Parenting can be challenging, especially when there is uncertainty in the home due to an impending separation and likely divorce.

This year, National Children’s Day falls on Sunday 15 May. The aim of the day is to promote a healthy childhood and the need to protect the rights and freedoms of children and young people. To support this important campaign, we wanted to give you some advice on how to help your children deal with separation. We also explain how the new no-fault divorce law (explained in our blog HERE) will benefit families.

You and your spouse have decided that the relationship has broken down irretrievably. What now?

Every child handles separation differently. Their behaviours may depend on their age and whether learning that you’re splitting up will come as a shock or if they were aware that your relationship with your spouse is unhappy.

We advise that both of you speak to all your children at the same time initially, keeping in mind that conversations need to be age-appropriate.

Plan your first conversation carefully to deliver a consistent message and be mindful of your body language, as children can quickly pick up on any negativity. They may also mirror your behaviour, so try to stay calm.

There is nothing worse than seeing your child distressed but creating an environment where they can show their emotions is positive. Reassure them that feeling sad, angry or upset is normal and perfectly OK.

Here are some pointers if you’re not sure what to say:

  • Tell them that you both still love them very much, but your feelings for each other have changed
  • Acknowledge that the situation is challenging for them too
  • Explain that they are in no way at fault
  • Make them aware that circumstances will change, but you will still be a family and both of you will play significant parts in their lives
  • Promise that things will get easier in time

Naturally you will worry about your children, but one way to alleviate that is to take time to allow them to share their feelings and listen to them without interrupting. That way, you can act accordingly rather than trying to guess what is going on. This will also make children feel like they matter more and emphasise that you’re still emotionally available to them.

Adjusting to co-parenting

Once separated, your role will evolve. Everyone will have to adjust to new routines and living arrangements, with parental, social and financial changes.

Communicating clearly and regularly with your ex-partner is key to ensuring each knows their responsibilities and establishing a routine that will help children settle as quickly as possible.

It may be wise at this stage to seek help from a mediator who will help you consider aspects you may not have thought about. They will also facilitate constructive conversations to help you plan the practical elements of co-parenting. This may include helping you agree to specific rules at both homes and planning special days, such as birthdays and Christmas. You can find out more about mediation HERE.

Make sure you tell schools, nurseries and clubs what is happening at home so they can look out for, and deal with, any changes in mood or behaviour.

Making decisions for and with your children

One of the toughest aspects of parenting through a divorce is knowing how and when to involve your children when planning their future.

Although it’s essential to allow them to voice their feelings and concerns, some decisions can only be made by adults. You need to be careful not to overburden your children with responsibility.

We’ve outlined some of the key decisions you need to make to help you consider where to set boundaries.

Decisions you could make with your children:

  • New leisure activities/hobbies to keep their mind off the separation
  • Picking out new clothes if part of your fresh start involves a more grown-up or trendy look
  • How they would like their bedroom or personal space decorated and furnished if they are to be spending time in a new house as well as the family home
  • Getting a new pet to give them something to focus on and nurture
  • A holiday location so you can all relax and have a good time

Decisions you could make on behalf of your children:

  • Living arrangements
  • Which school they attend
  • How time will be divided between parents
  • Where they will spend Christmas, birthdays and other special days. Giving them the option of choosing for themselves is like asking them to pick their favourite parent, so you should avoid that
  • Any potentially contentious or highly emotive decisions where you need to protect your child’s emotional wellbeing

Decisions you can discuss together, depending on the age of the child and your parenting style:

  • House rules such as how much screen time they’re allowed and what time they go to bed
  • Frequency of treats and unhealthy snacks
  • Rewards for doing housework

How no-fault divorce is better for children too

Children cope much better with parents separating if the agreement is amicable.

Under the new divorce laws, couples don’t need to assign blame to either party whereas previously a reason for divorce would have been cited, even if the spouses were on good terms.

This caused unnecessary bitterness from the start of the process and the negative impact on children was huge. We’re relieved that divorce law has now been reformed to better reflect why modern marriages fail.

It’s important to look after yourself

Separating is a complex and difficult time, so relieve pressure on yourself by accepting that it may take a while for things to settle down. Think of it as a journey on a long, new path rather than a single event.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it as the more supported you feel, the more you will be able to support your children. We can help with the legal aspects and guide you on your rights. Also, seeing a therapist or coach may help you feel more positive and better able to control your emotions.

Contact us

To request a consultation, please complete the form on our home page. Alternatively, you can get in touch by calling us on 0116 340 0094 or emailing hello@agrlaw.co.uk.

