Family Law

Guiding you through difficult times

What do we do?

Family disputes can be difficult to resolve.  The break up of a marriage or relationship can be complicated and emotional, particularly where children or property are involved.

Our family law specialists are able to help you with all aspects of family law and provide sensible and practical legal advice.

How do we do it?

We will deal with your case with discretion, sensitivity and a clear understanding of your needs.

Separation and Divorce

Separation and divorce will probably be the most stressful legal procedures you experience throughout your life and can be a sensitive and complex process.  Detailed below are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ�s) for this area of law.

Q. My partner has left me, can I apply for a divorce?
Either the husband or wife in a marriage can apply to the local county court for a Divorce. Normally one year has to elapse from the date of the marriage.

Clarkes can assist in the following:

  • Preparing divorce papers and advising other proceedings such as claims for maintenance, transfer of property, lump sum orders or residence and contact issues for children.
  • Step by step advice at all stages, whether you are the petitioner (bringing the case) or the respondent (replying to the petitioner’s paperwork).

Q. What must be proved before I can be granted a divorce?
Before a Divorce or Judicial Separation can be granted the court has to be satisfied that the marriage has “irretrievably broken down’.  This is proven by one of five facts:

  1. Adultery – the other person has committed adultery and that you find it intolerable to live with them.
  2. Behaviour – the other person has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them.
  3. Desertion – the other person has deserted you for a continuous period of two years.
  4. Two Years Separation – the two of you have lived apart for a continuous period of two years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition and that the other person agrees to be divorced.
  5. Five Years Separation – the two of you have lived apart for a continuous period of five years.  No consent is required.

Clarkes can advise which facts best apply to your particular case.  We can advise on defending a petition for Divorce where appropriate.

If the court is satisfied that the facts apply in your case, the judge will grant a decree nisi unless there are appropriate grounds for defending the case.  Every case is different, but this procedure usually takes about four to six months.  A period of six weeks then has to elapse before the court will pronounce the decree absolute, which finalises the Divorce and is irrevocable.

Q. What about the arrangements for the children?
During the divorce proceedings the welfare of the children is paramount. The court has to be satisfied with all of the arrangements for the children before it will pronounce the decree absolute.

These arrangements will include deciding where the children will live, what contact the absent parent will have with the children and what financial orders are necessary for the children and for the parent with whom they will live. The court will also need to ensure reasonable provision for the absent parent.

It is always best to try to keep the channels of communication open as much as possible where children are concerned.

Q. I want a divorce can Clarkes help?
Yes we can. We will explain the divorce procedure to you step by step and help you to make sense of the various documents and court forms. In appropriate cases, we can put you in to touch with a mediator who may be able to help you reach an amicable settlement and even save you legal fees.

Q. I have received a divorce petition, what should I do?
Don’t delay – get in touch with Clarkes Family Law team as soon as possible.  If you have received a divorce petition from your husband or wife, we will review it with you and explain what every part means.   We can also help you complete the forms which must return to the court.  If you plan to defend the proceedings we can discuss this with you as well.

Q. I don’t want a divorce, but we cannot carry on living together. Can Clarkes help?
Yes we can. There are other options open to you apart from starting divorce proceedings which can be explained to you.  We can also help you prepare any documents that may be needed to record the separation.

You may need advice on finance and children if your relationship has broken down or if there has been domestic violence. We can help with these matters as well.

Q. How long will it all take?
There are no set time scales as each individuals circumstances are unique.  Generally the most straight forward divorces take about four to six months. Sorting out complex financial disputes, especially where houses or business assets are involved can take much longer.

However, we will treat you as an individual and make sure that you are kept informed at every stage. No decisions about your case will be taken without your agreement.

Q. How much will it cost?
Clarkes will provide full details of costs and how these are calculated at the first meeting before any legal work is undertaken.  You may be eligible for Legal Aid with your expenses paid from public funds.

