Lockdown Justice – Family and Children matters

By Sally Perrett

On the 23rd of March, we went into lockdown procedures for our own safety and the safety of our community, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, at the end of our 8th week of “stay at home” precautions, we face a minimum of two more weeks at home, followed by a period of uncertainty as we adjust to the “new normal”.

Sally Perrett

The lockdown has not been easy for anyone, and we have seen tremendous acts of selflessness and dedication from our various key workers who have stepped up and kept our essential services functioning. Thank you to all of you.

All through this period, our clients at CJCH Solicitors have continued to need assistance in matters relating to various family and childcare scenarios.

How, for example, do separated partners with shared custody of their children make arrangements for access to their children, or seek enforcement of their rights? In a Covid-19 world, these are not easy situations and take a new way of thinking to address.

That said, we continue to be here for you, the courts are still proceeding with hearings and cases are still being resolved. Today, Sally Perrett answer some of your questions in the hopes that this assists others with their concerns, Q&A below.

Sally is a senior solicitor at CJCH, and is the head of our Childcare Law department, bringing years of specialist experience to advise her clients on these often difficult situations.

Q: Are the courts still functioning, will my legal matter be heard during lock down?

Sally Says:

The Family Courts are still operating, and so far we have seen cases already listed taking place as normal albeit ‘remotely’ by way of telephone hearing or video meeting.  New applications can still be made but may take longer to be listed as emergency applications are being prioritised.

Q: I have custody of my children and my ex would like to see them/have them visit. Can I allow this?

Sally Says:

The Government has issued specific rules on staying at home and away from others, ‘The Stay at Home Rules’. Guidance has been issued alongside these rules specifically dealing with child contact arrangements “ where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.

This does not mean that children must be moved between homes. The decision whether a child is to be moved between parents and homes is ultimately a decision for the parents following a sensible assessment of the circumstances, including the child’s present health, the risk of infection and the presence of any recognised vulnerable individuals in one household or the other.

Q: My ex has custody of our children and is refusing me access. What do I do?

Sally Says:

If you have a Court-Ordered Child Arrangements Order in place and a breach of the child arrangement order occurs there is the option of applying to the Court to have the order enforced, however, there is a strain on Court services currently and your application may not be dealt with urgently unless there is a child protection concern. The Court is unlikely to make an order for enforcement if it is satisfied that the parent refusing access had a reasonable reason not to adhere to the child arrangements order. 

That being said the Courts are aware that parents could potentially use the current situation to frustrate arrangements that have previously been Court ordered and it is, therefore, possible that a sanction could be issued. 

Q: I think my neighbours are abusing their child/children. What do I do?

Sally Says:

You should contact your local Children’s Services department who will investigate the situation further. You can do this by contacting your Local Authority’s general number and asking to be put forward to Children’s Services to make a referral. You will then be put through to the duty team. You can choose to remain anonymous if you wish to do so. Some Local Authorities are giving out an email address to contact so you may want to contact the NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) on 0808 800 500 who will make the referral to your local Children’s Services department for you. If you think it is an emergency situation and a child is at immediate physical risk, contact the police.

 

For more information, or to arrange a consultation, please contact our  Family and Childcare team. Contact information provided here.

 

 

 

 

Valentines Day & The Rights of Cohabiting Couples

With Valentine’s day upon us and romance in the air, many couples will be considering the next stage of their relationship and consider moving in with each other.

Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK, doubling in 20 years to 3.4 million couples. With many cohabiting couples having children, just how much do you know about your rights in a cohabiting partnership?

Sarah Perkins, Family Law Solicitor at CJCH Solicitors, discusses the differences in the rights between married and unmarried couples. Also, how unmarried couples can protect their assets and their children in the event of a relationship breakdown.

What does “common law marriage” mean and is it legally valid?

Common-law marriage in the UK is a myth. The term refers to unmarried couples who are cohabiting.  Worryingly, many people in the UK believe that “common law marriage” exists and that unmarried couples enjoy the same legal rights as married couples. However, this is not the case.

How do the rights of married and unmarried couples differ?

There are significant differences between the rights of married and unmarried couples. This applies throughout the marriage, death and divorce. For example, if an unmarried partner dies without leaving a will, the surviving partner will not inherit anything (unless they jointly own property). Whereas a married partner would automatically inherit under the rules on intestacy.

Additionally, regardless of how long the couple has lived together, an unmarried partner who stayed at home to care for children to the detriment of their earning capacity cannot make claims for property, maintenance or pension.