Back in March 2021, our blog ‘No-fault divorce – untying the knot without playing the blame game’ talked about the long-awaited reforms being made to English and Welsh divorce law.

We explained how the campaign to modernise divorce and separation proceedings through the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill had run for several years. Championed by Resolution, the community of family justice professionals of which AGR Law is a member, Royal assent was granted in June 2020 and the new law will come into force on 06 April 2022. It’s the biggest reform of divorce law in almost 50 years.

The main changes were:

Prior to no-fault divorce Now
A reason for divorce would have been cited, blame apportioned (and in some cases evidence required) even if the spouses are on amicable terms Couples can now legally separate without assigning blame to either party for their relationship breaking down. Evidence is no longer required. Domestic abuse victims will no longer have to produce statements and revisit the trauma they suffered
Apportioning blame often created unnecessary bitterness and resentment from the very beginning of the divorce process 

 

The process will now be less damaging to divorcing couples and their families as confrontation will be minimised and talks more constructive. This will allow them to focus on more important areas, such as children and finances
One spouse needs to issue divorce proceedings against the other Couples now have the option of making a joint divorce application
One or more of the following five reasons (also known as ‘facts’) had to be given as proof that the marriage has broken down: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion or separated for two (if both agree to divorce) or five years (if one disagrees) Divorce will now be more reflective of why modern marriages fail. Going forward, couples only need to produce a statement saying that the marriage has broken down irretrievably
The language used was outdated and unclear Terms will be simpler: 

  • The ‘petitioner’ will be called the ‘applicant’
  • The ‘decree nisi’ will be called a ‘conditional order’
  • The ‘decree absolute’ will be called a ‘final order’
Divorces typically take three to four months minimum if they are straight forward and both parties agree to terms. Delays, errors, contesting and overburdened courts often meant divorcing took much longer 

 

A period of reflection has been introduced to allow couples more time to consider their decision. It will begin on the date of application and last a minimum of 20 weeks when the conditional order can be made. There will then be at least six weeks between the conditional order and final order
One party begins proceedings and their spouse can contest the reasons The concept of contesting a divorce has been removed

What is the new no-fault divorce process?

Broadly speaking:

  • One or both parties apply, citing that the marriage has broken down irretrievably
  • After a 20-week period of reflection, the applicant or couple decide whether they wish to proceed
  • The court makes a Conditional Order
  • After a further six weeks the court can make a Final Order

Although the process may take around 26 weeks, it’s likely to be longer to allow for negotiations, processing and administration.

Can anyone get a no-fault divorce?

Married couples (including same sex married couples) and civil partners will be able to apply for a no-fault divorce to end their marriage or dissolution to conclude their civil partnership.

The new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will amend the existing legislation around separation in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and the Civil Partnership Act 2004.

Do I still need a divorce solicitor?

With divorcing being more amicable and less complicated, and more of the process done online (read more about that HERE), we wanted to outline our role in divorce cases and explain why it’s still crucial to have legal representation to guide you.

As lawyers representing you in a divorce case we can, through mediation:

  • Prepare documents for court
  • Advise on financial matters including the family home, pensions, savings and investments
  • Advise you on what you are and are not entitled to and help you negotiate
  • Advise disputing parents on childcare, contact and maintenance payments

If an agreement cannot be reached through mediation, we will:

  • Instigate court proceedings and represent you
  • Prepare cases for presentation to the judge
  • Communicate with your spouse via their solicitor if conversation is not possible between you

Why is legal representation important?

Getting divorced is a highly emotional time, even if you and your spouse agree it’s the right course of action and your relationship is amicable. There is a great deal to consider, and your state of mind and any pressure from friends and family can cloud judgement. This may make it difficult for you to manage constructive conversations and deal with the practicalities, such as contact with children and paying the bills.

A divorce is legally binding. Once terms are agreed upon and you’re separated in the eyes of the law they cannot be altered, so it’s imperative to get paperwork in order and make sure every detail is considered. There are also legal consequences to changing your marital status. For example, your tax and pension may be affected.

Our experienced team deals with divorce cases every day, so will be able to support you and offer the best possible legal advice. We also understand that going through a divorce can be an exhausting and uncertain time, especially if understanding the new laws add to the feeling of overwhelm.