Alternatively, we will provide you with our best estimate of how much your matter will cost overall, how long it will take and what to expect at the end of it.  We will also discuss payment plans with and outline ways to pay your legal expenses over a number of months by instalments. You will of course be kept fully informed in writing of how much work has been carried out and how much more is likely to be necessary.

If you are eligible for Legal Aid you must provide information when requested by the Legal Services Commission.  If a private client payment is required for legal fees in advance or at regular intervals during the progress of your case.

For expert legal help and advice on Separation and Divorce contact a member of our Family Law team or call Clarkes on 01952 223548 or 01952 291666.

Cohabitation

Cohabitation is where two people live together as if they were married.  People considering cohabitation should carefully consider their legal rights and responsibilities as they can often become complex when property or children are involved.  Detailed below are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ�s) for this area of law.
Q. Who is a cohabitee?
Cohabitees are people who live together but are not married to each other which was traditionally referred to as “common law man and wife”.   However, English Law no longer recognises “common law marriage” which means that a man and woman cannot acquire full legal rights and responsibilities simply by living together even if they stay together happily throughout their lives.

There are many other circumstances in which cohabitees might need to look carefully at their legal rights and responsibilities, such as when there are children in a relationship or when elderly brothers and sisters share a home with each other late in life.

Q. Should I make a cohabitation agreement before I live with my partner?
Clarkes can advise you on all legal aspects regarding cohabitation particularly financial issues before you start living with someone.  We can discuss with you whether a cohabitation agreement should be drawn up and advise you of any rights that you may have to property or other assets.

Q. I have left my partner, what are my rights?
If a relationship breaks down and you are not married there may be many things which need to be resolved. For example, what happens about the house which you may jointly own and have lived in for some time.

Recent changes in the law need to be fully considered, particularly for those in same-gender civil partnerships.  At Clarkes we will provide up-to-date legal advice and explain the laws that affect you in your particular circumstances.

Q. I live with my partner, do I need to make a Will?
Everyone should make a Will.  If you live with someone you may wish for that person to be provided for in the event of your death.  Generally, you will only share in the estate of a deceased cohabitee if a suitable Will has been made which can even include the right to remain in the same house.  If you have not planned carefully there can be real financial difficulties for the surviving cohabitee.

Q. How much will it cost to make a Will?

If your financial circumstances require extensive estate planning, with the creation or amendment of complex trusts, settlements and inheritance tax schemes, Clarkes Family Law team will liaise with Clarkes Wills and Probate team to ensure that your accumulated wealth will eventually pass to the right people with the minimum fuss.  Clarkes will provide full details of likely costs and how these are calculated at the first meeting before any legal work is undertaken.  If, however, you just want to make sure your ex does not inherit your property and that your new partner does, perhaps even as a temporary safeguard while the divorce is still being heard at Court, Clarkes can offer you a straightforward Fixed Fee rate for drafting simple Wills.

Alternatively, we will provide you with our best estimate of how much your matter will cost overall, how long it will take and what to expect at the end of it.  We will also discuss payment plans with and outline ways to pay your legal expenses over a number of months by instalments. You will of course be kept fully informed in writing of how much work has been carried out and how much more is likely to be necessary.

For expert legal help and advice on Cohabitation contact a member of our Family Law team or call Clarkes on 01952 223548 or 01952 291666.

Civil Partnerships

Civil partnerships in the United Kingdom are granted under the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and give same-sex couples rights and responsibilities identical to civil marriage.  Detailed below are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ�s) for this area of law.

Q. What are the rights for civil partnerships
Committed same sex couples can obtain a special package of rights when entering into a Civil Partnership.  These rights are similar to the rights of opposite sex couples for property, inheritance tax, social security and pension benefits.

In addition, civil partners are able to other rights such as parental responsibility for a partners children, tenancy rights, life insurance recognition and next-of-kin rights in hospitals.  Special procedures similar to divorce have to be followed if the Civil Partnership breaks down.

Q. I am in a Civil Partnership, do I need to make a Will?
Making a will is important so that your money, property and other assets go to those people you choose after your death.   It also allows your exact wishes to be carried out and those you have left behind to be treated with dignity.