What is a cohabitation agreement and what are the benefits of unmarried couples having one?

A cohabitation agreement is a written document which sets out the parties’ intentions regarding their assets. If the relationship ends, the agreement provides certainty regarding the division of property. An agreement can include the following:

  • Who is responsible for the payment of rent/mortgage and household bills
  • Ownership of personal belongings
  • Ownership and shares of jointly owned property

A cohabiting agreement works like a contract and provided it is drawn up correctly, will be enforceable.

How can unmarried cohabiting couples make sure their children are protected?

A cohabiting agreement can lay out contact/living arrangements and maintenance for any children from the relationship. Consult a solicitor who will draft an agreement that best protects children in the event of a relationship breakdown

How else can a solicitor advise cohabiting couples on protecting their assets and each other?

If properties are purchased jointly but with unequal contributions & payments to the mortgage & other expenses, the property should be held as Tenants in Common & a Deed of Trust drawn up upon purchase reflecting the arrangement.

Finally, it is vital couples cohabiting have up to date wills. The wills will reflect who should inherit their shared assets and belongings in the event one of the partners passes away

How can we help?

CJCH has extensive experience dealing with family matters in a nurturing and compassionate way. For more information, get in touch with a member of our team today:

Email: family@cjch.co.uk

Telephone: 0333 231 6405

Getting Married Abroad – Everything You Need To Know

If you dream of getting married abroad on a sunny beach with pristine white sand, you are not alone. The number of Brits saying ‘I do’ abroad continues to rise.

But it’s not just sorting out the dress and worrying about a wedding speech – you will need the correct documentation, which can cost money and take time.

Fortunately, Sally Perrett, family solicitor at CJCH, outlines everything you need to know about tying the knot abroad.

What conditions must be met for a marriage or civil partnership which has taken place abroad to be valid in the UK?

Firstly, the marriage has recognition as a legal marriage in the country in which it took place. Secondly, the parties have complied with the procedures in the country of marriage. In addition, each party must have the capacity to marry under the laws of the relevant country. Capacity covers issues such as age, consent and mental capacity. Finally, any previous marriage (if relevant) must have ended before marrying again.

What paperwork do you need to take with you when marrying or entering into a civil partnership abroad?

The full legal requirements will vary from country to country, but every country will require the bride and groom to have the following documents:

  • Valid 10-year passport with at least six months remaining on it
  • Full birth certificates
  • Deed poll proof of any name change
  • Decree absolute, if married
  • Marriage and death certificates of a deceased spouse, if widowed
  • Adoption certificate, if adopted
  • If marrying in a non-English speaking country, translation of documents may be required and given an apostille (additional certification of authenticity) to validate the document abroad. The Foreign Office carries out this service.

Other documents required:

Certificate of No Impediment (CNI) – Each party will need one to prove there is no reason they cannot marry. This document is obtainable from a local registry office or embassy. They take around a month to issue, cost £30 and last for 6 months from the date of issue. They are required in Aruba, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Turkey

Single Status Statutory Declaration – similar to the CNI, it proves the couple are free to marry. They must be stamped and certified by a solicitor in the UK. Countries that require this are Antigua, the Bahamas, The Dominican Republic, Kenya, Seychelles and Sri Lanka.

What are the main issues people run into when marrying or entering into a civil partnership abroad?

Generally, not leaving enough time to ensure correct documentation. Indeed, this may be the most complicated part of the wedding preparations! Ensure you leave enough time as certifying a document through the foreign office can take up to 6 weeks.

Are there any countries that have special requirements for getting married abroad?

Each country will have its own specific requirements. Make sure you do your research and check the rules beforehand. Some countries, such as Mexico and Turkey will require medical/blood tests so check before. Consult a solicitor with experience on these matters prior to the wedding.

What top tips would you give to someone looking to get married or enter into a civil partnership abroad?

Cost and time! Remember to factor the cost of obtaining documents into the wedding budget and the time to obtain documents. Be sure to speak to a solicitor if you are unclear about the documentation you may require.

How can we help:

CJCH has extensive knowledge and experience in family & matrimonial matters. Get in touch with a qualified member of our team today.

Email: family@cjch.co.uk

Telephone:  0333 231 6405

 

Supporting Clients Through A Relationship Breakdown

A relationship breakdown is an emotional and worrying time for a family. For a solicitor, it is not only important to understand the legal issues a client faces, but also take the time to understand the client’s wider situation. Sally Perrett, Family & Childcare solicitor at CJCH, discusses how she supports clients experiencing a relationship breakdown.