Contact us

To find out more about no-fault divorce, email hello@agrlaw.co.uk or call us on 0116 340 0094

Sunday 06 to Saturday 12 March 2022 is No More Week. Held annually, the aim is to inspire individuals, organisations and communities to raise awareness of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Although domestic violence is a significant and ever-increasing issue, one of the most difficult aspects is that it is so well hidden. Recognising the signs may be difficult and knowing what to say to someone you suspect may be a victim is challenging.

We want to support individuals to make change by helping them identify the signs and giving advice on how best to talk to someone that you suspect may be being abused.

Signs of domestic violence

Every case we see is different, but we’ve outlined some of the more common signs that a person is being abused below.

Physical indications

Look out for injuries covered up with clothing, heavy makeup or sunglasses. A victim may also be reluctant to hug if their arms or ribs hurt and will likely have a weak reason how they came to be injured when questioned.

Injuries may include:

  • Bruises
  • Sprained or bandaged wrists
  • Marks on the neck
  • Split lips
  • Signs of self-harm or attempted suicide

Behavioural red flags

  • Being constantly on edge and/or jumpy
  • Becoming reserved, especially when talking about the abuser
  • Complaining about lack of sleep or looking tired
  • Drinking or using drugs excessively (as a coping mechanism)
  • Losing confidence due to low self-esteem. Talking about feeling worthless or useless
  • Becoming disinterested in seeing friends and family
  • Cancelling plans at the last minute with a feeble or unlikely excuse
  • Needing to ask permission to socialise or go out
  • Receiving constant calls or texts from their partner asking where they are or who they’re with
  • Having very little money available to them and possibly having access to transport removed too

Striking up a conversation

No matter how well your intentions and how close you are to the victim, knowing what to say to encourage them to seek help can be difficult.

Try to find the right space and time. Talking 1-1 in a private setting is better than approaching them in a group. A night out is also not the right time as the victim may be trying to relax and escape the reality of home for a while, so will not want to talk about it.

Keep the conversation positive Even if they feel down and are quiet, tell them how much you value their friendship and what fun they are to be around. Remember that their confidence is likely to be low, so boost their spirits by complimenting them.

Calmly voice your concerns and let them open up if they wish. Don’t force them to divulge details or ask too many questions otherwise they may question your intentions. Reassure them that you are there to listen and support them. This is their safe space to use how they wish.

Try to gently make them understand that they are not to blame for their situation. Victims often blame themselves because the perpetrator has persuaded them that this is the case. They are likely to make excuses for their abuser and try to justify their behaviour. They may also feel that what they’re experiencing is part and parcel of being in a normal relationship. Most couples have problems at some stage, but an abusive relationship will see one of the couple controlling, intimidating and physically and emotionally harming the other.

Be careful not to be too heavy-handed because they may shut down and helping them will become impossible. Instead, steer the conversation towards how the abuse is making them feel so that it’s fully focussed on them. This will make them think about the perpetrator’s behaviour and they may draw their own conclusions on what is right and wrong.  Saying that you’d feel the same way helps acknowledge how they’re feeling.

You may be tempted to say ‘just leave’ but, although it’s hard to understand why they would show loyalty to their abuser, they are likely to be under their control and such demands only mimic that dominant behaviour. It may also be that they have no financial independence or that they don’t want to break up their family. They may also feel so helpless they imagine there is no escape.

Help them create an exit plan so that they are ready to leave when they have the opportunity. The plan may include identifying a safe place to go and having a bag packed ready. Advise them to take their keys, passport and copies of any bills in their name or joint names. They should also change any passwords or codes for devices and online accounts that they wouldn’t want their abuser to access. Setting up two-factor authentication will also offer further security. It is advisable for them to get their post redirected. Encourage them to keep notes or diarise when events have happened if they can.

Try to avoid saying he/she seemed nice or that they seemed the perfect couple. Abusers rarely, if ever, show their true colours in front of other people. They can often be popular and well-liked in company or out in public but change when they’re behind closed doors.  The fact that the perpetrator can fool everybody may cause further embarrassment.

Offer solutions without being pushy. Options could include:

  • Talking to the police if they are in immediate danger
  • Contacting a charity or helpline for confidential advice (see below for useful phone numbers and email addresses)

Assure them that they’re not alone and thank them for talking to you as it allows you the opportunity to help them.

Where to get help

Below are some phone numbers and email addresses where anyone can talk in confidence to specially trained people.