Around 2 out of 3 people never make a will and it is not always the case that your loved ones will inherit your wealth.  Sometimes complications arise when civil partnerships break down and the final outcome may not be as you intended.

Q. How much will it cost to make a Will? 

If your financial circumstances require extensive estate planning, with the creation or amendment of complex trusts, settlements and inheritance tax schemes, Clarkes Family Law team will liaise with Clarkes Wills and Probate team to ensure that your accumulated wealth will eventually pass to the right people with the minimum fuss.  Clarkes will provide full details of likely costs and how these are calculated at the first meeting before any legal work is undertaken.  If, however, you just want to make sure your ex does not inherit your property and that your new partner does, perhaps even as a temporary safeguard while the divorce is still being heard at Court, Clarkes can offer you a straightforward Fixed Fee rate for drafting simple Wills.

Alternatively, we will provide you with our best estimate of how much your matter will cost overall, how long it will take and what to expect at the end of it.  We will also discuss payment plans with and outline ways to pay your legal expenses over a number of months by instalments. You will of course be kept fully informed in writing of how much work has been carried out and how much more is likely to be necessary.

 

For expert legal help and advice on Civil Partnerships contact a member of our Family Law teamor call Clarkes on 01952 223548 or 01952 291666.

Specialist areas of law

Every family is different and complex legal issues differ from one family to the next.  The Family Law team at Clarkes will treat you as an individual and can help you with timely and appropriate advice.

Whether we are advising upon pre-nuptial agreements for single-sex couples or the division of business assets for a wealthy household with teenage children, there will be factors setting your particular family apart from all others.  At Clarkes you can be assured that our experienced legal team have the breadth of knowledge and experience to advise you whatever your circumstances.

Our Family Law team has also helped out in less typical situations:

Pre-Nuptial Agreements
Legal contracts made before couple live together.

Post-Nuptial Agreements
Legal contracts made upon separation but without going to court.

Business Divorces
Company directorships, shareholdings, limited companies, working capital for partnerships.

Agricultural Divorces
Farming families, tied cottages, Ministry contracts, milk quotas or valuation of set-aside land.

High Value Property Disputes
Millionaires and their mansions, their yachts and their Trust Accounts.

Pensions
Often a complex financial headache for divorcing couples.

Inheritance Act claims
The relative or former spouse who has been maintained but is missed out of the Will.

Disabled children
Special provision for children and adults with special needs.

Snatched children
Parents fighting for their return, including repatriation of children taken overseas.

Civil Partnerships
The first civil ceremonies were romantic occasions but these too can result in separation.

For expert legal help and advice contact a member of our Family Law team or call Clarkes on 01952 223548 or 01952 291666.

Maintenance and financial settlements

Family disputes can be stressful and result in financial worries particularly if relationships break down and partners separate.   Detailed below are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ�s) for this area of law.

Q.  My husband / wife has left me and I don’t think I can pay the bills, can you help?
Clarkes can advise you about what you can do in the short term to ensure that bills are paid and the mortgage is met. We can also discuss your long term needs, so that your future interests are protected. We will be able to advise you about any Welfare Benefits which you might be able to claim which can ease your immediate difficulties.

Q. What am I entitled to?  Can I stay in the house or claim a share of my husband / wife�s pension or business?
Clarkes can consider your personal situation and advise what will be reasonable in the circumstances. We will discuss with you what might happen to the house and to any mortgage, any endowment policies and any loans. We will also advise you how to claim a share of any pension, business and savings.

Q. Can I claim maintenance for myself and the children?
Maintenance for you will be considered along with all other financial matters. Hopefully Clarkes can negotiate maintenance for the children to avoid involving the Child Support Agency.

We have knowledge and experience of the way in which the Court deals with financial settlements when a marriage breaks down and we will help you through the complicated Court procedure.   We can also help with legal advice on a divorce if appropriate particularly if there is a disagreement relating to children.

