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Deciding to end your relationship or marriage can be a stressful time. Despite the emotional strain, there are also legal requirements to consider. For couples with children, one of the biggest considerations will be child maintenance. Whether you are based in Letchworth, Hitchin, Stevenage, Welwyn or beyond, our family solicitors are here to help. Below, you will find some of the most frequently asked questions concerning child maintenance and more information on how Tollers family solicitors can assist you.

What is child maintenance?

In cases where parents have separated, child maintenance is an amount of money paid by the parent who does not live day-to-day with their child or children. This amount is then used to contribute to the child’s everyday living costs, meaning it is essential for all separating parents to have an agreement in place. This agreement will usually continue until the child finishes full-time education at the age of 18. Child maintenance payments can be continued voluntarily beyond this should the non-residential parent wish to continue making payments.

There are a few routes available to parents looking to put a child maintenance agreement in place. It is possible, of course, for parents to agree the payments themselves, often referred to as a private agreement. To calculate the amount that needs to be paid, parents may wish to use an online child maintenance calculator. The government’s Child Maintenance Service (CMS) provides an online calculator for this purpose. Regardless of the decision you come to, our Hitchin, Letchworth, Welwyn and Stevenage family solicitors are always on standby to advise and help you come to the best solution for you and your family.

What is the CMS (Child Maintenance Service)

If an arrangement cannot be agreed upon, parents may wish to contact the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) which was formerly known as the Child Support Agency.  The CMS is a government agency that deals with child maintenance payments. In calculating how much the non-residential parent will pay, the CMS will consider many factors, including the non-residential’s gross income, pension contributions, how many children they have, how often their children stay overnight with them and whether any other children live in their home.

The CMS can assist parents in several ways, including calculating, collecting and enforcing payments on behalf of the residential parent. In cases where the separated parents do not wish to have contact, the CMS can be relied upon as a trustworthy third party and can even help locate a parent should the claimant no longer have the non-residential parent’s address. Once the CMS has established an arrangement, then any outstanding arrears can then be enforced.

For information on the CMS, you can visit the government website at:

https://www.gov.uk/child-maintenance-service

What is a private agreement?

Parents can put in place a private agreement by negotiating directly with the other parent or with the assistance of a solicitor. When both parents can agree on a set amount of money to be paid in support, this is referred to as a ‘Family Based Arrangement’. This kind of agreement can also cover additional costs, such as school trips or school uniforms and any other payments that can be made to supplement a child’s upbringing.

Whereas a private agreement does afford more flexibility, it is also important to bear in mind that it is not legally binding, meaning the agreement cannot always be enforced should the non-residential parent not keep to it. In this scenario, the residential parent will be able to contact the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), though the non-residential parent will only be required to make payments from the date of the application. Our family solicitors are thoroughly experienced in this area of law and will assist you throughout any eventuality.

For more information on private agreements, visit our website at:

https://www.tollers.co.uk/family-law/finances-on-breakdown/child-maintenance-and-support/

When will I have to apply to the courts for child maintenance?

In some scenarios, it may be appropriate for the courts to be involved. This is usually the case where parents cannot reach a private agreement and when the CMS is unable to assist with a maintenance application. This might occur when:

Our family solicitors in Letchworth, Hitchin, Stevenage and Welwyn understand that, for some, the idea of going to the courts can be a daunting prospect and are prepared to assist you in every way we can. Our solicitors not only specialise in this area of law but are equipped to support you and your family throughout whatever the process might call for.

What is the difference between a Child Maintenance Agreement and a Child Arrangement Order?

Though child maintenance agreements can often be confused with Child Arrangement Orders, the two are not the same, and it is important to know the difference. Whereas a maintenance agreement sets out the amount for a non-residential parent to pay to supplement their child or children’s upbringing, a Child Arrangement Order regulates with whom a child can live or otherwise have contact. Child Arrangement Orders are made under the Children Act 1989. These replaced what were previously known as ‘Custody and Access Orders’ and, more recently, ‘Residence and Contact Orders’.

For more information about Child Arrangement Orders, contact Tollers Family Law team at:

https://www.tollers.co.uk/family-law/child-law/child-arrangements-orders-cao/

Talk to Tollers

Regardless of the path you decide to go down, it is important to get the best possible advice. At Tollers, our experienced Family Law department advises clients on all the possible options available regarding child Maintenance, ensuring they achieve the best outcomes for all those living in the locations we serve.  For more information… Talk to Tollers on 01604 258558.

Divorce can be a complex and emotionally challenging process, and even with the introduction of a more straightforward no-fault divorce process which has been in effect since April 2022, ending a marriage or civil partnership can still be overwhelming. One of the biggest concerns for a couple going through a separation and the biggest questions our experienced Family Law team at Tollers gets asked is ‘What am I entitled to in a divorce?’ and ‘What are my legal rights from property to asset splits’?

In the UK, divorce law is governed by specific regulations that determine how spouses and civil partners divide their assets including their interest in the family home and any other property, their savings and investments, any business interests, their pensions and any other assets they may own. It can also consider what spousal maintenance may be payable.

To help you navigate this difficult and emotional topic, our family law team has compiled a list of frequently asked questions related to divorce entitlements in the UK.