For women:

  • Phone – the Freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline is on 0808 2000 247. It’s run by Refuge and open day and night
  • Email – helpline@womensaid.org.uk

For men:

  • Phone – Men’s Advice Line is on 0808 8010 327. The line is open Monday and Wednesday 9am to 8pm and Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9am to 5pm
  • Phone – ManKind is on 0182 3334 244. The line is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm
  • Email – info@mensadviceline.org.uk

LGBT+:

  • Phone – Galop’s Domestic Abuse Helpline is on 0800 999 5428. The line is open Monday and Friday 10am to 5pm and Wednesday and Thursday 10am to 8pm
  • Email – help@galop.org.uk

Forced marriage and honour crime:

  • Phone – Karma Nirvana is on 0800 5999 247. The line is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm

Other places you can ask for help include pharmacies, a GP, midwife or health visitor. If you email for help, please confirm the best time for someone to email you back when you are typically safe to read their reply and respond to it.

Contacting us

If you need legal advice on any type of abuse, call us on 0116 340 0094 or email hello@agrlaw.co.uk.

To mark Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, and the call for the silence surrounding abuse to be broken, we wanted to shine a light on what is and isn’t unacceptable in the eyes of the law.

What are sexual abuse and sexual violence?

Sexual abuse and sexual violence occur when someone behaves in a sexual nature without the other party or parties giving consent. It can be physical, psychological, verbal, written in messages or via the internet.

  • Sexual abuse usually refers to any person under the age of 18 being forced or incited into a sexual activity
  • Sexual violence is when sexual behaviour or a sexual act is forced on a person without their consent

The perpetrator often uses tactics to pressure, trick or manipulate their victim into the act. Men, women and children can fall victim to sexual abuse or sexual violence regardless of age, sexual orientation or race.

Recognising behaviour that is abusive

Sexual violence is an umbrella term for:

  • Rape – unwanted or forced sex that happens without consent
  • Sexual assault – when someone touches a person in a sexual manner or makes them take part in a sexual activity without their consent
  • Sexual harassment – unwanted sexual behaviour that makes (or is intended to make) someone feel upset, scared, offended or humiliated
  • Stalking – persistent and unwanted obsessive attention that makes someone feel pestered, anxious, scared or harassed. Examples include someone following you or regularly sending you unwanted gifts
  • Indecent exposure/flashing – someone deliberately exposing his or her genitals to scare or upset another person
  • Child sexual abuse – when an adult or older child coerces a child into a sexual situation
  • Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) – intentionally altering or causing injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons
  • Spiking – putting alcohol or drugs into someone’s drink or body without them knowing

Acts don’t have to be physical to be abusive. Examples include:

  • Sending obscene messages
  • Encouraging inappropriate conversations (including online)
  • Sharing pornographic materials

The abuser can be a stranger or, as is often the case, someone you know or even a family member. They may be a spouse, partner, fiancé, boyfriend or girlfriend. Your relationship status doesn’t give them automatic rights to abuse you.

What is consent?

If you are involved in a sexual activity, agreed to take part by choice and have the freedom and capacity to make your own decisions, that is deemed as consent. You should also be able to change your mind at any point and withdraw consent without being accused of playing hard to get or sending mixed signals. You can refuse consent even if you have given it previously.

Sometimes age, disabilities or conditions can leave you unable to give consent.  You may also be asleep, unconscious or affected by drink or drugs. It is not acceptable to assume you give consent because you can’t say no.

You are NOT to blame

Sexual abuse and sexual violence are ALWAYS the fault of the abuser.

We know from previous experience that the perpetrator typically persuades the victim that people won’t believe them if they speak out, or that the situation is their fault. They also make them worry it will bring shame on them and their family.

Remember:

  • If you consume alcohol, take drugs, wear revealing clothing or behave in a flirtatious manner that does not mean it is acceptable for someone to abuse you. People with the legal right to drink also have the legal right not to be forced into doing anything they do not wish to
  • If you are unable to fight your attacker off that doesn’t mean you have consented. Some people can scream or shout out and run away, but a common reaction is to become so crippled with fear that you freeze and are unable to move
  • Just because you are married to, or in a relationship with, a person it does not mean they can abuse you

It is common for abusers to promise they will change, buy you presents and behave kindly for a few days (or sometimes weeks) but they soon go back to their old ways and the cycle begins again.

