Category Archive: Family News

A live Q&A with Sinton’s Family team – Episode 8

In episode 8 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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 Sinton’s Family team – Episode 7

In episode 7 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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 Sinton’s Family team – Episode 6

In episode 6 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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 Sinton’s Family team – Episode 5

In episode 5 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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 Sinton’s Family team – Episode 4

In episode 4 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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 Dodds, Cristina Falzon, Lauren Fraser, 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 Sinton’s Family team – Episode 3

In episode 3 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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 Sinton’s Family team – Episode 2

In episode 2 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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 Dodds, 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

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

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

A live Q&A with Sinton’s Family team – Episode 1

In episode 1 of our monthly live Q&A sessions with Sintons family team, solicitor Sophie Dodds 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 Dodds 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

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.


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

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

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 Dodds 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

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 Dodds, 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.


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.


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 Dodds 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 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.

View from the laptop

It is now almost a year ago that I left the office with a laptop, just before the first official lockdown was imposed, thinking that I would possibly be working at home for a couple of weeks.  The following day I went for a walk with two friends both of whom are medics, and it was difficult to know how serious the situation was.  On the one hand we discussed issues such as should we make a swift visit to the hairdressers.  On the other hand one of the medics described the situation as a tsunami that had not yet hit the shores of the north east of England.

Almost 12 months later, (with not many visits to the hairdressers in between), I am still at home with my laptop.  Having purchased a keyboard, mouse a second screen and a printer, I am as well set up as I would be in the office, and I wonder if I will be able to re-adapt back to office life.

No one could really have envisaged how work and home life would have changed over the last 12 months.  In the past I have always enjoyed an occasional day working from home, but before embarking on such a day, as I was paranoid about not having access to a particular document, I would pack a large suitcase of files to be dragged to the car and into the house when I arrived home.

Over the last 12 months, I have amazed myself how I have managed without masses of paper, and although I admit to occasionally printing off a document, I have done this much less frequently as the time has passed.

On the negative side, working from home can be isolating.  It is not so easy to pick a colleague’s brain and there is no general chit chat that breaks up the day.

In terms of the day-to-day work of a family lawyer, it is also not as easy to be as empathetic or to get to know a new client or put a new client at ease when you meet them for the first time on zoom or discuss matters over the telephone.

Court appointments are generally remote by telephone or video platform.  If a client has to give evidence, this is not ideal by video link and a client listening into a court hearing taking place on the telephone, may find it difficult to tell which voice belongs to which representative and who is the judge.

Equally however there are many advantages with the new regime: –

  • There is no time wasted commuting to work, travelling to meetings or Court appointments.
  • There is no time wasted waiting at Court not knowing whether the case will proceed if another case in the list is taking longer than expected.
  • Undertaking work more efficiently reduces costs for the client and hopefully improves the work / life balance for the lawyer.
  • There are fewer distractions in a working day and if a colleague wants to discuss an issue, usually a catch up is scheduled for a pre-arranged time. Whilst some spontaneity is lost, this helps with organising your working day and cutting down on distractions.
  • Team meetings can still take place as can joint meetings with other parties.
  • From the point of view of clients, there is more flexibility in terms of appointments and no issues about travelling to an appointment. In some situations whether it be a meeting or a Court appointment, a client can feel more at ease participating from the comfort of their own home as opposed to them being in an unfamiliar solicitors’ office or Court room.
  • Geography is no longer a bar to receiving instructions, instructing experts or obtaining training.

On balance, my view from the laptop is very positive. Whilst it is clear that we will still need to have face to face interaction with colleagues and clients in the future, whatever the future holds, I am sure that the “new normal”, will look quite different to the situation 12 months ago.

First impressions Saffron Sinclair – Family Team

Having now completed my first two years as a Solicitor Apprentice in the Commercial Property department which I thoroughly enjoyed; I am now grateful to have joined the Family Team for my second seat here at Sintons.

When I became aware that my second seat would be in the Family Team, I was excited to take on a new challenge. My initial thoughts were that Commercial Property and Family could not be further apart from one another in terms of law and approach and I was looking forward to seeing how the two differ and to further widen my skill set.