What factors are considered when determining what I am entitled to in a divorce?

When determining entitlements in a divorce, the courts consider various factors, including the following:

Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (the Act) sets out the basic guidelines that the English and Welsh Courts apply when dealing with financial claims. In addition, the Court will also have reference to previously decided cases, known as case law, when making its decision.

How are assets divided in a divorce?

In the UK, assets acquired during the marriage are generally considered to be matrimonial property and are subject to division. The Court aims to achieve a fair distribution of assets, taking into account some of the factors mentioned above. While typically this will involve dividing assets equally, it may be possible to argue that there should be an unequal distribution depending on the individual circumstances.

Assets that were acquired before or after the marriage may be regarded as non-matrimonial property. It will depend on the type and value of these assets and both parties’ needs as to whether the court will take these into account and if so to what extent. If an agreement can be reached a financial and property settlement is often entered into upon divorce. This is a formal agreement designed to set out any financial responsibilities and fairly divide property and finances once a marriage or civil partnership has ended. Read our previous article regarding financial settlements: Property and Financial Settlements in Divorce: FAQs and Specialist Family Legal Advice.

If you cannot reach an amicable agreement then an application will need to be made to the court so that the matter can be considered by a Judge.

Are prenuptial agreements enforceable in the UK?

Prenuptial agreements are not automatically legally binding in the UK, but they can carry weight in Court proceedings. The Court will consider the terms of the agreement, the circumstances in which it was made, and whether it is fair to uphold it. It is essential to seek specialist legal advice to ensure your prenuptial agreement is drafted correctly and all of the relevant criteria are considered to make it as binding as possible.

How are pensions divided in a divorce?

Pensions are regarded as part of the matrimonial assets and can be subject to division in a divorce or civil partnership dissolution. The Court will assess the value of each spouse’s pensions and may make a pension sharing order so that one person receives a share of the other spouse’s pensions or they may offset the value of the pension against other assets or they can make a lump sum payment to achieve a fair division.

What about child arrangements and maintenance?

Child arrangements and child maintenance are considered separately from a financial settlement within divorce proceedings. Child maintenance will usually be dealt with through the Child Support Agency. If no agreement can be reached regarding child arrangements then an application can be made to the court under the Children Act. The Court’s primary concern is the best interests of the child. Factors such as the child’s welfare, relationship with each parent, and their wishes and feelings (depending on their age) will be taken into account when determining what the child’s living arrangements should be.

Do I need a solicitor for my divorce?

While it is not a legal requirement to have a solicitor, seeking the appropriate legal advice from a trusted solicitor specialising in family law is vital. A family law solicitor specialising in divorce and matrimonial finances can protect your rights and help you navigate the complexities of the divorce process and financial settlements.

Solicitors for Divorce and Matrimonial Finances

Having a comprehensive legal understanding of your rights, obligations and negotiation powers when going through a divorce or civil partnership dissolution is essential. In doing so, you will be best positioned to propose agreement terms that suit you and protect your future financial interests.

Talk to Tollers

If you are divorcing or facing a civil partnership dissolution and are asking yourself ‘What Am I Entitled to In a Divorce?’ and require the advice and guidance of an experienced matrimonial finance solicitor… Talk to Tollers on 01483 901 095 our expert family law team can assist you in providing practical advice on all aspects of your financial settlement agreement.

 

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in Family Law

Often separating from your spouse or partner can be a very difficult and stressful time in your life with many issues to resolve. For many couples, going through the courts is not always the best option as it increases animosity and can be lengthy and costly in nature. Different types of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) can help parties try and resolve matters in a more cost-effective way.

What is alternative dispute resolution?

ADR is a process for resolving disputes without the need to go to court. In family law, this could involve mediation, negotiation, a private Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment, arbitration or a collaborative approach. ADR works well for people who are willing to resolve matters in an amicable and non-confrontational way.

The various types of alternative dispute resolution are:

Mediation

Mediation involves you and your spouse or partner meeting with a trained independent mediator who will help assist you to explore and discuss issues, with the aim of finding solutions, narrowing the issues and/or helping people to reach an agreement. The mediator will remain neutral and will not provide either of you with legal advice. A mediator can help with arrangements for the children and/or financial division of assets following separation.

If you are able to reach an agreement in mediation, the mediator will record the agreement so that, where required, a solicitor can draft the agreed terms into a legally binding document which is submitted to the court.

Mediation may not always be appropriate for a parting couple especially if there is domestic abuse within the relationship. In these cases other types of alternative dispute resolution may be more suitable.

Negotiation through solicitors

Negotiation will require you and your spouse or partner to provide disclosure before entering into negotiations via solicitors’ correspondence which will hopefully lead to an agreement. Again, if an agreement can be reached, one of your solicitors will draft the agreed terms into a legally binding document which will be approved by both parties before being submitted to the court.

Arbitration

Arbitration is an alternative to applying for a decision from the court and involves a referral of your case to a skilled, trained arbitrator. They are usually someone who is legally qualified and has experience in family law. The appointed arbitrator will hear from your respective legal representatives and will examine the issues which require a decision. The arbitrator will issue a decision that is legally binding on you both which can be enforced through the courts.