Other types of abuse

When people think about abuse, they tend to picture physical violence. Being violent and causing physical harm certainly is abuse, but there are other behaviours that we wanted to touch on briefly to make you aware:

  • Coercive control – assaulting, threatening, humiliating or intimidating a person to harm, punish or frighten them. Examples include isolating you from friends and family, monitoring your time and online activity, and denying your basic needs such as food or access to healthcare
  • Psychological or emotional abuse – this can include someone threatening or intimidating you, calling you names and criticising you, dismissing your opinion on matters or undermining you, making you feel guilty, sulking or giving you silent treatment, or telling you what you can and can’t do
  • Financial abuse – limiting your financial freedom of choice and denying you money for basic essentials, controlling your bank accounts so that you have no independent income or running up debts in your name e.g., using your credit card without permission are all common examples of financial abuse
  • Online or digital abuse – there are several ways a perpetrator can abuse victims online. Acts include monitoring your social media profiles or emails without permission, sharing intimate images or videos without your consent, or using GPS locators or spyware

Where to get help

Abuse of any kind is a serious crime. You don’t have to wait until you’re in an emergency situation to ask for help but, if you or your family are in immediate danger, you must call 999.

We know it’s not always easy to seek advice if you’re being monitored closely by your abuser. We also know it takes enormous courage and that your confidence will typically be low.

Below is a list of places support is available from:

For women:

  • Phone – the Freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline is on 0808 2000 247. It’s run by Refuge and open day and night
  • Email – helpline@womensaid.org.uk

For men:

  • Phone – Men’s Advice Line is on 0808 8010 327. The line is open Monday and Wednesday 9am to 8pm and Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9am to 5pm
  • Phone – ManKind is on 0182 3334 244. The line is open Monday to Friday, 10am to 4pm
  • Email – info@mensadviceline.org.uk

LGBT+:

  • Phone – Galop’s Domestic Abuse Helpline is on 0800 999 5428. The line is open Monday and Friday 10am to 5pm and Wednesday and Thursday 10am to 8pm
  • Email – help@galop.org.uk

Forced marriage and honour crime:

  • Phone – Karma Nirvana is on 0800 5999 247. The line is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm

Other places you can ask for help include pharmacies, a GP, midwife or health visitor. If you email for help, please confirm the best time for someone to email you back when you are typically safe to read their reply and respond to it.

Contact us if you need help

If you need legal advice on any type of abuse, call us on 0116 340 0094 or email hello@agrlaw.co.uk. You’re not alone and anyone can talk to us in complete confidence.

We’ve previously mentioned that our approach to family law is to use mediation when couples are separating, but as it’s Family Mediation Week we wanted to explain what mediation is and how it works in more detail.

What is mediation?

Mediation is a process used to help divorcing couples plan their separation constructively. It can also be used to alter arrangements as circumstances change, for example as children grow older.

The role of a mediator is to help you find workable, practical solutions that suit all parties. They won’t tell you what you should and shouldn’t do, nor will they impose solutions or take sides. Instead, they act as a neutral third party, keeping the conversation moving forward, guiding you both and assisting with negotiation until terms can be agreed upon.

Why use mediation?

When you use a mediator, arrangements are tailored for your individual situations. Both parties have their say in a non-confrontational, constructive way. Discussions are free of blame, focussing on the future and preserving your relationship through clear communication, but not attempting to bring about a reconciliation.

Mediation also addresses the emotional needs and uncertainty that can surround the breakdown of a relationship. It can provide a safe and supportive space for you to talk with your ex-partner, but there is no pressure for you to face them if you would prefer not to at any stage.

How is mediation better than going through the divorce courts?

The process is much quicker, more amicable and usually less costly than going through a lengthy and stressful court battle. It puts you in control of your future, as opposed to a judge making decisions for you. Divorcing out of court also protects your privacy and ensures complete confidentiality.

If court is the only option for your case, you will need to prove that mediation has been properly considered and deemed unsuitable. Exemptions include domestic abuse cases.

What does mediation involve?

The process begins with a meeting known as a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (or MIAM) where you discuss what mediation is, how it might help you and the costs involved. After this initial stage, talks will assist you to determine what needs to be agreed upon and a suitable timeframe in which mutually beneficial decisions are to be made. Your mediator can then help you consider all available options. Areas often negotiated by mediation include:

  • Childcare arrangements and co-parenting
  • Finances including pensions
  • Property and housing arrangements
  • Dividing up assets
  • Jointly owned or managed businesses

 Can I get Legal Aid for mediation?

You may be able to receive Legal Aid if:

  • The dispute involves a child. You may be eligible for a free voucher worth up to £500
  • You are on a low income. Legal Aid may help pay for both parties to attend an introductory meeting (MIAM), one mediation session for both of you, further mediation sessions for the eligible person and help from a solicitor to make your agreement legally binding

How can I find out more?

Give us a call on 0116 340 0094 or email hello@agrlaw.co.uk to discuss your situation and the best way forward.