Having now completed my second week in Family I am already realising that the two practices are not so different after all. Family incorporates a wide range of areas including but not limited to land law which covers issues relating to cohabitees, issues surrounding children for example the arrangements between parents and grandparent’s rights, finances, pensions companies, protecting those assets by way of a Nuptial Agreement and of course divorce and dissolution.

The main difference is the litigious side of Family law and it is fascinating to learn how to engage with the Court and what documents are required to be filed and when.

The knowledge that I have acquired during my time in Commercial Property and from having studied land law, civil litigation procedure and equity and trusts at University recently has helped me to obtain a better grasp on the intricate details of the law which are required when guiding a client through their family issue.

Not only do I take this legal knowledge with me into my new seat I also bring a developed set of interpersonal skills and most importantly increased confidence.

Currently, my day typically consists of issuing divorce proceedings, attending (remotely of course via video and telephone) a wide range of Court hearings and client appointments, corresponding with clients on a regular basis and preparing the necessary applications and supporting evidence for financial disclosure.

Thus far every day has been different not least because each family is unique with various needs and will usually involve dealing with a wide range of matters.

I had previously thought that litigation would be argumentative and cutthroat, but I have come to realise that more often than not, the Sintons Family Team approach matters in a collaborative way (regardless of whether there is litigation underway) in order to obtain a quick and fair solution as well as being cost effective.

The skills that I am currently developing is having the ability to support clients, manage their expectations whilst trying to achieve their desired outcome.  It appears to me that a large part of the job is to understand the importance of empathy whilst taking a logical and objective approach as to the advice and likely outcome.

I am also honing my organisation skills given that often matters need to be attended to urgently and Court deadlines met.

It has been a great pleasure so far to be supervised by Louise Masters, a very experienced Senior Associate with a wide range of skills and to work alongside the rest of the team as they help me to grow into a better, well rounded solicitor.

If you feel you could benefit from our family team services or would like to know more about the solicitor apprenticeship please contact us on 0191 226 7878 or visit the Sintons website.

‘We’re proud to have helped make Sintons the firm it is’

As Sintons celebrates its 125th anniversary, some of its team share their thoughts and experiences of being part of the firm and playing their role in its growth. From those who have been at Sintons for over 30 years to those who have joined more recently, here they discuss what makes the firm stand out in the competitive legal marketplace, while also being a great place to work.

Amanda Maskery, partner and head of NHS healthcare

“I have been at Sintons now for nearly 20 years and during that time I have progressed from trainee to partner level and more recently to head of our fast-growing NHS Healthcare team. Many of my clients have been with Sintons for years and grown with me and I think a large part of that is because we have built such strong and trusting relationships with them.

The firm has grown significantly since I first started working here – it has doubled in size.  However, the same culture, values and traditions are still imbedded which means whilst the firm changed in size, it still embraces the supportive nurturing culture you only find at Sintons which cascades from the top down.

As I began life as a trainee at Sintons, it’s fantastic to be able to support others in progressing and achieving their goals. We have a strong team and great dynamic and that is evident to our young lawyers who bring with them a refreshing approach to the Sintons culture.”

Leah Greenwell, solicitor apprentice

“Starting my career, it was important to find a firm with local roots and a reputation for providing high quality training. The first-class levels of service Sintons provide is testament to the standard of training they deliver, and there was no question which firm I wanted my career to start in.

Sintons have always focused on ensuring that my development is put first and have laid the foundations for a successful career as a solicitor. Being a full service firm has given me the opportunity to experience all areas of law and has exposed me to a variety of high value and complex work. I look forward to what the future holds for me at Sintons.

Although the marketplace is competitive, Sintons longstanding history and their presence, both locally and nationally, will always place them at the forefront.”

Anne Smith, secretary

“I started at Sintons in 1986 and this year in November will have been here for 35 years.

I still remember my first day like it was yesterday. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, and it is still like that today – almost like a second family to me.

