Category Archive: Family News

An insight into resolving child-related family law disputes

Sintons’ family law team includes lawyers with expertise in all areas of family issues, including divorce and separation, financial disputes and cases involving children. Trainee legal executive, Chloe Bennett, explains the approach the team takes when helping clients resolve disputes about access to children.

What kinds of family issues can you and your colleagues help people resolve?

We really span the breadth of family law and that often includes supporting clients who are having disputes about access to children, during or after a separation.

These are often situations which are very difficult for the people involved. For example, one parent could be refusing to allow the other to see the child, or it could be that a parent is withholding financial contributions.

We also help in cases where one parent has removed a child, including when a child has been taken overseas. We have experts in international family law within the team and are very used to resolving cases that cross borders.

How do you approach cases like this, which can obviously involve a lot of stress for your clients?

People can often feel quite vulnerable when they come to us and we’re conscious that we’re dealing with matters of the heart. So we don’t just look at the legal aspect of things, we look at the entire situation and what other support our client needs, whether that’s counselling, mediation or something else.

What are the first steps you take when someone contacts you about a case involving children?

We take time to talk to you, understand the situation and find out what your concerns are. We’re then able to advise on your options, which can vary depending on the situation.

For example, I spoke with a client yesterday and, in his case, I recommended that mediation could be used in the first instance. Other cases can be more complex and we might need to issue an urgent court application for a child to be returned. In a case like that we would talk you through the process, explain the potential outcomes and we’d act quickly to get the situation resolved as soon as possible.

How do you make sure you’re acting in the best interests of children?

Everything we do is child-focused. That can sometimes mean we have to have difficult conversations with people about what’s best for the child but we don’t shy away from this. Ultimately, what’s in the best interests of our client is to reach the outcome that’s best for their children.

Find out more about Chloe and her colleagues in the family law team here.

Sintons’ lawyers shortlisted in Northern Law Awards

Sintons has been shortlisted for two Northern Law Awards, with senior solicitor apprentice Saffron Sinclair shortlisted as Apprentice of the Year, and the firm’s team of personal injury lawyers in the running as Team of the Year in the personal injury and clinical negligence category.

Chris Welch, managing partner at Sintons, said: “I’d like to congratulate our team members, whose inclusion in this year’s awards shortlist is so well-deserved. It reflects the skill and care they show across all their work, and is a reflection of the high standards of legal advice Sintons is known for.”   

Saffron Sinclair was one of the first apprentices to join Sintons through the North East Solicitor Apprenticeship programme. Now in her final year, she acts as an ambassador for the apprenticeship programme, using her experience to help more future apprentices access a career in law.

“Saffron really is an incredible, upcoming legal talent,” said Chris. “She’s demonstrated excellent skills throughout her apprenticeship and has excelled in every department she’s worked in, with her colleagues and her clients unanimous in their praise for her.

“Not only that, but she achieved a first class honours in her degree and has scored amongst the highest marks in England and Wales for her SQE exams.”

Sintons’ personal injury team includes dedicated neurotrauma specialists, alongside solicitors who focus on supporting clients who have experienced serious injuries. The team has already been recognised in the Legal 500 and Chambers UK guides for the quality of its work and are a previous Northern Law Awards winner.

“Our personal injury team are all absolutely dedicated to securing the best possible outcomes for their clients,” said Chris Welch. “They work closely with clinicians, therapists and other healthcare organisations to make sure people have access to early, effective rehabilitation support and deal with cases involving the most serious injuries.

“I can attest to the fact that the team works tirelessly to support people through life-changing injury.”

This year’s winners of this year’s Northern Law Awards will be revealed on 27 June at an awards ceremony at St James’ Park in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Find out more about Saffron Sinclair here and about Sintons’ team of personal injury specialists here.

The ‘Common Law Marriage’

Cohabiting couples make up 1 in 5 families in the UK and they are the fastest growing family type over the past 10 years. It is still believed by many unmarried couples that the ‘common law marriage’ exists and that legal rights flow from this type of relationship. However, the law in England does not recognise ‘common law marriage’.

Cohabiting and unmarried couples believe that the law offers the same protection them if they separate as it does for married couples. A recent survey by the family law group Resolution | Resolution found that almost 50% of unmarried couples are unaware that they lack any legal rights on separation.

Cohabiting couples are not entitled to a share of their partner’s property or assets on separation, regardless of how long the parties have been in a relationship.  Issues can arise in particular where unmarried couples reside in a property which is only owned by one party. Another difficulty is that there is no ability to claim help for childcare costs from an ex-partner in order to be able to return to work.  Essentially, each party to the relationship is considered completely separate and it matters not what might be a fair outcome.  This is set against the law which protects parties to a marriage wherein the economically weaker party is protected, regardless of whether they brought assets into the relationship.

Resolution have launched their ‘Vision for Family Justice’ which includes proposals for reforming the laws to offer protection to cohabiting couples. There are also proposals for reviewing the framework of Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 which seeks to provide financial assistance for children as an alternative or in addition to child maintenance and also the entitlement of intestacy on the death of a cohabiting partner.

Until such time the law for cohabiting couples in reformed, unmarried couples can protect themselves by creating a cohabitation agreement. A cohabitation agreement can be used to grant protection to unmarried couples and clearly set out how property and other assets will be divided in the event of a separation. The agreements are a helpful way of recording parties intentions and aim to avoid disputes arising in the future, future legal costs and potentially litigation.

From experience, our family team have found that having a cohabitation agreement in place, improves communication, provides clarity to parties and does avoid acrimony where disputes arise in the future.

As mentioned above, there are also implications upon death of one of the parties and in matters such as this the team draws experience from the firm’s Wills, Trusts and Estates dispute team.

Family law team appoints trainee legal executive

A new trainee legal executive has joined Sintonsfamily law team.

Chloe Bennett has worked in family law since 2017 and will support clients with issues relating to finances, separation and divorce, and arrangements relating to children.

Chloe is training to qualify as a legal executive and will continue her studies with the support of Sintons.

Louise Masters, partner and head of Sintons’ family law team, commented: “Our team members are not only legal experts, they’re also incredibly experienced at supporting people through what can be a difficult time for them.

“Chloe already has experience of assisting clients with sensitive legal matters and we’re looking forward to having her as part of the team, and supporting her to become a fully qualified legal executive.”

“I know that Sintons is a great place for trainees like me to further their legal careers,” said Chloe. “It’s a firm where people are given access to high quality training, are mentored by lawyers who are leaders in their fields and are able to make a real difference for clients at the same time.”

Sintons’ team of family lawyers work with clients in the North East and nationally and have been described by the Legal 500, which assesses and ranks law firms worldwide, as ‘knowledgeable and respected’.

Find out more here.

Dispute resolution on separation to achieve a ‘clean break’

The recent publication of the Fair Shares Report provides findings on how the law works in practice for the divorcing population of England and Wales, and the extent to which it enables them to reach fair outcomes.

It would appear that, many divorcing couples are trying to resolve their financial situation between themselves, and could be entirely disadvantaged by a lack of financial and legal knowledge, not utilising the legal system which is designed to achieve fairness. With the team having decades of legal expertise, it is apparent that when advising one part or the other, they could perceive the proposed outcome as unfair.  This will be influenced by background, roles withing the family and the dynamics of the relationship.  One crucial point separating couples need to be aware of, is the importance of obtaining a legally binding order to determine and formalise the financial consequences of their divorce or dissolution.

The report states that around 100,000 couples end their marriage by divorce each year, however, statistics show that fewer than 40 per cent of divorcing couples will resolve their financial matters with a legally binding order. The relevance of this is important as it seems that many separating couples are unaware that not obtaining a legally binding order can leave their financial matters unresolved and ‘open’. This means both parties could make a claim against each other in the future.

Parties are highly encouraged to settle matters outside of court, and any agreement made can be taken to court to be formalised into a legally binding ‘consent order’. Along with this a Statement of Information form is also submitted which sets out the parties current financial circumstances and the proposed future arrangements.

Here are a few different modes of dispute resolution which can be utilised to help settle matters outside of court:-

Mediation

Parties can negotiate matters with a neutral third party, who will facilitate the discussions between the parties. The third party mediator will not have authority to impose any decisions on the parties or be able to provide legal advice, allowing them to reach their own informed decisions.  It is crucial that legal advice is sought upon any mediated agreement.

Arbitration

A neutral third party family law professional is appointed by the parties to determine the issues and to make a binding decision on matters the parties are unable to agree on (in place of a judge). The parties agree to be bound by this decision which would be sent to court for ‘rubbing stamping’.

Collaborative law

This involves the parties signing a contact committing to resolving matters together with the help of a collaboratively trained lawyer each. Other professionals can also assist such as accountants or financial advisors.

Resolution together

A new constructive approach to family separation. This route allows couples to resolve matters by engaging one solicitor to work on a joint basis with both parties. The process encourages couples to manage their separation together which may minimise conflict.

Private FDR

This involves the parties hiring a neutral ‘judge’ (usually a family law barrister) to provide an evaluation of financial matters and the likely outcome. The Private FDR evaluator will provide an indication of a fair outcome, and will not impose a binding decision on the parties. This process has a very high success rate in resolving matters.

Alternatively, if agreement cannot be reached, then parties can issue court proceedings to obtain the assistance of the court.

If you would like some further advice on this subject matter, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family team on 0191 226 7878, familyteam@sintons.co.uk or at www.sintons.co.uk.

Benefits of mediation

Sintons is proud to support Family Mediation Week 2024. This campaign aims to raise awareness about family mediation and the benefits it can bring to separating families.

Family mediation is a voluntary and confidential form of resolution. A neutral and impartial third party is appointed as the mediator to try and help the parties with negotiation regarding their dispute. The mediator helps to facilitate discussions between the parties, and assist the parties to reach their own informed decision. The mediator does not have authority to impose any decisions on the parties.

There are many benefits in attempting mediation. The mediator can act as a neutral third party person and adapt to different personalities of the parties with their negotiating style, to help to resolve any miscommunication that the parties may have. The mediation process is confidential meaning all discussions or documents produced in mediation cannot be disclosed unless the parties agree.

Further, during the mediation process the mediator meets with each party privately to discuss the problem confidentially. This provides a private forum in which the parties can gain better understanding of each other’s position, which can be helpful in working towards resolution. This allows the parties to have active participation in the process and control over their outcome, in comparison to court proceedings. Mediation can be cheaper than other dispute resolution processes, such as collaborative law or litigation, as the fees of a mediator are far less than the fees of a lawyer. Ultimately, mediation is an interest based process rather than a rights based process which can make it easier to preserve good relationships between the parties.

A mediated agreement however will require legal advice upon it.  A lawyer can help to formalise this agreement by way of a Court Order to make it binding.

These are some of the points to consider when choosing the mediation process. For anything further, one of our specialists would be delighted to meet you to talk through your options and answer any questions. Please contact us at any time.

‘Pathfinder’ Courts – a new problem solving approach to Court proceedings involving children and Domestic Abuse

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 brought a cultural change in how cases, involving children which have an element of domestic abuse, should be dealt with at court. However, there are still no major reforms in terms of how domestic abuse victims are protected within the court process.

We know that sometimes, Court Proceedings can be issued by a parent, wishing to engage in “Lawfare”, as another form of domestic abuse against their ex-partner.

A  worrying problems is the way ‘harm’ is treated within family proceedings. A significant development within recent years is the publication of the Ministry of Justice expert panel report – ‘Harm Report’ 2020. This report recommends the need for financial investment throughout the family justice system and the need for a ‘trauma-base’ approach to cases involving domestic abuse to improve victim support.

What we know is that trauma impacts the brain significantly, it can often cause mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and it is important that this impact is recognised within the court process for what it actually is.

A successful pilot was  launched, from the issues highlighted in the ‘Harm Report’  – ‘Pathfinder’ courts.

Pathfinder courts

There are only two Pathfinder courts in the UK, one based in North Wales and the other in Dorset. The aim of these courts is to enhance support for victims of domestic abuse by taking a more ‘investigative, multi-agency and problem solving approach’. This is done by sharing information between the court, local authorities and the police, to improve information sharing. It includes domestic abuse professionals sharing their risk assessments with the court so that parties experiencing trauma do not have to relive these events by repeating them at court.

Pathfinder courts promote a less adversarial approach to proceedings to minimise confrontation in the courtroom, and emphasise addressing the allegations of domestic abuse and other harmful behaviours.

These pilots will help safeguard victims of domestic abuse so they are not further traumatised by the court process and that better decisions are made about them and their children’s lives.

The recommendations made in the ‘Harm Report’, regarding Pathfinder courts require longer term development to run these new ideas. If these pilots are successful, there could be more Pathfinder courts across England and Wales, revolutionising the family justice system.

Jo Scott is a Senior Associate in the Family team at Sintons, to speak to Jo, you can contact her on joanne.scott@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 7870.

Is Family Law in need of reform?

According to Resolution, which is a membership body representing 6,500 family justice professionals, the family justice system is at a crucial turning point.

Across the country, practitioners, including solicitors at Sintons, are supporting families dealing with issues like divorce and separation, arrangements for children and financial disputes, both in and out of the court process.

We are hampered by a combination of factors, to include out of date statutes, and the family courts being massively overstretched, resulting in significant delays for the people trying to access it.

It is fair to say that whilst the make-up of family life in England and Wales has changed, our laws have not kept pace.

Resolution has recently launched a paper setting out their vision for change which includes recognising that the law in relation to cohabiting partners on separation needs to be reformed. Cohabiting couples currently have very little legal protection when they separate and it is proposed that cohabitants who meet certain criteria, indicating they are in a committed relationship, would have a right to apply for certain financial remedy orders if they separated.

Resolution supports all types of family formations being recognised in law. The social realities of children and families who fall outside the scope of the law needs to be met with an appropriate legal reality. The surrogacy laws are also in need of reform.

Resolution suggests and supports more public funding for early legal information and advice. The solicitors at Sintons will always support clients receiving early information, early signposting and will always be ready to discuss dispute resolution options, when couples separate.

Resolution also suggests that co-parenting programme should happen earlier, and rather than couples being forced to attend a mediation information meeting, they should alternatively have access to broader and more rounded advice on options, processes and their legal rights and responsibilities. The Advice and Information Meetings (AIM’s) should always take place early in the process before any application to the court is considered

Much more needs to be done to support and protect victims of domestic abuse in the family courts, and whilst it is agreed that the recognition of domestic abuse in the court process has come a long way, there is still a long way ahead.

Finally, Resolution suggests that family law needs to be fit for purpose.

Hopefully in time, family law will more adequately reflect the current  society in which we live. Given the current anomalies and difficulties, it is often vital that separating couples resolve their differences constructively by agreement, to ensure their respective settlements reflect their particular requirements. As dispute resolution specialists, the Family Team at Sintons  can discuss at a very early stage, the available and appropriate process options when couples separate. This will  ensure that despite the deficiencies  of the current legal system, clients are immediately signposted towards the most appropriate way to resolve all  issues that arise when a relationship comes to an end.