The arbitrator can generally hear a case and will issue a decision more quickly than a court will be able to resolve a case.

Collaborative Law

Collaborative law requires both you and your spouse to be represented by collaboratively trained lawyers. At the outset, everyone signs an agreement setting out the ground rules and agreeing that the case will not be taken into court unless the process breaks down. If the collaboration does not succeed, both you and your spouse will need new solicitors to deal with court proceedings.

All of the discussions about settlement take place at round table meetings with both legal representatives and clients present. Generally, any experts such as valuers or accountants or pension experts are instructed jointly on a shared cost basis. This will enable both parties to discuss matters which are disputed and the aim is to reach an agreement which will then be drafted into a legally binding document which is then submitted to the court.

Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE)

ENE involves the appointment of an independent, objective and neutral third party to assist the parties to understand the court process, identify what the issues in dispute are and give their opinion as to what a court might decide. This can be considered before proceedings have been started or during court proceedings. This decision is confidential and is not binding or enforceable, but is an indication from an experienced barrister or part-time Judge, of what the outcome may be. It is intended to help the parties to consider whether they are able to reach an agreement together and can be used to consider financial or children cases.

In particular, it is used in matrimonial finance proceedings where it is known as a private FDR. An FDR Judge will hear the case independent of the court process and can also be asked to just consider a discreet issue. The FDR Judge will review the financial disclosure which has been provided by both spouses and will hear from each spouses’ legal representatives. The Judge will give an indication as to what they believe to be the appropriate outcome if the matter was determined in court at a final hearing. Once the parties have heard the indication provided by the Judge, they will enter into negotiations with the aim of reaching an agreement. This agreement can then be sent to the court for approval.

Talk to Tollers

There is no one size fits all and it is possible that a couple may need the help of one or more ADR process.

If you require assistance and want to consider ways of reducing conflict and would like to find the process most suitable to you … Talk to Tollers on 01438 901095. Our experienced family team is on hand to guide you through and help you to try and reach an agreement outside of the court.

When divorced or separated parents find themselves in a dispute over arrangements for their children, seeking assistance from the family court may become necessary. In the UK, court orders relating to child law disputes, include Child Arrangements Orders, Specific Issue Orders and Prohibited Steps Orders.

In this article our Stevenage family law solicitors look at Prohibited Steps Orders and Specific Issues Orders and when they may be required.

What is a Prohibited Steps Order?

A Prohibited Steps Order (PSO) is a court order that prevents or restricts a party, usually a parent, from exerting their parental responsibility. For example, removing the child from the area where they live, travelling or moving abroad, or changing their school.

What is a Specific Issue Order? 

A Specific Issue Order (SIO) is a court order that deals with a specific issue or concern regarding a child’s upbringing or welfare. It is used when parents or those with parental responsibility cannot agree on a particular decision, such as medical treatment, schooling, or religious upbringing.

How do you apply for a Prohibited Steps Order or Specific Steps Order?

If you are in dispute with a former partner regarding a decision over a child, such as in the examples above, a PSO or an SIO can be made under section 8 of the Children Act 1989 using Form C100. You may also need to attend mediation (see below) before making the application unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as domestic violence. The Court will then schedule a hearing to consider your application. Once the application has been issued, the Court will list the matter for a first dispute resolution hearing appointment.

Anyone with parental responsibility can make an application to the Court. If you do not have parental responsibility, you must first seek the Court’s permission to apply.

Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAM)

Before submitting an application for a  child arrangements order, prohibited steps order or specific issues order, parents will be required to attend a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) with a family mediator unless they are exempt. These meetings are aimed at resolving parental disputes through the mediation process. However, if, after attending this meeting, if mediation is unsuccessful or it is deemed that mediation is not appropriate, a MIAM certificate will be issued that allows the court order application process to continue.

What factors will the Court consider? 

The Court’s primary consideration is the welfare of the child. They will consider various factors, including the child’s wishes and feelings (depending on their age and maturity), the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs, and any harm or risk of harm to the child.

Child Law disputes can be complex, so seeking early advice from a family law specialist is essential. Our Stevenage family lawyers will listen to your concerns, help you understand your legal rights, and ensure the correct procedures are followed to protect you and your children.

Can I apply for an Emergency Specific Issue or Prohibited Steps Order? 

Yes, in certain circumstances, it may be necessary to take urgent action to protect a child. Under section 8 of the Children Act 1989, an application may be made without notice (ex parte) to the other parent. It should be noted that an order will only be made in exceptional circumstances and based on solid evidence.

Parental Dispute Legal Advice in Stevenage 

We realise how distressing disputes regarding children can be, especially if you have concerns for their welfare. Tollers Child Law Solicitors in Stevenage can provide specialist advice and guidance on all child law matters or whether you need to apply to the courts for a Specific Issue or Prohibited Steps Order.

Our family solicitors aim to minimise conflict when dealing with your family matters. If you require assistance and want to look at ways of reducing conflict…Talk to Tollers on 01438 901095. Our experienced family team is on hand to guide you through and facilitate you.

