Family-related legal issues can often be emotionally challenging and complex. Our team are experts in dealing with these matters and are here to guide and support you every step of the way. Our family and divorce lawyers help client across Kent, London and the South East. We advise on a full range of family legal services, from divorce/dissolution and related financial settlements to the arrangements for children and associated children matters. We also advise unmarried couples on the breakdown of their relationships.
We have particularly extensive experience in supporting high net worth individuals, dealing with matters involving complex asset structures and international elements. We help clients put in place nuptial or living together agreements, and advise on steps that need to be taken to protect our clients in need of or responding to injunctions.
Accreditations & awards
Our team of family lawyers are legal professionals who are renowned for offering practical, clear and common sense advice and for providing compassion, empathy and a steadying hand in even the most unusual and complex of circumstances.
Our expert family and divorce lawyers are leaders in their field and our Family department is regularly recognised in rankings such as The Times’ ‘Top Law Firms’, Spear’s 500 Family Law Index and ePrivate Client’s Top Family Law Firms. We are also ranked as Band One in the Chambers legal directory and as Top Tier in the Legal 500.
Divorce & dissolution
Whether you are the one who has made the decision to end a marriage or dissolve a civil partnership, or your partner has told you they would like to separate, or you come to a joint decision, you will likely be dealing with conflicting emotions and have a number of concerns and questions.
Appointing a family lawyer can help make the process easier. Our family lawyers will work closely with you to understand your unique situation and priorities, and will not only offer professional legal support, but will handle your wishes and intentions with compassion and respect, doing their best to alleviate any stress through what can be a difficult time.
Our team can help guide you through the process, offering practical, straight forward advice on matters such as:
The divorce and dissolution process
Financial claims on divorce, to include claims over property, pensions and claims for maintenance
International divorce/dissolution and dealing with assets abroad
Divorce/dissolution in later life
Divorce/dissolution where there is a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
Our team will explain the different ways of trying to resolve the matters arising from a divorce or dissolution and what may be the most appropriate way forward for you, to include mediation, collaborative law, arbitration or one couple, one lawyer.
Our family team also regularly assist clients with any issues arising after a divorce or dissolution takes place in relation to the implementation of a financial settlement or the enforcement or variation of financial settlements.
Wherever possible our family lawyers will try and help you resolve issues without the need for court proceedings. All our team are members of Resolution and are therefore committed to resolving family law matters constructively. However, in some cases it is necessary to make use of the family court and our team will provide advice as to whether a court application is in your best interests. We have extensive experience of guiding clients through the court process, as well as strong relationships with specialist family law barristers, mediators, forensic accountants, pension experts, counsellors and therapists.
As a full service law firm, we can also draw on expertise from colleagues in our Wills, Estate & Tax Planning team to help with updating your will and estate planning after a divorce.
Can I apply for a divorce or dissolution of my marriage or civil partnership?
If you have been married for at least 12 months, the answer is ‘yes’.
On 6 April 2022, the law in relation to divorce/dissolution changed so that it is no longer necessary to attribute fault and cite adultery or unreasonable behaviour, or wait to have been separated for 2 years. All divorce applications are now based solely on the fact that a marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down. Couples can now also make a joint application for divorce or dissolution should they choose to.
That being said, our family lawyers understand that the circumstances surrounding the breakdown of your relationship are important to you and may impact how you wish to deal with other matters concerning the breakdown of the relationship, and so they will listen and advise accordingly where concerns are raised, for example in relation to abusive or narcissistic behaviours.
The divorce/dissolution process will take at least 26 weeks from the date that the application is issued. The timescale can vary depending on the level of co-operation from the responding spouse/civil partner, delay caused by the court and how long it takes to conclude financial arrangements.
A divorce/dissolution is only one aspect in the process of ending a marriage or civil partnership. There are generally three strands to consider, which are handled independently of each other, which are the divorce, child arrangements and financial settlements.
If you wish to file an online divorce petition without instructing a lawyer, you can use the government website www.gov.uk. You will need to pay the court fee, which is currently £593 for a divorce application made online. Alternatively, our team of family lawyers will be able to deal with this process on your behalf.
What do I need to think about ahead of my first meeting with a divorce lawyer?
