometimes result in divorce proceedings
  • To prevent speculative claims following a short marriage
  • To protect family assets which are intended to pass through generations
  • To protect those marrying later in life or for a second time, who may not have children
  • To limit the claims of a second spouse, and so protect the needs of children from previous marriages

Pre-marital agreements are not enforceable by the Courts however the Courts seem to be attaching more and more weight to them and it is only a matter of time before they become legally enforceable. At present, the Court will consider the factors that affect the importance of such agreements, including whether the agreement was made abroad, the length of the marriage, financial contributions made by each party, the provision made in the agreement for the support of the wife and any child, whether financial information was shared honestly when the agreement was signed and the parties’ intentions at the time.

You don’t have to get divorced; you may prefer simply to formalise your separation with a Separation Deed.

It is not necessary for you to be living in a separate house from your husband or wife; you may be living separately under the same roof and still be able to agree terms.

A Separation Deed can deal with children issues and financial matters, or any other matters that you wish to cover, such as the division of the contents of your home and personal belongings.

A Separation Deed can form the basis of a contract between you; however the Court in any subsequent divorce proceedings is not bound by the agreement, although it will be considered as one of the circumstances of the case.  It is good evidence of what you intended but each of you is entitled to have your circumstances at the time of any Court proceedings taken into account. Most financial applications within divorce are settled by consent and, provided the terms of the Separation Deed represent a fair division of assets and the arrangements for the children are satisfactory, the Court is likely to endorse your agreement.

It is usual for there to be full disclosure of your finances before terms of separation are agreed and the negotiations should generally proceed on that basis. An agreement is less likely to be displaced in subsequent proceedings if full and frank disclosure has been provided and both parties received independent legal advice.

Our aim in all cases of separation is to bring about a successful conclusion to your case & with the minimum of distress.

Setfords Solicitors understand that matters surrounding Parental Alienation are emotional and stressful. Our expert solicitors are experienced in all aspects surrounding implacably hostile parents and will work with you to achieve the best outcome for you and your children.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parents who separate can often feel that they want to be in control when it comes to their children. This can stem from a multitude of reasons such as feelings of resentment, fear or anger towards their former partner. It is important that a child’s needs are put above and beyond that of the feelings which the parents may hold towards each other. Children are heavily influenced by their parents and hostility between the two can have an unfortunate result in their child; in effect, siding with one parent against the non-resident parent, intentionally or unintentionally. This may manifest itself as the child’s desire to reject all contact with that parent.

When Parental Alienation arises between implacably hostile parents, it is essential not just to address the hostile parent’s behaviour but also to consider what course of action is in the best interests of the child, with a view to promoting a relationship with both parents whilst trying to minimise further trauma or distress.