Q. My husband / wife wants to sell the house and force me out, can they do this?
If the house is in your joint names no-one can force a sale legally without your signature on the contract.  We strongly recommend that you don’t sign anything before speaking to Clarkes Conveyancing team.

If the house is in the sole name of your husband or wife, you must register your rights of occupation at the District Land Registry as soon as possible. Even if you own the house jointly, there may be urgent legal action required (“severance of joint tenancy”) to safeguard your half share of the value. Clarkes can advise you on the relevant action to take.

Q. I want to divorce my wife but she is a Director of  my Company.  Can I force her to sign documents to remove her?
Clarkes Family Law team can work together with our Commercial Law team and advise on holding a special company meeting to replace a Director or Company Secretary , perhaps overturning a minority shareholding interest.

In these circumstances a Director would probably try to resist your takeover and prevent you having access to the resulting money until all financial claims are met on the divorce. This is a very complex area and Clarkes can advise you on the best way to proceed with these issues.

Q. How much will it cost to make a Will?
If your financial circumstances require extensive estate planning, with the creation or amendment of complex trusts, settlements and inheritance tax schemes, Clarkes Family Law team will liaise with Clarkes Wills and Probate team to ensure that your accumulated wealth will eventually pass to the right people with the minimum fuss.  Clarkes will provide full details of likely costs and how these are calculated at the first meeting before any legal work is undertaken.  If, however, you just want to make sure your ex does not inherit your property and that your new partner does, perhaps even as a temporary safeguard while the divorce is still being heard at Court, Clarkes can offer you a straightforward Fixed Fee rate for drafting simple Wills.

Alternatively, we will provide you with our best estimate of how much your matter will cost overall, how long it will take and what to expect at the end of it.  We will also discuss payment plans with and outline ways to pay your legal expenses over a number of months by instalments. You will of course be kept fully informed in writing of how much work has been carried out and how much more is likely to be necessary.

For expert legal help and advice on Maintenance and Financial Settlements contact a member of our Family Law team or call Clarkes on 01952 223548 or 01952 291666.

Adoption

Adoption can be a way to provide long term care and support for a child by people who are not the child�s birth parents.  The process of adoption can be a lengthy and time consuming process and exists to ensure the welfare of the adopted child is maintained.  Detailed below are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ�s) for this area of family law.

Q. What is adoption?
Adoption is the process where a child becomes a full member of a new family and the new parents become legally responsible for the child.   The birth parents no longer having any legal responsibilities and the adopted child has the same legal status as any child born to their adoptive parents.

Some children retain indirect contact with their birth families through the exchange of occasional letters and photographs.  However, it is more usual for birth parents just to receive an annual report on their child�s progress.

Q. Who can be adopted?
Children under the age of 18 can be adopted.  If a child is married or has been married they are no longer eligible for adoption

Q. Who can adopt a child?
Adoptive parents must be over the age of 21.  Single people, married people or partners living together may apply.  For partners who cohabit, only one partner may legally adopt the child.

Adoptive parents must possess a level of maturity and life experience. Single people must be able to demonstrate that they have a support network of relatives or friends living close by who can support them will offer assistance if a child is placed.  Married people and cohabiting partners must have lived together in a stable relationship for a minimum of 3 years. Partners from same sex partnerships are usually treated in a non-discriminatory way.

Adoptive partners with previous criminal convictions must disclose these. Any offences involving children, or offences involving serious violence will prevent adoption.

Q. What is the legal process for adoption?
Adoption can be a slow and complex process and every case is unique.   It is usual for adoptive parents to complete a programme of preparation and training before an application for adoption is made to the court.

Once an adoption order has been granted it can not be reversed apart from extremely rare circumstances.  A child must have lived with the adoptive parents for at least 13 weeks before an application can be made.

If the birth parents are likely to agree to an adoption, the court will appoint a Reporting Officer to ensure the birth parents understand the implications of adoption and witnesses their agreement to the adoption order.  If the birth parents are unlikely to the adoption the court will appoint a Children’s Guardian to advise if such an order would be in the child’s best interests.

