Category Archives: Children

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.

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.

Damning Report on Family and Friends Care from Local Government Ombudsman welcomed

The Local Government Ombudsman has launched a damning report on local authorities failure to support family and friends Carers.

A damning report on Family and Friends Care from Local Government Ombudsman can be seen here.

Commenting Nigel Priestley said “Family and friends cares contact us from across the country. Many Carers find that they suddenly have to take responsibility for grandchildren, nephews or nieces or friends children.

Only today I have seen a 70 year old retired pilot who has taken responsibility for his 11 year old grandchild who was abandoned by his mentally ill daughter at school. Out of the blue he took on a caring role with his wife. And then he ran slap bang into a local authority that was determined to view this a private family arrangement. His grandson has been emotionally damaged and needs special support in school.

He is typical of the Carers who contact us. At the moment we are getting 8-10 new contacts each week. As a trustee of the Family Rights Group I know the pressure that their telephone Advice Line is under.

Family and friends Carers simply do not know the rights and responsibilities of local authorities. In our experience it has been necessary to force local authorities to accept their responsibilities.

As a firm we have brought a series of Judicial Reviews in relation to the rights of Family and Friends Carers. Local authorities seem to prefer fighting Carers and spending council tax payers money rather than addressing the needs of the children and their Carers.

Ridley and Hall have been at the forefront of ensuring that local authorities fulfil their duties to family and friends Carers.

Of the 5 key cases that govern the rights of grandparent and kinship Carers , 3 have been brought by my firm -

We brought an action against Kent which went to the Court of Appeal on the issue of s20 Children Act.It is the leading case. It is vital that children are recognised as looked after children. It’s not simply in relation to guaranteed financial support. It ensures access to school and support from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Carers have their own social workers. They get access to training and support groups.

We succeeded in the Court of Appeal in July in a landmark decision against Tower Hamlets which means that family and friends foster Carers are entitled to the same fees as foster Carers.

We successfully challenged Kirklees policy of paying Special Guardianship Allowances at 2/3 the rate of fostering allowances.

As a result of the need for accessible quality advice we launched the Grandparents Legal Centre www.grandparentslegalcentre.co.uk

We have recovered over £1 million in back payments for family and friends Carers.

Nigel Priestley is a trustee of Family Rights Group and this year was named Legal Champion of the Year at Grandparents Plus Kinship Care Awards. He was awarded National Solicitor of the Year Award in 2010 in the Law Society Excellence Awards. You can find Nigel’s profile here.

For further information, advice or assistance please contact Ridley & Hall Solicitors on 01484 538421.

Ridley & Hall Review of the Care Leavers Charter

Many grandparent carers and family and friends carers will be caring for “looked after” children who are approaching 16 – or who may have already reached it. This briefing sets out the key responsibilities of local authorities for these children who will soon be leaving care.

What are the duties of Local Authorities?

Local authorities have a duty to support “looked after” children and provide services to enable them to live in a safe, loving environment. Children can be “looked after” until they reach the age of 16 and it is often a misconception that once a child turns 16, local authority involvement automatically ceases.

But in fact the local authorities duties extend further than this. There is support available for children who are leaving care at the age of 16 up to the age of 21, or 25 if they are in further education.

The Care Leavers Charter

In October 2012, the Department of Education launched the ‘Care Leavers Charter’, a contract between local authorities and young people leaving care setting out what support care leavers can expect.

A year later in October 2013 and over 120 local authorities have signed up to the charter, pledging to prioritise the needs of young people leaving care.

Around 10,000 young people aged 16-18 in England leave care each year. This is a vulnerable time as they transition into adulthood. Research shows that the quality of support offered to care leavers is often lacking and the transition to adulthood can often be an anxious time for young people. Many young people feel isolated and often struggle to find work which can lead to long term unemployment and involvement in crime.

The Care Leavers Charter aims to provide support and guidance to care leavers and for them to ‘expect the same level of care and support that other young people get from their parent’. The main areas which have been looked at are education, employment, financial support, health, housing, justice system and on-going support, for example;

Education

The Department of Education found that 34% of all care leavers aged 19 were not in education, employment or training compared to 15.5% of the general population of 18 year olds. In addition, only 6% of care leavers went on to higher education compared to 23% of their peers. 80% of non-looked after children obtained 5 A*-C GCSE’s compared with only 37% of looked after children.

The Department of Education has placed a duty on local authorities to provide a personal adviser to all care leavers up to the age of 25 who wish to continue with education/training. Local authorities are to encourage care leavers to remain in education, take up training opportunities and undertake activities aimed at improving employability.

2. Employment

The Department of Education has teamed up with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to provide 18-24 year olds access to additional advice, support, work experience and apprenticeships. Job Centre Plus advisers are also to provide this support to care leavers who face greater difficulties in finding work.

3. Financial Support

16-19 year olds attending a furthere education course are entitled to a bursary of £1,200. Care leavers attending university are entitled to a higher education bursary of £2,000.

DWP has ensured that dedicated Job Centre Plus advisers can support care leavers in making a claim for benefits in advance of leaving care to prevent hardship when they first leave.

97 Local Authorities to date have signed up to pay at least £2,000 to care leavers by way of a setting up home allowance (leaving care grant). In the future it is hoped that statutory guidance will be issued to encourage all local authorities to pay this allowance.

4. Health

The mental health strategy ‘No Health Without Mental Health’ published in February 2011 highlights the fact that looked after children and care leavers mental health needs are often greater than the general population. The Department of Health is investing £54 million in 2011-2015 to improve access to psychological therapies and CAMHS.

5. Housing

Around one quarter of those living on the streets have a background in care and it is often difficult for care leavers to find suitable accommodation.

The Department of Education has revised leaving care guidance to encourage local authorities to consider introducing the ‘staying put’ provision. Some local authorities are using ‘staying put’ arrangements to ensure that care leavers can continue to live with and get support from former foster carers.

6. Justice System

Care leavers are a group at risk of being drawn into crime and are equally particularly vulnerable to becoming a victim of crime.

In October 2013, new guidance was published where a range of providers not just prison and probation staff will have responsibility for supporting young adults to make the right choices and reduce the rates of re-offending.

The Youth Justice Board funds dedicated social worker’s in all under 18 young offender institutions to meet the needs of looked after children and care leavers.

7. On-going Support

The Department of Education has issued guidance ‘Transitions to Adulthood’ which places a duty on local authorities to stay in touch and support care leavers until 21, and beyond if in education.

The Department of Education has pledged to open a savings account for all care leavers who have been in care for a year or more with an initial £200 which they can access when they turn 18.

What’s next?

Data collection is to continue and a further report will be issued in October 2014 to measure progress and set out what more can be done to support care leavers and helping them to improve their lives.

Helen Jarvis is a member the Grandparents Legal Centre legal team. If you have any questions about the Care Leavers Charter, “looked after” children, grandparent carers or family and friends carers, please contact Helen by telephoning 01484 538421 or by e-mail.

Family First is Two Month’s Old

Our innovative Family First department is 2 months’ old but we have over 50 years’ of Family law experience. Please choose us to help you http://www.ridleyhall.co.uk/our-services/family-and-matrimonial/family-first/

Support for Families who are the Victims of Crime

The recent Channel 4 documentary ‘The Murder Workers’ was extremely interesting, if at times distressing viewing.

The programme focused on the work of Victim Support officers within the homicide team, and the work they undertake with families who are plunged into a world of chaos due to a relative being murdered.

One worker based in Essex, had worked with a grandmother for over 12 months who found herself as the full time carer for her three young grandchildren after her daughter, the children’s mother, was murdered by her partner, the children’s father.

The Victim Support worker assisted the grandmother in a number of ways, including providing emotional and financial support and to encourage child behavioural specialists to work with the children, who had witnessed their mother’s death.

One part of the programme also focused on the legal procedure the grandmother had to face. Although the children’s father had been found guilty of murder and was serving a lengthy prison sentence, as the only person with parental responsibility for the children, the grandmother found herself having to consult with the father on important decisions regarding the children’s well-being. Eventually, she was given an order of the court which gave her parental responsibility for her grandchildren and the father’s parental responsibility was taken away by the courts.

Helen Dandridge, Trainee Solicitor at Ridley & Hall, comments “Up and down the country, there are thousands of grandparents, relatives and other kinship carers who find themselves having to care for children through no fault of their own, whether this is a result of death or not. At such a traumatic time, considering any legal implications for the children are often not high on the list of priorities”.

Ridley & Hall is one of the leading law firms providing specialist advice and support to those carers to secure the legal and financial recognition they deserve. We are able to assist families in obtaining relevant court orders, including residence orders and special guardianship orders and to secure financial assistance from the local authority.

If you would like more information, please contact us on 01484 538421 and ask to speak to a member of the Family First Team.

Click here for more information about the services offered in Family First.

Ridley & Hall Solicitors put Families First

Ridley & Hall have launched a new service to help separating parents who do not qualify for legal aid after the breakdown of their relationship.Meena Kumari, Head of Family First at Ridley & Hall Solicitors

Legal aid was removed for most private law family matters from 1st April when the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 came into force.

Partner Meena Kumari is keen to support families in need of legal advice:-

“When a relationship breaks down it can be devastating.  We hope that our new service called Family First will provide the right support at the right price for our clients”.

The new service offers an innovative approach following the loss of legal aid.  Meena Kumari believes that Family First offers clients a greater freedom of choice and opportunity to save money on legal costs;

“We let clients choose the level of support they require for divorce and cases involving children.  The levels of support include a checking service for court documents, a do it yourself with help service where clients pick and choose when they need help and a pay as you go service.  There is complete transparency in relation to legal costs and there are no hidden fees”.

Ridley & Hall Solicitors are an award winning firm. The Family First team are Accredited members of Resolution, a member of the Law Society’s Advanced Family Panel and trained in Collaborative law.

In addition, Ridley & Hall has set up a mediation department, headed by Vicky Medd.  Vicky is a family solicitor with over 20 years experience, and is a very experienced family mediator.  Vicky believes that clients should choose how they want to resolve their disputes.  “Mediation is a cost effective and speedy way of assisting clients in resolving their dispute.  Over the years I have helped many participants resolve disputes between themselves, without the intervention of the Court.  Costs have been significantly reduced and participants are in charge of the process, making the decisions themselves.”

For further information click here, call us on 01484 538421 or email us.

Ridley & Hall Welcomes Family Mediator

Ridley & Hall is pleased to announce that mediator and solicitor, Vicky Medd, has joined their practice.

Vicky will be heading up the Mediation department as well as working with the Family team.  Vicky is a solicitor with 21 years’ experience of family law, and specialises in divorce and financial provision.  She is an accredited member of Resolution, and a collaboratively trained solicitor as well.

Adam Fletcher, Mangaging Partner, said “We are really pleased that Vicky has joined us.  She is an experienced solicitor and family mediator, and is well known across West Yorkshire.  I have every confidence that she will provide clients with a good service.”

Vicky confirmed that she was pleased to be joining Ridley & Hall, “I am looking forward to working with the team and welcome the opportunity to head up a new department in Mediation.  Family mediation is a much cheaper way of resolving disputes between divorcing or separating couples.  We can help people try and sort out finances in mediation, as well as assisting in making better arrangements for children.  Mediation tends to have better outcomes than court ordered arrangements, as it is the clients themselves who make the decisions that are best for them.  In addition, I hope to guide clients through a difficult emotional time at a pace that is best for them and their situation.”

Vickie Medd can be contacted by telephone on 01484 538421 or by e-mail.