Every business has its own set of challenges and a family business is no exception.  Family relationships and the differing needs of various family members within a business can be awkward to manage to everyone’s satisfaction. However, if one member goes through a divorce, this can have a significant effect on not just the parties to the divorce but also the other members of a family business. So it is important to understand divorce and the family business.

Lack of Understanding

The recent publication of the “Fair Shares” research from Emma Hitchings, a Professor of Family Law at Bristol University, brings attention to the lack of consistency in approach and legal understanding of divorcing couples and the resulting effect this has on final financial arrangements. She concluded that, “many divorcees showed a considerable lack of financial and legal knowledge…”

The Fair Shares study finds a lack of knowledge among divorcees across multiple variables including finances, what they’re entitled to and the legal processes. This highlights the significance of improving awareness and comprehension of the affiliated variables and obtaining this information from credible sources to achieve a fair settlement, especially when it comes to assets such as a family business.

Alongside the study, Bristol University also mentioned that the reports come as calls for “reform are under consideration by the Law Commission and the controversial Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill in the House of Lords has been presented to Parliament, which would make equal sharing of assets the default position”. This further highlights the ever changing environment surrounding divorce, reinforcing the need for education before going forward.

Disclosure

In order for a party to a divorce to understand the value of the claim that they can make it is essential for both parties to give and receive full and frank disclosure of their financial circumstances.  This allows a legal advisor access to relevant knowledge, enabling them to advise the most appropriate approach to a financial settlement and to finalise a proposal which meets the needs of their client and the children of the family.

What can a court order on divorce?

Where couples have been married the court has a very broad discretion to vary ownership of assets held by either party.  The court can, amongst other things:

Relevant Factors which affect a financial settlement

The court will try to establish what assets have accrued during the parties’ relationship and what has accrued from outside the marriage. In the majority of cases, the court will look to give each party a fair share of the matrimonial assets and will start by asking themselves if an equal share of these assets will produce a fair outcome. If the matrimonial assets are insufficient to meet the needs of the parties, the court can go beyond the matrimonial assets and bring into the settlement the non-matrimonial assets. Most cases are based on the needs of the parties however in limited circumstances the court can approach a case based on a sharing or compensation approach which can produce a different outcome.

Business interests can include assets that have been inherited or handed down as well as those that have been built up during the course of the marriage. Therefore, the court’s approach can be key to the settlement’s outcome. With business interests, the court will also have to consider the risk, returns and general characteristics of the business asset to assess how the values should be divided or offset against other assets held.

The court has a number of other statutory criteria which they have to take into consideration when they settle financial arrangements.  Most commonly these include the following:

Common Issues with business interests on divorce:

Business assets can often be substantial in value compared to other assets and there may not be enough to offset the values. Business interests are often illiquid and it may be difficult or inappropriate to sell them. The court may have to consider if the company has any surplus funds which can be drawn against or whether re-financing the company to provide compensatory capital is available. The court can also consider a series of lump sum orders or delaying the finalisation of a financial settlement until sufficient assets can be made available. There is always a risk however where the business asset is large compared to other non-business assets that the party retaining the business asset is left with little else in the way of liquid capital.

How can we help?

We can advise you on a financial settlement if divorce is something that you are facing or considering. We can also assist to make provision which is of a more controlled and predictable nature by providing you with a nuptial agreement (which can be made before or during the marriage) which sets out what each of you will receive in the event of your divorce. Whilst these are not automatically binding on the court in this country providing such agreements are entered into after open disclosure of your financial circumstances with legal advice and in the absence of any undue pressure they will be upheld so long as they are fair.

We can also produce partnership and company documentation relating to the business which can control the transfer of any business interests in the event of marriage breakdown or make it a requirement that anyone having such an interest in the business, must enter into a nuptial agreement to protect the business.

If you are part of a family business and need help or advice dealing with a divorce and the family business and are unsure where to start … Talk to Tollers on 01604 258558. Our experienced legal teams are here to guide you through the process.

 

Please note that the contents of this article are given for information only and must not be relied on.  Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.

 

Child Arrangements: Frequently Asked Questions

When you separate from your partner, whether you are married or not, there will inevitably be issues to resolve, such as what will happen to the children.  Arrangements will need to be worked out between you.  The best way to resolve any issues will always be to try and agree what should happen without the need for solicitors or court involvement by solicitors, but in some cases, this is not always possible.

Decisions like where will the children live and how often they’ll see the parent they don’t live with will need to be made, but oftentimes there are other difficult decisions to be made such as can I take my child abroad on holiday?  Can I stop my child from having contact with my ex’s new partner? Or can I move away with my child?

If an agreement cannot be reached then, one or other of you will sometimes need to apply to court for what is known as a Child Arrangements Order.

What is a Child Arrangements Order? 

If your child is under the age of 16 then you can apply for a Child Arrangements Order which sets out arrangements clearly in a court order.  The order will specify with whom the child will live, and how much time they will spend with the other parent.

If your child is over the age of 16 the courts are unlikely to make any orders and would expect the parents to try and work out an agreement based on the child’s wishes and feelings.

What is included in a Child Arrangements Order? 

Each family’s circumstances are different, so there are no standard Child Arrangements Orders.  Any order is based on the needs of the children involved and what is in their best interests having regard to the court’s paramount concern which is the children’s welfare (s.1.(1) Children Act 1989).

Who can apply for a Child Arrangement Order? 

As long as you have Parental Responsibility for a child, you can apply for a Child Arrangements Order, so this will generally apply to:

If you do not fall into any of these categories you will first need to apply to the court for permission to make an application for a Child Arrangements Order.  If permission is granted, the application for the Child Arrangements Order can then proceed.

What is “Parental Responsibility”?

The Children Act defines Parental Responsibility, commonly abbreviated to “PR”, as:

all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authorities which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and the child’s property”.

Simply put, it means as a parent you are responsible for the important decisions to be made in a child’s life, such as where the child will live, what religion they will follow, where they go to school, what their name will be, what school they will go so and what medical treatment they should have.  Parental responsibility ends once the child reaches 18 years of age.

Who has Parental Responsibility?

All mothers and most fathers have PR.

A mother automatically acquires PR once a child is born.  A father will only automatically acquire PR if he is named on the child’s birth certificate as the father or he is married to the child’s mother. If neither of these apply then the father will either have to acquire PR with the mother’s agreement or apply to the court for an order granting him PR.

Can I move away with my child? 

This will depend on whether there is a Child Arrangements Order in place which sets out with whom the child shall live.  If there is, there will be no requirement for the resident parent seeking to move away to obtain permission from the non-resident parent provided the arrangements for the non-resident to maintain their contact with the child remain in place.

Where there is no Child Arrangements Order in place, if the parents can agree on the relocation and the move does not impact the child’s contact with the non-resident parent or their schooling, there will be no need to seek the court’s permission to move.

If the non-resident parent does object to the move, then the resident parent wishing to move will need to make an application to the court for a Specific Issue Order.  The non-resident parent would need to make an application for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent the move.

Can I take my child on holiday?

This will depend on whether you are planning a holiday within the jurisdiction of the UK or outside of the jurisdiction, i.e. abroad.

There is nothing to prevent you from taking your child on holiday within England and Wales, including Scotland and Northern Ireland, without the permission of the non-resident parent who has PR providing there is no court order that prevents the holiday and the non-resident parent’s contact with the child is not affected.  If contact is affected, then the child’s contact cannot be interrupted, unless an alternative agreement can be reached.

If the plan is to take your child abroad on holiday you require the consent of all those who hold PR for the child, and if this is not forthcoming, an order from the Court giving you permission to take the child abroad.

If you already have a Child Arrangements Order in place which states that the child/children are to live with you, then you are permitted to take the children abroad for a period of 28 days without the consent of others with PR, but if there is also a Prohibited Steps Order in place, you will not be able to take the child out of the jurisdiction, and more than likely will need to make an application to the court for permission to take the child on holiday abroad.

What can I do if my ex-partner is difficult about me seeing our child?

This is always a difficult situation to navigate, especially if there are no obvious reasons why your contact is being prevented or in some cases stopped completely.

Your first step should always be to try and resolve the issues with your ex-partner without involving solicitors or the courts.  Sometimes this is not always either possible or appropriate.  In those situations, other avenues to try and reach a resolution should be attempted such as mediation.  Mediation is a good way of sitting down with your ex-partner and having a non-confrontational discussion about the issues with the assistance of a trained mediator aimed at reaching an agreement that you can both live with.  There may be other ways your contact with the children can be maintained such as writing letters or cards, or using Facetime whilst more permanent arrangements can be agreed.  The aim will be to stress the importance of the children maintaining contact with both parents as being in their best interests.

If mediation is not successful, and you are still unhappy with the situation, you should seek legal advice from a solicitor who specialises in family law and who would be able to advise and assist you on what you should do next.  It may well be that you need to seek a Child Arrangements Order.  Court is always a last resort as it is stressful and costly.  You should try and speak to your ex-partner if the child arrangements you’ve agreed aren’t working – for example, if you’re not seeing your children as much as you would like.

My ex-partner will only agree to me seeing the children if my new partner is not present. Is this allowed?

Generally speaking no, especially if you have a Child Arrangements Order allowing you to spend time with your child.  Your ex-partner can only prevent you from seeing your child with your new partner if your new partner poses some kind of risk of harm to your child.  If you both have PR for your child, then as a parent you are free to introduce your child to whomever you want within reason. If, however, your new partner had a criminal record, for example, whilst this would not prevent you from introducing your child to them, you would need to take extra care with the introduction and take whatever steps necessary to ensure your child’s safety.

If your ex-partner was still not happy with you introducing your new partner to your child then they would need to apply to the court for a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent the introduction or if the concerns were serious, the police should be contacted.

Ultimately, if no agreement can be reached, it will be for the court to determine whether the new partner poses any risks to the child and it will be the court who has the final say as to whether that person should have contact with your child.

Do I have a right to be involved in my children’s upbringing even if they live with my ex-partner?

Put simply – yes. Once you have PR for your child, whether they live with you or not, you are still able to make decisions about their school, name, religion or medical treatment.  This would also entitle you to have access to the child’s medical records and to request the receipt of the school communications for the child.

Do other members of my family (e.g., grandparents) have a right to contact with my child?

Not automatically.  Grandparents or other family members would have to make an application for permission to spend time with a child.  If permission is granted, then the court would decide whether such contact would be in the child’s best interests.

These are just some of the common questions our family law team is asked on a regular basis. If you have a question and would like legal advice in regard to a child arrangements order… Talk to Tollers on 01604 258858, our expert family law team is on hand to answer any questions you may have.

Ending a marriage or civil partnership is overwhelming, emotional, and challenging and therefore understanding the property and financial settlements in divorce is vital. With much to consider, it can be easy to become anxious about the various responsibilities that must be addressed.

In addition to managing the divorce process itself, you and your ex-partner will need to reach agreements regarding your property and finances, a process that is managed separately, but alongside, the divorce.

A financial and property settlement is often entered into upon divorce and is a formal agreement designed to set out any financial responsibilities and fairly divide property and finances once a marriage or civil partnership has ended.

As with any aspect of the divorce process, seeking the appropriate legal advice from a trusted solicitor is vital regarding a financial settlement to ensure it is comprehensive and legally binding. In this article, the Tollers’ family law team considers some frequently asked questions regarding property and financial agreements.

If you are looking to commence the divorce process, our solicitors, based in Stevenage and assisting clients in Letchworth, Welwyn Garden City and Hitchin, would be more than happy to assist you. Talk to Tollers at 01483 901 095 or fill out a contact form.

Do I need a financial settlement agreement to get divorced?

Since the financial and property settlement process is separate from the main divorce proceedings, you do not need such an agreement to get divorced. However, without a financial agreement or consent order, your ex-spouse may be able to make a claim against your finances, income, pension, and assets (and you can theirs), even after your divorce is finalised.

In cases of an amicable divorce or civil partnership dissolution, the settlement agreement can be finalised alongside the divorce process and without contested proceedings in court. Once the agreement has been reached, it is sensible to consult the advice of a trusted solicitor to ensure that it is made legally binding via a consent order. A consent order confirms the agreement and needs to be approved by a judge.

How long will the process take?

Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to this question, as it will entirely depend on how complex your financial affairs are and how amicable your divorce process is. Ideally, your property and financial settlement would be negotiated in the same timeframe as divorce proceedings are handled.

If your divorce involves dispute or contention, it is possible that negotiating a financial and property settlement agreement can take longer. To prevent any issues between parties from escalating, seeking the advice and guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable family law solicitor is vital.

Will our assets be split 50/50?

Sometimes assets, including property and finances, will be split precisely down the middle between ex-spouses; however, this is by no means the right answer in many cases.

Various factors should be considered when assets are split, and your solicitor will advise you on the best course of action regarding negotiations with your ex, taking into account these considerations.

Should the court become involved in proceedings, it will consider factors set out in Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, including:

  1. The income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future.
  2. The financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future.
  3. The standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage.
  4. The age of each party to the marriage and the duration of the marriage.
  5. Any physical or mental disability of either of the parties to the marriage.
  6. The contributions made by each of the parties to the welfare of the family, including any contribution made by looking after the home or caring for the family.
  7. In the case of proceedings for divorce or nullity of marriage, the value to either of the parties to the marriage of any benefit (for example, a pension) which, by reason of the dissolution or annulment of the marriage, that party will lose the chance of acquiring.

Solicitors for Financial and Property Settlement Agreements Stevenage and Letchworth

Having a comprehensive legal understanding of your rights, obligations and negotiation powers when creating and finalising your financial settlement agreement is essential. In doing so, you will be best positioned to propose agreement terms that suit you and protect your future financial interests.

If you are divorcing or facing a civil partnership dissolution and require the advice and guidance of an experienced matrimonial finance solicitor, our lawyers in Stevenage can assist you. Having worked with clients in Letchworth, Welwyn Garden City, Hitchin and further afield, we have the expertise to provide practical advice on all aspects of your settlement agreement.

To talk to a professional and friendly divorce lawyer about your divorce, financial settlement, consent order,  or children matters today, please call 01483 901 095 or contact us using this form.

Those planning on getting married are not likely to think about what would happen should the relationship break down. However, with 42% of marriages overall, and nearly 10% of marriages in Stevenage ending in divorce in 2021 alone, putting in place marital agreements like a prenuptial agreement (prenup) or postnuptial agreement (postnup) can give you peace of mind, especially in cases of pre-existing financial assets, or where there are children from a previous relationship to provide for.

It is also quite common for couples not to get married but instead sharing the cost of a property and cohabiting. In fact, according to the latest census report, over 20% of families in Stevenage are cohabiting with children, and there was a decrease in the number of registered marriages and civil partnerships. In these dynamics, it is vital to understand your legal rights and what legal documents you can put in place to safeguard against costly disputes should you separate from your partner.

In this blog, our Stevenage family law solicitors look at a few statistics from the Stevenage 2021 Census and answer some frequently asked questions regarding legal rights for married and unmarried couples.

