Family Law

At Aston Knight solicitors, we understand that a relationship breakdown can be an extremely stressful and challenging time for all those involved. As a result, we are focused on offering the very best legal advice to get you the best possible outcome.

For many facing divorce, separation or issues concerning children, a trusted family lawyer plays a big part in helping to sort out what can be complex and difficult issues involving the family, children, the home and finances.

Our family law team specialise in providing our clients with sympathetic advice and assistance to help you through this difficult time whilst ensuring you are aware of the options available to you.

Every case is different but from the outset our specialist solicitors are on hand to advise and guide you through the process ensuring your issues are handled in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. Our experienced solicitors demonstrate both technical knowledge and a sympathetic approach. We promote results through problem-solving and encourage the use of alternatives to court whenever possible but possess the advocacy skills to represent your interest at court hearings when necessary.

At Aston Knight Solicitors we offer advice and representation in all aspects of family law. The areas we cover include:

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If you need help with a family matter, child protection case, divorce or other related matter, then our Family solicitors are here to help. Please contact us on 0800 999 6661 for a free appointment to discuss your case and the options available.

Divorce and Dissolution of Civil Partnerships

At Aston Knight solicitors we have a team of divorce solicitors who can help you deal with the process. We understand that every case is different and take great care in listening to our clients.

We understand that money is an important aspect of divorce proceedings. Our clients can benefit from a fixed fee structure so that they are fully aware of the legal costs before commencing divorce proceedings. If they prefer they can ‘pay as you go’ or pay by instalments.

Divorce is a relatively straightforward legal procedure provided there are no unforeseen circumstances. The average timescale for completion is four to six months.

  1. The Steps to Divorce
  2. The Petition
  3. The Acknowledgement of Service
  4. Decree Nisi
  5. Decree Absolute

 

The Petition

The petition allows you to apply for divorce by asking for the Court’s permission. There is one ground for divorce and this is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The Petitioner (the person applying for the divorce) must satisfy the Court of one or more of the five facts, which are set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973:

The respondent (the other party) has committed adultery and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with him or her;

  • The respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with him or her;
  • The respondent has deserted the petitioner for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition;
  • Both parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition and the respondent consents to a decree being granted;
  • Both parties to the marriage have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition.

The Acknowledgement of Service

Once the petition is sent to the court, you will be issued with an Acknowledgement of Service form. This form is sent to the respondent (i.e. your spouse), along with the petition, and will inform them that you have requested a divorce. They will be asked to fill out some questions about when they received the form as well as the reason for the divorce. This process enables your spouse to contest the divorce if they object to it.

Decree Nisi

The Court will send the completed acknowledgment of service to you and you must complete the application for the Decree Nisi, and a statement in support. The Court will issue a certificate of entitlement indicating that you are entitled to the divorce and setting a date for the Decree Nisi. You are still married after the decree-nisi – it is simply confirmation that the court accepts that a divorce should take place.

Decree Absolute

Six weeks and one day after the date of the decree nisi, you can apply to make the divorce final and obtain the decree absolute. This is the legal document which officially terminates the marriage. It is usual to delay applying for the decree absolute until the terms of the financial settlement have been resolved.

Dissolution of a civil partnership

The procedure for applying for dissolution of a civil partnership is almost identical, apart from some of the terms are different, for example instead of divorce, you apply for a dissolution, and instead of a decree nisi you apply for a conditional order, and instead of a decree absolute you apply for a final order. Unlike in divorce, adultery cannot be relied upon as reason to dissolve a civil partnership.

Cohabitation

As the marriage rate in England and Wales continues to fall, the number of unmarried but cohabiting couples is on the rise. However, there is currently no law in England and Wales which recognises the needs of a cohabiting couple if their relationship breaks down as there is with divorce. This means that if you decide to separate you don’t automatically have the right to share in each other’s finances and property. In the event of a property dispute, trust and land law is applied instead.

The key difference between married and cohabiting couples is the financial provisions the court can make for the other party when they separate. These are much more limited for cohabiting couples.

The breakdown of a relationship or the death of one party can be a financial disaster for a dependent cohabitee. You are not legally recognised as a couple, making it very difficult to share in the family home or your partner’s finances if you split. There is no automatic entitlement to make property, capital or pension claims and there is no maintenance. The children of such relationships may also be left at a financial disadvantage.