It can be daunting to meet with a lawyer to discuss the end of a relationship or difficulties with arrangements for children or domestic abuse. These are all emotive subjects and discussing them with a stranger may feel overwhelming.
It is sensible to make notes ahead of the meeting, as this will help you to remember any questions you specifically want answered. It may also be helpful to have prepared a summary of any financial information or other important details. You might also want to bring a trusted third party with you to the meeting for support and as another pair of ears.
Our specialist family lawyers are experienced in negotiating financial settlements following a divorce/dissolution, as well as acting for clients in financial remedy proceedings. We provide fair and pragmatic advice that is easy to understand and tailored to your individual circumstances.
If you decide not to commence divorce proceedings immediately, but still wish to address financial matters with your spouse or civil partner, we can advise you about Separation Agreements and can assist with drafting and negotiating the terms of a Separation Agreement.
If we get divorced, does that resolve the finances?
Unfortunately, the divorce is just one part of the process and the finances are another. You can be divorced but the financial claims between you remain open until they are dismissed by the court, either by agreement or following contested court proceedings. If financial matters are left unresolved, either party can claim an interest in their ex-spouse’s assets at a later date, which is why it is important to resolve the finances properly at the time of the divorce.
Do we have to go to court to resolve the finances on divorce/dissolution?
It is not always necessary to go to court to resolve financial matters on divorce / dissolution. Our family lawyers will help consider your financial resources and needs, and those of any children involved, and discuss with you the most appropriate way of addressing the financial issues in your case. This may be through mediation, collaborative law, voluntary financial disclosure between lawyers, arbitration or, in some cases, through an application to the court for financial orders.
We will be able to provide you with clear and pragmatic advice about the financial claims available to married couples and civil partners including claims for periodical payments (maintenance), lump sums, orders in respect of property ownership and pensions. Our team are also able to advise in relation to claims for child maintenance, making claims through the Child Maintenance Service and financial claims for children.
I don’t know anything about the finances as my spouse dealt with it all, what do I do?
This can seem overwhelming, especially when it feels as though you are in a financially vulnerable position. Getting advice at an early stage is crucial. You and your lawyer can make a plan and get the process on the right track to start with. Rest assured that many people do not know all of the detail of their family finances, but the information can be obtained through agreement or the court process if necessary. There is a duty upon both parties to provide full and frank financial disclosure in these circumstances. In certain cases, the courts can order third parties to provide information.
We have reached a financial agreement ourselves. Do we need to do anything to formalise it?
It’s really positive that you have been able to reach an agreement, but you need to ensure that the agreement is properly documented to safeguard you both. The best way to do that is by way of a financial consent order, setting out your agreement in a legal format and then approved by a judge as a court order to make it legally binding. It does not normally require any attendance at court. Before you agree a financial settlement, it is sensible to take some legal advice to ensure that the terms under discussion are fair and reasonable.
The arrangements for your children can be one of the most difficult issues to tackle following a separation. Your children are your priority and so when a relationship breaks down, discussing where they will live and the time they will spend with the other parent can be difficult. You may want the children to remain living with you, you may wish to spend more time with the children or you may seek a shared care arrangement.
You might disagree on other important issues, such as where your child will go to school or other matters relating to their health or education. You may have concerns relating to abuse, parental alienation or relocating with a child.
Our experienced family lawyers help parents in all types of situations. We will provide constructive, compassionate and child-focussed advice to try to help you reach agreements. If you are unable to do so, they will advise you as to alternative options, to include mediation, collaborative law, or applying for a court order in relation to the children.
Where will the children live after a divorce/dissolution or separation?
There is no automatic rule as to what the arrangements for children should be. This will depend on what is in the children’s best interests, alongside other practical factors. It is important to consider what is best for the children. Is what you are proposing going to work for the children?
If agreement cannot be reached directly, would mediation or a collaborative discussion help? If the children are older, would it help for them to speak to a mediator to give their views? If agreement cannot be reached and a court application is necessary, the court will make the final decision as to what arrangements are in the best interests of the children.
What are Child Arrangements Orders?