Cohabiting couples and pension entitlement

Cohabiting couples are the biggest growing family type in the UK. This has not always been the case, and is perhaps why the legislation that applies to married couples is very different to the legislation that applies to couples living together.

It is commonly accepted, but not may be commonly known, that cohabiting couples have far less protection under the law, if they separate and need to resolve financial matters with each other.

In view of this, Resolution, a membership organisation for family Justice professionals who are committed to a non-confrontational approach, to resolving family disputes, are using Awareness Week (27 November to 1 December) to focus on the need for cohabitation reform

One of the most difficult areas separating cohabiting couples face, is the tricky issue of pensions. If you are married, and separate, one of the orders the court can make as part of resolving financial matters in divorce proceedings, is a share in the pension of your spouse.

If you are a cohabiting partner, of either opposite or same sex, it may be possible for you to receive a survivor’s pension on your partners death, but only if certain and very strict criteria are met.

You are not entitled to make a claim on their pension, when you separate, which may result in one of you being financially penalised, by virtue of not being married.

It is thought that women are hardest affected by the lack of legislation surrounding cohabiting couples.

Therefore, it is often advisable for couples who are cohabiting to discuss their financial arrangements not only whilst they are living together but in the very unfortunate event of their separation. Whilst those discussions are difficult to navigate sometimes, they can help focus on what the financial landscape might look like for both, in the event of a separation.

Once those discussions have taken place, it is recommended that an agreement is drafted, reflecting the outcome of the discussions.

The experienced family team at Sintons are able to provide advice and information to one party or indeed both, should  a couple need to consider their financial circumstances both now and in the future.

Vision for Family Justice

Having been a family lawyer for over 30 years, I have experienced major changes in the way that family law has evolved, both in relation to the law itself and the options separating clients now have, to resolve issues arising from their separation.

In terms of the law, when I first qualified, the Children’s Act had just come into force, giving us terms such as contact and residence, in place of custody and access. As with many positive changes, language can create unintended difficulties and the terms contact and residence, whilst an improvement on access and custody, created for some sense of imbalance and unfairness. With further changes having taken place, now, if the court make an order in relation to children, they will use terms such as “live with” and “spend time with”. It would be right to say that historically, mothers held far more of a sway in how often and indeed whether fathers could spend time with their children. The court’s view has hugely shifted in this respect and now take the position that, where possible, children should have a relationship with both of their parents, whatever form that relationship may take.

Financial matters were usually resolved by a long winded, meander towards a final hearing, whereas now, if an application is made to the court, the court issue a very strict timetable which must be adhered to.

The biggest change however is the introduction of the no fault divorce, where clients no longer have to prove the irretrievable breakdown of their marriage, using terms such as adultery and unreasonable behaviour. Couples can in fact submit a joint application should they wish to do so, again another huge change from the previous archaic position and terms.

If asked however what I consider the biggest change over the last 30 years that I have been in practice, I would say that it would be the many and various dispute resolution process options that clients can now use to resolve outstanding issues after separation. Those options are specifically designed to keep people away from the court process.

Mediation is perhaps the most known alternative to court, but collaborative law, arbitration, private financial dispute resolution hearings and the recently developed resolution together, are all options separating couples can use to keep them outside of the court process.

What the law (and those of us who practice in it have had to) has had to deal with the ever-changing make-up of our families. Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK. Whilst of course separating cohabiting families can use any of the dispute resolution options above, the same as married couples can, the legislation protecting cohabiting couples is woeful, disjointed and is in need of major reform. Resolution, a community of family justice professionals who work with families and individuals to resolve issues in a constructive way are highlighting this in their awareness week , “vision for family justice”.

I have had the privilege of working collaboratively with Louise Masters and Elizabeth Gallagher, training with Resolution to qualify in practice as a mediator and recently trained and qualified through Resolution as a resolution together specialist.

As families and their make-up continue to evolve, as must the law and the way family law professionals continue to meet the needs of ever-changing family structures.

Here at Sintons, a team of Resolution trained and qualified family law professionals are able to talk you through options upon separation, with the team continuing to qualify and embrace new ways of working to meet the ever-changing needs of their clients.

Jo Scott is a Senior Associate in the Family team at Sintons, to speak to Jo, you can contact her on joanne.scott@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 7870.

Sintons supports Awareness Week 2023 in conjunction with Resolution

Sintons is once again lending its support to Awareness Week, which this year highlights the need for cohabitation reform.

Resolution, a community of family justice professionals who aim to resolve family law issues in a constructive way are aiming to highlight the lack of protection cohabiting couples have when separating and are campaigning for change. Awareness week 2023 runs this year from November 27th to December 1st.

Sintons – whose family team comprises of experienced, qualified resolution specialists and is independently rated as one of the leading teams in the North of England – are holding a number of events throughout the week in support of Awareness Week and its message.

Keep an eye out on social media and our website for more information.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 19

In episode 19 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Ifi Archibong answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

 

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Capacity in family proceedings

Solicitor, Hannah Mitchell from our Court of Protection team and Solicitor, Ifi Archibong from the Family team at Sintons recently recorded a podcast, concentrating on ‘Capacity in family proceedings’.

Please click below to listen to the podcast.

Sintons once again wins praise from Legal 500 2024

Sintons has again confirmed its position as one of the leading law firms in the North of England with the release of Legal 500 2024, which highlights the expertise and client service excellence delivered by departments and key individuals across the business.

Newcastle-based Sintons has won praise across the firm for the high levels of legal advice and personal service it delivers, and it is highlighted in four key practice areas as being leaders in its field in the North of England, and being recommended in 15 others.

A total of 48 lawyers are recommended for their standout practice in their respective fields, with fifteen of its lawyers hailed as leading individuals, which comprises experts in their field from across the North. Head of licensing Sarah Smith maintains her place in the Legal 500 Hall of Fame, in recognition of being a leading individual consistently for more than a decade.

A further four are named as next generation partners, and four hailed as rising stars.

While Sintons has for many years continually been named by Legal 500 as one of the key law firms in the North, its rankings for 2024 show the firm’s ongoing growth and progress, with gains made in many key practice areas.

Newly released for 2024, Legal 500 is based on extensive research into law firms throughout the UK, with its independent findings based on examples of work, client and peer testimonials and interviews.

In Legal 500 2024, Sintons is named as a top tier firm in:

Its leading individuals have been named as:

Next generation partners have been hailed as:

Rising stars are:

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, says: “This is a phenomenal and very well deserved assessment of our performance as a firm. We are ranked as leaders in our field in several key practice areas, with Legal 500 rightly recognising the huge capability and expertise we have here, and the progress we continue to make.

“Sintons is all about our people, and to see so many recognised for the outstanding efforts they make on behalf of our clients is fantastic news. We have excellence running throughout the business, in all areas of our work, and our team are all absolutely committed to delivering the best possible service and outcomes to our clients.”

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 18

In episode 18 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Ifi Archibong answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click below to listen to the podcast.

Can I lose Parental Responsibility for my children?

What is Parental Responsibility (PR)

Parental Responsibility (PR) means all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority that a parent of a child has in relation to the child (section 3(1), Children Act 1989 (CA 1989)).  This could include making decisions about the child’s accommodation, education and medical treatment.

If a child’s parents are married or in a civil partnership with each other when the child is born, both of them automatically have PR (section 2(1), CA 1989).

If the parents are not married or in a civil partnership with each other when the child is born, only the mother automatically has PR.

The father can acquire PR if he:-

  • Is registered as the child’s father on the child’s birth certificate;
  • marries the mother or enters into a civil partnership with her;
  • enters into a PR agreement with the mother;
  • obtains a court order giving him PR;
  • becomes the child’s guardian; or
  • adopts the child.

Discharging of parental responsibility

In the English law there is no provision for a mother’s PR to be discharged.

There is disparity in the law with regards to married and unmarried fathers and their PR.

PR that is acquired by virtue of a father being married to the child’s mother when the child is born (under section 2 of the CA 1989) cannot be extinguished, whereas an unmarried father’s PR can be.

An unmarried father can lose PR if:-

  • the child is adopted;
  • a court decides to terminate the PR because an application for discharging the PR has been made;
  • a court cancels a special order that gave you PR.

Someone with PR for the child or the child itself can apply to discharge PR, in these circumstances.

Applications to discharge PR are the exception rather than the norm and are only ordered when it is necessary to protect the child and family from serious emotional and physical harm.

The disparity between married and unmarried fathers and PR is demonstrated in the recent case of F v M (Rev1) [2023] EWFC 5 where findings were made of coercive and controlling behaviour by the father, who was described as a ‘profoundly dangerous young man’. The father automatically had PR for his children as he was married to their mother, when the children were born.

He was considered so dangerous to the children, the only exposure he was permitted to them was one letter to the children per year.  The general consensus was that if the father had acquired PR but he wasn’t married at the time of the birth, then it should be revoked.

The Judge in this case expressed his discomfort about the anomaly between married and unmarried fathers and PR, but accepted that the children could be protected by the use of certain court orders.

He said, although the “legal status of a married father remains intact…it can be stripped of any potency to reach into the lives of the mother and children… thus adversely impacting his ability to affect the welfare of either”.

Ultimately, it is important to note that PR is very important and whether you automatically acquire it or need to take active steps to do so, it is something that each and every parent should have for all of their individual children.

Should you have any doubt over whether you have PR for your children or not, please get in touch for expert advice.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 17

In episode 17 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Ifi Archibong answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

 

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Is a pre-marital agreement worth it?

One of the main queries we receive in relation to these increasingly common instructions, is are they worth it? The aim of this article is to explain the pros and cons to help you decide.

The pros

Clarity and certainty

Parties entering into this agreement can make it clear to one another which assets belong to whom and which assets will not be shared during the marriage or upon a future divorce. This should save both parties the uncertainty, cost and stress of litigating the matter at a later stage.

Openness

As parties are required to provide financial disclosure of their assets and income, both parties have transparency from the outset which should help them navigate the marriage in a better and more informed way.

Similarly you can plan what you intend to do in the marriage. If one party during the marriage gives up a potentially lucrative career to care for the family, that person should be entitled to a greater share of the assets on the breakdown of the marriage to reflect their loss of earning power going forward. It is often difficult to convince the court to award an element of “compensation” for loss of career in normal circumstances, but provision for compensation in the pre-marital agreement is likely to be upheld by the court.

‘Ringfencing’

Parties can seek to protect certain assets such as inherited assets or family heirlooms and gifts, which may otherwise be taken into account on divorce, with no pre-marital agreement in place.

Freedom

A pre-marital agreement provides you with the freedom to agree your own terms without the court imposing a solution on you.

The cons

Whilst significant weight is currently being placed upon pre-marital agreements which are entered into properly, it may not necessarily be binding and the court retains jurisdiction.

It may also seem very unromantic to consider and negotiate a pre-marital agreement at a time when you are in love and planning your wedding or civil partnership. Preparing for a marriage can be stressful, and the added pressure of considering financial issues and negotiating the terms of a pre-marital agreement can put strain on a relationship, as can be seen in the recent case of MN v AN [2023].

Ultimately, pre-marital agreements can be very beneficial if entered into correctly. A pre-marital agreement is crucial in a case with significant wealth but can also be worthwhile in the more modest family wherein one party may have received an inheritance or gift from a family member.

Divorce can be unpredictable at the best of times, and acrimonious litigation is always a risk. Having a pre-marital agreement in place can mean less is left to chance.

If you would like some further advice on this subject matter, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family team on 0191 226 7878, familyteam@sintons.co.uk or at www.sintons.co.uk.

Private Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment (PFDR)

What is an FDR?

A Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment is usually the second hearing listed when an application is made to Court to resolve the finances on divorce or civil partnership dissolution.

The purpose of the hearing is to encourage and assist the parties to reach a settlement. The Judge will not make a final or binding decision on behalf of the parties. Instead, they will provide an indication or guidance as to what that particular Judge feels is a fair outcome. The Judge will remind parties of the money they have spent on legal costs and experts and urge the parties to bring the matter to a conclusion by reaching an agreement.

What is a Private FDR?

An alternative is to opt for a Private FDR which is an alternative dispute resolution method and takes place outside of Court. Both parties will agree on which professional will consider the matter (this is usually a solicitor, senior barrister or retired judge); the parties will pay privately for the services and the ‘hearing’ will take place at a much more comfortable and informal venue than a Court room such as a conference room.

Like an FDR at Court, the PFDR ‘Judge’ hearing the case will not make a binding decision. Instead they provide a clear view about a fair outcome.

The benefits of choosing a Private FDR

  • The parties can choose their own process including, as mentioned above, which professional they will engage to ‘hear’ the case. A solid and helpful indication from a chosen professional who you have paid for can be the difference between a settlement being reached and the case finalised or not.
  • Court resources are extremely stretched meaning that the process can take between 12-24 months. Having legal representation throughout the proceedings can also be expensive so opting for a Private FDR can be significantly more time and cost effective.
  • You can choose the location and time of the Private FDR. This means the matter can be heard in a much more informal setting and can also be arranged outside of normal office hours. If both parties feel more comfortable this can make it more likely that they will be able to reach a settlement.
  • You do not have to go to the expense of an FDR and a PFDR. If you choose the PFDR, then the FDR in proceedings can be bypassed.

The disadvantages of choosing a Private FDR

  • The parties will have to pay for the services of engaging a professional for the Private FDR.  However investing in the process in this way, will make parties much more focused to reach an agreement.
  • If you are unable to reach a settlement at the PFDR, then the case will need to be referred back to Court who will then list the matter for final hearing.

Private FDRs are becoming more popular for various reasons for parties resolving finances on divorce. If you are seeking to resolve matters as swiftly as possible, this can be a great option to consider. If you would like any further information about Private FDRs, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our family team at family@sintons.co.uk.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 16

In episode 16 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Ifi Archibong answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Will I be held to my pre-nuptial agreement?

What is a pre-nuptial agreement?

A pre-nuptial agreement is a legal document that records parties financial circumstances and how they will be divided if they separate and divorce.

It is essentially a contract signed by both parties before they marry or enter into a civil partnership.

The current status of pre-nuptial agreements in the UK.

The case of Radmacher v Granatino [2010] is a ‘landmark’ case that provides guidance and sets the current status of pre-nuptial agreements in the UK. Pre-nuptial agreements are not strictly enforceable in the UK courts, however court should give effect to a pre-nuptial agreement that is freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of its implications unless in the circumstances prevailing it would not be fair to hold the parties to the agreement’.

No agreement between the parties can override the legislation or prevent the judge from deciding on the appropriate division of assets on divorce.

Fairness can be assessed by applying the following three-stage test:

  • Both parties have entered into the agreement of their own free will and without undue influence or external pressure. A party’s emotional state at the time of making the agreement, age, maturity and experience of long-term relationships are all relevant considerations made by the court.
  • Both parties have full appreciation of the implications of the agreement. Before signing, each part should be in possession of all the information material to their decision to sign the agreement.
  • It must be fair to hold the parties to their agreement  in the circumstances prevailing. An agreement is unlikely to be fair if it leaves most of the assets to one party where each party has played an equal role in their different ways in creating those assets. The three strands of need, compensation and sharing (identified in White and Miller)are relevant considerations that may inform fairness.