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted individuals and businesses to accelerate their use of digital technologies, and the legal services sector is no exception.

The online divorce process forms a significant part of a £1 billion-plus programme to transform the court system to improve speed, accessibility and ease for all.

Digital divorce – the backstory

In 2017, the government announced they were testing an online divorce application. It could be used by anyone wishing to divorce, and it offered prompts and guidance as they filled out their application. Upon completion, they would need to print it out and send it to the court.

In January 2018, the process was fully digitalised, with forms being submitted online, along with supporting documentation and payment. Around 130 applications were received in the first week.

Feedback was largely positive and, notably, the number of applications being returned due to errors was reduced by over 90%. In addition, people liked the simple, streamlined process and they didn’t have to worry that essential information would become delayed or lost in the post.

The pilot scheme was deemed a success and the refined version was unveiled in May 2018. The next stage was to roll the system out to legal representatives.

Speaking at the time Nigel Shepherd, the former Chair of Resolution, welcomed the move to a fully digital system to bring it into line with other government services, provided it functioned well for all involved.

It’s important to note that although the system was originally developed for those without legal representation to use, we must stress the need to instruct a solicitor to act on your behalf. The portal can be used to end a marriage formally, but it cannot advise on and clarify matters such as finances and access to children. It also cannot help with the emotional journey divorcing couples inevitably find themselves on. Remember, your rights as a married person are lost as soon as your divorce is finalised, so all aspects need careful consideration with support from a professional.

Digital divorce – where are we now?

In September 2021, the system was mandated by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS). This means that legal professionals must submit divorce applications online via the MyHMCTS portal rather than use a paper D8 form. The only exceptions are the dissolution of civil partnerships, judicial separation and nullity.

There are several advantages of the new portal:

  • It is much quicker for courts to process applications as the lengthy administration burden has been removed
  • Applications and supporting evidence can be accessed remotely
  • There are fewer mistakes and delays. The portal does not allow you to submit applications with incorrect or missing information, so applications are rejected less often
  • The negative impact on the environment is reduced as the process is now paperless
  • Solicitors can send information to judges at the click of a button

Digital divorce – what’s next?

From April 2022, divorce will become less confrontational and more constructive when the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force. Couples will no longer need to assign fault to one party, so neither will be blamed for the relationship ending. Language will also be simplified, for example a ‘decree absolute’ will be called a ‘final order’. The portal will be updated to reflect the changes.

Hearings will continue to be held virtually or over the phone, so lessening the need to travel to court and be in the vicinity of the person you are divorcing.

How can AGR Law help?

We are experts in all matters of family law, including divorce and financial settlements. As members of Resolution, we are committed to resolving issues in a non-confrontational way through mediation, resulting in a better outcome for divorcing couples and their families.

For more information, please call us on 0116 340 0094 or email hello@agrlaw.co.uk

We’re proudly supporting Resolution’s Good Divorce Week 2021, doing our bit to kickstart a national conversation about how parents can embrace a child-focused approach when separating.

Good Divorce Week runs from Monday 29 November to Friday 03 December 2021, beginning with the launch of a new Parenting Through Separation Guide. Produced by Resolution’s Parenting After Parting Committee, this 21-page downloadable resource is available free.

Packed full of advice and support to help parents through separation, divorce and beyond, the guide begins with real-life stories and talks about dealing with shocking and emotionally traumatic events.

It details the role of a co-parent and how best to communicate with children, including suggestions on explaining the situation and managing a child’s feelings.

The guide also covers when and how to involve children in decision-making and has a handy jargon busting section to help you with unfamiliar and confusing legal definitions.

The Parenting Through Separation Guide is suitable for all parents, whether you fear a relationship is about to end, are newly separated or have been co-parenting with an ex-partner for some time.

As Resolution members, we’re committed to adopting a non-confrontational approach to family law issues to produce better outcomes for separating families and their children. Please contact us on 0116 340 0094 or hello@agrlaw.co.uk if you need support or advice on any issue surrounding divorce or separation.

For matters such as divorce, we believe that mediation is the best approach for lots of reasons as we explained in our previous blog which you can read HERE.

For some areas of law, cases need to go to court. Domestic abuse is one such area and cases are often heard in the Family Court. Only complex cases need to be resolved by the Family Division of the High Court.

Our team understand the trauma suffered by domestic abuse victims and the bravery it takes to speak up and report perpetrators. The thought of going to court can make people reluctant to come forward, so we wanted to explain its role so victims will know what to expect.

