We are specialists in divorce/dissolution proceedings and separation agreements. When marital breakdown seems overwhelming we can advise you about all of your options to help you decide which course of action is the most appropriate for you. We can also advise you in situations which might affect your children and/or your finances.
Since 2005, same sex couples have been able to enter into civil partnerships. In 2013, this extended to marriage. We are experienced in advising and representing same sex couples through dissolution or divorce proceedings.
We fully appreciate that a relationship breakdown can be emotionally difficult to deal with. It is a situation which non one foresees at the outset of a relationship and at Ashton Ross Law, we pride ourselves in ensuring the best outcome for you.
CAN I APPLY FOR A DIVORCE/DISSOLUTION?
On 6 April 2022, the law to obtain a divorce/dissolution changed significantly. It is now considered easier to apply for a divorce/dissolution.
Although you still have to be married for at least one year there is only one ground for divorce/dissolution which is irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
CAN YOU OBTAIN A NO-FAULT DIVORCE?
Yes, following the change in law by the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 “no-fault divorce” has been introduced in England & Wales.
WHAT IS A “QUICKIE DIVORCE”?
The term “quickie divorce” often used by the media gives to the impression that there is a separate procedure which allows couples to obtain divorces more quickly than others. However, this is not the case, the procedure is the same for everyone.
CAN I DO THE DIVORCE MYSELF?
Whilst it is possible to apply for a divorce yourself online, it is always best to obtain legal advice from a specialist in divorce and family matters first. This will ensure that you are fully equipped to understand the implications of divorce. You can also be assured that the divorce application and documents are properly completed in order to safeguard a smooth process and positive outcome.
Once the divorce has been sent to the court, the respondent, will receive the application and will be given the opportunity to reply through the Acknowledgement of Service. They must send this back to the court within 14 days and the court will send a copy to you.
CONTESTED AND UNCONTESTED DIVORCE
If the respondent agrees to the divorce is this is an undefended or uncontested divorce. In contrast, if the respondent does not agree this is a defended or contested divorce and they are given a further 21 days to send reasons for this to the court. Since 6 April 2022, it has become much more difficult to defend a divorce as there are only limited circumstances where this can happen.
COOLING OFF PERIOD AND CONFIRMING THE APPLICATION
The changes has introduced a minimum timeframe of 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and when an application to the court for a conditional order of divorce can be made.
This to allow couples time to reflect, or potentially change their mind. If reconciliation is not possible then this time can be used to agree important arrangements for the future – such as those involving children, finance and property.
Once the 20 weeks have passed, the person who has applied for the divorce would need to complete a statement confirming the contents of the divorce application, which is then sent to the court.
CONDITIONAL ORDER (PREVIOUSLY REFERRED TO AS DECREE NISI)
In relation to an uncontested divorce, the court reviews all the documents and if and in turn sets a date fixed for pronouncement of the conditional order. A conditional order means that the court is satisfied that the divorce application is sufficient for a divorce to be granted. It does not mean that the couple are divorced just yet. Most divorces take place on paper and it is not usually necessary for a couple to attend the court, unless there is a disagreement in respect of costs which we can advise you about.
FINAL ORDER (PREVIOUSLY KNOWN AS DECREE ABSOLUTE)
Six weeks and one day after the date of the conditional order, the applicant can apply for the “final order” which is the legal document that brings the marriage to an end. If the applicant does not apply then, after a further three months, the respondent can apply. The final order is a very important document and should be kept safely.
HOW LONG DOES A DIVORCE TAKE?
The divorce/dissolution itself usually takes between 6 – 9 months so long as things are straightforward. Sometimes it takes much longer if complications arise, for example, if the spouse’s whereabouts are unknown or if they do not respond to the court papers. We are experienced in resolving these difficulties as amicably as possible whilst ensuring your position is protected.
The financial situation and children issues can also play a part but these can run alongside the divorce/dissolution, rather than being part of it. Sometimes it is crucial to have these aspects resolved before applying for the decree absolute/final order and dissolving the marriage.
As an alternative to divorce, you may want to consider legal separation.
WHAT IS A SEPARATION AGREEMENT?