But what happens when one party then seeks to renege on the agreement?

The recent case of MN v AN [2023] perfectly demonstrates how the court will uphold a pre-nuptial agreement if it is fair and it has been entered into per the relevant criteria.

Prior to marriage the husband (whom had been divorced before and had other children) made the proposal that he would like the parties to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement. Both parties then instructed independent solicitors, who provide comprehensive advice..

During the negotiations the wife became increasingly unhappy with the proposals of the husband which lead to  ‘the mother of all arguments’ and during which the husband called the wife a ‘gold-digger’ and the wife left the property.

The parties later reconciled and came to an agreement (which on all accounts appeared to be a middle ground between their respective positions) regarding the pre-nuptial agreement.

The parties went on to marry and the marriage lasted 13 years and bore 2 children. When the marriage broke down, the husband rightly sought to hold the wife to the agreement but the wife had other ideas.  She attempted various arguments as to why the Court should award her more than she originally agreed to including that she was pressurised into the agreement and that it did not now meet her financial needs.  The Court however held her to the agreement in its entirety.

The takeaway from this recent case is that whilst the Court retains jurisdiction to consider pre-nuptial agreements as one of the factors of a case, parties who enter into such agreements, should be expected to be held to it.  There is no easy way to get out of the deal.  It is therefore imperative that the agreement is entered into properly, with full disclosure and advice as to fairness.  Furthermore the agreement should be reviewed regularly to ensure that it remains up to date.

If a prenuptial agreement is something you feel you and your partner would benefit from or you have been asked to enter in an agreement, then a member of our team would be happy to offer a brief, no obligation, discussion on these issues. You can contact us on 0191 226 7807 or via our website.

Meet the Family Team with Jo Scott

What is your role in the team and how long have you been at Sintons?

I am a senior associate at Sintons and joined in May 2023

Tell us about your career to date…

I have 30 years’ experience as a specialist family solicitor, and I have worked in the North East throughout that time.

I have been a qualified Resolution-accredited collaborative lawyer since 2010, and then gained accreditation as a Resolution-qualified solicitor mediator.

What attracted you to join Sintons?

Having practiced in the North East throughout my career, I am well aware of the high quality service it delivers to clients, and the legal expertise it has always had within its team. Its reputation in the marketplace really does stand out so the opportunity to join Sintons was a welcome one.

Through my long track record in working in family law, I have come to know Louise Masters, head of family law at Sintons, and consultant Elizabeth Gallagher through working with them both collaboratively and non-collaboratively. They are both very highly rated and highly esteemed names in family law, so I am delighted to work alongside them.

Additionally, I am very impressed by Sintons’ ongoing drive towards achieving net zero and the commitment of the firm in getting there. The firm’s CSR policy and how active it is in the local community clearly shows its ethos and was another factor in me wanting to join.

What does your role involve?

I am committed to supporting clients with a range of issues arising from the breakdown of relationships, including divorce, separation agreements, dissolution of civil partnerships and issues arising from the breakdown of a cohabiting relationship.

Through my many years of experience in this specialist area of law, I can handle with the full spectrum of matters associated with separation, but I specialise in complex financial arrangements and resolving issues involving children that arise upon the breakdown of a relationship. I also advice on pre- and post-nuptial agreements.”

Furthermore, I help to mentor junior members of staff within our team, supporting their development as they build their careers.

The award-winning Family team is one of the most highly rated in the North of England. What are the advantages of being part of it?

This is a fantastic team of people who I enjoy working with both personally and professionally. We were recently shortlisted again in the Northern Law Awards, verifying our place as one of the leaders in our field in the North of England. We are all committed to building our capability in family law even further.

While I have worked in this area of law for many years, I love how I continue to learn and grow within this team. The opportunities for continued development are fantastic and we are developing as a team too.

How does Sintons differ from other firms you have worked in?

Sintons has a fantastic reputation which is well known across the North East, but what has really struck me during my time here is the friendliness of the everybody who works here. From my very first day I have been made to feel very welcome.

But while it is a lovely place to work, it still maintains a very professional approach with an uncompromising level of client care, which are standards I have always aspired to deliver throughout my career.

What are your interests outside of work?

I love all things outdoors – particularly hiking, running, and gardening. I am also a fan of pilates.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 15

In episode 15 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Ifi Archibong answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Family team grows further

The family team at Sintons continues to expand with the addition of a new specialist to the fast-growing department.

Ayesha Raja has over six years of experience in family law, working across the North East and South Yorkshire and amassing specialism in a range of areas in that time.

She joins Sintons as a paralegal, adding further capability and capacity to its family law team, which continues to grow on the strength of new instructions.

The award-winning family team, which is again shortlisted in this year’s Northern Law Awards, acts for clients across the country and is renowned for its work in high net worth and complex cases of separation and divorce.

“Sintons is well known in the marketplace for the quality of its team as well as for the service it delivers to clients, and I’m really pleased to be part of it,” says Ayesha.

“Family law is a very specialist area of law where outstanding client support and service is essential. That is an approach that is very important to me, so I am very pleased to join Sintons, where this is the focus of everything they do.”

Louise Masters, partner and head of family law, says: “We are very pleased to welcome Ayesha to our team. This is an exciting time of growth and progress for us as a department, with our reputation and the quality of legal and client service we consistently deliver being key in us winning new work nationally.

“Sintons are specialist advisors to clients across the UK in matters of separation and divorce – particularly in high value and complex cases – as well as in protective planning, and as we continue to see our caseload increase, we bring in new expertise to help us meet the ongoing demand for our support.

“We look forward to working with Ayesha as we continue to build our reputation and presence nationally, and ensure we deliver the highest possible standards to our clients.”

Family team makes senior appointment

Law firm Sintons has appointed a highly experienced senior lawyer to its fast-growing specialist family team.

Jo Scott has worked in family law for over 30 years and is known for her specialism in the full spectrum of family work, including collaborative practice. Her cases often include those of significant complexity involving financial issues and issues involving children.

Senior associate Jo moves to Sintons at a time of strong progress for its family team, which acts nationally in high net worth and complex cases of divorce and separation, as well as in protective planning, and has recently been shortlisted in the Northern Law Awards 2023 in recognition of its legal and client service excellence.

“Having spent my whole career working in the North East, I know only too well the capability of Sintons’ family team and the esteem in which it is held. I am very pleased to become part of that,” says Jo.

Louise Masters, partner and head of family law at Sintons, says: “We are delighted to welcome Jo to our team at a time of strong growth for us as a department.

“Jo’s reputation for her work proceeds her and she wholly shares our commitment to delivering the legal and client service, which is at the heart of everything we do here at Sintons.

“Through our longstanding reputation and the tireless work of our team in continuing to build that, we are winning new instructions from across the country, with clients knowing we have the capability and experience to handle the most complex of cases.

“In a time of strong development and progress, it is fantastic we can add the expertise and excellence of Jo to our team – we look forward to working with her to build our department even further.”

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 14

In episode 14 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Ifi Archibong answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Frozen embryos and divorce and separation

Sophie Croft, Solicitor in the Family team at Sintons recently recorded a podcast, which is another in the series of Family Law updates. In this episode, Sophie discusses ‘Frozen embryos and divorce and separation’.

Please click on the play button below to listen.

Frozen embryos and divorce and separation

Many heterosexual, same-sex and LGBTQ+ couples who are unable to conceive naturally are opting for alternative fertility treatments to create their family such as Intraterine insemination (IU) and In Vitro fertilisation (IVF). These methods are well tested and produce successful results for couples in need.

Single persons or couples may choose to preserve their fertility by freezing their eggs, sperm or embryos. Where embryos are created you, your partner and the donor (where applicable) must provide various forms of consent:

  • How long to store your eggs, sperm or embryos (this can be up to 55 years in some cases);
  • The type of treatment you have, including donation;
  • Use and storage of your eggs, sperm or embryos for training purposes;
  • Who will be the legal parent of a child born if you are using donated eggs, sperm or embryos;
  • What will happen to your eggs, sperm or embryos if you die or lose the ability to decide for yourself.

But what happens if you and your partner divorce or separate before the frozen eggs, sperm or embryos are used for fertility treatment?

It is important to note that only the egg or sperm provider has legal rights over the use or storage of their egg, sperm or embryos created with their eggs or sperm. Any person with consent can withdraw this at any time up to the point of insemination. Once consent is withdrawn there is a 12 month ‘cooling off’ period. If a person is still adamant that they no longer want embryos to be stored or used, the embryos must be destroyed.

In the event of divorce or separation, embryos are not considered an ‘asset’ which can be determined or separated on divorce. The family court do not have the power to intervene on behalf of a party who wants to maintain the storage of embryos for future use. There is also no legally binding agreement that can be made at the time of the embryo freezing which considers the legal position in the event of a divorce or separation. Future decisions will be based on the consent forms provided at the time of the initial freezing process.

Case law has shown that in cases where embryos have been created using the egg and sperm of a separated couple, Courts have found in favour of the party withdrawing their consent where the other party seeks to use the embryo for fertility treatment in the future. In cases where an embryo has been created using only one partners egg or sperm (for example where a donor has been used), the partner whose gametes have not been provided could not use the frozen embryo for future treatment unless they obtained the consent of all parties.

Where embryos are used post-divorce or separation, this can also raise issues in respect of who should hold legal parentage for the child. This may involve further court proceedings to provide a declaration of parentage or in surrogacy cases, to apply for a parental order to provide the intended parents with legal rights over the child.

If you are considering fertility treatment now or in the future it is important to understand the legal position before you embark on this complex journey. Please contact one of our specialists at Sintons for advice.

Sintons announces 2023 promotions

Law firm Sintons is continuing its growth by announcing a series of promotions for key individuals across the firm.

The promotion of a new partner, three senior associates and four associates recognises the commitment, dedication and talent of each of the lawyers in their specialist fields of work.

Alastair Elliot becomes a partner in recognition of his work in Sintons’ nationally-renowned Neurotrauma team, which supports clients after life changing injuries.

Alastair, a long-established name in Neurotrauma work, has played a key role in the development of the team since he joined Sintons in 2021.

Sintons has also named three new senior associates – serious injury specialist David Knipe, Neurotrauma lawyer Hannah Fitzpatrick and Court of Protection solicitor Sophie Moore – and four associates.

Newly-promoted associates are corporate solicitor Jonathan Tutu, family lawyer Sophie Croft, corporate lawyer Sophie Townes and dispute resolution specialist Robert Burn.

The promotions are the latest in Sintons’ ongoing recognition of its team, with a commitment to offering progression and development opportunities to outstanding individuals within the firm.

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, said: “Sintons has an outstanding reputation because of its people, and we are very proud of the dedication and legal and client service excellence delivered by our team. We will always recognise and reward this and are committed to supporting our people in their ongoing development.

“Again, we demonstrate that through eight well-deserved promotions in departments across the firm. We are very pleased to welcome Alastair to the partnership, who has worked tirelessly since he joined us in supporting his clients, while also supporting the development of the Neurotrauma team and those within it.

“We also congratulate our senior associates and associates on their new roles, which come as a result of exceptional work within their respective departments. We wish them the very best of luck in their developing careers and look forward to supporting them in every way we can to progress them further.

“These are very positive times at Sintons, with strong growth and great progress underpinned by ongoing investment in our infrastructure and our people.”

Surrogacy Reforms

Sophie Croft, Solicitor in the Family team at Sintons recently recorded a podcast and a video, which is another in the series of Family Law updates. In this episode, Sophie discusses surrogacy reforms.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 13

In episode 13 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Sophie Croft answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 12

In episode 12 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Sophie Croft answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Family Mediation Week – 16th-20th January 2023

Family Mediation Week is used as an opportunity to raise awareness of family mediation and the benefits of using mediation for family law related issues.

When you are faced with a family law issue, effort should be made to resolve the dispute without involving the Courts. These are known as Alternative Dispute Resolution options (ADR). One of the most popular and effective ADR methods is mediation.

In family mediation, the parties involved in the dispute engage a mediator, who is an independent third party and has no authority to make decisions for them. A mediator uses certain skills to help parties to resolve their issues by negotiated agreement without adjudication.

The mediator will usually meet the parties together and will try to help them to clarify and resolve their issues on a basis which they find mutually acceptable. The mediator may give information on the issues at hand, but cannot offer legal advice to the parties.

Mediation offers several advantages compared to court proceedings and other forms of dispute resolution. These include:

Empowerment

You can decide which topics are addressed and negotiated on and you will reach an agreement rather than a decision being made for you.

Flexibility

The parties have greater control over the process and can decide which mediator to instruct and how the process will be conducted.

Cost

Court proceedings are often a costly and difficult process. Mediation can be a significantly cheaper option and the costs can be split between the parties.

Speed

The parties are in control of the speed at which negotiations progress. Since timetabling a mediation session is not dependant on overburdened court resources and judicial listings, it is often a much quicker dispute resolution process.

Confidentiality

The whole process of mediation is private and confidential, and no one can rely on it without the expressed consent of the other party.

If you would like some further advice in respect of mediation or consider this may be an option to resolve your dispute, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family team for more information on 0191 226 7878, familyteam@sintons.co.uk or at www.sintons.co.uk.

Marriage law changes and recommendations – how will they affect your ceremony?

History

Since 1836, to legally marry in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, couples have had to have their ceremony in either a place of worship, a register office, or a venue approved for civil weddings. Essentially, couples have had to make a choice between a religious or a civil ceremony, with no option for a ceremony reflecting other beliefs. Alongside this, couples cannot generally marry outdoors, except in the grounds of approved premises. Understandably, these limitations have limited the options couples have as to where to host their marriage ceremony and prevented couples getting married in a place that is meaningful to them, or have a ceremony reflecting their own wishes and beliefs.

Proposals

From July 2019, the Law Commission of England and Wales began conducting their full law reform project on marriage laws. On the 19th July 2022, the Commission published their final report. In the report, the commission outlined recommendations to reform marriage  laws, proposing alternatives to provide couples with a wider choice of venues and the logistics of ceremonies.

This reform would stretch the current list of Permitted Venues to include gardens, beaches, forests, parks, village halls and cruise ships. This follows the increasing public demand for simpler, personal and more affordable ceremony options, particularly as household finances come under pressure. The changes would also allow for more personalised content, such as the vows, rituals and songs chosen.

The recommendations for reform include amendments to the legal requirements of marriage:

  1. The Preliminaries, through which legal authorisation for a wedding to take place is obtained;
  2. The Ceremony, including where a wedding can be held and the legal requirements as to the content of the ceremony; and
  3. Registration of the marriage.

