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Family Law

Navigating legal issues involving our family can be some of the most difficult challenges life can throw at us. Not only are there plenty of complex practical arrangements that need to be made, but the emotional aspect of such matters can make finding a suitable resolution particularly problematic.

At Kingsfords, our Family Law solicitors in Kent provide sound, competent legal advice in a sensitive manner, and provide carefully tailored support to clients through what may be a very difficult period of their lives.

Kingsfords is very experienced at dealing with all types of relationship breakdown and disputes involving children as well as childcare matters. We will endeavor to provide you with a personal but professional approach.

Our solicitors are highly qualified, and specialists; Marian McNeil and Alexandra Hughes are members of the Law Society’s Children’s Panel. Jenni Morrow is a member of Resolution which is a community of family justice professionals who aim to work to resolve disputes in a constructive way.

We deal with all aspects of divorce and family law including:

Speak to our family law solicitors in Kent today

Our family law solicitors can be contacted at our offices in Ashford, Cranbrook or Hythe today by calling 01233 624545 or fill in our enquiry form on the right hand side of this page to request a call back.

Divorce and dissolution of civil partnerships

We at Kingsfords can advise upon divorce, dissolution and separation. We will advise you as to your options with a focus on alternate dispute resolution where possible to try to reach an amicable agreement without the need for the instigation of court proceedings.

No matter what the circumstances may be, the end of a marriage or civil partnership can be very difficult to manage whether this is a decision you have made yourself or jointly with your spouse/civil partner. Even if the relationship is relatively amicable, the process can quickly become complicated without comprehensive legal advice.

The introduction of ‘no-fault divorce’ has somewhat simplified the general process of separation in England and Wales, but seeking support from expert divorce and separation solicitors remains as important as ever. A respondent to the divorce can no longer defend the proceedings unless for strict reasons such as jurisdiction or validity of marriage.

To achieve a divorce or dissolution, you must:

  • Have been married for at least 1 year.
  • Meet jurisdictional criteria to apply within England and Wales.
  • Hold the original or a certified copy of the marriage or civil partnership certificate (if you were married in a foreign country and your certificate is in a foreign language, you will also require a formal translation of the certificate).
  • Be of the view that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

A divorce or dissolution application can be made on a sole or joint basis. To achieve a divorce of marriage or dissolution of civil partnership, this cannot be concluded in a timescale less than 26 weeks from when the court issues your application. This is because there is a compulsory reflection period of 20 weeks from the issuing of your application to provide the parties with time to try and resolve any outstanding issue.

If you would like some general information as to the timescales of a divorce or dissolution then, please download our flowcharts as follows:

Divorce Guide Flowchart. Dissolution Guide Flowchart.

If you are planning to separate from your partner, our expert solicitors have the experience and expertise required to guide you through the entire process. This will help to ensure you are able to secure a clean separation without any additional conflict or disruption to your life.

Financial settlements arising out of a relationship breakdown

Despite no-fault divorce being in place, separating couples should always consider the financial claims that arise upon separation of a marriage or civil partnership. Parties should consider seeking advice to find an amicable resolution to the division of their finances.

Splitting finances can be, understandably, one of the most complicated aspects of a divorce, but with a carefully thought-out approach, these complicated aspects can be dealt with in a timely and professional manner to try to avoid potential issues that might arise.

Even where there may be a significant contrast with regards to the respective financial situation of both parties, it will usually be possible to reach a financial settlement without the need for any court proceedings.

If you can reach an agreement, we are able to assist you with drafting a consent order to be filed with the court by agreement to formalise the agreement reached and where relevant, to cease the financial claims to provide for a clean break order.

When considering the finances, the first consideration of the court will be the welfare of the children of the family and how their needs alongside the needs of the parties will be met. The court will then consider the ‘section 25’ factors as follows:

  • The capital and income resources available to the parties.
  • Details of the financial needs of the parties, taking into account:
    • their standard of living.
    • their ages and the length of the marriage; and
    • any disabilities.
  • The court also considers the following additional factors:
    • the respective contributions of each party to the marriage.
    • the conduct of each party (although only in exceptional cases); and
    • any benefit either party will lose because of the divorce (such as a spouse's pension).

Wherever possible, the court seek to achieve a clean break order to achieve independence from one another at the earliest opportunity.

It is important to be aware that whichever process you choose to use, the first advisable step is the exchange of full and frank financial disclosure before a division of the assets can be considered. In considering the division, the aim is to try and reach a fair outcome in the circumstances. This is always the first step within court proceedings.