“I have mainly worked in private client and worked for lots of fee earners and partners. In 2000 I started working for Steve Freeman who then went on to become a Partner and Head of the Private Client Department. I have now worked for him for 21 years this year and I can honestly say it has been a pleasure and an honour to work for such a lovely man – we have a great working relationship. I also work with the rest of the Family Department and work for such lovely fee earners.

I am also very proud to say that my daughter Emma also works for Sintons in the Conveyancing Department and she also loves her job and the team she works with.

I have seen many changes over the years but one thing remains constant – Sintons is a great place to work. I have made lifelong friends here and they will remain so.”

Emelie Vardon, solicitor

“Sintons’ heritage was very important to me when choosing to join Sintons. I came here as a trainee solicitor in 2017 and making the right choice for my future career was crucial. Knowing Sintons’ reputation and history, I couldn’t have made a better decision.

This is such a great place to work with a warm and welcoming environment. Following the completion of my training contract in 2019, I joined our developing Wills, Trusts and Estate Disputes team. Under Emma Saunders’ excellent leadership and support, my first year as a qualified solicitor has been excellent groundwork for my future career in this specialist area of law.

As a full-service law firm, I consider that Sintons is well-placed in the competitive market.”

Mark Dobbin, partner and head of real estate

“I joined Sintons as a trainee in September 1997. At the time the firm consisted of about 80-90 people. We were operating from an office in Portland Terrace in Jesmond, it was like a rabbit warren for a new starter as it was multiple old terraced houses converted and joined on different floors.

The main changes have been the massive growth in size and expertise, plus multiple office moves until finally landing at the Cube. When I qualified in 1999 myself and the partner at the time (Andrew Walker) were the Sintons commercial property department. Since then we have grown significantly.

Sintons has always been and remains a great place to work, we have an excellent team in Real Estate and will continue to succeed because of the efforts of our staff.”

Pippa Aitken, senior associate

“Sintons was much smaller when I joined in 1998. It was a friendly, family firm renowned for its reputation in private client and personal injury work. There was no dedicated corporate and commercial department.

“I was the only trainee and was sent on all sorts of weird and wonderful jobs – witnessing wills, attending infant settlements and the odd trip to the bank for the accounts department!

Sintons has become a lot more sophisticated in its working procedures and there is a much faster pace of life with emails being the most popular form of communication. I have seen some great lawyers leave and some great lawyers arrive but everyone soon seems to inherit the ‘old’ Sintons sense of fun, respect and teamwork.

Sintons is in a great place going forward. Virtual working has opened up some great opportunities to spread our wings and engage with clients even better than before.”

Sarah Smith, partner and head of licensing

“The firm has almost doubled in size since I started in  2005. The range of services offered by the firm has expanded quite significantly since then too, making the firm much more attractive to commercial clients.

When I first came to Sintons, I headed up the department with Lucy Winskell (now chair of NELEP and Pro Vice-Chancellor of Northumbria University). Since her departure I have headed it up myself. In spite of that, the department has grown in its client base and the amount of work we deal with on an annual basis.

With the growth in size and services we continue to see, I think Sintons are very well placed in the market to take advantage of opportunities going forward.”

Astrid Stevenson, secretary

“I joined Sintons on 21 October, 1997, and will have been here for 25 years this year.

I think when I started there were only about 80 people working at Sintons. We were based in Portland Terrace then moved to Osborne Terrace. We didn’t have open plan working like we have now, we had little rooms with approximately 3 secretaries in each room. I shared a room with Anne Smith from the first day I arrived and we have been firm friends ever since. Fee earners all had their own office. Basically, it was like a rabbit warren.

The staffing levels were very much smaller then, as I say about 80 staff then and now we have more than double that number. The computer system (Word Perfect 5.1) and equipment were top of the range for the time, and I think that has carried on until this day, our IT department have the latest of everything and are basically top notch.

Since I started 25 years ago, the firm has changed and has always moved forward with the times.  When I started there were no female partners. Hilary Parker and Karen Simms became the first, which was a very welcome breakthrough for Sintons.

We were like one big happy family with lots of social events, which thankfully still happen to this day, keeping the ethos of Sintons going.

