two solicitors discussing family law

What is family law?

Family law is the area of law which regulates familial relationships. It involves a wide range of legal issues, including divorce, child arrangements, domestic abuse, prenuptial agreements, and cohabitation.

This article will consider these core areas within family law and explain how a family law solicitor can help you in dealing with them.

Divorce and the division of financial assets

Divorce can be a challenging and confusing process. Not only is there the actual legal separation but also the division of the parties’ financial assets and arrangements for spending time with the children.

The first step in the division of the parties’ financial assets is ascertaining what is included within the overall ‘matrimonial pot’ of assets. The ‘matrimonial assets’ included in the pot are usually the parties’ property, savings, investments, and pensions, whether located in the UK or abroad. However, some assets such as inheritance may be considered ‘non-matrimonial’ and will not be included in the matrimonial pot.

A key element in this process of ascertaining the matrimonial pot is obtaining full and frank financial disclosure. This involves completing documentation setting out each party’s assets, income and liabilities. This ensures that both parties have a clear understanding of each other’s finances and also reduces the risk of one party seeking to hide or exclude assets in an attempt to obtain a more advantageous financial settlement.

Once disclosure has been completed, the parties have several options. They can attempt to reach a voluntary agreement on the division of assets either between themselves or through mediation. Alternatively, if they are unable to reach an agreement, they may engage in litigation and have a judge decide the division for them.

In either scenario, a family law solicitor will be able to utilise their professional experience to decide which is the most appropriate option based on your individual circumstances. They will be able to advise you on your rights and what you are entitled to from the division of assets. This will increase your prospects of success in court and avoid the risk that you agree a settlement which provides you with less than you are entitled to receive.

Child arrangements (also known as child custody)

If divorcing parties have children, there will need to be child arrangements setting out how much time they will each spend with the children. This can be achieved through agreement between the parties or by obtaining a child arrangements order from the court.

Reaching an agreement with your former partner regarding child arrangements can sometimes be a very emotional and difficult process. Disagreements can cause relations between parents to become very acrimonious. This can be detrimental to the wellbeing of the children as ultimately both parents will need to work together to co-parent their children after the arrangements have been finalised.

A family law solicitor can assist you by acting as professional intermediary, meaning that you do not have to negotiate or argue directly with your former partner. This can reduce the intensity of the proceedings and increase the likelihood that you and your former partner are able to maintain amicable relations and provide the effective co-parenting relationship that your children require. 

Domestic abuse

Domestic abuse includes many forms of abuse, such as physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and economic abuse. It covers actions ranging from physical violence to controlling behaviour and economic exploitation (such as controlling your finances).

A family solicitor can assist you if you are suffering from domestic abuse. They can provide advice about your options and obtain a resolution which protects you and your family. For example, one of the strongest ways to protect against domestic abuse is a non-molestation order. This is a court order which stops the abuser from communicating with the victim (whether directly or indirectly) or prevents them from coming within a certain distance of the victim. Any breach of the order can result in the abuser being arrested and potentially imprisoned.

Prenuptial agreements

A prenuptial agreement is a contract signed before a couple marry. It sets out their intentions regarding what will happen to their individual assets in the event of death or divorce.

Due to the complexity of prenuptial agreements and the rules that govern them, it is recommended to instruct a family solicitor to prepare a prenuptial agreement. They will be able to ensure that the agreement is legally binding, draft terms which are tailored to your specific circumstances and provide legal advice which clearly explains the implications of the agreement.

Cohabitation agreements

It is increasingly common for couples to live together for many years (referred to as cohabitation) and buy a property without getting married. Contrary to popular belief, couples who live together do not have the same rights as couples who are married or in a civil partnership. There is no automatic legal protection if the relationship ends, meaning one party can be left with no right to any share of the property if it is held in the other party’s sole name. Similarly, shared property will likely be split 50/50 even if one party contributed much more to the purchase of the property.

To obtain legal protection in these circumstances, parties often ask a family solicitor to prepare a cohabitation agreement for them. A cohabitation agreement sets out the arrangements for the parties’ finances, property, and children while the couple live together as well as what happens to them if they split up or either party dies. It therefore establishes proper legal safeguards to protect both you and your family.

If you require assistance with any of the issues discussed in this article, please contact us to organise an initial consultation with one of our expert family law solicitors.