If you are unable to reach an agreement in an alternate dispute resolution method such as directly between you, in mediation, between solicitors or within arbitration, a court application might be required.

If an application were made, the court will expect the parties to complete a ‘Form E’ providing their financial disclosure prior to a first hearing. At the first hearing the court will consider what directions will be necessary to progress the case such as mortgage borrowing capacity, property particulars for housing needs evidence, expert evidence, etc.

At the second hearing once the directions have been complied with, the court will expect the parties to attempt to reach an agreement to try to resolve the matter between them. To assist the parties, the court will provide an indication of what they say the outcome might be if the parties progressed to a final hearing. This is in a bid to help the parties come to an agreement.

If the parties cannot agree between them, the case will end up being listed for a final hearing whereby a new Judge will deal with the case and will make the final decision as to the outcome. Court proceedings can take a long time to resolve due to the availability of the court.

Our family law solicitors can guide you through the process of negotiating a financial settlement outside of court whether that be via solicitors, support through mediation or arbitration to seek an outcome that protects your best interests and sets you up for the future. If a settlement cannot be reached, we can also support you in making an application to the court for a Financial Order.

Live with and contact arrangements for children

Children are a very important part of our clients’ lives and we are here to assist.

Our children will always be our number one priority, which means that the importance of getting the right residence or contact arrangements in place cannot be underestimated.

If you are going through divorce, dissolution or separation, disputes can often arise in relation to the time you and your former partner spend with your children and who they will live with. Other matters such as the school they will attend, and maintenance are other matters which need to be resolved as efficiently as possible.

Consideration will be given for the child arrangements for your child/ren as to who the child/ren will live with and who they will spend time with. The welfare and best interest of the child/ren is of paramount concern.

We will aim to support you in trying to reach an agreement without the need for court proceedings by considering the options of alternate dispute resolution. However, sometimes court cannot be avoided where there are, for example, safeguarding concerns.

When considering a case in court, there are various considerations that the court will have known as the welfare checklist which looks at the wishes and feelings of the child, the age, sex, background, education, any harm etc.

The court can make a number of orders such as child arrangements, setting out who the child/ren shall live with and who they shall spend time with known as a Child Arrangements Order, an order preventing certain actions known as a Prohibited Steps Order and an order for a specific issue known as a Specific Issue Order.

Our children law solicitors in Kent will work alongside you, providing tailored advice that balances your children’s wellbeing with your parental rights and finding a resolution that works for all parties.

Domestic violence injunctions and Occupation orders

Domestic violence is an incredibly sensitive issue which requires a carefully thought-out approach that takes stock of all the potential outcomes and consequences. We are able to assist you with providing support in these situations.

In these types of situations, it is important to consider the best next steps are for you and to consider what is in your best interest.

To obtain an order, you could apply for a Non-Molestation Order which can be used to protect both the applicant and their child/ren from threats of physical or emotional harm. In an application, the court would need to consider whether an order is needed to protect the applicant and the child/ren.

It also is important to factor in whether an Occupation Order is required which is used to regulate the use of the family home. This can be used to give the application the right to live in the family home with the exclusion of the other party or, to regulate how the other party can occupy the property to protect the application and the child/ren.

It would be sensible to seek support from a charity who have experience in this area for counselling type support such as from Oasis, Rising Sun, Respect, to name a few.

When instructed, our domestic violence solicitors can talk you through the legal steps required to protect you and any children that may be involved, offering a solution that provides you with long-term security. We have strong relationships with local police Domestic Violence units, refuges and other organisations.

Disputes between unmarried couples

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as ‘common law marriage’ in the UK. This means that unmarried couples do not have any legal rights to each other’s property, even if they are living together. It does not matter how many years a person has lived with the other, this does not give them rights over the other parties’ finances.

This can create a number of issues and leave individuals in a difficult position in an area of law which is complex, if they find themselves embroiled in a dispute with their former partner. We also have a civil litigation team who can help if your matter were to progress to court.

There are limited claims that can be made but, if there are children sometimes an application can be made under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 to provide support financially as well as child maintenance which can be ‘borrowed’ whilst the child/ren are in their minority.

If you were to enter into a cohabiting relationship and have reached an agreement as to who will contribute what to the property or finances, a cohabitation agreement can be prepared to set out the agreement reached to try to prevent disputes as to the intention of each party if things were to breakdown later.

We can advise on these types of disputes, assisting with creating a cohabitation agreement where required, which provides clarity over the relationship and what you and your partner will be entitled to claim if you were to separate.

Care Proceedings involving Social Services

If you have been contacted by Social Services to inform you that Care Proceedings are being instigated for your child, you may be worried about what will happen next and what the future might hold. We are here to support you through every step of the proceedings.

Care Proceedings can be a daunting experience, especially where matters progress to court, which is where our family law solicitors can lend their support and expertise.

We can advise and represent you where Social Services commence Care Proceedings, including scenarios where you have been asked to attend a Pre-Proceedings meeting, or you are due to appear in court.

If social services book a Pre-Proceedings Meeting (PPM) or instigate court proceedings, you as the parent or person with parental responsibility for the child or children will be entitled to Legal Aid without being means assessed for the case.

Our family law specialists are ready to assist you if you are planning to adopt, walking you through every step involved in the adoption process and what needs to be done for you to be confirmed as a child’s legal parents.

Adoption

Adoption is one of the most rewarding things you can do, but it is also a huge commitment with plenty of legal barriers that need to be carefully navigated. It is important within this process to have patience throughout the process. If you are successful in the adoption process, the court can make a final order to end the legal ties with the child and their previous family to the new parent/s.

We are here to advise you on the process of adoption and will help to navigate you through the various steps you might need to take and everything you will need to consider if deciding you would like to adopt.

Our family law specialists are ready to assist you if you are planning to adopt, walking you through every step involved in the adoption process and what needs to be done for you to be confirmed as a child’s legal parents.

Change of name

We are able to advise and assist with the drafting and executing of a change of name deed for an adult if you would like to change your entire name, your middle names and/or surname. Generally we will take your instructions during an initial telephone call so that we can prepare your change of name deed ahead of an arranged appointment.

We can also assist with the drafting and executing of a change of name deed on behalf of a minor child by the legal parents. Please be aware that this will require the consent and signing by all those who have parental responsibility for a child.

When we have finalised your change of name deed and this has been executed we will provide you with several certified copies so that you can keep your original safe at home in most circumstances.

Our family law specialists are ready to assist you if you are planning to change your name and will walk you through every step involved.

Frequently Asked Questions - Divorce/Dissolution/Finances

What is ‘no-fault divorce’?

The term ‘no-fault divorce’ refers to the changes to divorce legislation in the UK, which came into effect in April 2022. Prior to no-fault divorce, separating couples would need to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship by using one or more ‘facts’, such as unreasonable behaviour and adultery.

With no-fault divorce, it is no longer necessary to provide a reason. Simply stating that the relationship has irretrievably broken down is all that is required.

No-fault divorce also allows for couples to make a joint divorce application and has changed the process so that it is no longer possible for someone to object to an application being made by their former partner on a sole basis.

What are the grounds for divorce and dissolution?

The only ground of divorce or dissolution is that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

Will I have to go to court to divorce or dissolve my civil partnership?

Unless there is a dispute as to the legality of a divorce or dissolution proceeding, you should not need to attend court for the divorce or dissolution to conclude.

Also, if a party makes an application to court for costs to be made then, the parties may need to attend a hearing.

In a straightforward divorce whereby the application is joint or is agreed with by the respondent you should not need to attend a hearing.

How long does it take to get a divorce or dissolution of civil partnership?

There are two important timeframes to be aware of when it comes to divorce. The process dictates that there is a 20-week minimum ‘cooling off’ period for a Conditional Order to be issued, then a further 6-week wait after this for a Final Order to be issued. This means that divorce proceedings take a minimum of 26 weeks (6 months) from the date the court issue the application.

However, there are likely to be other arrangements which need to be made which will extend the time it takes to complete the divorce, such as having to negotiate and agree how the finances may be divided or to try to agree the arrangements for children.

Does it matter who applies for the divorce or dissolution of civil partnership?

Under the new divorce process, both parties can apply jointly for the divorce or dissolution. If you are wishing to proceed with a sole application, the applicant in a sole divorce or dissolution application will be the one who drives the process and is the first to be given the opportunity to apply for the final divorce order.

Who lives with the children following divorce or dissolution of civil partnership?

Deciding who children will live with following the divorce can often prove to be very emotive and is at the centre of many arguments between parents.

Child arrangements will usually be decided based on the specific circumstances playoff each individual case taking into consideration lots of factors which are set out below. Separating couples will typically have the opportunity to come to a decision regarding who their children will live with voluntarily either directly, within mediation or via solicitors or arbitration if required. Where this is not possible, the courts may need to intervene.

However, the court will encourage parties to try to agree matters outside of court wherever possible.