Whether you are moving in together or just planning a future, it is a good idea to seek legal advice as there are certain steps you can take to give yourself certainty and avoid potential unfairness.

We can help you and your partner put together a Cohabitation Agreement.

This clarifies:

  • Who owns what, including your home, joint bank accounts and possessions
  • How payment of household bills is to be divided
  • Maintenance payments for any children, including school fees and payments for housing.

Cohabitation agreements are legally binding and enforceable, giving you peace of mind and security for the future.

If you would like to know more about Cohabitation or would like advice concerning a Cohabitation Agreement please contact our specialist team of Family Law Solicitors on 0800 999 6661 or email info@astonknightsolicitors.co.uk for further help and guidance.

Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements

What is a Prenuptial Agreement?

A premarital or prenuptial agreement (also known as a pre-nup) is a formal, written agreement between two partners prior to their marriage or civil partnership. It can be a measure of securing their assets before marriage. It sets out ownership of all their belongings (including money, assets and property) and explains how it will be divided in the event of a breakdown of their marriage or civil partnership. This agreement is beneficial for those who have pre-marriage assets.

What is a Postnuptial Agreement?

A postnuptial agreement (also known as a post-nup) is similar to a prenuptial agreement; the difference being the contract takes place after marriage or civil partnership. The agreement is drawn up during a marriage or a partnership allowing both parties to distribute their assets in the event of a divorce or separation. It gives couples the autonomy to choose what their marriage will look like going forward, and what will happen should it come to an end.

Why should I have a Prenuptial or Postnuptial Agreement?

Judges in England and Wales have a huge discretion on divorce when dealing with finances. Courts can transfer property and cash sums between spouses and award substantial maintenance to be paid.

Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements should be considered in the following types of cases:

  • If you would like to be clear about what the financial arrangements will be in the event of a divorce
  • If you wish to protect your business interests, trust interests, inherited wealth or assets owned before your marriage
  • If you wish to reduce the likelihood of incurring significant legal fees in the event of divorce.

Pre-nups can be particularly useful for those starting a second marriage where for example they want to protect assets brought into the marriage from an earlier relationship, or ensure that such assets can be passed on to children from that relationship.

If you are worried about the future of your marriage, postnups can provide financial security, allowing you to focus wholly on working on your relationship.

What can be included in a Pre and Post Nuptial Agreement?

Both pre-nups and post-nups usually deal with what will happen to the parties’ finances if the relationship were to break down, but it can include anything you want it to, such as who will start the divorce or dissolution proceedings and when.

Common things covered in the agreement are:

  • What would happen to property either of you brought into the marriage.
  • What would happen to the family home
  • What would happen to any property given to you or inherited during the marriage
  • What would happen to joint assets
  • What would happen to your pensions
  • How would you deal with debts
  • Would either of you pay or receive any maintenance and, if so, for how long

Are Pre and Postnuptial Agreement Legally Binding?

As the law currently stands, neither a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement is legally binding in England and Wales. However, the attitude of the Court towards them has changed considerably over the years. If done properly these agreements should be upheld in the future. The Courts in the ground-breaking Supreme Court case of Radmacher v Granatino [2010], found that provided certain factors are met, pre-nuptial agreements should now be considered as virtually determinative. The factors the court will look at are the following:

  1. The agreement must be freely entered into;
  2. The parties must have a full appreciation of the implications of the agreement; and
  3. It must not be unfair to hold the parties to their agreement in the circumstances prevailing.

How can we help?

If you are considering entering into a pre or postnuptial agreement it is important to obtain independent legal advice from a family lawyer.

In the first instance, we can advise you as to whether it is advisable to have a pre-nup or post-nup and suggest suitable provisions which could be made for your spouse/partner in the event of the breakdown of the marriage or partnership which would be likely to satisfy the court’s requirement.

We will then help you to collate and present your financial disclosure and draft the agreement.

We are also able to advise the financially weaker party on the effect of a pre-nup instigated by their future spouse on their rights; whether it is to their advantage, financially or otherwise, to enter into the agreement and whether the provisions of the agreement are fair. If appropriate we can negotiate on your behalf with the other party’s solicitor to improve the proposed terms.