If you and your partner are able to agree financial and children children matters, we can draw up a Separation Agreement for you which reflects that agreement. If necessary we can negotiate the terms of the agreement on your behalf and draw up a separation agreement setting out what you have both agreed. You will not need to go to court.
Every family is unique and regardless of whether the assets are modest or significant, financial arrangements arising from a divorce, separation agreement or an annulment can be complicated. Ashton Ross Law will advise you about the merits of a financial claim and guide you through the process to make it as stress free for you as possible. Part of our role is to help you understand where you stand and support you throughout.
There are effectively three options open to you.
• Mediation where a trained mediator can help you and your ex-spouse to work out an agreement about issues and explain how you can make an agreement legally binding. Ashton Ross Law can help you with this aspect.
• Reach an agreement with your spouse either directly or with the assistance of a legal adviser.
• Allow the courts to decide how your assets, including your home and pension funds, should be apportioned, and whether any maintenance should be paid.
We want you to achieve the best possible outcome and work hard to ensure a fair and reasonable outcome. With over 15 years of experience in family law, we offer advice and help at every stage to ensure that appropriate financial orders, pension sharing agreements and maintenance orders are obtained and in place.
The welfare of a child is the primary consideration when a family breaks up and Ashton Ross Law can advise on you about all issues involving Children including Child Arrangement Orders, Parenting Plans, Prohibited Steps Orders, Specific Issues Orders & removal orders.
The Courts encourage parents to try and settle issues concerning their children through mutual agreement. We understand that this isn’t always possible but we will help advise and support you with understanding your rights and options.
Mediation is one option and the Courts expect you to attend a ‘Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting’ (MIAM) to determine whether mediation is appropriate in your case before issuing any application. In certain circumstances you can be exempted from mediation but we will advise you about this.
Parenting Plans are becoming increasingly popular in families where parents are broadly in agreement as to the arrangements for their children but prefer to have a formal document to refer to which sets out the arrangements for the children. This can have as much detail as you want to ensure that the arrangements work for you and your family. We can prepare the Parenting Plan and negotiate with the other parent (or their solicitor) with the aim of reaching an agreement that both of you are happy without the need to issue proceedings at Court.
If an application is made to the Court, the following Orders are available:
CHILD ARRANGEMENT ORDERS
This is an order that sets out who a child is to live with and who they should spend time with (previously residence and contact). It is possible for the Order to state that the child will live with both parents in two homes and it will set out the times when they are to live with each parent. A Child Arrangements order can also include provisions for indirect contact, such as by telephone or facetime and can settle any aspects which are in dispute.
PROHIBITED STEPS ORDERS
This order stops (or prevents) a specific action being carried out by a parent. This may include preventing the child being removed from the jurisdiction of England & Wales either permanently or for a holiday if the other parent does not agree, a change of current school or in relation to medical treatment.
SPECIFIC ISSUE ORDERS
This type of order can deal with a whole range of specific issues such as a child’s educational needs, their surname, the choice of faith or religion, or in their needs in relation to medical treatment.
This order can also be used to ensure the other parent returns your children to you if they have been taken away.
Wardship is the name given to Court proceedings when a child is made a ward of Court. In effect, the Court becomes the legal guardian of such a child and it has powers to make certain orders for children who have been taken into care, or are considered to be at risk. The High Court must give their permission for any action that may affect the child.
PERMANENT REMOVAL TO ANOTHER COUNTRY
Where both parents have parental responsibility for a child permission of the other parent is required before a child can be removed from the country either for a short period for a holiday, or on a permanent basis with the intention to relocate. (If a parent has a Child Arrangement Order that states that the child should live with them, this allows the parent with whom the child lives to take the child out of the country for up to one month without the consent of the other parent or the Court).
The following automatically has Parental Responsibility for a child:
If you have a Child Arrangements Order naming you as the person with whom the children lives with, the Court should make a Parental Responsibility Order at the same time.
If the above does not apply to you, then you may not have Parental Responsibility but may be able to acquire it. If the Mother does not agree to you having Parental Responsibility voluntarily, Ashton Ross Law can help you to make an application to the Court. If the mother does agree, we can help you prepare a Parental Responsibility Agreement. There are various other ways that you can acquire Parental Responsibility, such as by marrying the Mother, or adopting the child and we can discuss this with you.