Where the courts are called on, they will consider factors such as:

  • The child’s wishes and feelings (although the influence of their wishes and feelings will depend upon their age and understanding)
  • Their physical, emotional and educational needs
  • The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances
  • The age, sex, background and characteristics of the child which the court thinks is relevant
  • Any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
  • How capable the child’s parents are in meeting the child’s needs.

Will I need to go to court to resolve my family law matter?

The prospect of going to court is a daunting one, but it is certainly not an inevitability. Unless there are safeguarding issues or urgency, court can generally be avoided by using alternate dispute resolution methods. By using these methods, it can help to save time, money and stress, as well as allowing you to maintain any important relationships that will have a positive impact on any children you might have.

If, after attempting to find a voluntary agreement, this proves unsuccessful, making an application to court may be the best solution to ensure that you achieve the best possible outcome for your circumstances.

Do we need to agree and formalise the finances before applying for the divorce or dissolution of civil partnership?

The parties do not need to agree the financial arrangements before applying for a divorce or dissolution. However, it is usually advisable to wait until the finances have been agreed and set out in a formal court order before applying for the final divorce order.

Do I need to mediate before making an application to court?

Before an application is made to court, there is an obligation for a matter to be referred to mediation as a first step. You will need to attend an initial Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (‘MIAM’) which is where a mediator will consider whether mediation is suitable or not.

There are some exemptions to mediation, but these are limited.

How will our finances be divided?

The first step for considering how the finances should be divided is to obtain full and frank financial disclosure between the parties. This is to allow the parties and their lawyers to understand the finances and consider the assets, resources and liabilities of both parties. The court will consider a variety of factors to consider this and tailor the outcome based upon each individual case.

Can my spouse force me out of the family home which is owned in their sole name?

If you live in the family home, you have the right to occupy it and your spouse cannot force you out. You may also wish to consider seeking advice to secure and protect your interest in the family home.

What if I am not ready to formally divorce or dissolve my civil partnership?

You do not have to divorce or dissolve your civil partnership if you do not wish to do so. You can agree to separate on an informal basis if you would prefer.

However, if you were to reach an agreement as to how the finances should be divided, it is advisable that you enter into a separation agreement to set out the agreement reached. If you require advice in this regard, please do not hesitate to contact our offices.

What do I need to do to apply for a Non-Molestation Order or Occupation Order?

You will need to make an application with the court with a supporting statement setting out the case and the events leading to the need for an order to be made by the court. An application can often be made ‘ex-parte’ meaning the other party is not warned in advance to provide immediate protection to the application.

We recommend you seek support from a charity who can provide counselling support alongside the court process of your case.

What should I do if I feel I am at immediate risk of harm from my partner?

You should contact the police in an emergency and should you seek urgent advice then please do not hesitate to contact us.

You can also seek support from a charity as set out on our website for emotional support in this regard.

Do I have any financial claims if I am not married to my partner and we were to separate?

You do not have an automatic legal claim against your partner if you were to separate unless you can prove a case in very limited circumstances. You do not have a right as a ‘common law’ partner as is often believed and you do not have rights like you do as a married couple or in a civil partnership.

I am buying a property and intend to cohabit with my partner, what should I do?

If you are buying a property with your partner, it is important you consider how you wish to co-own the property as joint tenants meaning you each own 50% of the property, as tenants in common in equal shares or, as tenants in common in unequal shares.

If in unequal shares, you might want to consider a Declaration of Trust which your conveyancer should advise you on to detail each persons beneficial interest in the property alongside other provisions.

You might also want to consider entering into a cohabitation agreement setting out who will pay what, what the outcome is going to be, to set out clearly the intention of each of you from the outset in case there were to be any dispute later.

When can the court stop me having access to my children?

Access to your child can be legally prevented by a court order, if there are safety and welfare concerns which would put the child at risk for contact to take place. In many situations, there are alternate supported or supervised contact arrangements which can be made but this will depend upon the circumstances of each individual case.

The court will also consider the circumstances of the case and evidence before them. The court will also take into consideration the ‘welfare checklist’ as to what is in the best interest of the child, before making a final decision.

Speak to our family law solicitors in Kent today

Should you be seeking advice in respect of family law, feel free to contact one of our family law solicitors in Kent at our offices in Ashford, Cranbrook or Hythe today by calling 01233 624545 or fill in our enquiry form on the right hand side of the page to request a call back.

  • Marian McNeil
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  • Alexandra Hughes
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  • Jennifer Morrow
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  • Charlotte Constable
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For more information please call us on  01233 624545