If you would like to know more about Pre or Postnuptial Agreements or would like advice concerning a Pre or Postnuptial Agreement please contact our specialist team of Family Law Solicitors on 0800 999 6661 or email info@astonknightsolicitors.co.uk for further help and guidance.

Domestic Abuse

At Aston Knight solicitors we are aware that there are people who are subjected to domestic violence in their homes on an all-too regular basis. Domestic abuse can take the form of emotional, psychological or physical. It can be verbal abuse, harassment, domination and control as well as physical and sexual violence.

We also recognise those people who have been subject to allegations of domestic violence and we are able to assist in providing expert legal advice.

Whatever your situation, our experienced and dedicated team are able to assist.

We assist victims of domestic abuse in quickly obtaining the protection from their partners or ex-partners.

If you have been a victim of domestic abuse you may be entitled to apply to the court to prevent any further violent incidents

Our experienced family law team are committed to handling matters sensitively and can advise you on:

  • What steps should be taken before court proceedings are started
  • Action that can be taken by the police
  • Urgent with or without notice court applications
  • An application to the court for a non-molestation order to prohibit the other party from using or threatening violence, approaching the victim within a certain perimeter of the victim’s home or communicating with the victim.
  • An application to the court for an occupation order to exclude the perpetrator from returning to the family home or prohibit the perpetrator from returning to a shared property in the event the parties have already separated, and harassment and/or abuse is continuing post separation.
  • Enforcement of court orders

Our team of experienced solicitors will work with you to ensure you feel safe enough to make an application for an Order of the court. We offer appointments on an emergency basis. If you have been the subject of domestic violence or the subject of allegations of domestic violence and have concerns, please contact one of our specialist lawyers to discuss your options on 0800 999 6661.

Marriage and Civil Partnership

What is marriage?

Marriage is a formal contract voluntarily entered into between two persons to live together in a relationship for life to the exclusion of all others. Both heterosexual and homosexual couples can get married. It creates obligations on each party to financially support the other. Each spouse also gets home rights to their property.
A father who is married to the mother of his child automatically acquires Parental Responsibility for the child whether he marries before or after the child is born. For more information, see our section on Parental Responsibility.
A marriage can only be ended by divorce or annulment – for more information see our page on Divorce and Separation.

What is civil partnership?

Civil partnership is a legal relationship which can be registered by two people of the same-sex who aren’t related to each other.

This grants rights, responsibilities and obligations similar to those of married couples. The law is contained in the Civil Partnership Act 2004.

Once you have registered a civil partnership, it can only be ended if one of you dies, or by applying to court to bring the partnership to an end.

You cannot apply to bring a civil partnership to an end until it has lasted for at least one year.

Who is eligible for a civil partnership?

In order to enter into a civil partnership:

  • both parties must have the capacity to consent;
  • both parties must give their true and genuine consent;
  • both parties must be of the same sex;
  • neither party can already be a civil partner or lawfully married;
  • both parties must be over the age of 16, and if under 18, written parental consent is required;
  • the parties must not be close blood relatives;
  • both parties must have lived in England and Wales for at least seven days.

How do you register a civil partnership?

There are two steps to register a civil partnership:
1) give notice of your intention to register a civil partnership to the local register office in person;
2) register the partnership after 28 days and within 12 months of giving notice.

You will need to pay a fee to give notice of your intention to register a civil partnership and a registration fee. The fee depends upon where you want to register your civil partnership. You will receive a civil partnership certificate when you register.

What is a ‘Civil Partnership Agreement’?

Same sex couples can enter into a civil partnership agreement which is the equivalent of an engagement to marry. It is often used to make financial arrangements if the relationship ends. However, the civil partnership agreement does not have contractual effect and parties will not acquire the same rights, responsibilities and obligations as entering into and registering a civil partnership.

What rights do civil partners get?

Once a civil partnership is entered into and registered, civil partners acquire the same rights and responsibilities as married couples. Civil partners have a mutual duty to maintain each other.
A civil partner who is not the biological parent of a child can apply for parental responsibility for the child either by entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the person(s) with parental responsibility or getting a Parental Responsibility Order from the court. For more information see our section on Parental Responsibility.

Civil partners can also apply to adopt a child.

Civil partners have a duty to provide maintenance for any child of the family and a partner can apply for financial support for a child.

Can you convert a civil partnership into a marriage?

From 10 December 2014, if your civil partnership has been registered in England and Wales you can convert the civil partnership into a marriage. This can be done through either a standard conversion or a conversion followed by a ceremony.

What is a cohabitation agreement?

A cohabitation agreement is a written signed document between people living together as a couple which agrees on key matters such as:

  • who owns (and owes) what, at the time of the agreement;
  • how you will pay for bills, the house and other expenses while you are living together; and
  • how property, assets and income should be divided if you split up.

It is advisable to seek independent legal advice when drawing up a cohabitation agreement so that it can be used in any future court proceedings upon relationship breakdown. If you would like legal advice, please do contact one of our experienced Family Law Solicitors on 0800 999 6661.

 

Parental Responsibility

What is Parental Responsibility?
Parental Responsibility in family law is a legal status derived from the Children Act 1989. It is defined in s3(1) Children Act 1989 as being:

“all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.

The term ‘Parental Responsibility’ attempts to focus on the parent’s duties towards their child rather than the parent’s rights over their child. If you have parental responsibility for a child or children your most important roles are to:

  • Provide a home for the child
  • Protect and maintain the child
  • Support the child financially

If you have parental responsibility for a child you don’t live with, you don’t necessarily have a right to contact with them; but the other parent still needs to keep you updated about their well-being and progress.

Who has Parental Responsibility?

  • Mothers automatically have Parental Responsibility and will not lose it if divorced.
  • Married fathers automatically have Parental Responsibility and will not lose it if divorced.
  • Unmarried fathers do not automatically have Parental Responsibility.
  • Step-fathers and Step-mothers do not automatically have Parental Responsibility.
  • Grandparents do not automatically have Parental Responsibility.

How can unmarried fathers obtain Parental Responsibility?

An unmarried father can obtain Parental Responsibility by:

  • marrying the mother of the child;
  • jointly registering the child’s birth with the mother (for births after 1 December 2003) you will automatically gain parental responsibility. It is the date of registration, not the date of birth which is important in determining whether the father has parental responsibility.
  • Re-registering the birth for pre December 2003 registrations, to add the father’s details, you will automatically gain
  • parental responsibility.
  • entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother;
  • obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order from the court;
  • having obtained a Residence Order prior to 22/4/2014;
  • being named as the resident parent under a Child Arrangements Order;
  • becoming the child’s guardian on the mother’s death.

How can I apply for Parental Responsibility?

You will need to be connected to the child/children in some way. This could be as a father, grandparent, step-parent or second male or female parent in a same sex relationship.

The easiest way if you are the father wanting to get Parental Responsibility and the mother agrees, is to sign a Parental Responsibility Agreement. Our team of Family Law Solicitors can help you to complete the application form and get it signed off and witnessed at the Family Court.

If an agreement cannot be reached, we suggest you contact us for initial legal advice so we can help you apply to the Court to obtain Parental Responsibility.

Can I lose Parental Responsibility?

If you automatically have Parental Responsibility for a child or children, this cannot be taken away from you unless your child is adopted. However, if you got Parental Responsibility because of a Court Order, your Parental Responsibility will end when the Order is discharged by the Court.

If you have any concerns or issues concerning Parental Responsibility, please contact our specialist team of family law solicitors on 0800 666 9991 for further help and guidance.

Child Custody/Child Arrangements Orders

When a relationship breaks down one of the key issues to decide is which parent a child will live with.

When parents do not live together, the child will usually live with the mother or father. The parent who has the child live with them most of the time is called the resident parent and the other parent is called the non-resident parent. When the child spends equal time with both parents then the parents are said to have shared residence of the child.

If possible, custody should be agreed between both parents. A child can live with either parent after they separate, depending on the child’s best interests.

How do we decide where the child shall live?

When a child is born the mother and the father (if married or named on the birth certificate registered after 1 December 2003) automatically have Parental responsibility. See our information page on Parental Responsibility for further details. However, Parental Responsibility does not give an automatic right to have a child live with you.

Parents should try to decide together which parent the child will live with and how often the non-resident parent should have contact with the child. If parents can decide between themselves then there is no need to take the matter through the court to formalise arrangements.

Unmarried parents

Ideally parents will agree together where the child is to live. It may be that an unmarried father does not have Parental Responsibility; if this is the case it is advisable to obtain it. Please see our page on Parental Responsibility for more information.

