Family Law

We understand the sensitive nature of Family proceedings, especially when children are concerned, and we make a concerted effort to provide solutions that reduce the strain on all those involved.

Our Family department provides confidential advice with effective representation The Family department comprises a professional, efficient team with a wealth of experience in dealing with all aspects of Family Law. Our overriding priority is to listen to all of the issues in your case and explore the best way of resolving your problems. This could be through negotiation or conciliation, or by application to the courts. Whether it is divorce, dissolution of civil partnership, financial provision, matters concerning children, Non Molestation Injunctions, or any other Family Law related matter, we offer detailed, considerate and effective advice.

We are experts at sorting out family disputes and, wherever possible encourage out of court resolutions rather than litigation. We are, however, fully equipped to advise on bringing court proceedings if they offer the most sensible method of achieving the desired outcome of your case. We do not deal with Legal aid cases and only privately funded work is also covered, with reasonable private rates being charged and clients kept updated about the cost of their case regularly.

How the Divorce Process Works If you’ve made the decision to divorce then there are a number of steps you’ll need to follow. The first think you will need to remember is the more you and your husband or wife agrees about, the quicker the process will be. If you and your spouse don’t agree on these issues the divorce can take much longer

How Divorce Works To get a divorce, you’ll need to go through a number of steps. These stages can take about four months if you and your spouse agree on the following: * the reasons you want to divorce *how you’ll look after children * how you’ll split up money, property and possessions. The Stages of a Divorce The formal divorce process has four steps.

1. Deciding the reasons for divorce

To divorce, you’ll need to prove to the court the reasons why you want your marriage to end. These are known as ‘facts’ and ‘grounds’ for divorce.

2. File a divorce petition

One of you will need to apply to court for a divorce. You do this by filling in and sending a divorce petition’ to a court or alternatively one of our solicitors can do this for you.

3. Applying for a ‘decree nisi’

If you’ve sent your divorce petition to court and your spouse has told the court they agree, you can move to the next stage. This is applying for a ‘decree nisi’ – a document that says the court sees no reason why you can’t divorce.

4. Getting a decree absolute

The ‘decree absolute’ is the document that legally ends your marriage. If you started the divorce, you can apply for a ‘decree absolute’ six weeks after the court issues the decree nisi. If your spouse started the divorce you can apply for a ‘decree absolute’ after an additional three months. So you would have to wait three months and six days after the decree nisi was issued before you could apply. Once you have the decree absolute, you are officially divorced.

Things that may slow down your divorce

If the court thinks that your plans for looking after children aren’t satisfactory, it can refuse to grant a divorce. If this happens, you’ll need to work out new plans and start the process again. If you disagree over how you’ll split money, property and possessions, this won’t necessarily stop the divorce.

If you can’t reach an agreement on money, property and possessions, you may have to get the court to decide. A ‘financial order’ (sometimes known as an ‘ancillary relief order’) is a formal arrangement made in court. It’s a separate process to the divorce and, in many cases, the formal divorce will be finalised before you complete the financial order process.

Grounds for Divorce

You can only divorce if your marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’. You will need to prove this to the court by giving the reasons your marriage has ended. These are known as ‘facts’ for divorce. Find out what reasons (‘grounds’) you can give that your marriage should end. When you can get divorced

To file for divorce, you and your husband or wife will need to: * have been married for at least a year (two years in Northern Ireland) * have a marriage that is legally recognized in the UK * show that your relationship has ‘irretrievably’ (permanently) broken down * meet specific rules about how long you have lived in the country A divorce county court (or sometimes the High Court) will decide if you can be given a divorce or not. Showing your reasons for divorce

* The divorce will be quicker and cheaper if you agree the ‘facts’ that you’re going to use When you apply for a divorce, you must show there are good reasons (known as supporting ‘facts’ to show ‘grounds’) for ending your marriage.
* If you are the person starting the divorce process (known as the ‘petitioner’) you must decide which ‘facts’ apply to you and you want to use.
* The divorce will be quicker and cheaper if you agree the ‘facts’ that you’re going to use.
* If they don’t agree with your ‘facts’, your husband or wife can defend the divorce. If this happens, you both might have to go to a court hearing to discuss the reasons for the divorce and settle any disagreements.
* There are five types of ‘facts’ that you can use in divorce proceedings. 1. Adultery

You can use adultery as a reason for divorce if all of the following apply:

* your husband or wife has had sex with someone else of the opposite sex
*you don’t want to carry on living together
* you decided not to continue living together within six months of the adultery happening or you finding out about it

To prove adultery, you will need to give the court:

* details of the adultery, for example when it happened
* statements from you and your husband or wife
* an admission of adultery from your husband or wife
If your husband or wife won’t admit to adultery, you might need to talk to a solicitor about what to do next. 2. Unreasonable behaviour

