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30 May 2018

The myth of common-law marriage is one that persists year after year.

There are now more than 17.5% of families in the UK where the parents are not married but cohabitating, and with cohabitation rising from 1.5 million couples in 1996 to 3.3 million couples in 2016 (according to figures from the Office of National Statistics), there has never been a greater need to dispel the common-law marriage myth than there is now.

Despite the long-running myth, many cohabitating couples do believe that, if they live together for a certain number of years, they will be afforded the same legal protection as a married couple and that the law will recognise their relationship as a marriage. However, this isn’t true, and cohabitating couples have no automatic entitlement to make a claim on each other’s assets should the relationship end.

18 May 2018

With the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markel only hours away, wedding fever is high. Planning the big day is a huge focus for many brides and grooms, with cakes, venues, vows, rings, flowers, attendants, and, of course, the dress all being carefully considered and discussed. Love, romance and dreams are very much at the forefront of the minds of the couple, their family and friends.

However, what about more practical issues, such as protecting their personal assets? There are many reasons why couples should have a serious discussion about their individual assets and how they should be shared (or not, as the case may be) should they go their separate ways in the future.  Older people who have accumulated property, shares or other wealth during their lifetime or who are marrying for the second, or perhaps third, time have a good reason to ensure that they won’t be left poorer if the worst should happen. Couples where one – or perhaps both – has a significant amount of family wealth, accrued over many generations, or where they are both likely to be very successful in their careers may wish to make sure that they will reap the financial benefits of their own hard work.  Even couples who don’t have a significant amount of money may wish to consider making sure that if one of them contributes a much larger amount towards a deposit on a house, the deposit will be returned in full to the payer should they separate at some point in the future.

09 May 2018

A group of MPs are calling for an amendment to the Children Act 1989 that would extend a child’s right to maintaining relationships with grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Currently, a relative who does not have Parental Responsibility must first seek leave (permission) from the court to make an application for a Child Arrangements Order, which, if successful, would become a court order setting out contact arrangements between a child and their relative. Usually, the same application form for the Child Arrangements Order is also used to request leave from the Court to make the application. Campaigners, such as Jane Jackson, founder of the Bristol Grandparents Support Group, have long sought to have the right to make an application to the court without having to get the Court’s permission. In 2016, there were around 2,000 applications from grandparents to the Family Court attempting to gain legal contact with their estranged grandchildren.

27 April 2018

Sir James Munby, the outgoing President of the Family Division, has had a number of divorce cases brought to his attention. It appears that a number of Decree Nisis and Absolutes have been incorrectly granted, as they did not meet the required time limits.

There are strict timeframes for when a petitioner can submit a divorce petition; couples must have been married for an entire year before being able to submit a petition. It appears that, in some cases, a full year had not passed before the petitions were sent to the divorce centres. In other cases, divorces were processed despite there not being the full required separation period of either 2 years or 5 years.

Since the introduction of regional divorce centres in 2015, the paperwork is routinely handled and processed by legal advisers who are supervised by Judges. As the legal advisers are not necessarily legally trained, it is perhaps not surprising that there have been some errors in the processing of legal documentation and applications.

24 April 2018

There have been renewed calls by family lawyers, Resolution and Baroness Hale for the introduction of no-fault divorce. These calls come as we near the much-anticipated Supreme Court hearing of Owens V Owens on 17th May 2018.

Baroness Hale recently created history by becoming the first female President of the Supreme Court. At the annual Resolution conference in Bristol, she said, “It may seem paradoxical to suggest that no-fault divorce is aimed at strengthening responsibility, but I believe that it is. The contents of the [divorce] petition can trigger or exacerbate family conflict entirely unnecessarily. Respondents are encouraged by their lawyers to ‘suck it up’ even though the allegations are unfair. There is no evidence at all that having to give a reason for the breakdown makes people think twice.”

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