The recommendations are:

  1. Officiants: Every wedding would be overseen by an authorised officiant, who would have the same legal duties regardless of whether it is a civil or religious ceremony
  2. Universal rules for all weddings: with very few exceptions, the same rules would apply to all weddings, meaning little differentiation between religious and civil wedding rules
  3. Location of the wedding: As part of the reform, weddings will be able to take place in more areas outside than the law currently permits, this means couples will be able to have weddings in smaller and cheaper venues, and in other places that are important to them. However, the location will need to be agreed by the Officiant
  4. Respecting beliefs and offering greater choice: Couples will be able to have a wedding ceremony that reflects their values and beliefs. This will include having a religious ceremony in a venue other than a place of worship and without having to incorporate prescribed words into the ceremony. If permitted by Government, non-religious belief organisations would be able to conduct weddings on the same basis as religious organisations.
  5. Convenience: Couples will be able to give notice of their intended wedding online, and to choose the registration district where they are then interviewed by a registration officer. Notice of upcoming weddings will be published online, so that the information is accessible to the wider community.
  6. Safeguards: the reforms enhance protections against forced and predatory marriage, and maintain the protection against sham marriages.

It is now for Government to consider and respond to the Law Commission’s recommendations. If the Government accepts the Law Commission’s recommendations, the bill can then be drafted and introduced into Parliament with the aim of the amendments becoming law.

Minimum Marriage Age

On the 28th April 2022, the legal age of marriage and civil partnerships raised to 18 years old in England and Wales. Previously couples could marry at 16 years old with parental consent, or 17.

The new law also applies to cultural or religious marriages that are not registered with the couples’ local council. However, the change does not apply to Northern Ireland and Scotland, where the minimum age will stay at 16 years old. In Northern Ireland, couples will need parental consent to marry at 16 years old, where as in Scotland they will not.

If you would like some further advice on this subject matter, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family team on 0191 226 7878, familyteam@sintons.co.uk or at www.sintons.co.uk.

Arbitration – Good Divorce Week

In support of Good Divorce Week 2022, Family Solicitor Sophie Croft gave a presentation exploring how arbitration can support families in resolving their dispute. Arbitration is the form of alternative dispute resolution which most closely reflects the court process, but we will be explaining how and why arbitration can be a more timely and cost effective method for resolving family disputes than making an application to court.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Family Law Update – Winter 2022

Welcome to the first ever issue of the Sintons Family Law Newsletter.

Our content packed, monthly issues will provide you with updates on case law, changes to legislation, and outline any other riveting news in the field of Family Law including the comings and goings of the team itself.

During these unprecedented times, there have also been key changes in the family law sphere. The biggest of which has been the introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorce earlier this year, after half a decade of campaigning.

Parties no longer need to (and in fact are not permitted to) apportion blame in order to obtain a divorce. Thus far, we are seeing a huge positive impact and will continue to navigate and monitor the legal landscape.

There has also been a keen focus on alternative methods of Dispute Resolution (DR) to try to reduce the burden in the family Courts but more importantly encourage clients to embark upon a process which is tailored to meet their needs. It is more important than ever that parties, where possible, try to work together to resolve issues.

Amongst other key updates, this newsletter will touch on our support of Resolution’s upcoming ‘Good Divorce Week’ which aptly focuses on DR together with recent training I delivered to peers and professionals within the Family Law and Serious Injury fields.

Finally, I am so proud that the team has successfully moved up a ranking in the Legal 500 which proves our tenacious approach, our well respected reputation, both locally and nationally and most importantly, our commitment to our clients.

Please click here to view the full update, you can also sign up to our newsletter by clicking here.

Best wishes,
Louise Masters, Partner and Head of Family Law Team.

Negotiation as a means of achieving a settlement

For many years, responsible family solicitors have sought to achieve an outcome for their client by constructive and non-confrontational methods.

Generally, negotiation should be explored before embarking upon court proceedings. It is a way to have your say and propose what you feel is the best outcome. You need to bear in mind that the other party will do the same and your objectives may not align. Therefore it is always best to be mindful of competing arguments and how best to counter those or be open to concede on points which are not of primary concern.

Negotiation can take place directly between you by all forms of communication such as face-to-face, over the telephone, text message or email. This can be useful to narrow the issues.

Sometimes however, you may not feel able or willing to liaise with your ex-partner in this way. It can also be beneficial therefore to negotiate via your legal representative who will not only provide the requisite legal advice but can offer support and signpost you to other professionals which may be crucial in your case.

Third party professionals include your GP, coaches, accountants, financial planners or tax experts.

Negotiation through lawyers can take place via traditional methods such as correspondence and over the telephone or in a ‘round table meeting’. Whilst being in the same room can be very powerful in terms of hearing the other side’s point of view, you do not have to. More commonly, the parties are gathered in the same building, with the solicitors negotiating face to face and taking time out to seek instructions from their respective clients as the negotiations progress.

Negotiation offers several advantages compared to court proceedings and other forms of dispute resolution. These include:

Empowerment

You can decide what is addressed and negotiated on.

Flexibility

The parties have greater control over the process and can decide what to provide and when.

Cost

Court proceedings are often a costly and difficult process. The autonomy of negotiation also allows the parties to conclude matters between themselves without having to pay expensive court fees. In comparison to other dispute resolution processes such as arbitration or mediation, the outcome of negotiation is reached without involving a neutral third party. This can make the process more flexible and cost effective.

Speed

The parties are in control of the speed at which negotiations progress. Since timetabling a negotiation session is not dependant on overburdened court resources and judicial listings, it is often a much quicker dispute resolution process, compared to court proceedings.

Confidentiality

All discussions that take place with your lawyer are privileged.  Those with the other side could be kept ‘off the record’.

It is important to remember that negotiation is always encouraged and recommended by the courts. Ideally matters will be resolved outside of Court however even if court proceedings are underway, parties are continuously encouraged and provided with the opportunity to negotiate a settlement.

If you would like some further advice on this subject matter, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family team on 0191 226 7878, familyteam@sintons.co.uk or at www.sintons.co.uk.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 11

In episode 11 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Sophie Croft answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

How important are pensions on divorce?

For more than 20 years, couples have been able to share pension assets on divorce to allow for a fairer financial settlement after a separation. However, new research has found that 1 in 5 people still admit that they had not considered dividing pension wealth during divorce proceedings, with around 7 in 10 divorcees not sharing pensions.

Many people may not realise that pension sharing is an option, or that pensions are deemed as a matrimonial asset. On the other hand, couples that know pension sharing is an option may be reluctant to split their pension, as they believe they will be financially tied to their former spouse after the divorce is concluded and may instead opt for an ‘offsetting’ option whereby one party takes a higher share of the other capital assets instead of taking a share of the pension. This can however result in a unfair outcome.

Often a pension is one of the largest assets of the couple, sometimes worth more than property (which is usually the most contested marital asset).   It is absolutely crucial therefore that not only are pensions taken into account on divorce or dissolution, but expert input in the form of an actuarial report is also obtained to provide advice as to: –

  1. The true value of the pensions (often public sector pensions can be undervalued by their own scheme);
  2. The quantum that should be deducted if pre or post marital contributions should not be factored in;
  3. The % which one party will need to achieve equality or another agreed outcome;
  4. An ‘offsetting’ or partial offsetting figure.

A State Pension cannot be shared but there are various options to factor this in such as substituting your spouse’s contributions depending on your ages or purchasing contributions in one lump sum and the additional part of the pension can be shared between parties upon divorce, and again the expert will be able to provide an opinion as to the amount which should be shared.

In addition to the actuarial expert input mentioned, it is always sensible to take financial advice before making any important decisions such as this.

If you would like some further advice on this subject matter, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family team on 0191 226 7878 or at www.sintons.co.uk.

Sintons supports Good Divorce Week 2022

Law firm Sintons is again giving its support to Good Divorce Week, which this year highlights the crisis in the family courts and promotes ways in which families can seek to resolve matters in other ways.

Good Divorce Week 2022 runs from November 28 to December 2 and is organised by Resolution, a community of family justice professionals who aim to resolve family law issues in a constructive way.

The well-documented backlog in family courts, both in terms of dealing with listings and administrative tasks, is seeing increasing numbers of families waiting for long periods of time to conclude financial matters and make arrangements for children.

Through promoting the options around alternative forms of dispute resolution – in situations where it is safe and appropriate to do so – Good Divorce Week is shining a light on how families could move forward despite the current delays and pressure on the court system.

Sintons – whose family team is one of the best-rated in the North of England – is holding a number of events throughout the week in support of Good Divorce Week and its message.

In addition to sharing insight through online written and podcast content, Sintons family team are also planning:

  • Monday, November 28 – an article on our website focusing on negotiation. Some would say the most straight forward method of alternative dispute resolution. The article will outline the benefits of both private negotiation and negotiation via solicitor correspondence
  • Tuesday, November 29 – a family law clinic from 2pm to 5pm offering free 30-minute appointments – If you are interested in a free 30 minute session, please send your details by Tuesday 30th November 2022 to andrew.white@sintons.co.uk and complete the initial enquiry form on our website
  • Wednesday, November 30 – a podcast with Sue McArthur, mediator at EMG Solicitors, focusing on how the mediation process works, the benefits of such and how mediation can be a great tool for parties going through a divorce or separation
  • Thursday, December 1 – a presentation will be held exploring how arbitration can support families in resolving their dispute. Arbitration is the form of alternative dispute resolution which most closely reflects the court process but we will be explaining how and why arbitration can be a more timely and cost effective method for resolving family disputes than making an application to court
  • Friday, December 2 – a Q&A session will be held at 10am looking at collaborative practice.

Louise Masters, head of family law at Sintons – one of the top-rated family lawyers in the North and a member of Resolution – says: “Divorce and separation is of course a very difficult time for families, which we know is being exacerbated greatly by the delays that are being faced in their case being dealt with by the courts.

“We are always keen to explore options that avoid courts where appropriate, and continually look at the potential for this for our clients, and Good Divorce Week is a welcome opportunity to promote this more widely.

“By looking at alternative forms of dispute resolution, this can help in settling matters in a more amicable and timely way without the need to go via the courts – this can be very important, particularly in the current climate, and we hope people can learn a lot more about their options through the content and events we have planned for Good Divorce Week.”

Family specialist joins Sintons

The family team at law firm Sintons continues to grow with the appointment of a new solicitor.

Ifi Archibong is a family law specialist who has particular experience in handling divorce and separation matters, domestic violence issues and cases involving children.

She also has expertise in international family law, enabling her to handle cases with an overseas dimension.

Ifi joins Sintons at a time of continuing growth and development for the family team, and the firm as a whole, with ongoing recruitment to support its increasing levels of instructions and growing profile nationally.

The family team is regularly instructed from clients around the UK, with Sintons known for its ability to handle cases which often involve significant levels of complexity and involve high net worth individuals as clients.

“I pride myself on providing a tailor-made service to clients, they are at the centre of everything at all times. I share Sintons’ commitment to giving the best possible standards of legal advice and client service,” says Ifi.

“Joining Sintons is a very significant move for me and I am delighted to be here. The team is known for its specialism in family law, particularly in the most complex cases where significant assets are involved, and its reputation is second to none.

“I look forward to working alongside my new colleagues in developing our team even further.”

Louise Masters, partner and head of family law at Sintons, says: “Ifi is a very capable solicitor who combines specialism in family law with a client-centric approach. These are both at the heart of what we do here – our absolute focus is on delivering the best possible standards of legal advice and client service, and Ifi shares this dedication.

“Our family law expertise at Sintons is known nationally, and we continue to attract new instructions from across the country, very often in high value, complex matters, which many other firms would not have the capability to handle.

“We continue to develop our team, bringing in new specialists to add further to the service we can offer, and I look forward to working with Ifi and our family law team as we build our offering at Sintons further still.”

‘Knowledgeable and respected’ family team hailed by Legal 500 2023

The family team at Sintons has been hailed as a leading specialist in its field by Legal 500 2023, with expertise in complex and high value matters and a focus on client service.

The “knowledgeable and respected” team is known nationally for its work in complex divorce and separation matters, with its client base comprising high net worth and high profile individuals who appoint Sintons on the strength of its track record and reputation in the marketplace.

Confirming its standing, Legal 500 points to Sintons’ specialism across the board, from high value financial remedy matters to pre-nuptial agreements and complex multi-jurisdictional child arrangements.

“The family team has a great breadth of experience in terms of levels of qualification and both dispute resolution and court work…it has provided extremely sound advice,” quotes Legal 500.

It also names “highly skilled” head of department Louise Masters as a next generation partner, in recognition of her deep specialism as a collaborative lawyer, litigator and advocate.

Elizabeth Gallagher – whose expertise is “second to none” – and Sophie Dodds are also named as key members in Sintons’ growing family team, which continues to bring in new specialists to deliver its market-leading combination of legal and client service excellence.

“Our family team is known on a national basis for its expertise in high value, highly complex matters, and our instructions come from throughout the country. Our reputation in the marketplace is well deserved and hard earned and our standing continues to grow strongly,” says Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons.

“Legal 500 again acknowledges our deep capability in family law, while also highlighting our absolute focus on client service. Family cases can often be distressing and long-running, but our team are committed to being by the sides of their clients throughout the process.

“As a firm which prides itself on the quality of its team, we are very pleased to see a number of key individuals singled out for praise. The reputation we have for our capability in family law comes from the efforts of those working within the team, and this is a rightful endorsement of their work.”

Life after serious injury explored in family law event

Family law specialists at Sintons will assess the implications for survivors and their families after serious injury at an event to be held this month.

The seminar will feature Louise Masters, head of family law, who will assess what may lie ahead for families after life-changing injury to their loved one.

The event, the third seminar to be held in association with Parklane Plowden, will be held at the barristers’ Chambers in Leeds on Wednesday, October 12.

It will also be live streamed to Sintons’ office in Newcastle, to enable audiences in both the North East and West Yorkshire to participate in the event.

The seminar series has addressed a number of topics affecting professionals working with and supporting people with serious injury, and has welcomed attendees from across the North.

“Life after serious injury can often never be the same again, and the implications this can have for whole families can be enormous,” says Louise.

“There are a raft of considerations professionals must be mindful of, and families need to be supported in considering how to act now and also plan for their futures.

“In this seminar, we will address some of these key concerns, and enable our colleagues from across the sector to be as prepared as possible in dealing with these often very difficult situations of supporting the wider family.”

The event will be held at 19 Westgate, Leeds, LS1 2RD on October 12. It will begin at 6pm and last for around one hour. Places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.

Bookings can be made here or by contacting peter.jennings@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 7907.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 10

In episode 10 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons’ family team, solicitor Sophie Croft answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 9

In episode 9 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Croft answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 8

In episode 8 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Croft answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 7

In episode 7 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Croft answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 6

In episode 6 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Croft answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 5

In episode 5 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Croft answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 4

In episode 4 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Croft answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Agriculture and Estates offering continues to develop at Sintons

Specialists from across Sintons are helping to drive forward the firm’s specialist agriculture and estates team, which continues to grow its profile and case load across the North of England.

The team has built trust with rurally-based families and businesses over the course of generations, with Sintons’ presence in rural and farming communities spanning much of its 126-year history.

The firm’s legal expertise and outstanding client service has made it the legal advisor of choice for people across several generations of families and business ownership, and its presence continues to grow across the North of England on the strength of its reputation.

Bringing together expertise and leading lawyers from across a number of Sintons practice areas, the agriculture and estates team – headed by Tom Wills – has made significant gains in the past few years in particular.

The firm’s specialism is widely known and respected in what is a very niche area of law, where few firms are recognised as having the capability and knowledge to truly serve the unique needs of rural communities.

Bringing in expertise from a host of specialisms, Sintons offers bespoke support in family law, real estate, contentious and non-contentious private client work, dispute resolution, regulatory and business matters, and commercial work.

Key team members comprise Alan Dawson, the firm’s chairman who has been known for supporting rural families for over 40 years; Angus Ashman, Jay Balmer, Robert Burn, Paul Collingwood, Sophie Croft, Cristina Falzon, Lauren Coad, Elizabeth Gallagher, Louise Kelly, Paul Liddle, Amanda Maskery, Louise Masters, Emelie Rowell, Emma Saunders and Sam Watts.

“The capability of our team is there for all to see, and few other firms can come anywhere close to the decades of expertise, experience and reputation we have in our agriculture and estates offering,” says Tom Wills.

“For generations, we have been by the sides of families and businesses in rural and agricultural communities across the North of England, earning the trust of these clients so they stay with us over the course of many years. It is a privilege to be able to support them through hugely significant moments in the lives of individuals and families, and to be able to give our expert advice to benefit businesses.

“We continue to grow on the strength of our reputation and the outstanding legal and client service we deliver, and our instructions come from across the entire region, often involving matters of great complexity, which Sintons is well equipped to handle.

“The growth we have seen, and continue to see, is hugely positive and confirms the standing that Sintons has held for many years in this very specialist area of law.”

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 3

In episode 3 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Croft answers three of your family related questions. Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

For your convenience we have also recorded this session as both a webinar and podcast, links to both are below.

Parental Alienation

Parental alienation is sadly a hot topic at present in the family Courts and something Judges are having to face and adjudicate upon on a regular basis. These cases arise when a child is resisting or refusing to spend time with one parent after separation. There can be multiple reasons a child does not want to spend time with one parent for example if they have been a victim or witnessed domestic abuse or they feel a strong attachment to one parent but the focus of this article is parental alienation.

Parental alienation is recognised as a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent being unjustified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent. Behaviours can include:-

  • Negative portrayal of the other parent
  • focusing on mistakes the other parent has made and how the child must be disappointed in them
  • questioning the child upon return
  • criticising decisions of the other parent and saying or implying the other parent places the child at risk of harm.

C v D [2021]

In a recent case C v D (private law – domestic abuse – parental alienation) [2021] EWFC B60 (30 July 2021) examples of parental alienation were: changing the children’s school several times without consulting the other parent, asking the children lots of questions on return from contact, sharing information with the children about that parent’s experience with the other parent and calling the police to check up on the other parent.

Although the parent suffering from alienation in this case was found to be the perpetrator of domestic abuse, the Court held that the benefits of the children having a relationship with their father far outweighed any risk he may pose them. The Court ordered two overnight stays per week with extended periods during the school holidays.

How are these cases dealt with?

Cafcass, the Courts Advisory Service for Children, will first identify the risk. If this risk is high, this could result in a child protection issue and the local authority may become involved. Cafcass will prepare a report where they will investigate the matter in detail and speak to the parents, usually review the contact with each parent and the child, speak to the child’s school and other caregivers and the child themselves (if they are of a suitable age to express their wishes and feelings). Cafcass will include recommendations at the end of the report as to the child arrangements going forward and whether they do believe there has been parental alienation.

A guardian is often appointed to represent a child during these cases, and they will have separate legal representation. This is to ensure that the child is not being unduly influenced by one parent or the other and essentially to ensure that the child’s best interests are being presented to the Court without influence from a party with a vested interest.

Psychological assessments may also be required of the child and either one or both parents depending on the allegations raised. These assessments can determine whether the child has suffered emotional harm and explore why the child is feeling hostile towards one parent.

Assessment upon parents can determine whether there are signs of parental alienation and if so, what can be done about that.

These cases are usually traumatic for everyone involved and take a significant amount of time to resolve.

Often the alienating parent believes they are doing this to protect the child when in reality they can be causing them long term emotional harm.

What must be remembered is section 1 (2A) of the Children Act 1989 – “unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of [each] parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.”It is also worth noting that there have been recent cases whereby the children are removed from the alienating parent to live with the alienated parent.  This has occurred in cases when the children would even refuse to speak with or see the alienated parent.  The consensus in these tricky cases (where thorough investigation has concluded that there has been alienation and there is no reason why the children cannot spend time with the alienated parent) is that whilst the move will be difficult for the children in the short term, in the longer term the child will likely have a much better relationship with both parents.

This is a cautionary tale and the reason why we signpost our clients for whatever emotional support they need to assist them with the family breakdown.

Should you wish to discuss any of the matters raised above or any other family matter, then please do get in touch with a member of the team.

The implications of the impending no-fault divorce

The new law surrounding no fault divorce has been the ‘hot topic’ for family lawyers over the past two years. This will be a complete radicalisation in the way in which parties can obtain a divorce which will come into effect in around 8 weeks’ time.

Under current law there is only one ground for divorce which is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This is then proven by relying on one of the following five facts:

  • Adultery;
  • Unreasonable behaviour;
  • Desertion;
  • Separation for at least 2 years with consent of the other party; and
  • Separation for at least 5 years without the need for consent.

The result of the current and extremely out of date law is that if one person grows apart from their spouse but remains amicable, they would have to blame the other person, whether they like it or not, to achieve divorce unless they waited for two years post separation.

It is however anticipated that from the 6th April 2022, when the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 is due to come into force, the facts above which apportion blame (adultery and unreasonable behaviour) will be removed from the law.

In other words, divorcing spouses will no longer be able to blame the other for the breakdown of the marriage. We have discussed the key changes to divorce in more depth in previous articles.

Whilst family law practitioners, organisations such as Resolution (who were instrumental in achieving this change) and indeed many clients, welcome the move to a more collaborative and harmonious way of dealing with the divorce process, there are some couples who will remain aggrieved by the way in which the marriage has broken down and would, we suspect, still like the opportunity to ‘have their say’.

Some clients believe that documenting their reasons in the petition is retribution or closure which can help them emotionally move on to deal with the ancillary matters.  The worry is, having this option taken away from them may not necessarily help them deal with the process.

Further it is feared that those who cannot ‘blame’ the other in the divorce arena, will seek to attempt to run ‘conduct’ arguments when dealing with the financial matters which again will increase acrimony and inevitably legal costs.

The team at Sintons wholeheartedly promote the new law and welcome this change to the divorce process. The hope is that after a short period, it will simply become the norm and society will forget that once upon a time you could blame the other person.  Similar to wearing seat belts!  One looks back to a time when seatbelts were not compulsory and thinks how on earth could that have been allowed to happen. The same will likely occur here.

Should you wish to discuss any of the matters raised above or any other family matter, then please do get in touch with a member of the team.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 2

In episode 2 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Croft answers three of your family related questions.

Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

For your convenience we have also recorded this session as both a webinar and podcast, links to both are below.

What does mediation mean to me?

Family Mediation Week 2022 runs from 17th-21st January 2022 to raise awareness about mediation and the benefits it offers to separating couples and those in dispute. Family Mediation Week is run by the Family Mediation Council and they are offering a number of free events to attend throughout the week. You can find out more information here.

The family team at Sintons have come together to explain what mediation means to them:

“Mediation to me, is a fantastic and supported arena in which people can talk about their issues.

This takes place on an uninterrupted basis so that each party can have their say about matters with the other person having a chance to respond. The mediator appointed will encourage and facilitate the discussions and negotiations.

Mediation is a pre-requisite to family Court proceedings but in my view, it has so many benefits, it should be considered from the outset as a means of maintaining communication and the parties retaining control of being able to agree together, what is best for their family.

The family team at Sintons work regularly with a number of local and national mediators and having these positive and trusting relationships is hugely beneficial to any prospective clients.”

Louise Masters, Partner and Head of the Family Department

“Mediation is a cost effective method of resolving disputes without the need to go to Court. Court can be a costly, daunting and stressful experience and it is likely neither party will receive their desired outcome whereas, in mediation, a third party mediator will assist both parties in reaching an agreement where possible and will better assist separating couples to communicate more effectively both at present and in the future.”

Saffron Sinclair, Solicitor Apprentice

“Mediation to me means a sensible and pragmatic way to resolve disputes that arise when a relationship breaks down. It will hopefully also be a more cost effective way of resolving issues, than both parties instructing solicitors from the outset to fight their respective corners.

When issues need to be resolved between 2 adults, ideally they should be able to discuss and resolve them between themselves. In reality, often this is not possible, but having a neutral third party in the form of mediator to help with discussions, should be an enormous help.

Often issues that arise may not be technically “legal issues” and it is more appropriate for such issues to be discussed in the forum of mediation than be the subject of protracted correspondence between solicitors or the subject of court proceedings.

From a solicitors point of view, if I  consider a client has concerns and issues that can be more appropriately dealt with in mediation, I will always advise a  client to consider mediation.

Usually mediation isn’t an absolute alternative to seeking legal advice. I regard it as a parallel process and parties should still take some legal advice along the way to check they are on the right track. Also, at the end of the process legal advice is likely to be required to ensure that an agreement reached in mediation is formalised.”

Elizabeth Gallagher, Consultant

“Being a member of Resolution, First for Family Law mediation is something I always explain to my clients and give them the option to explore this method of dispute resolution from the outset of their matter. I explain mediation to them during our initial correspondence so they are aware that this is an option they can explore. Mediation can improve communication between parties and teach them to deal with their matter in a more amicable matter. This is not only beneficial for them going forward but also for any children involved.

Mediation to me means allowing couples to be in control of their dispute and reach an agreement that they are both satisfied with. The mediator will listen to find out what both parties wish to achieve from the session and assist them both to make their own choices about the best way forward. There should be no undue influence from either side and both parties should be on an even keel. The mediator will keep the conversation from deviating from the relevant points so each session can be productive and useful.

Mediation can be an extremely useful tool for family related disputes and I do believe that parties who attend a successful mediation session go on to have happier and healthier relationships in the future.”

Sophie Croft, Solicitor

Divorce day – is it a myth?

There is a history of divorce day being the first working Monday back after the Christmas break, being today and we did used to see a pattern that there were a surge of enquiries on this first day back. This was often due to the New Year and those looking for a new start and not wanting to bring disruption to their families over the Christmas period.

But 2020 was a prime example of where there were no patterns or trends, so it is difficult to know what it is in store for the working day today. Many are saying that the so called ‘divorce day’ in 2022 will be delayed to April when we will see the introduction of no-fault divorce.

No-fault divorce

At present, there is one ground of divorce which is the irretrievable breakdown of marriage and this needs to be backed up using one of 5 of facts. 3 of those facts rely on the couple being separated for 2 years or more meaning if a couple wishes to divorce within 2 years of separating they have to blame the other party by either relying on adultery or unreasonable behaviour.

From April 2022, it will not be necessary to use one of the five facts, all that will be required is a simple statement confirming that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Will no-fault make divorce too easy?

There is fear that with the introduction of no-fault divorce it will be too easy to get a divorce and people may have a knee-jerk reaction to apply for a divorce following an argument that they will later come to regret.

With no-fault divorce Judges will take the statement of irretrievable breakdown of marriage as conclusive evidence and on face value, there will be no need to provide any further proof that the incidents cited in the divorce petition occurred which some of the facts require at present.

The other party will also not have the opportunity to defend the divorce which they do have currently.

To relieve some fear about whether the divorce process will become too easy with no fault divorce, there will be a minimum time period of 20 weeks with a cooling off period of 6 weeks between the conditional order (formally Decree Nisi) and final order (formally Decree Absolute) so the parties can ensure they are definitely making the right decision.

If you would like some further advice on this subject matter, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family team on 0191 226 7878 or at www.sintons.co.uk.

Conscious uncoupling – what is it and how could it help you?

Almost 8 years ago the term was announced by a celebrity couple and this was most likely the first time the majority of us in this jurisdiction had heard it.

The process itself relates to dealing with matters in a conscious way which allows you to healthily move on from a separation or divorce.

In general, family lawyers are engaged to advise upon the law and to provide a view as to how the Court would deal with a particular matter.

But it is so much more than that.

Unlike other disciplines of law, family law involves every emotion in the spectrum. The separation or divorce for an unsuspecting person is likened to a bereavement or worse because your partner or spouse is gone but you may still have to deal with them on a daily basis especially if children are involved.

If one person is in an emotionally different place to the other it can make an amicable resolution of the issues rather tricky.

Whatever position you find yourself in, the following steps from the concept of conscious uncoupling may help you move forward: –

  1. Let go of anger and unhappiness associated with the relationship. You are not able to change what has happened in the past and hanging onto the negative energy will do nothing good for your future.
  2. Find yourself. However long you have been in a relationship you will have each acquired different roles.  Moving forward redefine yourself into the best person you can be on your own.
  3. Break any negative patterns that you may have fallen into. Find other mindful and healthy things to occupy you and your time.

Should this concept appeal to you but you are struggling as to where to start, you may wish to consider embarking upon Collaborative Practice.

The aim of Collaborative Practice is to work together to achieve the best outcome for the family overall. The anchor statement is widely used in a Collaborative setting. This is where both parties will write down and relay to the other why the process is important to them and what they want to get out of it.  This fits perfectly with Conscious Uncoupling as a means of letting go of anger, finding individuality and focusing on a positive future for all involved.

Whilst this tactile approach may seem alien, it is the way forward.  In April 2022 No Fault Divorce is expected to be brought into law which will exclude the current “blame” factors which fits perfectly into this discussion.

Conscious Uncoupling in a Collaborative way is only one of the options to resolve matters but from a mental health and wellbeing perspective, it is something which should be given significant consideration if you find yourselves having recently separated from your partner or spouse.

If you would like some further advice on this subject matter, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family team on 0191 226 7878 or at www.sintons.co.uk.

Happy New Year – Family Law Style

The Christmas break can often be a difficult time for families. The Family Team at Sintons recognises that and sets out below some tips which may assist you should you be embarking on the process of separation or divorce.

Healthy separation and divorce

Analyse your options to resolve matters

Prepare yourself and your children for a mindful and amicable process

Put anger and negative emotions behind you

Your mental health is very important

 

New beginnings can be positive

Expect to experience all emotions

What do you want to achieve?

 

You can determine your process

Expect challenges along the way

Always listen to advice from your lawyer and other third-party professionals

Remember what is important to you

If you would like some further advice on this subject matter, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family team on 0191 226 7878 or at www.sintons.co.uk.

A live Q&A with Sintons’ Family team – Episode 1

In episode 1 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Croft answers three of your family related questions.

Just a reminder that these sessions have come about due to the volume of questions we received for our live Q&A session during the recent Good Divorce Week. We weren’t able to answer anywhere near the questions we received and we thought these sessions would therefore be a great idea. Moving forward we are going to be running them at 10am on the third Friday of each month, live, on Teams.

For your convenience we have also recorded this session as both a webinar and podcast, links to both are below.

A Live Q&A with Sintons’ Family Team

From 29th November- 3rd December, Resolution promoted their annual Good Divorce Week campaign to raise awareness of the work of family justice professionals.

Good Divorce Week 2021 focused on how parents can embrace a child-focused approach to separation.

To support Good Divorce Week, Louise Masters and Sophie Croft from the Family team at Sintons hosted a live Q&A session, answering family law related questions that were put forward specifically for the session.

For your convenience we have also recorded this session as both a webinar and podcast, links to both are below.

Good Divorce Week and Collaborative Practice

No discussion during “Good Divorce Week” would be complete without mention of a “collaborative” divorce.

As divorce is ranked as one of the most stressful life events, alongside things such as bereavement, it is questionable whether in reality, there is such a thing as a “good divorce”. Lawyers are now very aware, that going down a more traditional litigious route, is often acrimonious, uncertain and expensive. It can also cause long term irreparable emotional damage to the couple and their children.

In view of this, there are now an increasing number of lawyers in the UK that see the way forward as using the collaborative law process, (also known as collective practice).

This is a legal process which enables couples to work with collaboratively trained lawyers and other professionals to achieve a settlement that best meets the needs of the couple and their family.

What makes the process different is that at the outset, the couple make a “no court commitment”, and agree to resolve issues by sitting round a table with their collaborative lawyer by their side. This means there can be no threat of “see you in court”.

This is particularly beneficial where the couple have children. It keeps lines of communication open between the couple and helps them learn to work together, not only to reach a solution regarding the immediate arrangements for the children and their financial affairs, but it also lays the foundation for working together in the future for the benefit of the children.

Lawyers deal with the law, but when a relationship breaks down, there are often non legal issues to be addressed, and a lawyer may not be the best person to deal with such issues. The collaborative approach is a holistic approach. It can involve a team of professionals to help the couple work together and be creative, to enable them to reach a tailor-made solution that best suits their family. Each professional will concentrate on his or her specialism. This ensures that the right person is on hand for the right job and is ultimately more cost effective than engaging a lawyer with a high hourly rate, to deal with issues beyond their knowledge and training.

Other professionals who are likely to become involved include a family consultant and a neutral financial advisor.

In the same way that athletes have to invest time training to ensure they perform to the best of their ability, a couple embarking on the collaborative path need to ensure they are fully equipped to deal with the process. Family Consultants are professionals who come from a variety of backgrounds. They understand couple dynamics and can help ensure that any non-legal issues that might impair the process, are fully communicated to the collaborative team and that the couple are ready to deal with the legal issues. They are also likely to assist the couple discussing the arrangements for the children, particularly if there are issues that the lawyers are not required to advise upon.

Financial security for the family as a whole is often a major concern to a separating couple, particularly where one party is in an economically weaker position than the other. Bringing a financial planner to the collaborative table means there can be open discussions about financial concerns and expectations. Specialist advice can be given as to how best to use the matrimonial assets to benefit the family as a whole, rather than each party wanting the pot to be split to their own advantage, with no thought about the consequences. The lawyers will also be on hand to advise on the legal implications.

The collaborative approach is not suitable for all couples. It relies on an open and transparent approach and some underlying trust, which can often be difficult when a relationship breaks down. If a couple are able to put their differences aside and focus on the needs of their children, hopefully, with the support of a suitable collaborative team, trust can start to be rebuilt, and a solid foundation laid for the family’s future.

There may be no such thing as a “good divorce” but going down the collaborative path will mean that the often difficult and painful process of divorce can be managed in a much more constructive and holistic way than has happened in the past.

If you would like some further advice on this subject matter, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family team on 0191 226 7878 or at www.sintons.co.uk.

Top tips on how to have a child focused separation

Separating from a partner can be difficult. Your routines change, you have to learn to function as one instead of two and there can be pain and upset. A separation does not only cause disruption and upset to the parties involved but also those close to them, in particular any children of the family.

In this article, we will be providing you with some top tips on how you can separate in a way that makes the process as smooth as possible for your children.

Acceptance

If you are positive there is no chance of reconciliation then the first step is coming to terms with the fact the relationship is over. It is also important to acknowledge that there may be some conflict along the way. When separating from a partner, emotions run high and as you both move through the stages of the ‘grieving’ process, often at different rates, there is the potential to hit obstacles. This is okay and completely natural. As conflict arises, try to manage your side of it. Take a step back and look at the full picture and try not to let your emotions negatively influence your reactions.

Start to build up your support network. This could include counsellors, a divorce coach, mediators or legal professionals.

Telling the children

It should be a joint decision as to how and when to tell your children you are separating and when often depends on the child’s age and their level of understanding. For a younger child they may have a lesser understanding, but an older child will be aware their homelife is changing and pick up on differing behaviours. An older child therefore may benefit from being in the know sooner rather than later. Many children report that they were told about their parents separating too late.

When communicating your decisions with  children focus on:

– Listening and following up on conversations;

– Minimising exposure of adult conversations;

– Acknowledge the children’s feelings are normal;

– Let them know it is not their fault and they are not responsible for making decisions;

– Provide comfort and remain open but also space for them to process the information

Learning to Co-Parent

Communication is key and remembering what is in the children’s best interests is the paramount concern. Remove any animosity you may feel for your ex-partner when considering arrangements for the children and focus solely on the fact that unless there is a valid reason why not (such as safety), children benefit from having a strong and consistent relationship with both parents.

If emotions are running high and arguments are ensuing, avoid face to face contact until matters have settled and communicate via telephone, text message or email. You may wish to try a co-parenting app such as Our Family Wizard. You could also try having handovers in a neutral location for example from and to school, in a public car park or via a third party such as a family member.

Set a routine and have consistent arrangements for the children so they know which parent they are with on which day. If this cannot be agreed, consider mediation or contact a legal professional who will be able to assist you both in reaching an agreement.

Resolution is a community of family justice professionals who aim to resolve family law issues in a constructive way. Members take a non-confrontational approach when resolving disputes and the aim is to deal with matters as amicably as possible.

Resolution have created a guide called Parenting through separation which is available for free to download on their website. The guide aims to give parents access to information and support to help them through the journey of parenting post-separation.

All of our family team at Sintons are Resolution members and we aim to make our client’s separations as straightforward as possible. We also have solicitors who are collaboratively trained and this practice involves 4-way meetings with parties and their representatives to discuss and negotiate the best outcome for the family overall without going to court.

If you are going through a separation and looking for some advice, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our family team on 0191 226 7878 or at www.sintons.co.uk.

The key elements of no-fault divorce

No fault divorce is coming into force in April 2022 and in a previous article, we have explained the main changes to the divorce process. As a recap, the main difference is that the divorce can proceed within the first 2 years of separation without the need to place blame on one party. At present, parties cannot get divorced within the first 2 years of separation without relying on either adultery or unreasonable behaviour.

The key elements of no-fault divorce are:

  1. The terminology will change:
    – petitioner becomes the applicant
    – the petition becomes the application
    – the Decree Nisi becomes a conditional order
    – the Decree Absolute becomes a final order.
  2. The applicant only needs to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown, not rely on one of the five facts which include adultery and unreasonable behaviour
  3. You can file a joint petition with your partner
  4. New time frame of 6 months: 20 week period to conditional order, 6 weeks between conditional order and final order as a cooling-off period.
  5. The Court will serve the application onto the other party within 28 days

The aim of no-fault divorce is to promote amicable separations, which is both in the parties best interests and any children of the family. An amicable separation can also assist the parties in resolving the financial and property issues.

However, if you are looking to use a blame fact such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour, you may wish to consider filing for divorce before April 2022 when the law will change.

If you are considering a divorce but you and your partner have simply drifted apart and there is no one to blame, you may wish to wait to apply for no-fault divorce in April 2022.

If you would like some further advice on this subject matter, please do not hesitate to contact one of our family team on 0191 226 7878 or at www.sintons.co.uk.

Sintons’ Family team supports Good Divorce Week

From 29th November- 3rd December, Resolution are promoting their annual Good Divorce Week campaign to raise awareness of the work of family justice professionals.

This year Good Divorce Week is focusing on how parents can embrace a child-focused approach to separation.

(Resolution is a community of family justice professionals who aim to resolve family law issues in a constructive way. Members take a non-confrontational approach when resolving disputes and the aim is to deal with matters as amicably as possible).

To support Good Divorce Week, the family team at Sintons will be posting articles and podcasts about relevant family law issues throughout the week and hosting two events which are open to all. These include:

  • On Thursday 2nd December 2021, the team will be hosting a live Q&A session, answering any family law related questions you may have
  • Do you have a family law query either personally or professionally which remains unanswered? We are here to help
  • Your question can be anything family law related including divorce, separation, finances, children or domestic violence
  • Questions can be submitted via email to Sophie Croft or anonymously via the following link
  • You can also watch the session live here.

Please submit your questions by Friday 26th November 2021.

&

  • On Friday 3rd December 2021, the team will be offering a free family law clinic from 1pm-5pm
  • If you are going through a separation, considering a divorce or cannot agree the arrangements for your children, we are here to discuss your next steps
  • The sessions will be held remotely via Teams
  • If you are interested in a free 30 minute session, please send your details by Tuesday 30th November 2021 to Saffron Sinclair and complete the initial enquiry form on our website.

For anything further, one of our specialists would be delighted to meet you to talk through your options and answer any questions. Please contact us at any time.

Prenuptial Agreements: unromantic or sensible?

After less than two years together, Jamie Redknapp and his now wife, Frida Andersson have married in secret. Whilst many people long for a whirlwind romance like theirs, it is always important to take a moment and reflect on the financial landscape of both parties, however unromantic this may seem.

It is undeniable that the stakes are high for these newlyweds who have both been married before, share six children from previous marriages and are expecting a child together in a matter of weeks. Further, whilst Frida Andersson is still considered to be fairly wealthy, Jamie Redknapp boasts an approximate net worth of £14million, making him the economically stronger party. We therefore cannot help but wonder whether the pair considered their financial positions prior to their marriage and what would happen if the nuptials end in divorce.

It is probable that Mr Redknapp will have a team around him who will be alive to these issues and likely he would have been advised to propose a pre-nuptial agreement.

Although a pre-nuptial agreement is not considered to be a legally- binding document within the UK, it is a factor that will be taken into consideration by a Judge upon determining a financial settlement in divorce proceedings. Particularly where the parties’ needs are easily met due to the fact there is a range of high value assets.

That being said, pre-nuptial agreements are not simply for the rich and famous and can be drawn up by a solicitor for anyone who already has or is likely to acquire more assets than the other.

The purpose of an agreement such as this is to provide clarity for couples in respect of how their assets will be divided in the event the relationship breaks down. In essence, it seeks to limit one party’s claim against the other on divorce.  The Court’s jurisdiction cannot be ousted and it is the judge who will have the final say but if it is entered into properly, then both parties should be held to it.

It is however extremely important that a person receives advice from a specialist solicitor if they are thinking about entering into a pre-nuptial agreement as the Court will expect certain requirements to be met, which include:

  • The agreement must be freely entered into by both parties;
  • Both parties must have a full appreciation of the implications of the agreement;
  • The agreement must be contractually valid and executed;
  • It should be entered into at least 28 days before the wedding;
  • It must not prejudice any children; and
  • Both parties should receive legal advice about the fairness of the agreement.

The terms upon which the parties agree is unique to each case however, typical terms in the agreement usually cover the following:

  • Protection of non-matrimonial property such as inheritance, family businesses; and
  • To provide for children from previous relationships which is of course relevant here.

There are advantages and disadvantages to nuptial agreements depending upon which side you are on.  Often the process can be tricky, because each party needs to be completely open about their own finances and then discuss and negotiate the terms. We would always encourage parties to do this in a collaborative way (rather than correspondence back and forth) which will provide less scope for misunderstanding.

Our collaboratively trained family team specialise in nuptial agreements and have a wide experience in dealing with a range of assets and terms within an agreement, no matter how complicated or unique they may be.

If a prenuptial agreement is something you feel you and your partner would benefit from or you have been asked to enter in an agreement, then a member of our team would be happy to offer a brief, no obligation, discussion on these issues. You can contact us on 0191 226 7878 or via our website.

Can I get the other party to pay my legal costs?

Following a relationship breakdown, you may find yourself in need of some legal advice but you may be concerned about how you will fund that advice.

Prior to 2012, public funding was available to the economically weaker party to secure legal advice and representation. Now legal aid is only available for victims of domestic violence (with few exceptions) which leaves some clients in, what may seem like an impossible position.

Try not to fret as there are various options available to clients who may have ‘matrimonial assets’ but they are unable to access them for purposes of the advice.

You could seek a loan on a commercial basis or alternatively a litigation loan which can be paid at the end of the case. A last resort is to apply for a Legal Services Payment Order (LSPO).

To be eligible for a LSPO you must show that:

  • You would not reasonably be able to obtain appropriate legal services for the proceedings, without an LSPO;
  • You have attempted to secure a loan to pay for legal services but have been unsuccessful;
  • Your solicitor is not willing to enter into a ‘Sears Tooth’ agreement (where the legal fees are paid out of the financial settlement reached at the end of the proceedings);
  • You cannot obtain legal services by granting a charge over assets to be recovered (for example, placing a charge on a property so legal fees would be paid once the property was sold); and
  • You are not entitled to public funding.

Upon considering such an application the Court will have regard to various factors including your present financial needs, resources, obligations and responsibilities and those you are likely to have in the foreseeable future, if you have explored alternative dispute resolution options such as mediation, whether the payer is legally represented and your conduct in the proceedings, amongst other things.

If the above conditions are satisfied the Court could make a LSPO and the other party would be ordered to pay your legal costs. The quantum of which would be decided by the Court and based on a cost schedule provided by your solicitor.

Therefore rather than thinking the situation is hopeless and before you try to embark upon litigation in person, it would be beneficial to seek legal advice to explore your funding options.

The team is happy to offer a brief no obligation discussion on these issues. You can contact us at 0191 226 7878 or via our website www.sintons.co.uk.

Sintons again recognised for capability across the board by Chambers 2022

Sintons has again been hailed as one of the leading law firms in the North of England in newly-released rankings from Chambers and Partners UK.

The firm, consistently praised for its strength and capability throughout the business, again wins recognition for its legal expertise, deep experience and first-rate levels of client service.