If you are unable to resolve matters by agreement, it may be necessary to apply to the family court for an order. The term ‘custody’ is no longer used, and instead a court can be asked to make a Child Arrangements Order setting out where a child will live and spend time. Alternatively, a specific issue order may be needed, dealing with a particular dispute about the child (what school they will go to, whether a parent should be able to relocate with them) or a prohibited steps order might be necessary in some circumstances to prevent a parent from taking certain actions in relation to a child.
Our family lawyers will be able to discuss any concerns about the safety or wellbeing of the children. It is important that any safeguarding concerns are dealt with promptly and properly, and so it is sensible to take advice as early as possible.
Our family lawyers will encourage and assist you in trying to resolve any issues regarding a child by agreement, however we will also be able to advise you if an application to court is required and act on your behalf. Alternatively, if you receive paperwork indicating that a court application has been made by the other parent, they can advise you about how to respond to this.
I want to change my child’s school, but my ex-partner does not agree. What should I do?
Assuming you both have parental responsibility for the child, neither of you should be making decisions about their education without the other’s consent. You should think about why the school should be changed and why it is best for the child. If it is not possible to reach an agreement based on what is best for the child as you may have different views on that, you might want to suggest mediation or it is open to either parent to ask the court to make a decision.
I want to take my child on holiday abroad but my ex-partner does not. What can I do?
You cannot take a child under 16 outside of England & Wales unless you have the consent of every other person with parental responsibility for them. If you chose to do so without consent you could be accused of child abduction. It is sensible to raise your plans with the other parent as early as possible, provide details of where the children will be going and when and ask them to confirm in writing that they agree. It is difficult to successfully withhold consent, unless the parent doing so can show the proposed trip is a risk of harm to the children. If you cannot agree on whether a trip should be taken, you can apply to the court for permission. The court will consider whether the trip is in the best interests of the child.
Can I move elsewhere in the UK or abroad with my child if they are living with me?
This is often an incredibly difficult and contentious situation given the potential impact that permitting or preventing a relocation has on both parents. Unless the other parent consents, permission is required from the court to relocate abroad with a child. If you wish to relocate with a child within England and Wales, whilst you do not need consent from the other parent, they can apply to prevent you from doing so, and so it is good practice to consider applying for permission. The court must perform a balancing act between a series of complex factors, taking into account a broad range of relevant circumstances, before reaching a decision as to whether to give permission.
If you wish to consider relocating with a child, planning and preparation is essential and advice should be taken as early as possible. Similarly, if you wish to stop your child from moving away, it is sensible to seek advice as soon as you become aware of the other parent’s intentions.
Is it only parents who can apply for orders in relation to children?
In some circumstances, it is possible for other individuals to apply for orders in relation to children. For example, step-parents or grandparents may wish to take advice about their rights, or you may wish to consider adoption or a Special Guardianship order. Our team of family lawyers are able to provide expert advice in respect of all types of applications concerning children.
Under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, family courts have the power to make financial provision for children. A claim is usually made by the parent who the child is living with (or a guardian, special guardian, or person with whom the child lives), for additional financial support from the other parent. It is most commonly used in circumstances where parents have not been married.
A Schedule 1 claim only relates to the financial needs of the child and, generally, any provision will only last until the child is 18. Orders can be made for periodical payments (maintenance), lump sums and settlement/transfer of property. Our family lawyers will listen to your unique circumstances and provide clear and considered advice as to any Schedule 1 claim.
Living together & separating as an unmarried couple
Unmarried couples who are living together do not have the same rights as married couples or couples in a civil partnership. Contrary to popular belief, there is no concept of a ‘common law marriage’ and the court does not have the same wide discretion to make financial orders to meet a person’s needs, regardless of how long they have been living together. That is why our experienced team are here to offer you advice on how to protect your position when living with a partner and assist with any challenges you may face if you separate.
What is a cohabitation agreement? Do I need one?
Before deciding to live with a partner, you may wish to consider entering into an agreement called a cohabitation agreement (or living together agreement). Cohabitation agreements will often be upheld by the court provided they are drafted and executed properly, which is why it is essential to take legal advice before an agreement is prepared.