We understand how devastating family breakdown for grandparents and grandchildren can be. Sadly grandparents do not have automatic rights to see their grandchildren when a relationship ends but we can assist grandparents resolve disputes about seeing their grandchildren. Mediation can help both sides reach an agreement but where that is not possible, we can provide advice about your options. The Courts recognise the importance of this relationship and the invaluable role that grandparents play.
We can assist grandparents with applying to the Court for permission to apply for a Child Arrangements Order so they can spend time with their grandchildren
If one or both of the parents object to the application it will be essential that you receive sound legal advice to guide you through this process to persuade the court that you have a meaningful and on-going relationship with your grandchildren, which benefits their lives.
The court will always consider all the child’s circumstances and must only make an order where they consider it better for the child to see their grandparents rather than making no order at all. They may weigh up whether your continuing contact with the child might have a negative impact on the rest of the family relationships, although it is only in extreme circumstances that a Court will refuse access to grandchildren.
With at least a third of marriages in England & and Wales ending in divorce, a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement can be an effective way of helping to protect your premarital assets should your marriage break down. We understand how important it is for the process to be handled in a sensitive manner. If you wish to get married and would like advice regarding a premarital agreement and the possibility of protecting your assets then it is extremely important that you obtain legal advice at least two months before the date of your marriage.
Premarital agreements – sometimes called prenuptial agreements, set out what is intended to happen to premarital assets in the event of marital breakdown. Although these premarital contracts are not legally binding under English Law, there is a trend towards the Courts taking the agreements seriously and attaching weight to them where the terms are seen to be fair and reasonable.
Sometimes couples planning separation or divorce decide to reconcile and draw up a postnuptial agreement first, allowing them to focus on working on their relationship. If the reconciliation is unsuccessful the postnuptial agreement can provide financial security and reassurance. Whilst they are not yet binding under English Law they may be very persuasive to a Court on a subsequent breakdown of marriage if prepared in a fair and reasonable way. Ashton Ross Law can advise you about the best way forward and draft the agreement as there is little point in having one which is likely to be unenforceable.
Not everyone chooses to get married and whilst living together is very common, the law has not kept pace with the increase in numbers of cohabiting couples.
If you are considering living together with your partner Ashton Ross Law can help you draw up a cohabitation agreement setting out the agreements reached between you and your partner regarding your finances and children if you subsequently separate.
IF YOUR RELATIONSHIP BREAKS DOWN
If you are not married but your relationship has broken down, it is important to obtain legal advice given that people still believe in the myth of ‘common law marriage’. The reality is that there are no legal rights for cohabiting couples who separate. You will have different options to married couples to in relation to property and finances.
One of the main concerns when a couple separates is the family home. Who will retain residence or ownership of the home. This is a complicated area of law and it can largely depend on how the home is owned. In some cases it is possible to claim a share of the property even where you are not a legal owner or if it can be proved that you have made a financial contribution to it.
MAINTENANCE AND PROVISION FOR CHILDREN
Couples who are not married, or in a Civil Partnership, cannot claim maintenance from their former partner.
Where children are involved, the primary carer may claim maintenance costs from the other party. In most cases, an application for maintenance should be made to the Child Maintenance Service as the Court will only get involved with child maintenance in certain circumstances, for example, if the non-resident parent is living outside the UK.
The resident parent may also be able to apply to the Court for help with the child related costs, or to claim for the transfer of a property to the primary carer until the child reaches 18 years old or has completed full time education.
INHERITANCE AND PENSIONS
If your partner dies without making a Will, you will not automatically inherit any part of their estate (as would be the case if you were married or in a Civil Partnership). It is therefore vital for cohabitants to make Wills reflecting their intentions. The same applies to Pensions. Whilst married couples may receive benefits on the death of a spouse, this is unlikely to be the case for un-married couples unless a specific nomination has been made.
It is important to obtain legal advice early on particularly when there are international elements. It is important to understand what your rights and options are whether it be in relation to marital breakdown, fianancial settlements or children.
There may be grounds to proceed in a different country and speed will be important if you wish to start proceedings in England & Wales.
We can advise you on issues arising from international family law such as: