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A Guide to Family Law

Family Law Solicitors Harrow, Uxbridge, Ruislip, London.

At the Sethi Partnership we have specialised in family and matrimonial law since our inception 20 years ago. We pride ourselves on having an experienced and compassionateA Consumer’s Guide To Family Law Solicitors Harrow family law team with a wealth of experience in all areas surrounding family law.

We realise that divorce/separation and many other matters of the family can be the cause of a considerable amount of distress and we endeavour to treat all our clients cases in a manner that is cost effective, simple and minimises conflict.

We also realise that family law can be a very confusing area and so have made this handy guide which explains the basic ins and outs of family law in England and Wales.

Marriage and Civil Partnerships

The minimum age for marriage in the UK is 16 and since the 2013 Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, marriage is now available for same sex couples as well as opposite sex couples, with both being treated as completely equal under the law. In order to ensure they are officially recognised under the law a marriage ceremony most be conducted by an “authorised celebrant” (usually a religious official) or by an “authorised registrar”.

Civil Partnerships were introduced to the UK in 2004 as an alternative to marriage for same sex couples and these unions gave same sex couples the same property rights as married couples. The aforementioned Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act will allow civil partners to convert their partnerships into marriages. Civil partnerships are still available for same sex couples, but not opposite sex couples, however, there are discussions to extend this at some point.

Divorce

The sole grounds for divorce in England and Wales is the “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage. An “irretrievable breakdown” can be proved by the presence of one of the following…
1) Adultery
2) Unreasonable behaviour
3) Desertion (two years)
4) Uncontested Separation (two years)
5) Contested Separation (five years)

There is a one year bar, after the date of the marriage before divorce proceedings can be brought. Divorce proceedings can be contested by one of the partners, but this rarely occurs in practice.

Some couples may be eligible for an annulment. Unlike divorce, an annulment is essentially an acknowledgment that the marriage was never valid and essentially is there to act as if the marriage never occurred. An annulment will only be granted if it can be proved that the marriage is not legally valid (void) or if it is defective (voidable).

A marriage can be declared void if…
1) The partners are closely related
2) One of the partners was under the age of 16 at the time of the marriage
3) One of the partners was already married or in a civil partnership at the time of the marriage

A marriage can be declared voidable if…
1) The marriage was not consummated (this requirement, as of yet, does not apply for same-sex marriages)
2) One of the parties was intoxicated or not of sound mind at the time of the marriage
3) The marriage was induced by fraud

The issue of what happens to the property, finances and possessions of the couple is one of the trickiest areas surrounding a divorce. Contrary to popular belief, the court does not simply order married couples to split their possessions 50/50. They instead make financial orders (also known as ancillary relief) using their discretion, based a wide variety of factors in each individual case.

The simplest way to settle the division of your assets in the instance of a divorce is for you and your partner to make an agreement between yourselves, something that can be done through mediation, which is encourage by the courts. To do this you will need to complete a form known as a ‘financial statement’ which details the current and expected financial position, arrangements for children and any other dependents and details of all income for both parties.

Alternatively, if an agreement cannot be reached, the court will make a Financial Dispute Resolution. At these hearings, a judge will once again make the two parties come to an agreement over the division of assets. If an agreement still cannot be reached the judge will then make a decision based on his or her discretion. The factors the judge will take into consideration when making this decision include the custody arrangements for any children, the current and future earnings of the partners, each partner’s contribution to the marriage, the financial position of the partners before they entered into the marriage, standard of living and much more.

Custody of Children

A residency order is used to decide who your child or children will live with and who will be their primary carer. Anyone with parental responsibility for the child can apply for a residency order in the instance of a divorce.

A contact order is used to decide when the parent who is not the primary carer can see the child and for how long.

Much like with financial settlements, the best way to sort out the issue of child custody in the instance of a divorce is for both parents to make a mutually beneficial agreement through the use of mediation. In most cases the courts will help to enforce any reasonable agreement made between the parents.