Category Archives: Family & Matrimonial

Step Parents – Know Your Rights

It is common these days for parents to marry or enter into long-term relationships with someone who is not their child’s biological parent.  Step parents often develop strong bonds with children and play a significant role in their upbringing but legally the step parent has no legal standing when it comes to decisions about the child and its upbringing this can include signing consent forms for school.

Meena Kumari at Ridley & Hall explains that step parents often feel sidelined regardless of whether the non-resident parent plays an active role in the child’s life. The step parent and child relationship is often unacknowledged and can be as difficult for the child as it is for the step parent.”

Historically step parents could only acquire parental responsibility for a step child by legally adopting the child or by obtaining a residence order from the court.  The legal provisions now have been made for step parents who are married to the child’s biological parent to obtain parental responsibility for the child by either:

  1. Entering in to a parental responsibility agreement with consent of any person who has parental responsibility;
  2. By a parental responsibility order made by the court.

This of course extends to civil partners and same sex marriages can also acquire parental responsibility by agreement or order of the court.

Unmarried parents are not legally classed as step parents which means that they would need to apply for a residence order or adopt the child to acquire parental responsibility.

The effect of providing parental responsibility to a step parent does not remove parental responsibility from the absent biological parent nor does it give a greater say than the absent parent.

For the step parent it does not create a liability to pay child maintenance nor does it give automatic permission for the step parent to see the child once they have separated from the child’s mother.

For further information contact Meena Kumari of Ridley & Hall Solicitors on 01484 538421 who is Resolution accredited and a private law expert.

Ridley & Hall Listed in Legal 500 for 4th Successive Year

Ridley & Hall is delighted to announce that we have been listed in the Legal 500 in three separate areas; contentious probate, family and private client work.

The Legal 500 is a trusted directory providing comprehensive information on the UK’s recommended leading law firms.

Our Contentious Probate team, headed by partner Sarah Young has been listed as a third tier specialist department and highlights Sarah’s work in missing people.

Sarah commented; “I am delighted that the hard work and dedication of my team, and the work of our family and private client teams has been recognised by the Legal 500.”

In addition to her specialist knowledge and experience of dealing with complex contentious probate claims, Sarah is one of leading experts in missing people and has acted for many relatives who are seeking orders in relation to missing relatives.

Our expert Family team have been listed in the Legal 500 for a fourth consecutive year, which team leader and qualified mediator Vicky Medd is extremely proud of.

“When legal aid was abolished for the majority of private family law cases, many thought this would mean the end of family departments,” commented Vicky, “however with our range of fixed fee packages which we can tailor to an individual’s needs and financial circumstances, we are able to continue to grow as a department.”

Finally, the Private Client department which specialises in a range of services including Wills, probate and Lasting Powers of Attorney has also been re-listed for a fourth time. The head of department, Jill Waddington and her team have extensive experience in complex probate and inheritance tax matters.

Managing Partner, Adam Fletcher, commented, “The recognition from Legal 500 reiterates our commitment to delivering a high standard of service to our clients. Furthermore, it demonstrates that the practice provides, not only the usual services you would expect from a high street firm, but we are also leading the way in niche areas such as kinship care, court of protection and missing people.”

Violence On and Off the Pitch During the World Cup

Luis Suarez’s alleged  biting incident has not been the only violence during the World Cup.

West Yorkshire Police reported that calls about domestic abuse more than doubled during England’s first World Cup game, from 36 the night before to a shocking 92 calls on the night of the match.  West Yorkshire Police made it clear that they did not blame the football, but alcohol for fuelling these incidents.

The Home Office in a study in 2011 confirmed that the group most at risk were teenage girls aged between 16 and 24.  They are considered to be particularly vulnerable because of their lack of awareness of domestic violence, and the inability to recognise an abusive relationship.

The police have issued information and advice on how to avoid domestic violence on the West Yorkshire Police website.

In addition, we can offer assistance to those who are suffering domestic violence.  Whilst the amount of legal aid assistance we can provide has decreased significantly, one of the areas where public funding has been retained is to obtain a non-molestation order.  Obtaining such an order means that if there is an allegation that the order has been breached, it is a criminal offence, and the perpetrator can be arrested, and dealt with through the criminal courts.