These agreements allow you and your partner to set out your intentions at the outset as to how any property or other assets are owned and how financial matters are to be dealt with in the event that the relationship breaks down. You might wish to consider a cohabitation agreement if you are living in a property with your partner which is owned by one party alone, or is owned jointly in defined shares. It is often sensible to consider what, if any, impact any contributions to the property may have (such as payment of any mortgage or work to the property) and how any joint bank accounts or savings will be dealt with.
If you decide to then marry, you can choose to either revise the agreement or allow it to come to an end. Another option you may also wish to consider is a prenuptial agreement.
The breakdown of a relationship where a couple is not married nor part of a registered civil partnership is complex and fact-specific. Advice should be taken at an early stage so that you can make an informed decision as to how your assets, including any jointly owned property, should be dealt with. Our family lawyers will assist you with trying to reach an agreement as to how your assets should be treated and your legal rights in terms of the ownership and occupation of any property assets.
What if we have separated and we cannot agree how to deal with our finances?
If you are unable to reach an agreement, our family lawyers will be able to assist you in trying to negotiate a settlement, and we can provide advice as to alternative ways of resolving the issues between you. Mediation may be a suitable forum for further negotiation, or alternatively arbitration. In a small number of cases, it may be necessary to make an application to the court for assistance with resolving a dispute. Our team of experts in resolving disputes on separation will be able to guide you as to which may be the appropriate and cost-effective way forward for you.
When might I need a separation agreement?
If an agreement can be reached as to financial consequences of your separation, whether directly, via your lawyer or in mediation, our family lawyers will be able to advise you as to whether a separation agreement (or deed of separation) will be beneficial to record the terms of agreement. Depending on the agreement you have reached, it may be sensible for this to be formally documented so as to avoid any dispute later on about the terms that have been agreed.
Prenuptial & postnuptial agreements
Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are becoming increasingly popular but it is important to ensure that they are properly drafted, otherwise they may not be upheld. If you are engaged or married and wish to try to ring-fence specific assets or family wealth, our family lawyers have extensive experience and expertise in drafting nuptial agreements.
Our family team can assist with advising you on the content and preparation of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. We will be able to give you easy-to-understand advice about the issues to consider when entering into an agreement and negotiate the terms of such agreements based on your objectives and interests.
At its simplest, a prenuptial agreement is an agreement prepared and signed in advance of the marriage, whereas a postnuptial agreement is prepared and signed after the marriage. Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are written contacts that a couple enter into in order to set out their intentions as to the ownership of assets, inheritances, incomes and debts and how they want their finances to be dealt with following a separation, in an attempt to avoid the emotional and financial impact of potential dispute later down the line.
Why might I need a prenuptial premarital agreement?
There are a number of reasons why you might want a prenuptial agreement, such as:
To protect assets which you have acquired before getting married or an inheritance that you may acquire and wish to stay within the family
To protect specific assets, such as a business
To provide certainty and avoid conflict in case the relationship ends.
Are prenuptial and postnuptial agreements legally binding?
Whilst prenuptial or postnuptial agreements cannot override the discretion of the court when deciding financial matters upon divorce, judges will now take the terms of these agreements into account as a relevant factor when deciding such issues. Judges may decide it is appropriate to uphold such agreements so long as certain guidelines have been followed when the agreement is being prepared.
The validity and enforceability of prenuptial agreements will depend largely upon the document being properly drafted in good time before a wedding and with both parties having full disclosure of the financial position of the other at the time. It is also important that both parties have taken independent legal advice.
What should a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement include?
A properly drafted prenuptial or postnuptial agreement will often seek to protect a party’s separate property (such as property, savings, inheritance and business interests) in the event of the breakdown of the marriage, whilst also confirming how any joint property will be dealt with. An agreement should also include financial disclosure from each party, to ensure that there is transparency and both parties can enter into the agreement with the benefit of full legal advice. Many nuptial agreements also contain a review clause listing certain events that may trigger a review of the terms.
However, even a well draft prenuptial agreement is always subject to the scrutiny of the court, which retain a discretion to make orders which depart from the terms of the agreement. If, after taking all matters into consideration, a judge feels that one party’s needs have not be met by the terms of the agreement, they can refuse to endorse some or all of the terms. This is why it is important to obtain proper legal advice from a suitably experienced family lawyer at the outset.