Family Households in Stevenage – How Family Life Has Changed in Stevenage: Census 2021

According to the latest statistics from the 2021 Census, the family structure of households in Stevenage underwent some changes compared to 2011. The percentage of households with a couple but no children decreased slightly from 16.5% in 2011 to 16.1% in 2021. Equally, households with a couple and dependent children also saw a minor decline, dropping from 21.5% to 21.3% during the same period. Meanwhile, single-family households containing a couple with non-dependent children increased from 6.5% to 7.2%.

Percentage of households by household composition, Stevenage:  

Percentage of houshold by houshold composition, Stevenage

Image Source: Office for National Statistics – 2011 Census and Census 2021

What Are the Legal Rights of Unmarried Couples?

Even if couples have lived together for several years or have children, the law does not currently recognise “common law husbands and wives”, and they are not afforded the same rights and responsibilities as a married couple or those in a civil partnership. For example, there is no right to claim spousal maintenance, and there is no right to claim a share of the other person’s pension.

Property Law and Trusts Law strictly determines financial matters between partners and, if children are involved, the Children Act 1989.

Seeking legal advice and putting in place contracts, including a Declaration of Trust or a Cohabitation Agreement, can give you peace of mind. A contract can help couples avoid misunderstandings, know where they stand with the home whilst living together, and help guide couples if the relationship breaks down.  It can also save a considerable amount in legal fees.

Find out more about the legal rights and responsibilities of people living with their partner:

Cohabitation Breakdown (Opposite Sex and Same Sex Relationships)

Changing Relationships in Stevenage – How Has Married Life Changed in Stevenage: Census 2021

In 2021, 9.8% of adults in Stevenage (aged 16 and over) reported that they had gone through a divorce or dissolved a civil partnership. This figure was a slight decrease from the 10.1% reported in 2011. Stevenage experienced one of the East of England’s joint third-largest reductions in the percentage of adults who had divorced or dissolved a civil partnership, tying with Watford. Registered marriages or civil partnerships decreased from 46.4% to 43.9%.

It is important to note that these figures encompass both same-sex marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships, which were not legally recognised in England and Wales in 2011. However, since 2014, same-sex marriages have been legally recognised, and opposite-sex civil partnerships have been recognised since 2019.

Percentage of usual residents aged 16 years and over by legal partnership status, Stevenage:

Percentage of usual residents aged 16 years and over by legal partnership status, Stevenage

Image Source: Office for National Statistics – 2011 Census and Census 2021

What is a Pre-Nuptial Agreement?

A prenuptial agreement or ‘prenup’ is an agreement entered into by a couple planning to marry (or postnuptial agreement ‘postnup’ if entered into after marriage). It sets out an agreement between the parties on how their finances will be dealt with in the event of a marriage breakdown. A common situation in which such an agreement might be desirable is when one party brings significantly greater financial assets into the marriage than the other. Prenups are also particularly worthy of consideration for couples who are perhaps entering a second marriage but have children from a first marriage or previous relationship and would, therefore, wish to protect some assets for the benefit of those children.

It is important to note that in the UK, no legal statute formally ensures enforcement of premarital agreements in the same way that other countries do. However, the family court in England and Wales has given guidance on the steps that can be taken when a prenup is entered into to ensure that there is the best possible chance of this being adhered to should the marriage end. There have been several cases in recent years where a premarital agreement has been upheld or carried significant weight in family courts deciding how to divide assets.

Find out more prenuptial agreements or post-nuptial agreements:

Prenuptial And Post-Nuptial Agreements

Family Law Solicitors Stevenage – Talk to Tollers

For further advice regarding prenuptial agreements or cohabitation agreements, please get in touch with one of our family law specialists on 01604 258788.

Tollers family solicitors will always aim to minimise conflict in dealing with your family matters as far as possible. If you require assistance and want to look at ways of reducing conflict…Talk to tollers on 01604 258558. Our experienced family team is on hand to guide you through and facilitate you.

The statistics on changes to family households in Stevenage have been taken from the latest 2021 Census report. The full report can be found here:

How life has changed in Stevenage: Census 2021

This blog post is not intended to be taken as advice or acted upon, and information may have changed since publication. If you are seeking family law legal advice, don’t hesitate to contact our team of solicitors.

Reducing conflict in family matters is vital.  For many years the family court has encouraged family law solicitors to adopt a more constructive and collaborative approach to how they deal with the resolution of family issues compared to other courts.  This is because it has been found that trying to resolve matters in a way that minimises conflict between the parties is likely to lead to better outcomes for the family in the long run.  Many family law solicitors agree to act in line with a code of conduct and are members of an organisation known as Resolution which supports this approach.  The courts are continuing to develop this approach in many ways.

We have now passed the one-year anniversary of the change to the divorce law in England and Wales which removed the need for separating couples to make any allegations against one another when they were seeking a divorce.  Since April 2023 anyone wishing to divorce has been able to simply file an application online through the divorce portal stating that their marriage has broken down irretrievably to start the divorce process.

Changing the process in this way has undoubtedly allowed some couples to avoid the difficult confrontation or negotiation that previously arose following the breakdown of their marriage in deciding who would petition whom and on what basis.  It has also stopped the rush to get in first with the divorce petition to gain control of the process.  Between April and December 2022,  22% of the divorce applications issued under the new law were issued on a joint basis, something that was not possible previously.