Q. How much will it cost?
Clarkes will provide full details of costs and how these are calculated at the first meeting before any legal work is undertaken.  You may be eligible for Legal Aid with your expenses paid from public funds.

Alternatively, we will provide you with our best estimate of how much your matter will cost overall, how long it will take and what to expect at the end of it.  We will also discuss payment plans with and outline ways to pay your legal expenses over a number of months by instalments. You will of course be kept fully informed in writing of how much work has been carried out and how much more is likely to be necessary.

If you are eligible for Legal Aid you must provide information when requested by the Legal Services Commission.  If a private client payment is required for legal fees in advance or at regular intervals during the progress of your case.

For expert legal help and advice on Adoption contact a member of our Family Law team or call Clarkes on 01952 223548 or 01952 291666.

Domestic violence and injunctions

Many people suffer domestic violence from their partners and often suffer in silence.   You do not have to put up with violence.

Clarkes can provide help until your domestic violence situation is resolved.  We can discuss ways to protect any children you may have from contact with your violent partner and even help with a separation or divorce should this be needed.  Detailed below are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for this area of law.

Q. What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence can be defined as any type of physical, emotional or sexual abuse between people in a relationship such as married couples, co-habitees or family members.  It can include physical assault, sexual abuse, threats or intimidation.

Q. What are typical domestic violence situations?
Although each situation is different, typical examples of domestic violence include:
My husband hit me last night.
My ex-boyfriend has threatened to kill me.
My ex-girlfriend telephones me at work and follows me about in the street.
I am frightened of my husband and I want him to leave the house.
My partner treats our children badly and they are very frightened.
My wife says she has paid some friends to attack me.
My boyfriend has smashed up all the furniture in the house.

Q. How can Clarkes help?
At Clarkes we will use the law to help you and your children feel safe and secure rather than frightened or intimidated by your partner.   We ask you to tell us about your situation and will advise you about protection you can get.  We can even apply for apply for Court Orders to protect you.

Q. What is an Emergency Injunction and how can I obtain one?
Emergency injunctions are quick ways to protect a person from their violent partner.  This temporary injunction can be granted on the basis of one parties account of events and the violent partner will not be present in court.  Thereafter a full hearing will usually take place where both parties give evidence and the court will to decide if the injunction should continue.

Clarkes can help you obtain an emergency injunction and will give absolute priority to your concerns.  If a court is available to hear your case we can often obtain an injunction within 24 hours of first speaking with you.

Q. What are Non-Molestation Orders?
A Non-Molestation Order can be obtained in cases of domestic violence and is where the Judge can make a Power of Arrest.  This provides the police with the legal right to arrest anyone who disobeys the Court Order.  The Judge will often impose a prison sentence on anyone foolish enough to break such an order.

Q. How much will it cost?
Clarkes will provide full details of costs and how these are calculated at the first meeting before any legal work is undertaken.  You may be eligible for Legal Aid with your expenses paid from public funds which is usual if you are dependant upon your violent partners income.

Alternatively, we will provide you with our best estimate of how much your matter will cost overall, how long it will take and what to expect at the end of it.  We will also discuss payment plans with and outline ways to pay your legal expenses over a number of months by instalments. You will of course be kept fully informed in writing of how much work has been carried out and how much more is likely to be necessary.

For expert legal help and advice on Domestic Violence and Injunctions contact a member of our Family Law team or call Clarkes on 01952 223548 or 01952 291666.

Legal aid and fixed fee costs

For many years people used to qualify financially for Legal Aid. However, during recent times, government changes have led to the wholesale withdrawal of Legal Aid from most Family matters. Very few Family cases are eligible nowadays for public funding.

Clarkes’ Family Team will advise you whether you should apply for Legal Aid. Sometimes, disputes alleging domestic violence or requiring contested injunctions can qualify for funding. But only those people with very limited means are likely to be eligible. Clarkes will either help you apply for Legal Aid, or will point you in the direction of other lawyers who can help you with your application.