As a solicitor how do you ease stress for clients throughout a relationship breakdown?

The end of a relationship is an extremely difficult situation. Personal trauma and financial issues can cause stress & there needs to be a focus on protecting children from the impact of the relationship breakdown.

With so many stressful issues, it is important the client receives practical advice that reassures them about the factors to consider. This will hopefully alleviate the pressure felt by the client, knowing their matter is handled sensitively

Why is it important to build trust with clients facing a relationship breakdown?

Often, when a client is facing a breakup, they are emotional, feel let down and very worried about what the future holds. A client needs reassurance and generally someone they can rely on to approach their case with sensitivity and discretion.

Do you find that there’s an element of providing emotional support as well as legal advice when it comes to family law matters?

Of course, there will be an element of emotional support required during such a traumatic time in a person’s life. Often clients find it difficult to separate practical matters from personal issues. Therefore, these need to be dealt with empathetically

What advice would you give to someone facing a relationship breakdown?

We would advise the client to take their time & not make big decisions too quickly under stress. Take a measured approach towards practical matters & the implications of the relationship breakdown.

Importantly, no two cases are the same, one client may want to protect their assets whilst another seeks the most favourable arrangements with respect to their children. It is important clients make measured decisions based on the practical advice they receive

How do you feel your advice brings value to clients during a relationship breakdown?

It is vital that a client feels they can rely on their solicitor for a realistic, sensible approach. The client should feel in ‘safe hands’ at their vulnerable time. Finally, it is imperative solicitor’s advice alleviates pressure the client is facing.

How we can help:

Our team has extensive experience in supporting clients in what can be a difficult and confusing time. The breakdown of a relationship brings with it distressing repercussions and our team is here to help you in a compassionate and nurturing way. Get in touch with a member of our team today.

Telephone: 0333 231 6405

Email: family@cjch.co.uk

Cohabiting Couples & the Law – Protect Your Rights!

The number of cohabiting couples continues to rise to over 6 million in 2018. This coincides with a decline in marriage rates, which have fallen since their peak in the early 1970s. With this in mind, what does it mean for couples that are choosing to forgo tying the knot?

It is often overlooked that unmarried couples do not enjoy the same rights as married couples. It is therefore important that married couples are aware of this difference so that their rights are protected. Our solicitor in Family Law, Sarah Perkins, discusses the rights of married and unmarried couples and dispels some myths surrounding ‘common law marriage’.

What does ‘common law marriage’ mean when people refer to cohabiting couples? Is it a myth?

Common law marriage in the UK is a myth.  The term refers to couples who choose to live together unmarried.  Worryingly, many people in the UK believe “common law marriage” exists and that unmarried couples enjoy the same legal rights as married couples.  This is not the case.

How do the rights of married and unmarried couples differ?

The rights of married and unmarried couples differ in several ways. For example, when an unmarried partner dies without leaving a will, the surviving partner will not inherit anything.  Unless, however, the couple jointly owns property and assets. A married partner would automatically inherit all or some of the estate under the rules of intestacy.

Additionally, cohabiting partners cannot access their partner’s bank account if they die. Whereas married couples may be allowed to withdraw the balance providing the amount is small. Cohabiting partners are not legally considered to be next of kin.

Following separation, an unmarried partner who has stayed at home during the relationship to care for children cannot make any claims in their own right for property, maintenance or pension sharing. It is irrelevant if the decision to care for children was to the detriment of the person’s earning capacity and regardless of how long they lived together.

There is no legal obligation on unmarried couples to support each other financially. Whereas married partners have a legal duty to support each other.

Furthermore, if an unmarried couple lives in rented accommodation and the tenancy is in only one partner’s name, the other has no legal right to stay in and occupy the accommodation.  When married, each partner has the right to live in the matrimonial home.

What legal considerations do you think unmarried parents should be aware of?

An unmarried father does not have automatic parental responsibility for a child. Parental Responsibility is acquired by an unmarried Father when named on the Birth Certificate or an Order of the Court.

If an unmarried parent dies without leaving a will, the other parent will not inherit anything unless it is jointly owned.  If the child is the deceased parents’ next of kin, then the child will inherit all or part of the estate. The estate If the child is a minor, the estate will be held on trust. It is therefore of utmost importance that unmarried parents have up to date wills reflecting their wishes.

Tell us what a cohabitation agreement is and how it could help unmarried couples.

A Cohabitation Agreement is a written document which sets out the parties’ intentions concerning property and other assets. It provides certainty regarding property division in the event of a relationship breakdown.  Agreements can include the following information:

  • who will be responsible for payment of rent or mortgage and various household bills;
  • ownership of personal belongings and furniture;
  • ownership and shares of jointly owned property;
  • detail the living and contact arrangements for children following the breakdown of the relationship.

Provided the agreement is drafted correctly it is legally enforceable.

Are there any other measures cohabiting couples can put in place to protect themselves if they split up or one of them dies?

If properties are purchased jointly but with unequal contributions to the purchase price, unequal contributions to mortgage payments and other expenses related to the property, the property should be held as Tenants in Common and a Deed of Trust drawn up upon purchase reflecting the arrangement.

Cohabiting couples should ensure that they have up to date Wills reflecting ho should inherit their assets and belongings in the event of death.

How can we help:

Get in touch with an experienced member of our team today. Contact us via:

Telephone: 0333 231 6405

Email: family@cjch.co.uk

No Fault Divorce – 6 Things You Need to Know

The government plans to change the law surrounding divorce to remove the concept of fault.  According to the Justice Secretary, this proposed reform will come into force ‘as soon as parliamentary time allows.’ Our specialist Family & Matrimonial solicitor, Sarah Perkins sat down to discuss the proposed changes in the law. Here are 6 things you need to know about no fault divorce.

What is the current process for divorcing or ending a civil partnership in England and Wales?

Under the existing Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, an applicant must prove to the Court that their marriage has irretrievably broken down.  This is based on one of the following criteria, that the other party:

 

  1. Engaged in Unreasonable Behaviour
  2. Committed Adultery
  3. Deserted (one party has deserted for two years or more without explanation)
    Or:
  4. Two years separation with the consent of the other party
  5. Five years separation with no requirement of consent

Therefore, unless a couple has been separated for at least two years, one person must blame the other and prove fault either by way of examples of their unreasonable behaviour or adultery which must either be admitted by the other party or proved.

As a result, respondents to a divorce often contest proceedings which results in increased conflict and expense.

How is the law set to change regarding no-fault divorce?

No-fault divorce will remove the old five criteria set out above. They will be replaced with a requirement of notification to the court, a statement of irretrievable breakdown.

Furthermore, the government plans to:

  • Allow couples to give notice and apply jointly
  • Remove the ability for one party to contest the divorce
  • Introduce a minimum time frame of six months from Petition to Decree
  • Absolute to allow time to reflect on the decision to divorce and access any support such as counselling or mediation
  • Retain the ban on applications in the first year or marriage
How will the new law impact the family law landscape?

The aim of the new law is to remove the element of blame, reduce conflict and hostility between parties and simplify the process.  This enables parties to concentrate on the children and financial matters arising from divorce and protect any children of the family from ongoing parental conflict.

The new law could see a rise in the number of divorce applications as parties will no longer have to wait for a period of two years if they wish to divorce without blame being apportioned to one party.

Depending on the simplicity of the finalised process, there may be an increase of couples divorcing without guidance from Family Law practitioners. However, independent legal advice should still be sought in relation to children and financial matters which would not be affected by the new legislation.

How will the change in law affect clients and the process of divorce?

The proposed change in the law will allow clients to apply for a divorce without blaming one party, without having to wait for a period of two years or more. Consequently, it will allow couples to apply jointly and remove the ability for one person to contest a divorce.

The proposed plan is to introduce a minimum time frame of six months from petition to decree absolute.  This allows time for both parties to reflect on the application and access any support such as counselling or mediation.

Will people currently going through a divorce be impacted by the change in the law?

The law is not in force yet – it will only apply to divorces applied for after the date of the legislation

How can a solicitor help you know where you stand if your relationship breaks down?

A Solicitor can advise you of all your options following relationship breakdown including separation agreements, judicial separation or divorce and help you decide which is the right option for you.

Furthermore, solicitors can also advise and assist in making child arrangements and advise in relation to all financial issues arising from your separation including what to do with the family home, dividing any assets from the relationship, looking at income and pensions to ensure that you and any children of the family are fairly provided for.

How can we help?

Speak to a member of our dynamic team in Family, Matrimonial and Childcare Law who will use their extensive knowledge and experience to support you.

Get in touch via:

Telephone: 0333 231 6405

Emergency Telephone: 07967 305949

Email: family@cjch.co.uk