What can I expect at Family Court?

A Family Court is less formal than a Criminal Court. No wigs or robes are worn, and the most important concern is not proving guilt or innocence but the welfare of the victim. Witnesses are not required to stand up to give evidence, they remain seated.

The judge can be a specially trained Magistrate, a District Judge or a High Court Judge, depending on the case. We can advise you on how you will need to address them.

Family Courts have no juries, so they have different procedures to prove or disprove facts in dispute. The process may begin with fact-finding where each party will have the opportunity to tell their side of the story, usually through written reports and statements. You may be asked questions about the evidence you have given. The judge will then use what’s known as ‘the balance of probabilities’ to decide whether events on which the parties disagree happened or not.

Hearings are confidential and there are no public galleries. Members of the press may attend, but there are measures to restrict the level of detail in their report to protect those involved.

There may be times where the persons making the application attendance is not compulsory, and urgent proceedings can happen without the Respondent being present.

What powers do Family Courts have in domestic abuse cases?

Family Courts have the power to:

  • Give non-molestation orders and injunctions (to prohibit contact from the perpetrator and to protect you from harassment, threatening behaviour or violence)
  • Deal with anyone breaching orders and injunctions
  • Give an occupation order which can define and regulate the rights of occupation of the home and order a suspected abuser to be removed from the home
  • Some courts also have powers to prevent forced marriages and protect anyone who may have been forced into marriage

Sweeping reforms made to the Family Court

Since June 2020, domestic abuse victims have had greater protection.

Changes included:

  • Separate building entrances and waiting rooms to the abuser
  • Protective screens in court
  • Stronger powers to issue barring orders to prevent abusers from repeatedly dragging a victim back to court

What is AGR Law’s role in court proceedings?

It is possible to represent yourself, but we would always recommend having a lawyer present in court.

This is because:

  • Going to court alone can be extremely stressful. Although the judge may allow you may take a ‘McKenzie friend’ with you if you don’t have a lawyer, their main role is to provide moral support, take notes and help with the case papers
  • Laws and court procedures are complex and sometimes the terminology used can be confusing. Our team are experienced professionals who can prepare your case, speak on your behalf and ask the right questions of the opposition
  • We offer emotional support as well as practical and legal guidance

We can also advise you on (and apply for) funding your case through Legal Aid. This is generally available to people who are at risk of harm from domestic abuse but cannot afford to pay for the cost of legal representation.

Useful information

Domestic abuse may not necessarily mean someone is causing physical harm. It also includes emotional, psychological and financial abuse.

If you’re in danger you must ring 999.

Help is also available from Refuge:

  • Phone (24-hour helpline): 0808 2000 247
  • Website: www.refuge.org.uk

If you need advice, you can contact us by emailing hello@agrlaw.co.uk or calling 0116 340 0094.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill gained long-awaited Royal assent in June 2020. This means that, from April 2022, couples in England and Wales can divorce without having to assign blame to either party.

Why is reform needed?

Championed by Resolution, the community of family justice professionals of which AGR Law is a member, the no-fault divorce campaign ran for several years. It sought to minimise conflict to make the process less damaging, particularly to the children of divorcing couples. It also aimed to modernise the divorce procedure and make it more appropriate to the reasons modern-day marriages fail.

Currently, couples who jointly decide that divorce is the best option need to have been separated for at least two years. If only one party wishes to end the marriage, separation will need to be for a minimum of five years.

Most people find this period too long, and feel they have no option but to initiate proceedings and assign fault to their spouse to speed up the process.

Fault can include adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion. This allegation can create unnecessary hostility and resentment, making it more difficult to agree on essential matters such as finances and childcare.

It also creates misunderstanding as people mistakenly believe that not being the one at fault will be seen favourably, and they assume they will have more rights to assets.

How is the no-fault divorce better?

The main benefit of a no-fault divorce is that irretrievable breakdown will be the sole reason needed, so neither party will be blamed for the relationship ending. This will reduce confrontation, allowing couples to agree terms in a constructive manner.

Although a legal statement from just one spouse will count as conclusive and incontestable evidence, couples will also be able to make a joint application to divorce. This means that the process is more amicable and balanced from the very beginning, increasing the chance of a cordial split.

How will the no-fault divorce help couples?

The no-fault divorce will encourage cooperation, rather than inciting a blame game and escalating complications and ill-feeling when emotions may already be running high. This will set the tone for future discussions which are part of the process and reduce any negative impact for everyone involved.