Practice areas across the business win recognition as leaders in their field, with healthcare again being confirmed as one of the key advisors nationally for its work with growing numbers of NHS Trusts, organisations, professionals and healthcare businesses across the UK.

Chambers and Partners 2022, published today, also highlights 17 of Sintons’ lawyers as being stand-out names in their specialism, many of whom are recognised in the legal marketplace as being leading figures regionally and nationally.

The rankings come only weeks after Sintons won similar praise across the board from Legal 500, which also recognised the wide-ranging expertise, legal capability and service excellence the firm delivers to its clients.

Both Chambers and Legal 500 are independent publications which assess and rank law firms and lawyers throughout the UK, based on interviews, examples of work, and client and peer testimonials.

“For over 125 years, Sintons has built a well-deserved reputation as a first-rate legal advisor delivering outstanding levels of service to its clients, and those values have remained at the heart of the firm since our foundation in 1896,” says managing partner Christopher Welch.

“That these key features are consistently highlighted by independent legal publications like Chambers and Partners, and recently Legal 500 too, is a huge endorsement of what we do here at Sintons. Businesses, families and individuals put their trust in us to deliver an outstanding legal and personal service and that is what we deliver.

“Chambers again confirms our strength across the whole Sintons business, with capability and talent running throughout the firm, and a shared commitment by everyone here to continue to build Sintons so it can be the best it can be. We are all delighted to again have our efforts recognised in this way.”

‘Very talented’ specialists in family team hailed by Legal 500

The family team at Sintons has won praise from Legal 500 2022 for its strong levels of capability and client service.

The team was highlighted for its work across the family law sphere, with individuals within the department having a strong focus on particular areas, giving a comprehensive offering to clients.

Practice head Louise Masters – hailed as a “life-saver” by one client testimonial cited in the independent guide – is praised for her national reputation in advising on serious injury and family law.

Sintons is one of the only law firms in the North of England to offer a specialist family neuro service, which has proved invaluable to families affected by life-changing injuries.

Elizabeth Gallagher too is cited as having specialism in complex financial remedy cases, which is vital in supporting Sintons’ client base of high net worth individuals.

Both Louise and Elizabeth are said to be “very talented” in their areas of specialism.

Client testimonials quoted by Legal 500 2022 point to Sintons as being “attentive and sympathetic, while remaining realistic and very helpful” and delivering strong levels of legal expertise and client service.

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, says: “Our family team is known for its deep capability and legal expertise, while also supporting clients with an outstanding bespoke service during what can be a very difficult time in their lives.

“We are absolutely committed to our clients, who are at the centre of everything we do, and to again win independent endorsement of the quality of the service we deliver is very pleasing and rightful recognition of the hard work of Louise and her team.

“Regularly, we are instructed in high value cases from across the UK, often involving significant complexities, and we are known as an advisor which will always fight hard in our clients’ interests to secure the very best outcome for them and their family, often using mediation to try and maintain as much of the relationship within that family as possible.

“Louise, Elizabeth and the team are committed to using every avenue possible to doing what is in the best interest of their clients, and it is that unrelenting focus on them which makes us the advisor of choice for so many individuals and families.”

Sintons once again wins praise from Legal 500 2022

Law firm Sintons has again maintained its reputation as one of the leading law firms in the North of England in newly-released rankings from Legal 500, winning plaudits for its strength and expertise across the firm.

Legal 500 2022, released today, renews its praise of Sintons and confirms them as being a go-to legal provider in the region in many key practice areas.

The independent publication – which ranks law firms and lawyers across the North, compiled as a result of examples of work, interviews and client and peer testimonials – names eight of Sintons’ lawyers as leading individuals, three as next generation partners and a further six as rising stars. One of its lawyers also secures the highly coveted accolade of being named in the Legal 500 Hall of Fame, in recognition of consistent achievement throughout their career.

The latest Legal 500 rankings add further to the long-standing reputation of Sintons – winner of five awards at the most recent Northern Law Awards, including overall Law Firm of the Year – as a leading player in the North of England, with national reach and capability in many of its departments.

The leading individuals at Sintons, as identified by Legal 500, are:

The next generation partners, as identified by Legal 500, are:

The lawyer named as member of the Legal 500 Hall of Fame is:

The rising stars at the firm are:

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, said: “We are very proud of the reputation we have built during our 125 year history as being a law firm which consistently offers legal excellence and an outstanding service to our clients, and for these two factors to again be recognised by Legal 500 as being a staple of Sintons’ offering is very pleasing.

We are delighted to maintain our position as one of the leading law firms in the North of England, with strength, capability and experience running throughout our practice areas.”

Cafcass launches new framework ‘Together with Children and Families’

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) have recently launched a new relationship-based practice framework referred to as Together with Children and Families. This framework highlights the importance of working with children and their families and putting them at the forefront of their values where listening, understanding, clear reasoning, respect and integrity are prioritised.

For those unfamiliar with the role of Cafcass within a Family Court setting; Cafcass investigate family circumstances on behalf of the Family Court. As an independent body they advise the Family Court about what would be in the best interests of that child or children in each particular case.

Their main duty is to safeguard and promote the welfare of children involved with the family justice system, both in public and private law cases.

Putting the needs, wishes and welfare of the children first, Cafcass work with the children and families to ensure that a childs voice is heard.

Cafcass become involved by an order of the Court and will make initial enquiries with adults involved in the case and anyone else who is closely connected to the child, for example, schools. They will also determine whether the family is already known to local Children’s services.

Once they have undertaken their initial enquiries, these will be included in a ‘safeguarding letter’ which will recommend to the Court various options which will assist the Court in making a decision.

If there are no welfare or safeguarding concerns, Cafcass will encourage the parties to reach an agreement. However, in some cases the Court will direct Cafcass to prepare a section 7 report which is a detailed investigation.

Their new framework Together provides a set of values that will guide and influence how Cafcass work, no matter what their role is within the organisation and is predominantly based around feedback received from children and their families involved with the service.

The framework introduces a workbook which is a revised assessment and case planning tool. It is hoped that this will ensure a trusting relationship is built from the outset between professionals and families.

Restorative practice is at the core of the framework which is underpinned by a number of values which includes:

  • Listening and acting with care and understanding
  • Believing in respectful relationships
  • Ensuring that decision making is clear and reasoned
  • Respect, value and respond to the uniqueness and diversity of each child, family and colleague; and
  • Children and families know and understand the eventual outcome.

The concept of this body may cause concern for parties involved however, families should be reassured by this new framework that the organisation have them at the forefront in each unique case.

Should you be involved with Cafcass or simply require further information with regard to the arrangements for your children, the family team at Sintons are here to guide you through.

If you feel like you could benefit from our assistance and would like to ask any further questions, please contact us on 0191 226 7878 to speak with a member of the team.

An overview of divorce

Sophie Croft, Solicitor in the Family team at Sintons recently recorded a podcast, which is another in the series of Family related podcasts. In this epsiode, Sophie gave an overview of divorce.

Please click on the play button below to listen.

Be careful where you issue – The differences between Scottish and English law in respect of financial remedy on divorce

Being in the North of England we sometimes feel as though Scotland is just a stone’s throw away. Although our Scottish neighbours aren’t too far away, once we cross the border we’re faced with a whole new legal system which isn’t as close to the English legal system as you may think. In this article we will focus on divorce and finances on separation.

Divorce

If a marriage has irretrievably broken down, one party may decide to issue divorce proceedings. Where to issue depends on whether either party is domiciled in England or Scotland when the action began or whether either party is habitually resident. This means that the parties were either born in the country or have managed to create strong ties through residence or working. If parties can satisfy the criteria for both countries, the application is on a ‘first past the post’ basis.

Finances

When it comes to resolving the financial matters arising from the separation, whether the matter is dealt with in Scotland or England could result in a completely different outcome. Divorce and finance proceedings can be issued in separate jurisdictions but again, the Court will have to establish jurisdiction by ensuring the party applying has a real link to that particular country.

In English law the Court’s first consideration is the welfare of any children, whereas in Scottish law it is not. In English law the needs of the parties are the second consideration, whereas in Scottish law the Court will focus of the economic disadvantage of one party.

In English law pre- and post-marital assets can be taken into account where the parties’ needs cannot be properly met without them whereas with Scottish law generally pre- and post-marital assets are ringfenced. Parties can apply for lifetime spousal maintenance in England but maintenance in Scotland is limited to three years post-divorce. Interests under a will or potential benefits under a discretionary trust are considered in English law but not Scottish law.

By way of an example:

  • Wife (W) 46, Husband (H) 47, Children 8 and 6 living with H
  • W has a successful business and H is a stay-at-home dad
  • The family home is worth £600k, W contributed £250k towards the deposit prior to the marriage
  • W is due to receive £500k inheritance in a few years
  • Pensions are modest, no other assets of note

In English law the outcome would focus on the needs of the parties and the primary consideration would be the children. The contributions of the parties would likely be classed as equal and depending on the length of the marriage there would be a fairly even split in terms of assets, if not a slightly larger share to the husband as he will have the primary care of the children.

If Scottish law were applied, it is likely the £250k W contributed towards the family home would be deducted before the equity was split between the parties and the W would be able to retain her inheritance in its entirety.

In this scenario therefore the Scotland legal system would be more favourable for W and the England legal system would be more favourable for H.

It is therefore extremely important that where parties have the option of which country to issue divorce and financial remedy proceedings, they carefully consider the differences between the English and Scottish legal systems.

If you would like any advice in relation to divorce proceedings or resolving the financial matters arising from a separation, please do not hesitate to get in touch and one of our family team will be more than happy to offer assistance.

Domestic violence and the law – a July 2021 update

In response to the demand for more adequate protection against domestic violence, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which is considered a landmark piece of legislation, has now received Royal Assent and should come into force during 2021/2022 by commencement regulations.

Concerns grew as reports of an increase in the number of domestic abuse cases rose throughout the coronavirus pandemic and the various lockdowns associated with that. Statistics have shown that during the months of lockdown, around 20% of all offences recorded to the police were flagged as domestic related, and victims have spoken out about the fact that increased time at home with their abuser has had a significant negative impact.

Crucially, the Act creates Britain’s first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse and emphasises that domestic abuse is not just physical violence but can also include emotional, economic and coercive or controlling abuse.

The Act also amends previous legislation in order to provide victims with better protection. For example, the Government have shifted towards strengthening legislation around controlling and coercive behaviour by criminalising post separation abuse. This means that there will no longer be a requirement for the abuser and the victim to live together as the Government recognises that after separation, victims can still often be subject to sustained and increasing controlling behaviour.

In the context of the Family Court, the Act will have a significant impact and will prohibit perpetrators of abuse from the ability to cross examine victims in person. This of course increased drastically when changes were made to Legal Aid provisions a few years ago and often the abuser was left without any legal representation.

In this respect, there will be a presumption that victims of abuse are eligible for special measures and will introduce an automatic ban on cross examination in person where one party has either; been convicted, given a caution for, or charged with certain offences against the other, there is an on-notice protective injunction in place, or there is ‘other evidence’ of domestic abuse.

Previously the Family Court was under a duty to consider whether a person’s participation in the proceedings or ability to give evidence was likely to be diminished by reason of vulnerability and if so, whether it was necessary to make one or more directions to assist them.

However, under the new Act, victims will automatically be eligible for special measures by way of presumption.

Special measures are provisions that will assist a party to give evidence in court proceedings and include giving evidence from behind a screen, via a live link or via assistance from an intermediary.

Other notable changes the Act introduces include the appointment and funding of an independent Domestic Abuse Commissioner, who will be responsible for representing victims and survivors, educating the public about domestic abuse, monitoring local authorities and statutory agencies in this respect, and holding statutory bodies to account in tackling domestic abuse.

It also introduces two new civil protection injunctions which are the domestic abuse protection notice (DAPN) for immediate protection and a domestic abuse protection order (DAPO) which is a more flexible long-term protection for victims.

A DAPN can ensure that the abuser may not contact or come within a specified distance of where the victim lives and can even evict or exclude the abuser from entering the premises that person lives in.

A DAPO would prohibit the party or require the party to do certain things and can be ordered at any time, including during existing proceedings.

The Act also introduces a Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme. This will require law enforcement to disclose to an individual or third party whether a current or former partner has a violent or abusive past, so long as it is reasonable and proportionate to do so and based on a credible risk of harm.

These are genuinely some ground-breaking steps for victims of domestic abuse.

Our Family team at Sintons understand and empathise with these difficult situations, which can often unfold quickly. If you feel you could benefit from our services, please contact us on 0191 226 7878 or by visiting our website.

No Fault-Divorce – how is the divorce process going to change?

Following on from the last article which explained that no-fault divorce will now be coming into force in April 2022, here is a helpful guide to explain how things are going to change.

The current (albeit severely out of date) divorce process states that unless parties wish to wait 2 years post-separation to commence divorce proceedings, they must assign blame to one party. The facts that parties can rely on in these circumstances are adultery and unreasonable behaviour.

It was presumed that no-fault divorce would be an additional fact which could be used instead of adultery and unreasonable behaviour however, when no-fault divorce is introduced, parties will no longer be able to point the finger in this way.

Whilst on the one hand this is exactly what the update in the law set out to achieve i.e. a platform for a more amicable process which will allow parties to move on in a much more positive spirit, lawyers up and down the country will be wondering whether this change will meet our client’s needs.

Sometimes, there is a clear party who is to blame for the breakdown of the relationship and it can mean a lot to the other person to have their say, formally, about this.

This is surprising as the aggrieved party may wish to assign blame and will be prevented from doing so; the options have been taken away.

It is feared that clients who feel their matter is unresolved, because they have not been able to have their say, will seek to run ‘conduct’ arguments when dealing with the financial matters on divorce.

Conduct is one of the factors the Court can take into account when determining what is a fair financial settlement. At present, successful conduct cases are rare as only the most severe examples of conduct carry any weight. However, if one party is determined to assign blame it is possible that we will see more attempted conduct cases in future.

From April 2022, there will continue to be one ground of divorce, which is the irretrievable breakdown of marriage and rather than having to prove this using one of the five facts, a simple statement confirming that will suffice. It is worth pointing out that the facts of 5 years separation and 2 years separation with consent will still stand.

The Court will no longer seek to determine whether you are entitled to a divorce or dissolution based on your fact and rather will take the aforementioned statement as conclusive evidence. Following on from this, a divorce will be uncapable of being defended. Again, these types of applications are somewhat rare but when they do happen, they can be very stressful and costly.

Other key changes include parties being able to make a joint application, the other side can be served by email and the language for the procedure is also being modernised so the petitioner will be known as applicant and Decree Nisi as conditional order. These are extremely positive and overdue changes in updating the divorce process.

As ever, it is always advisable to seek specialist legal advice before embarking on this process or that associated with the financial situation.

This is a huge step in the right direction for a collaborative and amicable approach to Family law.  Time will tell whether complete removal of the blame factors is a step too far.

Should you wish to discuss any of the matters raised above or anything else relating to your family matter, then please get in touch.