Ridley & Hall LLP have a history of assisting vulnerable clients who are facing domestic abuse at home in a caring and sensitive manner.  If the circumstances justify it, a non molestation order can be obtained usually on the same day, or the following day.

To meet with a family lawyer, please telephone us on 01484 538421, and arrange an initial half hour consultation.  If your enquiry is urgent, please explain that to the Family Team, and we will see you as soon as we are able.

Happy First Birthday Family First

A year after its launch Ridley & Hall celebrates the success of Family First.

Family First is an innovative and unique service that supports families in need of legal advice.  This service allows clients at Ridley & Hall to choose the level of support they require for divorce, children and financial cases and in doing so they choose the price that they pay.

Meena Kumari, Head of Family at Ridley & Hall, explains:

“There have been many challenges in family law in the last 12 months with many firms closing their doors after the loss of Legal Aid.  These profound changes have affected clients’ ability to access legal advice.  When a relationship breaks down, the next steps you decide to take and the thought of legal action can often be overwhelming.  Family First offers clients greater freedom of choice and an opportunity to save money on legal costs, with our costs starting from only £200.

Family First offers an alternative that is both affordable and transparent.  The level of support includes a checking service for court documents, a do-it-yourself with help service where our clients pick and choose when you seek assistance and a pay as you go service which helps you budget.”

Statistics shows that there are more clients representing themselves in court proceedings.  Litigants in person often need legal advice for only part of their case, for example, at a hearing.  Family First offers this flexibility.

The Family First team wants to help resolve your dispute as painlessly and cost effectively as possible.  We offer a free half an hour consultation, where we can talk you through your options and costs.

For more information, please contact the Family First team at Ridley & Hall either by phone on 01484 538421 or by e-mail.

April Brings Landmark Changes in Family Justice

April marks two major developments in the world of family law with the implementation of the Children & Families Act 2014 and the integration to the Single Family Court.

The Act which comes in to force on 22nd April brings with it a wide range of changes relating to children and families which includes more rigorous plans to tackle delay in adoption system, maximum 26-week time limit on completing cases concerning children taken in to care, changes to the system governing young people living in children homes and foster parents, new legislation extending parental leave beyond parents to adopters and those going through surrogacy arrangements.

Meena Kumari, family Solicitor and accredited Resolution member, commented on the Act stating that there were many changes the top three impacting on private law children cases include :-

  1. The long awaited presumption that it is in the best interest of the child of separated parents to have continued involvement with both parents in their lives unless they present a risk to the child.
  2. Change in terminology will no longer mention residence and contact orders, rather child arrangement orders which create equality between separated parents. The arrangements contained within any order will still, however, determine where a child lives and when they will see the other parent.
  3. Making it a requirement to attend a family mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM) before apply to the court for certain orders. To find out more about mediation visit the FamilyFirst Mediation webpage.

The Single Family Court will bring together the functions of the Magistrates Court, County Court and High Court under one uniform umbrella organisation.  All locations of family courts will detail with all aspects of family law with the exception of some matters relating to international child related disputes and adults with mental incapacity which will be reserved to the High Court.

All new cases will be started and heard in the Family Court but will be allocated to an appropriate judge by the court staff.  All level of judges and magistrates will work alongside each other (as judges of the family court).  Each hearing cases on appropriate levels of complexity and issues.

For specialist advice on your all your rights after separation contact the Ridley & Hall’s FamilyFirst team either by phone on 01484 538421 or by e-mail.

Gwyneth & Chris – Conscious Uncoupling – In Love But Separate

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced on 26th March 2014 their intention to separate.

They announced it on goop.com and said:-

“It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate. We have been working hard for well over a year, some of it together, some of it separated, to see what might have been possible between us, and we have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much we will remain separate. We are, however, and always will be a family, and in many ways we are closer than we have ever been. We are parents first and foremost, to two incredibly wonderful children and we ask for their and our own space and privacy to be respected at this difficult time. We have always conducted our relationship privately, and we hope that as we consciously uncouple and co-parent we will be able to continue in the same manner.”

Whilst the text might seem very “new age” the sentiment is to be applauded. It is very easy for separating couples to overlook the fact that they still have to parent children together and it is clear that Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow are trying very hard to ensure that they continue to co-parent their children.

This is easier said than done. Here are some top tips to try and assist in keeping things amicable:-

  1. If the children are old enough, try and sit down with them and see what they would like to happen and how they would like the arrangements between two households to look.
  2. Always try and keep the children informed – this does not mean getting the children to take sides but neutrally explaining to them what is happening and ensuring that the children know that the reason for the separation is between two adults and not because of the children.
  3. Always try and keep defined roles – be parents and not friends. Sometimes, with the best intentions, people either expect too much from their relationship. It is important to give each other space to come to terms with your new status. Don’t go planning days out, or holidays together.
  4. “Communicate, communicate, communicate” – this can be difficult at times – it may be that the other person has had a bad day and may react badly to something you have said. Whereas communication might have been a problem in the relationship, it is even more important that you try and improve communication now that you have separated.
  5. “Try to forgive”- this does not mean forget but try and be as peaceful with one another as possible – this is far better for the children.
  6. Make arrangements that best suit the two of you – frequently, I hear from client’s that they do not want to be “a glorified babysitter” or that the father has not had enough “parenting experience”. Parenting does not come with a manual sadly. It is important that both of you support each other even when things don’t quite work out.
  7. If you cannot agree on arrangements, try and mediate – mediation can help the two of you reach compromises in circumstances where the two of you on your own cannot. Mediation is about the two of you making decisions rather than a Court imposing them. It may help to be able to see things a little more clearly.
  8. Give yourself time to come to terms with your new situation. Some days will be easier than others.
  9. Don’t be too hard on yourself. We cant be perfect all of the time!

If you need some assistance from a mediator or family lawyer, please do not hesitate to contact Vicky Medd on 01484 538421 or by e-mail. Vicky Medd has over 20 years’ experience as a family lawyer and over 9 years’ experience as a family mediator. She is an accredited specialist with Resolution and Family Mediators Association.

What Will Happen to My Pension When I Divorce?

When a marriage breaks down a pension is treated as an important matrimonial asset; the value of which should be shared fairly between the separating couple.

Where parties have been in a long-term marriage, the matrimonial home and pension are often the largest assets, therefore careful consideration is required to ascertain how they will form part of any future financial settlement.

It is essential that the value of any pension is established. This is often referred to as the “cash equivalent value”.  This information is normally provided on an annual basis by the pension schemes.  Whilst this provides a good indication as to the value of the pension an accurate value can be obtained by instructing an actuary to prepare a report detailing an accurate valuation of the pension as well as any conditions and projected income of the pension fund.

Older couples may have their pension in payment where the pension will still have a cash equivalent value.  The income that derives from the pension can be treated as an asset that can be divided between the couple.

There are three options when considering pensions.  These are as follow:-

  1. Off-setting – One spouse retains all or part of their pension in consideration for having a larger share in other assets such as the matrimonial home, savings and policies.  The advantage of such an agreement is that the pension is not available as an asset immediately.  Pensions may fluctuate in value.  Such an agreement also allows for less disruption to the children and family at a time when emotions are often running high. The disadvantage of off-setting is that it creates short-term solutions but the long-term consequences and implications will require specialist advice from our family team.
  2. Attachment Order – This is where the monthly pension income or lump sum that the policy holder would receive upon retirement will be paid to the other spouse.  One of the great disadvantages of this option is that, if the pension policy holder dies before an order is made by the court or the spouse retires, the benefit is lost.
  3. Pension Sharing Order – Where the pension is split between the two spouses in accordance with the proportions that have been agreed or ordered by the court.  The spouse receives a specified percentage of the pension fund which becomes their pension and can either be placed in a new pension fund or added to their own existing pension fund depending on the circumstances of the scheme.  The difficulty with a pension sharing order is calculating the appropriate percentage split of the pension.  The complexities in this area due to arguments that a pension could have been built up before marriage and after separation for which specialist legal advice from our family team will be required.

For older couples who are divorcing the correct pension option is essential as this will determine their future income and standard of living into retirement.

    

For further advice regarding divorce, please contact the FamilyFirst team either by phone – 01484 538421 – or by e-mail.  For pensions, please contact our Elderflower service. Elderflower not only provides legal advice on divorce but also good financial advice for the short term and estate planning for the long term.

Married or Living Together for the Over 65s?

