When it comes to the law, UK families have special needs that can be far different from those of a business or charitable organization. Those special needs are the result of the sensitive nature of family issues like separation, divorce, child custody, and guardianship.
Knowing how family law applies to a given circumstance helps make dealing with such issues a lot easier. That is where the advice of a good family law solicitor becomes important. Solicitors and law firms specialising in family law are often the best choice for consumers in need of help.
Different Types of Family Law
Family law is a pretty broad legal area covering a wide range of issues. FindLaw classifies the issues under no fewer than 16 different categories covering everything from relationships to end-of-life questions to issues surrounding children. While we will not list all of the categories here, these are the most common:
- Separation and Divorce – As much as we would like to think it doesn’t happen, separation and divorce are a reality no matter where you go. When relationships between couples break down a legal separation or divorce is sometimes the best option. This is one of the biggest areas of practice for family law solicitors.
- Domestic Partnerships – Similar to separation and divorce cases, there are those who decide to enjoy domestic partnership rather than a formal marriage. Yet even when these couples break up, there are questions regarding division of assets and child custody.
- Adoption – Parents wanting to adopt children need the help of a qualified solicitor to navigate the complicated process. Some solicitors specialise in adoption law due to its complexities. However, law firms practising general family law can also handle adoptions adequately.
- Parental Rights – The area of parental rights covers a lot of ground whether you are talking a divorce or separation circumstance, parents charged with a crime, or social services issues. Parents fighting for their rights or the custody of their children definitely need the help of a qualified solicitor.
- Surrogacy – The issue of surrogacy is a tricky one given the sensitive nature of the procedure. It is inadvisable to enter into any sort of surrogacy agreement without the advice and expertise of a qualified solicitor. Otherwise, there could be lingering circumstances with negative consequences well in the future.
Separation and Divorce
Given that separation and divorce is one of the largest and most practised areas of family law, it is important to at least give an overview here. These types of cases often involve issues regarding child custody, financial arrangements, property division, and, unfortunately, domestic abuse in some cases.
What constitutes grounds for legal divorce is different depending on jurisdiction. Laws are different in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. However, in all jurisdictions the most commonly recognised justification is known as “irretrievable damage.”
If a couple claims irretrievable damage they are essentially saying the relationship is broken so severely that the marriage can no longer practically exist. They will have to offer substantial evidence to the court to prove this is the case. If they are successful, a legal divorce will be considered as one of the options.
When a divorce is granted, a court must settle some common issues including:
- Child Custody – The question of child custody covers the following areas: who the child will live with most the time, where the child will spend most of his time with both parents, and who will pay child maintenance costs. Child custody requires courts to tread lightly in order to secure the best interests of the children while honouring the rights of parents.
- Financial Obligations – It goes without saying that couples typically incur financial obligations under both names. Examples would include mortgages and lease arrangements. When a couple breaks up a court must decide what happens to those jointly incurred financial obligations.
- Division of Assets – Where real property is owned by both parties, a court must decide ownership of that property accordingly. For example, a home is often awarded to the parent who is given full-time custody of children. How a court divides property will be determined by a wide variety of circumstances.
Because divorce and separation issues are so sensitive, it is a good idea to look for solicitor with a reputation for caring and compassionate service. There are places online you can look for solicitor reviews. Some of the reviews are offered by professional organisations while others are written by consumers.
Alternatives to Litigation
Because family law issues are so sensitive, many families opt to try to avoid going to court. When a case is taken to court, it can result in emotional stress as well as costly bills. Resolution, an organisation consisting of more than 6,500 family law professionals, recommends the following litigation alternatives:
- Mediation – In a mediation scenario, the two parties meet with a qualified mediator who will try to find common ground on which both parties can agree. Mediation is non-binding. This means that if no agreement can be reached between the two parties, they are free to go their separate ways and seek a different means of resolution.
- Arbitration – This method of resolution is similar to mediation yet with one important difference: the decision of the arbitrator is binding. When parties agree to arbitration they are agreeing to abide by whatever decisions the arbitrator reaches. The best arbitrators will still attempt to find common ground and settle disputes as fairly as possible.
- Collaborative Law – The collaborative law process is almost a cross between mediation and arbitration. Under this process, both parties hire a collaborative law solicitor to represent them in negotiations. They then meet face-to-face, with their respective solicitor at their sides, to try to work out an agreement.
Collaborative law has some distinct advantages inasmuch as it allows the disputing parties the opportunity to work things out under the advice and counsel of a trained solicitor. However, there are some restrictions. Both solicitors must sign an agreement, along with their clients, stating they will not take the process to court as a group. Should the process breakdown to the point where the parties decide to go to court, the two collaborative law solicitors cannot defend them. New solicitors need to be retained.