Family matters that always attract public funding are those that relate to “Public Law” – court cases that deal with children, in which social services are involved. Parents and children are automatically eligible for Legal Aid in Care Proceedings.  Clarkes are authorised to grant immediate Legal Aid when social services are threatening to refer a case about children to court.  For more information, please contact our specialist Children & Social Services Team.

As only a few clients will be eligible for public funding, it is more important than ever to be as clear as possible about legal costs, right from the start. How much does it cost a private client to instruct a lawyer?  This is something your lawyer will talk through with you at the very first meeting.

Free initial interviews :  Prospective clients occasionally ask whether we will provide legal advice for free. The blunt answer is “no”. When your Family lawyer sees you for the first time, there will be an Initial Analysis Meeting of up to 30 minutes – we need to figure out what you want us to do, whether we can do it for you (within the law) and how much it is likely to cost. The Initial Analysis Meeting, particularly in divorce and separation cases, may well cover more than just one point of law. There is a fixed fee of £80, payable in advance.  But as long as you subsequently instruct Clarkes, 100% of the fixed fee you have paid for the Initial Analysis Meeting will be refunded against your legal costs. So the actual answer is “yes”.

Family lawyers charge fees at an hourly rate. In return, the lawyer provides legal advice and carries out your instructions. The hourly rate is calculated by reference to such factors as the experience and expertise of the lawyer and the complexity of your case. This is something your lawyer will talk through with you at the very first meeting.

At Clarkes, payment of the agreed fee will ensure the attention of your lawyer whether you require attendance at court for a trial that lasts several weeks, or merely writing a couple of letters to chase an outstanding payment. In a Family case, the lawyer will deal with divorce or separation, children disputes, injunctions, financial negotiations, pensions and property disputes. The hourly rate system is therefore very flexible and we recommend it to all clients of Clarkes.

Every Family case is different. Some people will battle over money, some will dispute property rights, some will argue about provision for children. Some don’t have children to argue about.  So it is totally unrealistic to offer a standard fee that covers everything and pretend it can be fair to every client. After all, in a complex case a standard fee won’t be enough to address the complexities fully. And in a simple straightforward case, the standard fee would have to be more than the lawyer should have charged. That’s why Clarkes don’t operate a fixed fee system. Because a fixed fee system isn’t fair – it only works by cutting corners for some; or by overcharging all the others.

Fixed Fee Divorce : as lawyers we have an exception to every rule. Having said that fixed fees are unfair, we have found a way to offer one. We know from experience that an uncontested divorce usually costs around £600 plus VAT and court fees.  This is what it costs to draft the application, to obtain Decree Nisi, then Decree Absolute, without looking at related issues such as property or children or financial matters.  So as long as the application is undefended, Clarkes agree to get you divorced, Decree Absolute in hand, for an up-front fixed fee of just £600 plus VAT and court fees. This is something your lawyer will talk through with you at the very first meeting.

And finally…..

Mediation  :  Clarkes can arrange a referral to mediation with regard to all types of disputes relating to Family Law, including divorce, property, finance and children. If you wish to attempt a settlement by consent, or if you have already agreed with your ex-partner to try mediation, we can refer you to a mediator.  If you succeed in negotiating a settlement by agreement, we can check the terms and turn it into a watertight legal document for you. Please note that, while Legal Aid is being withdrawn from most areas of Family Law, public funding will still be available (subject to means) for mediation. Please feel free to ask.

 

Diversity Statement

All comments on this website in respect of married couples of different gender apply equally to Civil Partnerships or marriages between couples of the same gender. The lawyers at Clarkes are willing and able to assist everyone, without regard to gender or sexual-orientation.

 

 

I would like to think all Solicitors and Practices would have been as helpful as you have been – M

For expert legal help and advice call a member of our Family Law Team on 01952 223548, 01952 291666 or 01743 231531.

 

Paul Harrison

Solicitor and LLP Member

Laura Tarbuck

Associate Solicitor

Richard Gabb

Consultant

Emma Davies

Solicitor

Gill Driscoll

Matrimonial Executive

For more information about how we could help you, please get in touch below.

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