Category Archives: Unmarried couples

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.

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 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.

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.

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

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.

Dramatic Legal Aid Funding Withdrawal – Make an Appointment with a Family Lawyer Now

You may not be aware that as of 1 April 2013, most legal help and full public funding (levels of legal aid) in relation to family law matters, are to be withdrawn by the government via the Legal Services Commission.  This means that AFTER 31 March 2013, if you are in receipt of state benefits and/or are on a low income, you may not be able to afford to instruct a solicitor in respect of your family law difficulties.

From 1 April 2013, in most cases, public funding will simply not be available for issues such as divorce/civil partnership dissolution, financial issues and private Children Act issues such as contact and residence applications (public funding will be available in public Children Act issues, eg where there are “care proceedings” and have the involvement of social services, child abduction cases and cases of forced marriage).

The only exception to the above will be where the person seeking legal advice and representation will be the victim of domestic abuse (or an adult seeking to protect an abused child) – but even then the Legal Services Commission’s criteria will be very strict and they will require firm evidence of this alleged abuse before the case can be pursued with the assistance of public funding.

This means that from 1 April 2013 in the majority of family cases, public funding, will not be available to assist individuals and families with their family law issues and will severely impede, from a financial perspective, their access to justice and the specialist expert legal advice and assistance that is available and necessary.

The greatest section of society that this will affect will be the children of separated parents.  Their parent will not have the assistance of a qualified legal individual to guide and advise them through an often very emotional and stressful procedure, which often end in court proceedings.  That child/children/grandchild, through absolutely no fault of their own, may lose contact with their parent or other family members, including siblings and half-siblings, simply because of the costs involved and the parent’s/grandparent’s prevention from obtaining legal assistance because of the demise of legal aid.

The courts are also concerned that because of this financial obstacle, the court process will be “clogged up” and slowed down dramatically due to people trying to represent themselves. In most cases, the delays will be because of a lack of understanding of the law and legal processes by those individuals.

If you are in receipt of state benefits and/or are on a low income and are experiencing family difficulties due to a breakdown of a relationship and require advice and assistance on divorce/civil partnerships, financial issues and/or children matters, then please contact us as soon as possible as the deadline for legal help and public funding ends on 31 March 2013.  We will be able to assess your eligibility and provide you with a wealth of advice and assistance in respect of all family law matters.

Now is the time to act.  Please call the office on 01484 538421 and ask to speak to a member of the Family Team or e-mail us at