Separation & Divorce

The breakdown of any relationship is unique in its own circumstances. At Bell Park Kerridge we tailor our approach to suit you and the circumstances you face.

Separating from your spouse or partner often means you are confronted with difficult or sensitive issues. The impact of a separation is best dealt with efficiently and amicably if at all possible. Our approach is to provide practical solutions along with clear straightforward advice. We will keep you fully informed of progress and options at each stage.

Our aim is to help you through this difficult time in a caring, efficient and cost effective way. As well as being good lawyers, the members of our family team are also approachable people. Lawyers who listen. Our family team will handle your case with sensitivity and discretion. You will be treated with respect, compassion and professionalism.

At Bell Park Kerridge we aim to protect your interests in a way that avoids acrimony and encourage a non-confrontational approach to resolving problems with the other party. This approach leads to a constructive and dignified outcome.

Going to court to resolve disputes about arrangements for your children and financial matters should be the last resort. We will explore with you all the options that you have in order to reach agreement with your former partner so that you can both move forward with your lives. Our priority is to deliver a solution for the long term benefit of you and your family. We will strive to achieve the best out of court settlement for you. If agreement cannot be reached we will present your case to the court with meticulous care, dealing with your case expeditiously and sensitively with the minimum of fuss.

We are also able to offer a fully supported service drawing upon experience from our colleagues in other departments, including commercial, agriculture, property, employment and private client.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION AND QUOTATION CONTACT

Email Claire Harrison
Email James Bell
01228 888999

FIXED FEE INITIAL MATRIMONIAL ADVICE MEETING

We believe that it is important that you instruct the right lawyer for your case.

That is why at Bell Park Kerridge we offer an initial all issues advice meeting at £100 + VAT for up to an hour with one of our experienced lawyers.

This gives you the opportunity to meet us and discuss your case in complete confidence.

If you are unsure about any aspect of family law then you will benefit from our fixed fee initial meeting.

At this meeting we can explain to you your options in respect of divorce/separation and the resolution of issues relating to finances and children as well as any other aspect of family law.

The advice you receive will be clear, concise and constructive.

Divorce is very personal and choosing the right lawyer is an important step. By offering fixed fee initial interview we believe that we are giving you the opportunity to come in and meet with us, test the water and then you can decide in your own time whether to instruct us to act on your behalf.

There is a general belief that persons living together are part of a common law marriage and regarded as common law ‘husband and wife’, this term does not exist in law.  It is important to understand that cohabitants, no matter how long they have been living as husband or wife are not afforded the same rights upon the breakdown of the relationship as those which arise on divorce.  The law does not recognise ‘common law spouses’.

Living together rather than marrying can be a financial disaster for a dependant cohabitee in the event of a relationship breaking down.  There is no maintenance and no automatic entitlement to make property, capital or pension claims.

There is no law at present specifically to deal with cohabitation breakdown notwithstanding the thousands of couples who have chosen not to marry or in the case of same sex couples, enter into a civil partnership.

Trust and land law is applied in the event of any property disputes.

It is essential that ownership of real property is agreed before the purchase takes place, and is reflected in an appropriate declaration of trust.  Further, if it is intended for both parties to benefit financially from the cohabitation should it break down, then it is vital that an agreement is drafted to reflect this.

Many couples, who are facing difficulties in their marriages and wish to have a period of time apart, are not necessarily ready to instigate the finality of divorce proceedings. For those couples, a correctly legally drafted separation deed may be the ideal solution.

Married couples can decide between themselves to separate and are not under any legal obligation to inform any legal professional they are no longer together.

Separation agreements are a much less formal approach than divorce and often provide effective ways of regulating the financial arrangements that need to be determined following a breakdown of a marriage.

Separation agreements can include some or all of the following types of matters:

  • Division of property
  • Decisions about who will live in the former matrimonial home or other property
  • Division of investment products and savings
  • Decisions about family businesses/partnerships and transfer of shareholdings
  • Payment of maintenance to either spouse or children
  • Other children’s provisions, including the payment of school or tertiary fees
  • Who will bear responsibility for the payment of bills, debts etc

When considering whether or not to uphold an agreement in subsequent court proceedings for divorce, the court will ensure that there has been full and frank disclosure of all relevant and necessary financial information by both the husband and the wife and look to ensure both parties have the benefit of independent legal advice or at least have had an opportunity to take it.