I think if I didn’t enjoy working here I wouldn’t be celebrating my 25th years this year at Sintons. I’ve worked for the head of dispute resolution Angus Ashman for 24 of those years, and I think we work well together because we work as a team.

This is a very nice place to work, the people are all friendly and If anyone needs help with anything there is always someone there to help. I always think we are only as good as the tools we work with and I must say Sintons do provide all the best equipment and people and it makes the job so much easier if you have things like that in place.”

Sintons’ development – reflections from the Chairman

Sintons’ chairman, Alan Dawson, is one of the firm’s longest-serving people, having joined in 1980. Here, he shares his thoughts on some of the biggest changes and advances he has seen in the past 41 years.


When I joined in 1980, we used manual typewriters, although thankfully electric typewriters had recently become available. There were no screens at that time, but over the years we added one-line screens to the typewriters, then that went up to three or four lines. It was the early 1990s before we introduced computers.

There were no colour photocopiers so all of the plans we copied were in black and white. We would have to go over them with coloured pens to make them the same as the original.

The introduction of fax in the 80s was a game changer, everything before then was done by Telex or telegram if we needed ‘instant’ communication. The only problem was that due to the paper fax machines used at that time, the print would fade – we’d go back to the file six months later and the sheet would be completely blank! We had to remember to photocopy the fax when they came in for use in our records.

With property completions, all bank-to-bank transfers involved getting an actual cheque from the bank, and then going to the office of the other solicitor in the transaction to inspect the deeds and then complete the deal. Fridays, the traditional completion day, were often spent going between solicitors’ offices in Newcastle.

When mobile phones were introduced, we had one mobile for the firm to use, we didn’t have one each. It was one of the brick-like phones with a huge battery, but it was a huge novelty.

Thankfully things have moved on hugely, and Sintons now has a first-rate technology and IT infrastructure, which enables us to offer a very efficient service to our clients while keeping their data fully secure.

Size of the firm

Back in 1980, we had about 36 people – now we have around 170.

We really started to grow from the mid to late 90s, and in 1998 we moved our offices from Portland Terrace in Jesmond to bigger premises in Osborne Terrace, which comprised three and a half houses next to each other with an overspill office further down the road. We imagined that would give us room to grow for the next 15 years – but within the next two or three years, it was already too small.

We came to The Cube in 2004 and at first didn’t use the top floor of our four-floor building, although within the next couple of years we had expanded into there.

Over the years, we have added many outstanding lawyers to our team, both through recruitment from other firms as well as training young people-in house. Our commitment to supporting aspiring lawyers through their training contract has been unfaltering – I joined as an articled clerk (or trainee, as it’s now known) and have progressed through the ranks.

As the firm has grown then so too has our back-office and support functions developed. We didn’t have the infrastructure we have now, so no HR, IT or marketing department.

Our accounts system was all manual, the cashier had to write everything by hand. There was one card per client, so if you had to borrow it, then they couldn’t make any more entries for that client until you returned it.

Our HR function was our office manager, who kept a record of who was off and the reasons for their absence – reading it now, some of the reasons are quite amusing!

Law firms weren’t allowed to advertise at all until the late 1980s, so the only kind of marketing we could do was through the Yellow Pages. Now, we operate at the very forefront of the sector, adopting digital way before many of our competitors, and that early investment is helping us to stay ahead in the marketplace.

Practice areas

In the 1980s when I joined, Sintons had a very significant insurance litigation practice which acted for four or five of the major national insurers. The revenue from that area of the business probably accounted for two thirds of our entire income. However, in the early 1990s, we recognised that reliance on a few large clients or a particular work stream was not the best way to develop the firm and could make us vulnerable. We therefore made concerted efforts to radically change our business model and to further grow the other practice areas we had operated in for many years, including private client, corporate and commercial and real estate, and they proved to be areas of strong development for us. They continue to be key areas of the business for us and will be central to our ongoing progress as a firm.

We also moved into claimant personal injury work, which really took off in the late 90s and early 2000s. More recently, we have developed our national reputation as specialists in catastrophic and serious personal injury work with a thriving specialist neurotrauma department which handles life-changing brain and spinal cord injury work.