It will also help in cases where mediation can resolve disagreements, rather than lengthy, stressful and costly court hearings which often result from apportioning fault.

Agreeing out of court will also make it easier for people who can’t (or choose not to) have legal representation. They may otherwise need to draft petitions and complete paperwork which can be confusing and complicated.

Is the no-fault divorce going to be quicker?

The no-fault divorce will decrease the likelihood of delay where the split is amicable, but there will be a minimum of 20 weeks between the initial application and the conditional order, and a further six weeks until the final orders.

The process will take at least six months to complete from start to finish.

What else will change this autumn?

Some of the terms used will be modernised and simplified:

  • The ‘petitioner’ will be called the ‘applicant’
  • The ‘decree nisi’ will be called a ‘conditional order’
  • The ‘decree absolute’ will be called a ‘final order’

Laws regarding financial settlements, childcare and other matters will remain unchanged.

What about civil partnerships?

The laws surrounding the dissolution of civil partnerships will also be updated. They will broadly follow the same approach as no-fault divorce.

Need help?

The AGR Law team are available for virtual appointments if you have any questions about divorce, either now or when the new law comes into effect.

Call us on 0116 340 0094 or email hello@agrlaw.co.uk to find out more.

Most couples live together before tying the knot, or some may choose to move in but not marry at all. They are known as ‘cohabiting couples’ and, although there are over 3 million in the UK, the law does not recognise them in the same way it does people who are married or in civil partnerships.

With weddings and ceremonies postponed, and tensions in some relationships running high, we thought it might be useful to remind you of your rights if you’re part of a cohabiting couple.

There’s no such thing as a common-law marriage

Even if you have been partners for a long time and you have children together, you are not considered a couple in the eyes of the law. It is a myth that you enter a ‘common-law marriage’ after a certain number of years. This is not the case and it can make things difficult in the event of the relationship breaking down.

Property rights

Your home is likely to be the biggest asset you have accumulated throughout your relationship. Your rights to make a claim on it depend on:

  • Whether you are a joint owner, so both you and your partner’s names are on the deeds
  • If you have contributed towards it (purchase, upkeep and any major improvements made, such as building an extension) and have proof of doing so
  • If you have children living at the property

If you and your partner are joint owners, you will have equal rights to remain in the property.

If your partner is sole owner, you have no automatic legal rights. This is a complex area of law and we always advise reaching an agreement between you but, if this is not possible, you can assert your interest in the property by applying to the court. You will need to gather evidence to do this, and the judge will then decide who owns what percentage of the property.

If you have children living in the property and you have parental responsibility, whether granted by the court or received automatically, a judge may allow you and your children to stay in the home for a specified time or until the youngest child turns 18 years old.

Financial rights

Legally, cohabiting couples have no financial responsibility to one another if they separate. Although you may receive support for children from your ex-partner through the Child Maintenance Service, they are not legally obliged to provide any additional money which benefits you personally.

Finances can become further complicated if one or both of you is in debt, you don’t have your own pension or you jointly run a business and can’t agree how it should be divided up.

Parental responsibility rights

At birth of a child, responsibility for a child’s wellbeing and the legal right to make decisions for the child (including where they live, their education, religion, and receipt of medical treatment) is automatically granted to mothers.

Fathers don’t have any responsibility unless the father was registered on the child’s birth certificate, they have a Responsibility Agreement with the mother, or if the court grants him a Parental Responsibility Order.

Our recommendations

  • Always jointly register a child at birth in case you split up with your partner or if one of you dies. You don’t have to be married to do this, and the child can have a different surname to one of their registered parents. It’s also believed to be better for the child’s sense of identity and mental health if both parents are named on the birth certificate
  • Protect your assets and prevent misunderstandings with a Cohabitation Agreement. This is a legal document which sets out who can claim what in the event of separation. We can draw this up for you
  • Both of you need to make Wills and update them as circumstances change. You have no automatic rights to inherit should your partner die without one and, although you can make a claim, it is an emotionally draining and sometimes lengthy and expensive process. AGR Law can help with Will writing
  • Make sure you know what constitutes a legal marriage. Some religious marriages are recognised by their faith, but not by the law unless they comply with certain requirements. AGR Law can advise on what constitutes a legal marriage
  • Property should be registered in both names but, if this is not possible, you should draw up a declaration which states that you and your partner have equal shares

Need advice? Our friendly team can help with all matters relating to cohabitation and virtual appointments are available throughout lockdown. Give us a call on 0116 340 0094 or email hello@agrlaw.co.uk to find out more