Married parents

If parents are married but are in the process of divorcing, there is a provision in the divorce proceedings which discusses the arrangements for children called the Statement of Arrangements for children although it is not mandatory to submit this. It is important to be aware that the Statement of Arrangements is not legally binding in the sense of being enforceable in court and parents can agree to vary the living arrangements. It is evidence of intention.

Whether the parents were/are married has no relevance to where a child should live. However it may have a bearing on whether the father has Parental Responsibility (see our page on Parental Responsibility).

Child Arrangements Orders

Child Arrangements Orders replaced Residence and Contact Orders.

If the parents cannot agree things between themselves, they can apply to the court for a child arrangements order. An order usually lasts until the child is 16 or exceptionally 18 years old.

A child arrangement order decides:

  • Where your child lives
  • When your child spends time with each parent
  • When and what other types of contact take place (phone calls, for example)

Who can apply for a Child Arrangements Order?

Anyone with parental responsibility can apply to the court for a child arrangements order. Other people, such as grandparents, may need the court’s permission if they want to apply for an order. The court will decide whether the circumstances justify the potential upset to the child.

You can apply for a child arrangement order if you cannot agree child custody and contact rights from the outset. You can also apply for an order if the other parent isn’t complying with a previous agreement or order – for example not allowing you the agreed contact with your child.

Specific Issue Order

In addition to Child Arrangements Orders, parents may apply under the Children Act 1989 for the Court to decide any specific issue about the child – a Specific Issue Order.

A Specific Issue Order is used to look at a specific question about how the child is being brought up, for example:

  • What school they go to
  • If they should have a religious education
  • Whether it is in the child’s best interest to change their surname
  • Whether a child should undergo specific medical treatment

A parent may also apply for an order preventing the other parent from taking a particular course of action in relation to the child – a Prohibited Steps Order.

Prohibited Steps Order

A Prohibited Steps Order may be made against anyone, regardless of whether they have parental responsibility. Prohibited Steps Orders have been used to resolve disputes such as:

  • preventing the other parent from removing the child from his or her home
  • preventing the other parent from removing the child from his or her school
  • preventing the other parent from removing the child from the jurisdiction without consent
  • preventing a parent from changing the child’s surname
  • stopping a parent from allowing the child to associate with a particular person

It is of course always best to try to avoid court proceedings because the judge can only make an order, but cannot oversee the time a child spends with each parent.

It is important to take specialist legal advice in respect of all issues in relation to children. Please contact one of our specialist family law solicitors on 0800 999 6661 or email info@astonknightsolicitors.co.uk for advice on your specific circumstances.

Child Contact

A child has a right to spend time and have contact with both parents. Contact is the right of the child and not the parent.

What is contact?

When a relationship breaks down parents will need to reach an agreement on the arrangements for the children. They will need to decide who the child will live with and how often the other parent will see the child. The time the non-resident parent spends with the child is known as contact.

Contact between a parent and child can be direct, face-to-face contact, which can include contact during the day or overnight.

Contact may also be indirect, such as telephone calls, video phone, emails, letters and gifts.

Contact may also be supervised by a named person or in a contact centre.

Child arrangement orders

A court can regulate contact by way of a child arrangements order. The amount of contact will depend on the child’s age and the practical arrangements.

An interim order can be made by the courts pending agreement or final order. This type of contact arrangement is usually on a temporary basis until the matter is settled at a full court hearing.

Failing to comply with a child arrangement order amounts to a breach and could result in imprisonment or fine.

Who can apply for a child arrangement order?

In all contact matters those able to apply are the child’s parents or step-parents, those with Parental Responsibility and the child’s Grandparents.

A Child Arrangement Order (previously known as a Contact Order) is a legally binding agreement that specifies:

  • Who the child lives with (resident parent)
  • Who will have contact with the child
  • How often and for how long the contact visits will be

The court will only make an Arrangements Order where they believe it would be better for the child to do so.

The family will be allocated a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) officer. The Cafcass officer will work with the family to assess any risks to the children and consider whether a decision can be made through mediation.

It is important to take specialist legal advice in respect of all issues in relation to children. Please contact one of our specialist family law solicitors on 0800 999 6661 or email info@astonknightsolicitors.co.uk for advice on your specific circumstances.