Consideration should also be given as to whether a party to the agreement’s circumstances may have changed.  For example, by way of a property or business asset significantly increasing or reducing in value.   The validity of such an agreement can relate to questions such as whether one party has been at a disadvantage or been under the influence or dominance of the other party. In those circumstances the court may decide not to uphold an agreement.

It is therefore wise to ensure any document is correctly drafted to ensure it is legally binding and will be accepted by the court should proceedings for divorce occur at a later stage.

Separation Agreements which have all of the relevant factors above are very likely to be upheld by the court, at which point the private agreement will then become a consent order within the context of the divorce proceedings.

Divorce is difficult for those involved and often emotions can be highly charged.  Should you be contemplating divorce, the following information may assist you.

In order to obtain a divorce, you must first have been married for a minimum of 12 months.  You must also be able to demonstrate that your marriage has suffered “irretrievable breakdown” by proving one of the following facts:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion for two years
  • Two years separation with consent
  • Five years separation without consent

The procedure for obtaining a divorce is usually straightforward and is paper based from the issue of a divorce petition to decree nisi and then to decree absolute when the divorce becomes final.  You probably will not have to attend court unless arrangements for the children cannot be agreed and require the intervention of the court before the decree can become absolute.  We can help ensure attendance at court is unlikely to be necessary.

Providing the divorce goes ahead as undefended, the timescale from start to finish is usually about 4 to 5 months.

The court fees payable to Her Majesty’s Court Service in respect of divorce proceedings are as follows:

  • Divorce Petition fee £550.00
  • There is no fee for Decree Absolute unless original application for Divorce was sent to court before 1st July 2013 in which case it is £45.00

It is also a requirement that your original marriage certificate will have to be sent to the courtalong with your divorce petition.  We cannot proceed without it and should you be unable to locate it, a certified copy will have to obtained from the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages where the current fee is £12.50.

Our family law department offers a highly skilled team of matrimonial lawyers who deal with divorce daily.  We will advise you on the most cost effective and efficient way of proceeding with a divorce in the circumstances of your case.  Our lawyers do understand that divorce can be an emotionally testing time for all of those involved; we are there to shoulder the burden for you so you can begin re-building your life.

Both Marriage and Divorce will affect your Will:

  • When you marry or enter into a civil partnership, any Will you may have made before then will usually no longer apply should you die.
  • If you do not have a Will, your property passes under the rules of intestacy when you die. Under these rules, your spouse or civil partner does not automatically take all of your assets.
  • When you divorce, or when your civil partnership is dissolved, your former partner will no longer benefit under any previous Will you may have made.
  • If you are not married, your partner does not have an automatic claim to your assets unless you write a Will in their favour.

We advise all our clients to consider making a Will whenever there are any substantial changes in their circumstances, in particular upon separation.

FINANCIAL SETTLEMENT

Sorting out the assets on the breakdown of a marriage is a skilled and often complex task requiring full and frank disclosure by each party to the other and to the court, of all of the assets, income and liabilities as part of the procedure by each party.

We recommend that before you take any decisions, you contact us so that our family lawyers can give you sound, practical advice about the various options available to you. We will advise you about the financial information and documents required, the procedure if you are unable to reach an out-of-court settlement, the likely outcome of a contested case and the costs involved.

No two cases are the same. Each case will be dealt with differently and on its own merits. Negotiating a tailor made solution swiftly and cost effectively for you is our aim. We try hard to resolve cases by negotiations and avoid a full blown courtroom hearing.

Where agreement cannot be reached then either party can apply to the court for a financial remedy order. It is possible to stop the court proceedings at any time should agreement be reached by the parties. A possible advantage of court is that a timetable is set to ensure both parties provide full and frank disclosure of their financial circumstances at the time required by the court.

In order to start all this, a decree nisi (the first part of a divorce) needs to be have been ordered by the Court, followed by an application to the court for a financial order. There is a court fee payable of £255.00.

The law in this area is fast moving and we do keep up to date on all the latest case law.