Funding Family Law Case
One of the most frustrating things about family law can be the expense involved in settling the case. This can be especially frustrating in terms of separation and divorce given the fact that both parties are fighting for their own financial well-being. In a best-case scenario, you will be able to pay for your legal services as you need them. If not, there are other options.
The Legal Services Commission does administer public funding made available for those who need legal help but cannot afford it. As with any sort of public funding, certain conditions apply. It is also important to note there are different levels of public funding depending on the circumstances of a given case. Those levels include:
- Legal Help – At this level of funding a fixed fee is provided to a solicitor who handles basic procedures either in person or over the phone. It does not cover costs associated with taking a case to court.
- Family Mediation – Financial assistance is offered at this level using an approved mediator. Public funds will pay for most of the mediator’s services.
- Family Help (lower level) – Assistance provided at this level is only offered after all other means of settling the dispute have been tried and failed. This assistance pays a solicitor an hourly rate for any work provided.
- Family Help (higher-level) – This assistance is also only offered after other means of dispute resolution have been exhausted. This higher-level is also paid on an hourly basis to solicitors for the work they do. This type of funding is difficult to procure because it is so costly.
- Legal Representation – Funding provided under this category is to pay for the cost of preparing for litigation. It sometimes also covers the cost of court representation. In most cases, you must prove you have a reasonable chance of winning in order to receive the funding.
- Statutory Charge (loan) – This funding is provided by the LSC as a financial loan. The LSC has broad discretion in deciding the means of recovering the money offered. This could include accessing a client’s personal property.
- Emergency Assistance – For emergency situations, the LSC provides immediately accessible funds. Emergency situations could include things like domestic violence.
If you find yourself in a situation where the family law applies, you are advised to seek the help of a qualified solicitor or a legal advice charity able to point you in the right direction. Do not wait until family law issues become so unmanageable as to make them impossible to deal with. The sooner you get in touch with a professional, the easier it will be to find a resolution to your family dispute.
If you are in need of a family law solicitor, you can use the following websites to find one in your area. With just an afternoon of your time, you should be able to find a qualified solicitor able to take on your case. Just be sure to vet law firms by reading reviews, contacting professional organizations, and talking to friends and family members.
The Law Society – The Law Society is a professional organization for individual solicitors and law firms in the UK. When you choose a solicitor through them you can rest assured that solicitor has a fine reputation and meets certain minimum standards.
Search 4 Solicitors – This is a directory website allowing you to search for solicitors by postcode or by category. Some solicitors found here will specialise in family law while others engage in a more general practice.
Solicitors Regulation Authority – This Authority is charged with regulating solicitors in the UK. In addition to searching for solicitors for your family law case, you can also take advantage of a ton of helpful information made available here.
Lawyer Locator – You can find a solicitor here by answering a few simple questions and clicking the appropriate button. You can browse by category as well as geographic location. The site is fast and easy to use.
Quality Solicitors – A dedicated group of law firms and solicitors maintains this site for the benefit of clients. Here you can find a family law solicitor in any one of 400 locations across the UK.
Contact Law – Contact law is one of the more well known legal services in the UK. Their consultants will take your information over the phone or online and, based on your circumstances, help you find an appropriate solicitor.
FindLaw – FindLaw is a well-known company whose business is to help keep the public informed about legal issues. On this site, you can search for a solicitor in your area or take advantage of an impressive library of helpful information. They make their money through advertisements, so you do not pay anything.
We have listed below some links to well-known law firms offering help in the area of family law. Keep in mind there are literally thousands of law firms across the UK able to help you with your case. These links are designed just to give you a sampling of what is available.
Irwin Mitchell – If Irwin Mitchell name sounds familiar to you it is probably because they are one of the largest law firms in the UK. Their family law unit has a reputation for caring and compassionate service that is also affordable.
Hanne & Co. -This is one of the most well known and well respected law firms in the UK. They practice across a wide variety of disciplines including family law. You can contact them via their website or over the phone.
Farleys Solicitors – Farleys Solicitors offers legal services to both individuals and businesses. Their family law division consists of a team of 16 solicitors and a support staff dedicated to helping families.
Dawson Cornwell – This is a speciality law firm dealing in family law issues. Since 1972, the firm has been helping families navigate their issues both domestically and internationally. They are recommended by both Chambers and Legal 500.
Stephensons – A different sort of law firm offering family law services at affordable prices. They can help you with separation and divorce, child custody, property division, and more.