Historically, couples wishing to divorce have either had to risk taking a ‘do it yourself’ approach with no legal advice, or each appoint their own lawyer to deal with the financial implications of the divorce. There is another way. Couples can now appoint one lawyer between them to handle all aspects of their divorce, including child and financial arrangements. This can help keep the process as amicable as possible, as well as make it faster and more cost effective.
As trained mediators, our expert family lawyers Kirstie Law and Desmond O’Donnell are perfectly placed to help couples using the ‘one couple, one lawyer’ approach. They also have close relationships with experienced family barristers and other experts (including pensions experts, accountants and valuers) and can call on their expertise as part of the process, where appropriate.
How do I know if ‘one couple one lawyer’ is right for me?
When it comes to family law, there is a range of ways to resolve a case, including mediation, collaboration and arbitration, and it is for each individual to decide which method is best for them. Within an initial meeting with one of our expert family lawyers, you can explore the various options and discuss which process you feel works best for you.
How does the process work?
The process is relatively straightforward. This process enables the lawyer to openly give advice to a couple and, if an agreement is reached, to prepare a consent order to make an agreement legally binding.
Both parties have the opportunity to take independent legal advice if they wish, as part of the process. We may also recommend involving a barrister to give an early neutral evaluation or assist with proposed settlement terms, if appropriate.
Can we change to this process if we already have lawyers?
Provided we have not acted for either of you in connection with the divorce, or for you both as a mediator, then you can change to the one couple, one lawyer process.
Equally, if you start the process and it no longer feels the right way forward for one or both of you, we will talk to you about alternatives including mediation, collaborative law and arbitration.
How long will the process take and what does it cost?
This depends on how complicated your finances are and your availability and commitment to meet and progress matters. As a general guide, we would expect matters to be concluded within approximately three to four months where a couple are co-operative.
It is likely to cost approximately £2,000 – £4,000 plus VAT each but we will be able to give you more of an idea of the specific costs in your particular case at the first joint meeting. The cost of the initial joint meeting and both individual sessions will be in the region of £500 plus VAT each. There may be additional costs within the process if other professionals are involved including barristers, accountants, pensions advisors and counsellors.
Collaborative law is a process in which both parties sign up to a participation agreement confirming that they intend to deal with a dispute through open and direct negotiation without making an application to the court. Unlike in mediation where the meditator is unable to provide you with legal advice, in collaborative family law you each have your own lawyer advising you and negotiating on your behalf throughout.
Many people going through a divorce are naturally concerned about the emotional and financial toll it can take, especially when there are children involved. While sometimes it is necessary to involve the family courts, it is often not in anyone’s best interests to do so, and to instead consider an alternative route where the focus is on being open, communicative and transparent, rather than combative.
Alongside mediation and collaborative law, we also often recommend arbitration as an alternative to going to court.
How does collaborative law work?
A series of meetings takes place, attended by both parties and their legal representatives, where all issues can be discussed and negotiated. It is a requirement of the process that each party will provide full financial disclosure. If necessary, collaborative law experts can be instructed to advise both parties (and potentially attend the meetings) about issues such as tax, property valuations and pensions.
Relationship breakdown will always inevitably involve financial and emotional costs. The aim of collaborative law is to help minimise those costs.
Collaborative law can be used to resolve disputes in relation to financial matters or in relation to children, such as where they will live and the amount of time they will spend with a parent. It can be effective where parents wish to reach a resolution by agreement, with the children’s interests and needs being the priority. Collaborative law can also be used to negotiate and agree the terms of a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement.
Does collaborative law work for everyone?
Not every case is suitable, as both parties must be committed to resolving their issues through negotiation, without the involvement of the court. Collaborative law is an excellent forum for couples to think ‘outside the box’ and reach a settlement that a judge may not have ordered, but which works for them both and/or their children.
The breakdown of a relationship can be a painful and difficult time for all involved. People are often concerned about the emotional and financial cost of protracted negotiations between lawyers and/or court proceedings.
Mediation is a procedure where each party openly discusses their disputes with the assistance of a trained third person in order to try and reach an agreed settlement. We have two expert and highly experienced family mediators in the team, Kirstie Law and Desmond O’Donnell, one of whom is also trained to meet with children as part of the mediation process.