Disputes over finances can be expensive but with good advice we can steer you into the target area for settlement at an early stage, cutting out expensive standard procedures which lead nowhere. We provide full details of our fees in advance of every stage of your case to enable you to make informed decisions and stay in control of the costs.

CHILDREN ISSUES

Sadly marriage and relationship breakdowns can result in bitterness. It is of paramount importance to minimise any conflicts between mum and dad for the sake of any dependent children, as their security and happiness should be the main priority for any parent.

Where possible, it is preferable for parents to reach an agreement in relation to the children between themselves. We understand however that such important decisions can be difficult to make, especially in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.

In circumstances where matters cannot be agreed, then the court can be of assistance as there are a variety of orders available to deal with disputes that have arisen which cannot be resolved. The court’s paramount consideration is what is in the best interests of the children. The court will consider the wishes and feelings of older children where appropriate. Often independent agencies such as Cafcass become involved in order to assist with disputes, narrow issues and give independent opinions to the court where disputes cannot be resolved.

There are a range of orders relating to issues and disputes concerning children under the age of 16. For example orders as to:

  • Who the children should live with
  • What sort of contact arrangement should be in place with absent parents
  • Whether there are disputes to be resolved about where a child should be educated or issues concerning a change of residence, name or health concerns.

PRE-NUPTIAL AGREEMENTS

Pre-nuptial agreements are becoming increasingly common in the United Kingdom particularly where the parties have pre-acquired assets. Whilst pre-marital agreements are perceived by some to be pessimistic, unattractive and unromantic they are in reality a useful way of protecting yourself in the event of an unfortunate breakdown of marriage. A pre-nuptial agreement can set out all the arrangements concerning financial matters well ahead of a breakup. The agreement can avoid expense, wasted time and the acrimony commonly experienced in divorce settlements.

Under current law, pre-nuptial agreements may be upheld by the Court in England.

The general view among lawyers is that, in order to give a pre-nuptial agreement the best chance of being upheld by the court if it were subsequently challenged, the following needs to be borne in mind:

  • The agreement must be entered into voluntarily and of your own free will
  • Both of your need to be separately and independently advised by a solicitor
  • Full, frank and honest financial disclosure as to your assets and liabilities must be made and appended to the agreement
  • The agreement must entered into some time before the marriage takes place.

The agreement should be fair to the parties. An agreement which is not fair is unlikely to be upheld. To be fair, recognition will have to be given to changing the agreement as time goes by. What is a fair division after a short marriage will not necessarily be fair after a marriage of many years.

It is important to review to pre-nuptial agreement over the course of the marriage and as parties circumstances change, i.e. a change of financial circumstances, the birth of children to the relationship.

Same Sex Separation and Divorce / Civil Partnership Dissolution

Since 5th December 2005 same sex couples have been able to enter into a Civil Partnership.

Civil Partnership is akin to a civil marriage and, in almost all respects, is legally equivalent. For example:-

  • Civil partners enjoy the same tax treatment as married couples.
  • Civil Partners can acquire Parental Responsibility for each other’s children.
  • Civil partners may adopt a child or apply for a Parental Order in respect of a surrogate child.
  • The process to bring a Civil Partnership to an end (known as Dissolution) is the same as for opposite sex divorce although the grounds are slightly different.
  • Financial settlements on dissolution of a Civil Partnership are the same as on divorce.
  • Civil Partnership Agreements are treated in the same way as Pre-Marital Agreements.

Since 29th March 2014 same sex couples also have the option of entering into marriage in England and Wales. Some important differences remain however between same sex and opposite sex marriage:

  • Whilst provision is made for religious same sex marriage this is only possible if the religious group “opts in”. Clergy from the Church of England and the Church of Wales are currently prohibited from performing a same sex marriage.
  • There is no requirement to consummate a same sex marriage (and thus it is not possible to annul a same sex marriage on the basis of non-consummation)
  • Adultery is not a fact which can be used to demonstrate ‘irretrievable breakdown’ in same sex divorce and;
  • Pension providers need only provide for a survivor/widow’s benefits in respect of contributions from the 5th December 2005. I.e. The date of implementation of the Civil Partnership Act 2004.

We are able to offer expert advice in relation to same sex relationship breakdown, divorce or civil partnership dissolution.