Inspiring separating couples to make their own informed decisions

Archive for the ‘Divorce’ Category

Unbundling of Family Law Services

As a result of the legal aid cut backs, family solicitors are now ‘unbundling’ their legal services to meet the demands of the emerging client base that cannot afford to instruct Solicitors on a traditional retainer basis. Please read the update on the Law Society Website here.

For those of you who are going through the traumatic time of a family break up or are contemplating separation/divorce from your partner, the above news will be of help to you if you are worried about securing legal services that is affordable.

Effectively, unbundling allows you to obtain legal services on a pay as you go basis on areas of your case that you feel it is absolutely necessary for you get  legal advice and /or representation without having to instruct your solicitor to have full conduct of your matter on a formal full retainer basis.

There will have to be a clear understanding about what steps your solicitor is instructed to undertake on your behalf e.g. providing initial advice on law and procedure, ad hoc advice to help you represent yourself in Court proceedings or checking and drafting documents.  The case will  be ‘client-led’ as opposed to ‘solicitor-led’. This allows you to stay in control of your case and limits your legal costs moving forwards. So, your solicitor will offer legal services on what is known as a ‘partial retainer’. If you would like to find out more information about how this works in practice please see the Practice Note issued by the Law Society for Solicitors here.

This kind of service will only be suitable for those of you feel confident and competent to take control and charge of your case with bespoke services and support from your Solicitor.

If you are contemplating separation or divorce from your partner or you have already separated, I would suggest that you consider in the first instance, the services of a family mediator to reach your own informed decisions about property, finance and/or children.

Family mediation will prove to be a less  stressful  and a more dignified option to resolving your differences. It will limit both the financial and emotional costs of your break up. For more information visit the Family Mediation pages on my website.


The Children & Families Bill – What Separating Parents Need To Know

H.M. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in the...

There are a lot of Bills that do not become law but the Children & Families Bill is one that is very likely to be given Royal Assent soon, no doubt with a number of recommended amendments after it has been scrutinised by both the House of Commons and House of Lords. To have a better understanding of how Bills become law, please visit the Parliament Website.

The Bill sets out to make provision for vulnerable children and support for strong families. It will reform the current systems for Adoption, Family Justice, children with special educational needs (SEN) and looked after children.

Of particular importance to separating parents is the reforms proposed to the Family Justice System to help deliver better outcomes for families and children facing family break up or where children may have to be taken in to the care of the local authority.

The proposals are made as a direct result of the Family Justice Review to improve our Family Justice System. The key areas that will concern you if you are contemplating separation or you have already separated and you have dependant children are:

  1. The Bill proposes to replace the current ‘residence and contact orders’ with a new ‘child arrangements order’. This means that the Court will be asked to regulate arrangements for the child/ren and make decisions on whom the child should live, spend time or have other types of contact with if you cannot reach your own agreements either directly, via family mediation or other forms of dispute resolution. This should encourage both separating parents and the Court to focus on the content of any agreements/Orders, rather than the title/labels given to the arrangements.
  2. There will be a presumption of joint parental involvement (shared parenting) unless such involvement will put the child/ren at risk of suffering harm. It is hoped that this proposed amendment will reinforce the principle that both parents should play a key role in their child’s life/upbringing after separation subject to it being safe and consistent with the child’s welfare.
  3. Making it a mandatory requirement to attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) with a regulated family mediator to find out about family mediation and other out of Court options to resolve disagreements about the child/ren’s arrangements before going to Court. Research studies have shown that family disputes resolved via mediation are less acrimonious than those that are settled through the Court system. Also, decisions made by agreement are more likely to be kept as opposed to Court imposed Orders.
  4. Introduction of a 26 week limit for cases to be concluded when an application has been made by a local authority to take a child/ren into its care. This to avoid the current unacceptable delays in such cases.

Please read the fact sheet provided on the Department of Education website for more information on the proposed changes. It is intended that this Bill will become law by April 2014.

New website – Law in 27 EU Countries – Helping European Separating Couples


European flag outside the Commission

European flag outside the Commission (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Notaries of Europe with the support of the European Commission have launched a very helpful website for separating international/European couples to help them gain access to comprehensive and reliable information on the complex area of law relating to their separation in 21 different languages.

This is a very useful tool to help people to make use of their rights as European Citizens. The website clarifies the different applicable laws on matrimonial property regimes and property consequences of registered partnerships affecting the separating couple in each European Country. Please see the press release on the Notaries for Europe website here for more information.

If you are contemplating separation or Divorce and either or both of you are European Citizens, this website will help you by answering  the following questions for the 27 EU Countries:

• 1 Which law applies?
• 2 Is there a statutory matrimonial property regime and if so, what does it provide?
• 3 How can the spouses arrange their property regime?
• 4 Can or must the matrimonial property regime be registered?
• 5 What are the consequences of Divorce/separation?
• 6 What are the consequences of death?
• 7 Does your national law provide a special matrimonial property regime for multi-national couples?
• 8 What does the law provide for the property of registered and non-registered partners?
• 9 Which is the competent authority to turn to in cases of disputes and other legal issues?

If you are considering separation or Divorce,  please in the first instance, give consideration to the out of Court options to resolving any disagreements that you may have either family mediation or in more complex cases, consideration should be given to the collaborative approach, which allows legal advice during meetings.

New Year Blues – Divorce Day

The first working day back in the New Year is classed as ‘Divorce Day’ by most lawyers. Usually after the festive season those couples who have kept it together for the sake of their children or simply to avoid the stress of a breakup during what should be happy times, make the decision that something needs to be done to end the façade and on going struggles/misery by taking formal steps to end their relationship.

It takes a lot of courage and a strong person to take this bold step but with the right advice and support unhappy couples can make the right decisions about where their relationship is going. Unhappy relationships don’t have to end in Divorce/separation – sometimes all that is needed is  time apart to allow you and your partner the time and space to reflect upon what the real issues are in your relationship. Can they be resolved with professional help and support? Visit the useful links  page for information an agencies such as Relate that may be able to help.

If there is no third-party involvement by either party and no serious issues about the safety or welfare of either party or any child/ren of the family then in some cases the answer maybe to have counselling, therapy, coaching through professionals trained to help couples in such circumstances – to help you get back on track to re-kindle your love and admiration for each other. There are no quick fixes and both you and your partner would have to be committed to this process to have a good chance of succeeding in a reconciliation.

However, sadly in a lot cases you and your partner will have reached the point of no return and therefore serious consideration will need to be given to formalising your separation. The Government is encouraging separating couples to consider family mediation as their first port of call to avoid protracted Court proceedings and the added stress and costs of the traditional Court based approach. Read the related articles below.

Where a case is suitable for mediation, I would strongly recommend that you and your partner at least keep an open mind about the out of Court option and give family mediation a fair go. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Government’s New Sorting Out Separation App

Having to go through separation/divorce can be classed as one of the most stressful experiences in your lifetime.

Some would say that it is far more difficult to cope with than the bereavement of a close family member or friend – it is a ‘living bereavement’.

Whilst there are grave concerns about the impact of the cuts to family legal aid that come into force in April 2013, thankfully there is help at hand for those of you who will not qualify for family legal aid as a result of the cutbacks and cannot afford the services of a solicitor.

The Government has launched an online application/website  for separating couples to give you much needed help, support and guidance. It covers the following topics with useful contact information, tools, videos and links to help you make informed decisions after a break-up:

  • Children &  Parenting
  • Health
  • Housing
  • Legal
  • Money & Finance
  • Relationships & Conflicts
  • Work & Benefits

By answering a series of questions, the web app will give you a personalised action plan. Click here to check out the new sorting out separation web app.

However, where  you are unsure about your respective rights and responsibilities or where there are complex issues arising out of your separation, a word of caution, it is always sensible to get specialist legal advice. Many solicitors offer an initial fixed fee service, which can prove to be invaluable.

To help you and your ex-partner have a dignified and amicable separation allowing for future co-operative parenting, family mediation, when suitable, can be a better way of reaching out of court agreements.

Related articles


Damming Family Legal Aid Cuts

There has been a lot of media hype and genuine concern from professionals involved in the family sector and from couples facing family breakdown about the forthcoming legal aid cuts in April 2013.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the cuts, as of 1st April 2013 there will effectively be no legal aid for family matters on separation/divorce and related issues about property & finance and children’s arrangements unless there has been recent, proven domestic violence and/or there are significant child welfare/public child protection concerns.

There will however, continue to be legal aid for family mediation if you qualify for legal aid in line with the financial criteria as set by the legal services commission.

Whilst I’m a great supporter of dispute resolution out of Court, sadly it will not be suitable for every case and there will be many instances when the separating couple will have no choice but to sort out their differences through the Court system. As a result, unintentionally, the system will as of April 2013, be geared up in favour of those who can afford the services of a solicitor. Those that cannot, will be left to fend for themselves and will be at huge disadvantage, acting as a self represented person without the benefit of legal advice, assistance and representation.

Yes, there is talk of a family law hub, to be set up by the Government to help litigants who will be representing themselves but this will be of little use to those who do not have access to the internet and to people who cannot understand the information because they are less able either through a physical or learning difficulty. Or maybe, the person is just not emotionally/psychologically fit enough to conduct their own case . Litigation can be a daunting prospect for an expert family solicitor in complex family cases, let alone the client attempting to represent him or herself in Court.

As opposed to helping free up Court/Judiciary time, which is the intended desire of the Family Justice Review, the legal aid cuts will have a damming impact upon the Courts by clogging them with self representing litigants who will need more time and energy spent on them by the Judiciary to make sure that Justice is seen to be done and is done.

The sole reason for these legal aid cuts was to save the public purse £350 million from the legal aid budget. In spite of criticism from the President of the Family Division, Head of Family Justice, Sir Nicholas Wall ( in December 2011) the legal aid cuts have been endorsed by the Government. Unless there is a much needed U-turn, the legal aid cuts will come into effect in just over 4 months time.

In my humble opinion, I think that the Government has been short-sighted in its decision-making process. The Family Courts and Judiciary are already over stretched in dealing with the existing family caseload, where the parties continue to have the benefit of family legal aid and the support of their expert solicitors – I dread to think of the chaos and injustice that will be caused as of April 2013 when the damming family legal aid cuts come into effect.

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