Family mediators are trained to act impartially and do not seek to apportion blame. Mediation is not marriage guidance nor couple counselling. It is a forum to try and resolve important issues with the assistance of an independent third party, the mediator. Mediation plays an important role in assisting families to address and resolve any issues which arise from separation and divorce, whether in relation to finances or the arrangements for their children. Mediation can also be used by unmarried couples looking to resolve the financial or child arrangements following their separation. Mediation can often be concluded within weeks or a few months, which is typically much quicker than the court process.
Although there are cases where it may not be appropriate, mediation offers an alternative to court. You can ask the mediator to assist you to resolve any issues that you have. The mediation process can help to reduce tension and hostility and allows couples make their own informed decisions about their futures. It can also help facilitate a smoother and faster separation by avoiding court proceedings.
Another advantage of mediation is that when a couple reach a settlement with the assistance of a mediator, they are more likely to abide by its terms. This is because they have invested time in the process and strived to achieve a settlement. Mediation also allows parties to think ‘outside the box’ and reach a settlement that a judge may not have ordered, but which works for them both and/or their children.
However, mediation only works if both parties enter into the process in good faith. It is unlikely to be successful therefore if, for example, one party is only attending mediation to delay matters or to try to avoid providing full financial disclosure.
I am worried about being in the same room as my ex-partner. Can I still use mediation?
If one or both participants do not feel comfortable being in the same room as each other, then shuttle mediation can be used. This is a form of mediation where, instead of the couple being in the same room, they are in separate rooms and the mediator effectively shuttles in-between rooms. Shuttle mediation may be helpful if somebody feels that they have been affected by coercive or controlling behaviour or if somebody is finding it difficult to come to terms with the end of the relationship.
Some mediators are qualified to see children as part of the mediation process. Having had an initial meeting with the parents (who must both agree to the mediator seeing the child) the mediator will then have a meeting with the child without the parents, although another adult will be present. After this, the mediator will report back to the parents any points that have been specifically agreed with the child. This then enables the parents to consider the child’s wishes and feelings when discussing the future arrangements for them.
It is important to emphasise that the child is not being asked to decide what will happen, but told that their parents want to know what they feel about the current situation and any suggestions they have regarding the arrangements for them going forward.
If you have a complaint about mediation please refer to Joanna Pratt the head of the family team in the first instance and if not satisfied then Kirstie Law is a member of the Family Mediation Council and their complaints procedure is here.
Injunctions & domestic violence
If you have experienced domestic violence or have received court paperwork accusing you of domestic violence, you may be unsure of where to turn to for advice. Our Family team can provide specialist advice to protect both you and your family, dealing with the preparation of any court application, and providing support and guidance through the process. They can also refer you to local counselling and support services if required.
What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence, also called domestic abuse, includes physical, emotional and sexual abuse in relationships or between family members. It also includes financial abuse. Domestic violence can happen to anyone, and anybody can be an abuser. Our Family team will be able to advise you in relation to any abusive behaviour you may be experiencing, whilst being sensitive to the likely emotional impact of this and the additional support services that you may need to access.
What is a non-molestation order?
A non-molestation order is a form of injunction to help protect you or your family from violence, harassment or threatening behaviour. They can also help you ensure the safety of your children from abusive behaviour. You may be able to obtain a non-molestation order if you have been subjected to abusive behaviours.
An occupation order is an order which can prevent somebody living in, entering or coming near to your property. Alternatively, an occupation order may set out restrictions as to how all or parts of your property are to be occupied. Occupation orders are generally only a short-term solution and will not affect what happens to the property as part of a financial settlement on separation. Advice may therefore also be required in respect of the wider financial impact of a separation at the same time as applying for an injunction.
Do I need an injunction?
Our Family lawyers will be able to discuss any concerns you have, whilst being sensitive to the situation that you are facing, as quickly as possible. They will be able to advise you as to any protection you may be able to seek under the Family Law Act 1996 if you are experiencing any form of domestic abuse. In urgent circumstances, it may be possible to apply to the court for a protective order in as little as 24 – 48 hours.