If your husband or wife behaves so badly that you can’t carry on living together you can use ‘unreasonable behaviour’ as a reason for divorce. Your husband or wife could be showing unreasonable behaviour if they:

* are physically violent to you
* are verbally abusive to you, for example through insults or threats
* fail to provide affection or attention
* don’t let you leave the house
* give you reason to believe they are having an affair
You will need to provide proof of unreasonable behaviour. If your husband or wife won’t admit to it, you may need to provide detailed evidence, like statements from friends or doctors. 3. Desertion

You can use ‘desertion’ as a reason for divorce if you can prove that your husband or wife has left you:

* without your agreement
* without a good reason
* for a period of more than two years in the last two and a half   years
* with the aim of ‘deserting’ you (trying to end the relationship   between you)

You can have lived together for up to a total of six months within this period and still claim desertion.

4. Living separately for more than two years with agreement on both sides

You can get a divorce if you and your husband or wife have lived apart for more than two years and both agree to divorce.

You can have lived together for up to a total of six months during this time if you have been apart for two years altogether.

Your husband or wife must agree in writing, so make sure you discuss it with them before filing for divorce.

5. Living separately for more than five years

If you and your husband or wife have lived apart for more than five years you can use this as a reason for divorce. If this has happened, you can apply for a divorce without your husband or wife’s agreement.
This will usually be enough to get a divorce. But your husband or wife can object if it will cause them ‘extreme’ difficulties. Applying for a financial order

If you can’t agree over money, property and possessions when you end a marriage or civil partnership, courts can help you decide who gets what. Applying for a financial order will take some months but can end with a judge deciding how everything will be split.

Why you may want to apply for a financial order

You may want to ask the court to help you decide how you will split up your money, property and possessions. To do this you must apply for a financial order. This process is sometimes referred to as ‘ancillary relief’.
Going through this process will take time and cost you money. If it’s possible, it’s a very good idea to try and settle things between yourselves.
Before you make a financial order application, you should check if mediation could help you reach an agreement.

You can do this by having a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. In most cases, judges will expect you to have had at least one of these meetings. If you haven’t, they may ask you to before proceeding with your case.
To make your financial order application you must fill in a – ‘Notice for an application for a financial order’. You then need to take your application, along with two completed copies of the form, to the court where your divorce is being dealt with.
You may have to pay a court fee to make an application for a financial order. The court fee is Click Here if you and your husband, wife or civil partner have not agreed to the arrangements before you make the application.

If you’re applying for ‘consent order’ – a legal document that confirms an agreement you have already made – the court fee is Click Here
If you’re on a low income or on benefits, you may be able to get a reduction on the fees.

Once you have made your application for a financial order, you will be given an appointment with a judge. This is known as the ‘First Appointment’. This appointment will be between 12 and 16 weeks from when you first made your application. Providing a financial statement

Once again you will need to complete another form. This document details your financial situation. This will include your financial position now and what you expect it to be in the future. Both parties must complete this form so that their financial position is clear to each other and to the court.

It’s very detailed, and you’ll have to provide:

* information about your family, including health and your standard of living before your relationship broke down
* arrangements proposed for your children, including where they will live and if any maintenance payments have been agreed
* details of all property owned, including the family home if you have one
* bank and building society accounts and their balances
* shares, life insurance or savings bonds you own
* personal belongings worth more than £500
* anything else that either of you may be able to convert into cash (like investment trusts)
* information about any businesses you may own or have a share in
* value and details about any pensions
* your income (including any benefits you may get)
* an estimate of what you think you will need to live on
* other information about your husband, wife or civil partner or their behaviour that you think the court should know

This form must be sent to the court dealing with your divorce no later than 35 days before your First Appointment. You must also send a copy of this form to your spouse or civil partner. You or your solicitor will need to contact them to do this. This can be done by post.

What happens at the First Appointment?

Both parties usually have to attend the First Appointment in person. You will meet with a judge who will tell you how the case can be settled. At this stage, if both parties and the judge agree, the judge can issue a ‘Final Order’.
If there is no agreement, you will have to attend a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing.
What happens at the Financial Dispute Resolution hearing?

This is an informal meeting at court, but both parties must attend unless the court orders otherwise. The judge will again try to help you reach a financial agreement.
If you are still unable to reach an agreement, the judge will decide a date for a final hearing.

What happens at the final hearing?

The judge at the final hearing will not be the same judge who was at the Financial Dispute Resolution hearing.

At the final hearing, if you still can’t reach agreement, the judge will make a decision based on all the evidence. This decision will be shown on a ‘Final Order’ giving details of any arrangements that have to be made as part of the order. Both parties have to obey this decision.