Category Archives: Vicky Medd

Nigel Priestley Writes for The Guardian!

Nigel Priestley writes on the benefits of kinship care for the Guardian ahead of the Adoption UK AGM this weekend.

The full article on The Guardian website can be viewed here.

Nigel Priestley is a specialist solicitor at Ridley & Hall and the Adoption Legal Centre. For any legal advice regarding adoption, please contact a member of the team on 01484 538421 or by e-mail.

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.

Daily Free Advice Line Opens Adoption Advice

This year’s National Adoption Week is focusing on siblings.

Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall and senior legal advisor with Adoption Legal Centre said: “I am one of four children – so is my wife! We have three children of our own!

Those of us lucky enough to have brothers and sisters know how special the relationship between siblings can be.

For many brothers and sisters, the mutual support they give each other and their shared histories are real gifts that help them during their journey through life. Adopted children have usually had a tough start in life. It is even more important for them to experience the stability and support that being with their brothers and sisters can bring.

All the statistics show that sadly, sibling groups are amongst the children who wait longest to be adopted. There aren’t enough adopters who are able to give these children a loving, secure and permanent home together. Brothers and sisters are having to wait longer for a family or may even have to be split up and adopted separately.

Being placed with their siblings may not always be the best option for every child, but it is a tragedy if the shortage of adopters willing and able to adopt siblings when it is in their best interest is the only reason why brothers and sisters cannot stay together. Sometimes people just need to know what support they are entitled to if they go ahead.

At the Adoption Legal Centre we understand the challenges that may face adopters considering taking on a sibling group. If prospective adopters need some free advice to reassure them –  in National Adoption Week they can get it. All week 3rd – 7th between 12.00 and 1.00pm our phones will be manned.

We are happy to advise anyone who needs advice on any adoption issue. We will signpost where to get support and if we can’t give an answer immediately we’ll come back to those who need advice. This might be adopters facing the challenges of caring for sibling groups. It could be prospective adopters who need advice on the responsibilities of Local Authorities to provide support.

Simply call 01484 538421 and ask to speak to a member of the Adoption Legal Centre team.

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.”

Adoption Numbers Show Rise to Record High

The Department of Education has recently announced a record number of children adopted in 2013/14.

Full details can be found in this BBC news article.

Nigel Priestley, specialist solicitor at Ridley & Hall and the Adoption Legal Centre commented,

“It‘s good news that adoption levels are at an all time high, meaning the children are getting the care and attention they so desperately need. However, there is clearly more work that needs to be done by the government to ensure that children over 4 years are also receiving this care. The key increase in adoptions has been in the 1-4 years age bracket.

“The Government must also make sure that more specialist support is available for adopters. The increase in adoptions will almost certainly lead to increased demand for support.”

The team at the Ridley & Hall’s Adoption Legal Centre are specialists in advising both adopters and potential adopters. We can help when adopters are facing challenging problems. We advise about what they need to do and what steps they should take to obtain support and advice when they face difficult problems.

For more advice with regard to any adoption issues, please contact us on 01484 538421 or by e-mail.

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.

“Stalinist” Response to Groundbreaking Report Which Challenges Government Approach to Adoption

On Wednesday 9th April 2014, the Department for Education launches a groundbreaking report on adoption. The University of Bristol was commissioned to report on adoption breakdown. The report’s title is now “Beyond Adoption: challenges, intervention and adoption disruption”.

(See also University of Bristol website: Report reveals adoption breakdown rate and the experiences of adoptive families in crisis)

Commenting on the report and the events surrounding its launch, Nigel Priestley, who was a member of the DfE advisory group on adoption breakdown, commented:

“The report confirms that adoption can work – but for many adopters, better support is needed. This is groundbreaking research. It identifies:

  • When adoptive placements do break down, the consequences are severe.
  • The difficulties and stresses that lead to disruption are often known and experienced by the family over many years.
  • The long term consequences of early abuse and neglect can have a profound impact on the young person and their adoptive family. This is compounded where support is patchy, poorly coordinated and ineffective.
  • There needs to be an urgent investigation to establish a more robust framework for multi-agency coordination and cooperation building on the current developments in improving adoption support.  This must include local authorities, health, education and the voluntary sector.  These have resourcing implications.
  • The urgency in ensuring that adopters and children are not left alone when they encounter the kinds of difficulties so clearly identified.
  • The importance of prospective adopters receiving full information on the child being placed with them.
  • The Report contains graphic interviews with adopters who have faced significant challenges as they have tried to parent the children whom they have adopted.”

Mr Priestley went on, “The stories told by both the adopters and the children who have been adopted ring true in my own experience. I have represented many adopters who have faced colossal challenges with the children they have adopted .They include chief executives of major local authorities, church ministers, a member of a fostering and adoption team, a consultant paediatrician, and a former deputy head teacher. All were committed parents.

“They all thought they were realistic about adoption but found they were facing insurmountable problems. For example one had to sleep on the landing to stop one child he and his wife had adopted from going into his sister’s bedroom for sex. Both children were aged under 8 years old. Many of the children had a significant attachment disorder.

“Adopters need to be told the truth about the children placed with them. It is critical that as the Report recommends there is coordinated and properly resourced support for adopters.”

Response of Department for Education – don’t engage with the Press!

The Report was due to launched on 20th March 2014 at a British Association for Adoption and Fostering Conference.

Nigel Priestley said “I have been pressing the DfE for a launch date. I understand that at the BAAF conference the DfE imposed strict conditions on the presentation from University of Bristol.

Pressed further about a launch date, the DfE have now sent out the following e-mail to members of the advisory group: “I thought you would find it helpful to know that the Adoption Disruption Report is scheduled for publication next Wednesday 9th April. We would be grateful if you could avoid engagement with the press about this report.  If members of the press do contact you please can you inform Anna Rutter in our Press Office?”

“I am puzzled by what appears to be an almost Stalinist approach to news management simply because DfE appears to think that its findings do not fit the government’s own agenda.”

Some of its conclusions help the government’s strong support for adoption. The report confirms:

  • Disruptions in adoption placements, where the child returns to care after being legally adopted, have been subject to significant speculation over many years.   The rate is much lower than expected.
  • The research supports the widely held view that adoptive placements provide children with stable, secure loving homes when they cannot live with their birth parents.  The UK has established a system for ensuring children severely at risk can be placed into adoptive homes when local authorities and the courts agree. This research identifies that this continues to be the right policy.

The DfE appears to be concerned about how the report’s conclusions are received. The Children and Families Act 2014 which strongly promotes adoption has received royal assent.

The report has come at a difficult time for the government:

  1. Adoption is under scrutiny in the courts. The Court of Appeal’s decision in Re: B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ. 813 emphasises that the severance of family ties inherent in an adoption without parental consent is an extremely draconian step and one that requires the highest level of evidence. This decision has had a significant impact on courts throughout the country.
  2. The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) is not fit for purpose. In light of the concerns which have been expressed by the Chief Medical Officer and others about both the extent to which children and adolescents are affected by mental health problems and difficulties with gaining access to appropriate treatment, the Health Committee has decided to undertake an inquiry into children’s and adolescent mental health and CAMHS. Support from CAMHS is vital for many adoptive families.
  3. Government cuts have had a significant impact on early intervention family support workers who would be the first line of support for beleaguered families.

Nigel Priestley is Senior Partner at Ridley & Hall Solicitors and an advisor with the Adoption Legal Centre. For further information please contact the Adoption Legal Centre via phone on 01484 538421 or via 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 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.