Recent figures released by the Office for National Statistics show that the number of unmarried over-65s living together has increased from 177,000 to 250,000 in eight years, increasing by more than 40%. This is generally believed to be at least partly attibutable to a change in attitudes towards the “morality” of simply living together, as opposed to getting married.

Whilst attitudes are changing about the rights and wrongs of living together, it can be an informed choice on the part of couples who want to ensure that their family are provided for.  Relationships are formed either after the death of a long-term partner, or alternatively after a divorce, and couples are very mindful of the fact that they wish to preserve assets for their family.

So how does the court differentiate between married and unmarried couples?

Firstly, in terms of ownership of assets, the court has greater powers to make all sorts of orders about property in divorce proceedings, whereas they have less discretion with cohabiting couples.  The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 governs divorces and how the court make orders about properties.  The sorts of things that the courts take into account when making decisions about finances on divorce are the needs and financial resources of the couple, the length of the relationship, the needs of any dependant children, the standard of living enjoyed by the couple during the course of the marriage, the couples’ ages, the contributions made by each of them to the marriage any disability, and any other factor that the court thinks is relevant.  This means that couples are left wide open to claims by their partners when the relationships break down over assets which one may assert was “theirs” prior to the relationship starting.

The law governing cohabitees, by contrast, is dealt with largely on the basis of who actually owns what.  The court will look at who owns the property.  Is it joint names, or one person’s sole name?  If the relationship breaks down and one of the cohabitees wishes to change the way the property is held legally, they have more of an uphill struggle.  The length of the relationship, the standard of living, the needs and financial resources are not factors that the court can take into account.  The law dealing with cohabitees is dealt with under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996.  It is a very complex area of law.  Essentially, to change the way a property is held (ie to make a claim over a property), the person making the claim must show that there was an intention to hold the property differently, and once they have established that, they must show that they have contributed money or “monies worth”.  “Monies worth” has to be labour, or work that has been done to the property, which is over and above general decorating.  The judges dealing with cohabitee cases do not have the wide discretion that exists in divorce laws.  This may well suit a person who has a property in their name, and children by a previous relationship, as it makes it more likely that they can secure their children’s interests.

For both married and unmarried couples, if they wish to secure their position effectively, then they should consider entering into a prenuptial agreement (for couples about to marry) or for unmarried couples, a trust deed or deed of agreement that evidences their intentions if they are to separate.  The courts in England are now more likely to uphold a prenuptial agreement than they were even 10 years ago.  The court would need to be satisfied that the agreement was made without any undue pressure being put on any of the participants.  They would need to be satisfied that it was done a reasonable period before the wedding was due to take place, and that both participants knew what assets (and liaibilities) the other person had.

So the answer – make sure you get an agreement in place to protect you and your family whether your are married or unmarried.

For more information on any Family matters, please contact the FamilyFirst team at Ridley & Hall either by e-mail or on 01484 538421.

Children of Domestic Abuse Victims at Risk

A report by the Family Rights Group has highlighted the need for mothers facing domestic violence to get urgent skilled legal advice.

Nigel Priestley, who is a Trustee of the Family Rights Group, commented, “All the evidence points to the emotional and psychological damage that children suffer when they see and hears their parents arguing and fighting. The FRG report now indicates they face the double threat not simply of being damaged by their carers but also the loss of family life. Women who find themselves being abused but who fear social services need to come and see one of our Family First team as a matter of urgency. It is vital that they get advice from a team that understands domestic violence and has lawyers who are highly experienced in care proceedings.”

“It is clear that a series of decisions by the government have a very negative impact on very vulnerable families.”

For more advice regarding domestic violence, please contact us on 01484 538421 or by e-mail.

Family Law Secretary – Huddersfield Office

Due to the recent launch our new Family First service, offering a range of family law support packages aimed at different levels to suit all budgets, we are looking to recruit a family law secretary.

Based in our central Huddersfield office, we are seeking an experienced legal secretary who has had exposure to working in a demanding and fast paced environment to join our family team. Legal secretarial experience within family law is essential, as is excellent typing, the ability to communicate with clients, good organisational skills, software skills and knowledge of digital dictation. We can be flexible on the hours worked, although full time staff work a 35-hour week.

If you are interested in this role, please email your CV and a covering letter stating your current salary to our Managing Partner, Adam Fletcher. No recruitment agencies please.