No Fault Divorce – April 2022

After 30 years of family law professionals campaigning for change in the divorce laws, it has been announced that we need to wait a little longer for no-fault divorce. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was given the go-ahead in June 2020. The purpose of the act was to end the ‘blame-game’ and enable couples to file for divorce without assigning blame to one party.

At present, there is only one ground for divorce – the irretrievable breakdown of marriage. When using this ground, it must be coupled with one of five facts. Three of the five facts rely on the parties being separated for a period of two years or more. The other two facts are adultery and unreasonable behaviour. In practice this means that if parties do not wish to wait two years post separation to file for divorce, one party must take the blame for the breakdown of the marriage.

This is an unfortunate reality and can create a large amount of animosity between the parties. The divorce particulars can make matters more difficult when attempting to resolve the financial and property matters arising from the separation or, more importantly, this can have a great effect on parties who are attempting to co-parent.

The aim of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 is to allow married couples to divorce without assigning blame and ultimately create a more amicable separation. The Act was rumoured to come into force in Autumn 2021. Ministers announced recently that the law will come into force on 6th April 2022. Although the delay may be disappointing to some, at least this will allow people to plan effectively.

Only time will tell as to whether there is a surge in petitions with people holding off for this immensely positive step in the right direction.

Should you wish to discuss any of the matters raised above or anything else relating to your family matter, then please get in touch.

New leadership and promotions for Sintons’ Personal & Family team

The Personal and Family Department at Sintons is moving forward with new leadership, as it seeks to push on with plans to grow its presence in the North East and wider UK.

Through a series of high-level promotions, which build the reputation and expertise of Sintons even further, the highly esteemed department is now better placed than ever to drive forward its ambitions nationally.

Under the new leadership of Paul Nickalls, the Personal and Family Department – which brings together Sintons’ Family, Residential Property, Court of Protection and Wills, Trusts and Probate Teams – will continue to develop its range of services, while bringing in new talent and developing its existing team of lawyers.

Paul, regularly named as one of the leading solicitors in the North of England by both the Legal 500 and Chambers, is a highly experienced private client lawyer who is appointed to work on complex, high value administration of estates and inheritance tax planning matters.

He continues in his role as head of the Wills, Trusts and Probate Team, which was named Private Client Team of the Year at the most recent Northern Law Awards.

The Personal and Family Department is further boosted by the appointment of two new partners in Louise Masters and Emma Saunders.

Louise, a specialist family solicitor who regularly works in high-value matrimonial matters and in cases involving children, has also become the new head of the renowned Family Team which won Family Law Team of the Year at the Northern Law Awards.

Emma, hailed as a leader in her specialist area of contentious probate work by the Legal 500 and Chambers alike, has significantly raised the profile and capability of Sintons in the field of contentious private client work since her relocation from a top 100 London law firm.

Additionally, Sophie Robinson-Davies, who leads the Court of Protection Team, has been promoted to associate in recognition of her achievements in growing the team and its national reputation.

“Our Personal and Family Department is one of the strongest and most highly-esteemed in the North of England, and we are regularly instructed in matters from across the UK in all four of our specialist teams, particularly those of significant value and complexity,” says Paul.

“Through the new senior appointments and leadership changes, we are better positioned than ever before to continue to progress. Backed by a team of dynamic and highly capable lawyers, I will work alongside Louise, Emma, Sophie and our head of residential property Anna Barton to develop our presence on a national level even further.”

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, says: “Our Personal and Family Department comprises the expertise our private clients need, with the levels of unrivalled client service which means we have become the trusted advisor to generations of families across the UK. Sintons as a firm is built on this ethos, and we are very proud of our reputation for consistently delivering this.

“Through the appointment of Paul as head of department, supported by the promotions of Louise, Emma, and Sophie to reflect the leadership roles they fulfil within the firm, coupled with the outstanding service they continually deliver to clients, we are again demonstrating our commitment to investing in our people and offering opportunities for professional development.

“We will continue to invest in the progression of our personal and family team as we press on with efforts to grow further both regionally and nationally.”

Family Law specialist joins Sintons

The specialist family law team at Sintons has added a new solicitor to its ranks, as it continues to receive growing levels of instructions from across the UK and internationally.

Sophie Croft joins the award-winning team with several years of experience of working in family law across the North East and Cumbria.

She advises on the full spectrum of family matters, from divorce and arrangements regarding children and financial affairs, through to disputes involving unmarried couples and pre- and post-nuptial agreements.

Sophie is also a member of Resolution and promotes its ethos of a constructive approach to family issues.

“Sintons has an outstanding reputation for its stellar legal advice in the family law arena and is known across the North of England for tenacious approach to secure the best outcomes for their client and their family. Its commitment to delivering legal excellence alongside an unrivalled client service is central in ensuring it stands out in the marketplace,” says Sophie.

“I’m really pleased to move to Sintons, a firm which shares my strong belief in building strong and trusting relationships with clients, which is so important in an area like family law, where often you are meeting people during distressing and highly emotional points in their lives.”

“I look forward to working with the rest of the team to continue to build our capacity and capability and continue to grow our presence on a national and international level.”

Louise Masters, partner and head of family law at Sintons, says: “We are very proud of the reputation we have for our expertise in family law, handling matters of great complexity often involving very significant levels of assets, and striving to secure the very best outcome for our clients, their family and their unique circumstances. Our clients are absolutely central to all that we do, and are our unrelenting focus at all times.

“We are very pleased to bring Sophie into the team, who shares this dedication to clients, as well as our focus on promoting a collaborative and constructive approach to resolving matters where appropriate and possible.

“As expert advisors whose advice is regularly sought on a national and international basis, we continue to add new expertise and excellence to the team, and look forward to working alongside Sophie as we build this even further.”

Protective planning & family law update

Partner and Head of Family at Sintons Louise Masters recently recorded a webinar for Founders Friday where she discussed protective planning & gave a family law update.

Please click on the play button in the bottom left corner of the below video image to start viewing.

We have also included a podcast version, the link is also below.

Nuptial Agreements and Farming Divorces

Getting divorced is ranked as being one of the most stressful life events a person can experience. It is impossible to look into a crystal ball and see if a marriage will break down. Equally, there is no automatic formula that can be applied to work out how assets will be divided upon divorce, as judges have a wide discretion as to how to apply the law.

More and more people are therefore trying to limit the uncertainty of what will happen to their assets on divorce by entering into Nuptial Agreements. Such Agreements are either signed before a marriage, (a Pre-Nuptial Agreement) or after a marriage, (a Post-Nuptial Agreement).

Nuptial Agreements can be particularly helpful in the case of a farming divorce as there is likely to be an overlap between business and personal assets and there may be other family members involved in the business, which may have been built up over several generations.

Although Nuptial Agreements are not written into statute in England and Wales, (laws are different in Scotland), there is a good chance that Nuptial Agreements will be upheld by the English Courts if drawn up properly and meet certain requirements.

The Landmark case was Radmacher v Gramatino, in 2010 as for the first time, the Supreme Court made it clear that a Nuptial Agreement will be upheld unless one person can show why it should not be.

The Supreme Court said that “the Court should give effect to a Nuptial Agreement that is freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of its implications, unless in the circumstances prevailing, it would not be fair to hold the parties to the Agreement”.

Since this decision, the Law Commission published a report in 2014 and recommended the introduction of “Qualifying Nuptial Agreements”. With a Qualifying Nuptial Agreement a couple will be able to make binding arrangements for division of their assets on divorce if certain procedural safeguards are met.  The Law Commission recommended that it would not be possible to contract out of meeting the financial needs of either party and of any children.

Although the Law Commissioners recommendations have not yet been enacted, the Courts are likely to uphold the terms of a Nuptial Agreement if certain requirements are met.  These requirements include: –

  1. The terms need to be fair, viewed against the circumstances at the time of the divorce.
  2. The parties must enter the Agreement without any duress and the Agreement must be signed at least 28 days before the marriage.
  3. Both parties must fully understand the terms of the agreement, have obtained independent legal advice, or had the opportunity to do so.
  4. Both parties must provide full details regarding their financial circumstances.

One difficult issue with Nuptial Agreements is that they are being considered without knowing when the marriage will break down and what the circumstances will be at the time of the breakdown.  In a farming divorce for example, the factors to be considered if a marriage breaks down after 5 years where there are no children and the non-farming spouse has worked independently from the farm, will be completely different to a marriage that breaks down after 20 years where there are children, and the non-farming spouse has worked in the business since the marriage.

For this reason it is generally advisable to put a review clause in a Nuptial Agreement so that the Agreement is reviewed every few years, and on the happening of any significant events such as the birth of a child.

Discussing what will happen to farm assets in the event of a divorce, may sound unromantic when a couple are planning their wedding.  It can however save a lot of stress, uncertainty and costs, not to mention the potential souring of relationships with extended family members, if the marriage does come to an end at some future date.

When considering a Nuptial Agreement, it is important to look at what the law says about how assets on divorce will be divided as given the criteria set out above, if an Agreement is deemed not to be fair, it is unlikely to be upheld.

There is little point in investing time and money in having a Nuptial Agreement prepared if it is not going to be enforceable.  There needs therefore to be a realistic discussion about what both parties will need in the event of a divorce and what assets there are to be divided.

There may be complicated discussions about assets deemed to be “non-matrimonial” as opposed to “matrimonial assets”. A spouse with the initial interest in the farm particularly where there are other family members involved, will no doubt be under pressure to try and ringfence all assets deemed to be “non-matrimonial”. This may not be possible if the needs of the non-farming spouse cannot be met.

Equally, a Nuptial Agreement that provides a financial settlement that is likely to be less favourable than if ordered though the court, stands a good chance of being upheld, provided the criteria set out above are satisfied.

Farming businesses are often cash rich and income poor.  The Court is unlikely to order the sale of a farm but there may need to be some creative thinking as to how a financial settlement can be provided to the non-farming spouse to enable them to be re-housed and to move forward with their lives.

Having such discussions and possibly involving other family members who are involved in the business, may result in a more constructive outcome and will incur a lower level of costs, than if such discussions take place in the shadow of Court proceedings as part of an acrimonious divorce.

Moreover, having such conversations before, or in the early days of marriage, may help a couple and other family members to be able to communicate openly with each other. Hopefully this will build trust and lay a solid foundation, not only for the couple in their personal relationship, but also for the successful continuation of the business.

Elizabeth Gallagher is a consultant in Sintons’ award-winning family team. To speak to Elizabeth, please contact her on elizabeth.gallagher@sintons.co.uk or 0191 226 7813.

Our A-Z of Family Law

Family law is varied and can often be complex. Our A-Z of Family Law will help you navigate.

A is for Arbitration. An out of Court and private process which can provide a legally binding decision on financial issues and the arrangements for children.

B is about Birth certificate which should include both parent’s names.

C is for Children and keeping them safe, happy and completely away from the adult issues.

D is for Divorce and Dissolution. Now issued online and with ‘no fault’ currently being legislated for, can be a very straightforward process.

E relates to the financial statement commonly referred to as Form E which helps set out the financial circumstances of the case.

F is for Family Consultant who can assist and support the parties with the emotional aspects of their matter.

G is about the family specific Goals you want to achieve throughout your process.

H is about the family Home and what should happen to that, in the short and long term, upon a separation.

I is about Information supplied within a matter to enable parties to make an informed and fair decision.

J is for Juggling your circumstances during a separation, divorce and dissolution.

K is for Knowledge and discovering the best way forward for you.

L relates to Learning to navigate the transitional period and your future circumstances.

M is for Mediation, a service which facilitates discussion and negotiation between the parties.

N relates to Normalising the fact that you may struggle with the separation or issues with your children and may require support.

O is for having a financial Order in each and every case which will ensure a clean break if appropriate.

P relates to Parental Responsibility, the rights and duties which flow from being a parent. Mothers automatically have this; fathers need to acquire it.

Q is for questionnaire. Often necessary in financial cases to obtain further information and documentation.

R is for Resolution. An organisation which puts family law first and expects its members to adhere to its Code of Conduct.

S relates to various Services such as therapy or counselling which will provide you with the tools you need to manage the process.

T is all about Talking. A problem shared is a problem halved!

U is for Understanding and a willingness to deal with things in a constructive and non-confrontational way.

V relates to the veracity of your Sintons legal team.

W is for Will.  Something you should consider making or amending if you are separating.

X is for the cross on the hundreds of Court applications we make each year.

Y relates to Yes and exploring various avenues to assist in dealing with your family matter.

Z is for zero chance of properly resolving your financial circumstances without the input of legal representatives.

Should you wish to discuss any of the matters raised above or anything else relating to your family matter, then please get in touch.

Recent developments on coercive control

Domestic abuse is no longer limited to its stereotypical definition of physical violence. Indeed, both in criminal law and family law, what is considered as a form of domestic abuse has been significantly widened and whilst the Court is alive to this, the way it is managed within legal proceedings still has a long way to go.

There is no legal definition of domestic abuse, but it is recognised as “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse” which also includes financial control.

More recently covert recordings have been considered as a form of coercion and will not be viewed lightly by the Court. This is reflected in a recent judgement where Justice Poole held that secret recordings a man took of his wife was an ‘act of control’. Furthermore, it is important to appreciate that this type of behaviour does not just simply impact the victim alone but also any children and extended family. An example of this is reflected in M v F (2016) whereas part of family law proceedings, the father used various devices to record private conversations of his child with professionals by sewing them into the child’s clothes or by using a mobile phone.

We can only assume that he had hoped this would help his case but in fact the Court held that this act will only further damage the relationship with his child and the use of covert recordings was one of the indicators that the father was unable to meet the emotional needs of the child.

This does not necessarily mean that all covert recordings would result in a form of coercion and sometimes there may be a good argument in favour of covert recordings, but Jackson J concluded by stating that when it comes to covert recordings you should think carefully about the consequences.

Although it can be said that coercive control has long been recognised to form part of domestic abuse it is argued that this type of domestic abuse is largely under reported in case law within Family Court proceedings. The judgement of F v M (2021) is notably the first case to reach the High Court that deals with this type of domestic abuse. Hayden J took the opportunity to emphasise that coercion is unlikely to be an isolated incident and will usually involve a pattern of acts which can illuminate how sinister this form of abuse can be. Therefore, as practitioners it is important for us to look at the bigger picture.

Hayden J was asked to consider how appropriate the use of a Scott Schedule is for coercive control and whilst he was reluctant to be too critical, he made it clear that the Scott Schedule alone may be inappropriate and the Court must consider the full history of the relationship in order to fully appreciate the pattern of behaviour and harm caused.

However, we continue to make strides in this area following the ‘Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases’ report which was published in June 2020 and as more cases of this nature are being heard, it will begin to be standard practice to not only recognise this as a factor in the relationship, but have it robustly dealt with within proceedings.

The Family Team at Sintons LLP are well equipped with dealing with matters of this sort and are always keeping up to date as the law changes. If you feel you could benefit from our services, please contact 0191 226 7878 or visit the Sintons website.