As part of the changes, the court also took the opportunity to review and change some of the legal terminology affecting the divorce process.  Petitioners became Applicants and the Divorce petition is now the divorce application.

Recently the Family Solutions Group published a paper called “Language Matters” which addresses the effect of legal terms used in the family court.  They have recommended that the terms used be looked at again to minimise their impact.  The language used can stoke a combative mindset and some terms such as “opponent”, “judgement” and “dispute” create the suggestion of an environment that is far from collaborative.  Instead, they suggest the use of the parties’ first names in documents and the discussion of resolution in more constructive terms.

Talk to Tollers

Tollers family solicitors will always aim to minimise conflict in dealing with your family matters as far as possible.  If you require assistance and would like to look at ways of reducing conflict…Talk to tollers on 01604 258558,  our experienced family team is on hand to guide you through and facilitate you.

When a couple obtains a divorce, it is imperative that they also make an application to the Court for a Financial Order to formally address their finances. This is regardless of whether there are limited, or there are no matrimonial assets at the time of the divorce, or if the divorce is amicable and the couple has reached an informal financial agreement between themselves.

Why?

The finalisation of a divorce alone by obtaining a decree absolute or divorce final order does not sever financial ties between former spouses or civil partners, it simply ends the legal relationship between them. This means that if no financial settlement has been reached and approved by the court by way of a consent order or an order imposed by the court, then their financial claims against each other remain open.  This leaves parties vulnerable if circumstances change in the future, even if they had every intention of adhering to any informal agreement reached.  One party may make significant financial gains down the line, whilst the other may suffer from ill health and find themselves unable to work. Without a Financial Order setting out how finances are to be dealt with, there would be nothing to stop the party who finds themselves in a poor financial position, from making an application to the Court for financial provision against the other.

There is generally no time limit to making such a claim for financial provision and it is not uncommon for claims to be made years (even decades) following a divorce. This can, understandably, come as a shock, particularly if it was felt that matters had been settled at the time of divorce. It also potentially places any assets built up following the divorce at risk of division between the parties on the basis of needs.

The only exception is if a party re-marries without first making an application to the court for financial matters to be resolved, then their financial claims are ended against the former spouse.  The spouse who has not re-married can, however, still make financial claims against their former spouse who has remarried.

The only way to regulate or sever financial ties and avoid future conflict following a divorce is to obtain a Final Financial Order.

How?

An application for a Financial Order can only be made once divorce\dissolution proceedings have been commenced.  In most cases, it is advised that an application for a Final Order for divorce is only made once parties have concluded a financial settlement and a Financial Order has been obtained, especially where pensions are involved.

The court can make provisions for a variety of financial orders. This includes lump sum payments, property adjustment orders to include the sale of the property, pension provisions such as pension sharing orders and maintenance for a spouse.  Ordinarily, child maintenance is now dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service, but there are limited circumstances when the court can make orders in relation to child maintenance. The court can also specify whether either party is able to make further claims against the other in the future (for example if spousal maintenance is payable) or alternatively stipulate that no further claims can be made which is known as a ‘clean break’.  A clean break can apply whilst parties’ are alive and also prevent any claims against the other parties’ estate when they die.

Parties are encouraged to come to an agreement in relation to splitting their finances as amicably as possible. If this is not possible, solicitors or mediators can help in reaching an agreement and if this is not successful, the matter can be referred to the Court to determine.

Consent Orders

Once an agreement has been reached between the parties, a Consent Order will be drafted to formally record the terms of the agreement.  The Consent Order is a legal document and there are specific regulations as to how it should be drafted. Once it is in a final format and has been approved by both parties it is filed with the court, together with a document that summarises both parties’ financial position called a Statement of Information for a consent order, for a Judge to consider.

The Court has a duty to ensure that any agreement reached is fair and reasonable and that consideration has been given to all of the circumstances and the needs of the parties involved including any children of the family. If the Court is not satisfied with the terms of the agreement it will ask parties to go back and re-negotiate.  The Judge will not automatically ‘rubber stamp’ any agreement that is reached.  They have to be satisfied it is within the boundaries of a fair and reasonable settlement.

Once an agreement is approved by the Judge, the Order will be ‘sealed’ and this then becomes legally binding on the parties and the terms will be enforceable through the court.

Contested Proceedings

If the parties are not able to agree matters, then an application can be made to court, asking the Judge to impose a settlement on them.  This is what is called ‘contested financial proceedings’.   Whilst the majority of cases do settle along the way, if the matter progresses to a final hearing, the parties will have to give evidence under oath and be cross-examined on what they say.  Thereafter the Judge will impose a Final Financial Order on them.

Separating married couples must therefore remember that securing a divorce alone only ends a marriage.  Finalising financial matters is an entirely separate matter. Obtaining a Final Financial Order dealing with financial matters is essential following a divorce. It provides clarity but more importantly, it provides security and protection from any unexpected future financial claims once a divorce has been finalised.

If you would like to put a Financial Order in place…Talk to Tollers and our highly experienced Family team will guide you through the process.

More about our finance on breakdown services can be found here.

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