This area of law can become highly complex depending on the facts of an individual's case. Family law concerns disputes involving children, such as adoption, maintenance, custody and living arrangements, as well as disputes between adults and between adults and the state (social services, for instance). It also includes the recognition of, and legal consequences to, marriage, civil partnerships, divorce and dissolution, as well as the legalities of monetary agreements made before or after marriage or civil partnership.
Here is what Family Law covers:
Adoption is the term used to describe the process of legally transferring parental rights and responsibilities of a child, from one set of parents to another. There is a long and intricate procedure involved, and the consent of various parties is required before adoption can be legally binding. The child being adopted becomes the legal child of the adoptive parents and parental responsibility passes to them.
Child Maintenance is the financial contributions that must be made towards the maintenance and living costs of children in which parents or those with parental responsibility are required to pay, when the parents are living as separated or the relationship has broken down.
Child Arrangement Orders are court-imposed orders that determine who the child in question is to reside with and who they are to have contact with. Applications can be made for various orders, including contact, residence and prohibited steps orders. Only certain relatives/ guardians may apply to the court. For example, parents who have separated may seek an order of this kind to increase the amount of time they see their child or how many days or nights the child can spend in their custody.
Local authorities have a duty to protect and promote the welfare of children in need in their area. Local authorities are given powers, and if a child's circumstances become unsafe or unhealthy, it is the authority's duty to use those powers to act in the best interest of the child in question. Powers can range anywhere between providing daycare for children if a parent cannot do so sufficiently, to removing a child from their home due to risk of harm to the child.
Parental Responsibility is the duty of a parent to act in the best interests of their child by providing a home, and protecting and maintaining them. Parents who have parental responsibility are also responsible for discipline, education, medical treatment and looking after the child's belonging, among other things. Not every parent has parental responsibility, however, all parents have a duty to contribute to the maintenance of their child financially.
This area overlaps with child arrangements, and concerns the custody, residence and contact arrangements made between parents, regarding their children. Orders can be put in place by the court to determine which parent or relative has primary custody of the child and who the child resides or spends time with. The courts' decisions will be based upon the circumstances and state of family relations, but will prioritise the best interests of the child in question.
Cohabitation is the state of living with another individual in a personal relationship, without being married. This status is not yet recognised by law, so cohabitants do not have legal entitlements to eachothers' possessions, although there is argument to suggest that the longer the cohabitation, the stronger the evidence that there is a substantial loving relationship present.
Divorce & Dissolution is the term used to describe the sometimes lengthy and emotional process of permanently ending a marriage or civil partnership by law. There is a legal procedure to be followed to validly dissolve a marriage and negotiations must take place to arrange child custody and the sorting of finances and possessions.
The Family Procedure Rules are to be followed by those in attendance at court, to ensure proceedings are kept fair and orderly. The best interests of any children will always be the priority of the court. Proceedings can concern matters such as: parental disputes over children, divorce applications, local authority intervention in a child's home, domestic violence, financial support arrangements after divorce, and adoption to name a few. Corresponding applications should be made to the court, and deadlines should be adhered to strictly in accordance with set procedure.
Forced marriage is the process of marrying one or more individuals against their will, via intimidation or without their consent or knowledge. Legislation in England and Wales governs the consequences and legal status of forced marriages. Some forms of consent can be deemed invalid and there is common law and statutory guidance on the criteria and legal sanctions imposed on those who organise forced marriage.
Fostering is the term used to describe the temporary guardianship of a child who is a ward of the state. Foster parents have a duty to care for the child and act in the child's best interests whilst they are in their care, similarly to natural and adoptive parents; however they are not legally the child's parent.
International Child Disputes are disagreements between parents on child residence, visiting and maintenance arrangements that include an international element. Different jurisdictions may be involved in the dispute, making child arrangement orders more complex. Disputes can include disagreements about holidays, the duration of international family visits, and other general child travel arrangements made between parents.
Marriage is the legally recognised union of two individuals, whereby they participate in a lifelong commitment to each other and have a personal relationship. A civil partnership is also a legally recognised commitment, similar to marriage, which was created for same-sex couples when they were not allowed to legally marry. Marriage and civil partnerships are now available to both same-sex and opposite sex-couples.
Mediation is a process used by individuals whose relationship has broken down or a dispute has arisen, and seeks to provide a structured and safe communicating environment, where conversations can take place in the presence of an assisting neutral third party. The aim of mediation is to solve disputes between couples, and allow for compromises to be made before the matter proceeds to court. Active participation by all parties is vital to the success of mediation and sometimes required before court proceedings can be started.
A Prenuptial Agreement is an agreement made between two individuals before they marry, to determine how they will split their assets should their marriage ever cease. Similarly, postnuptial agreements determine how a couple will split their assets, however this agreement is made after the marriage ceremony has taken place. These types of agreements are generally used when individuals entering a marriage have large assets or wealth. The agreement seeks to protect their assets in the event of dissolution of the marriage.