National reach

In the early days, we were more of a regional firm with clients mainly across the North East, and some in the wider North. Occasionally, clients moved to elsewhere in England which helped us to reach out nationally on a small scale, but we didn’t have much of a national reach.

However, as we grew as a firm, we started to work on a more national basis and now on an international basis as well. The improvement of technology was also an important factor in enabling us to communicate with people wherever they were by phone or fax, but more recently by mobile phone, email or even video calling which has proved so important during the pandemic.

Through our efforts to grow individual areas of the business – which in many instances have demonstrated substantial growth over the course of a number of years, underpinned by the hard work of our people – we have been able to add outstanding new lawyers to the team, whether they have moved to Sintons from elsewhere or have been trained in-house.

Now, we have a number of areas of the business which are regarded in the highest terms nationally, including our healthcare team, which has grown its presence over the past 10 to 15 years to become a national leader in its field.

We continue to receive growing numbers of instructions from across the UK and wider afield in almost all areas of the business, as our capability and reputation as a firm builds further still.

Building on our heritage to create a strong future

1896 marked a year of historic new beginnings and breakthroughs.

The year that saw the first modern Olympic Games held in Athens;

The introduction of the X-ray;

The development of the first Ford vehicle, the Quadricycle.

And in such a landmark year as 1896, with events taking place which went on to change history, it is fitting that this was the year when Sintons was founded and the foundations laid for the firm that it would become.

Having been founded as Sutton Cheshire & Thompson on February 8, 1896, to serve the people of Newcastle, the firm then merged with John H. Sintons & Co in 1971 – later becoming Sintons – and has grown into one of the leading law firms in the North of England, acting for ever-increasing numbers of business and private clients both regionally and across the UK.

Over the past 125 years, Sintons has developed a reputation for the quality of its advice, and crucially, the deep and trusting relationships it builds with its clients borne out of the outstanding service it delivers to them.

There are so many momentous events and developments which have taken place over such a long period of time and the world has changed, and continues to change, beyond recognition.

However, throughout that period Sintons has been working alongside individuals, families, businesses and organisations for 125 years, adapting and changing to meet new challenges and will continue to do so for the years to come.

As a law firm for changing times, Sintons continues to evolve, as it has done since 1896, to ensure it stays at the forefront of the legal market and in the best possible position to deliver excellence to its clients.

“Over the past 125 years, we have continually shown we are innovators, we are leaders. We have never been afraid to take bold decisions,” says Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons.

“A great example of this is when we invested in our head office, The Cube, in 2004. We were moving to an area of the city which was largely undeveloped and were, largely, surrounded by the old Scottish and Newcastle plant. Looking around us now, this is a thriving, fast-growing and sought-after area, which is the site of huge investment from both business and academia. We had the foresight to buy into these brave future plans and the ambition to want to become part of it.

“In these changing times, we will continue to evolve and develop, as we have done throughout our history, to ensure that at all times we are delivering the very best service to all our clients while also building and investing in the firm from within.

“We have stood the test of time for 125 years and are committed to ensuring Sintons maintains the reputation and presence that has been built so carefully into the future.”

For Christopher, who joined Sintons in 2003, the main differentiator between Sintons and its competitors is its unfaltering commitment to clients.

While continuing to attract new clients nationally, the firm is rightly proud of its longstanding client base, which includes many who have been with Sintons through multiple generations of their family or business ownership.

“The firm’s absolute priority from day one has been our clients and ensuring they receive the highest standards of legal and personal service. Our reputation is built on those foundations, which were laid by our previous generations of Sintons’ lawyers, and is one we are proud to continue to develop further,” says Christopher.

“At Sintons, we care about what we do, how we do it and we never forget that the clients we are working with are depending on us for, often, some of the most momentous decisions of their lives. As a firm, we recognise both the privilege and the responsibility that goes with this, it is fundamental to how we work and to our values as a business.

“Our clients are the front, back and centre of everything we do. We’ve been there for them whenever they’ve needed us for 125 years and that will continue to be the case as we move forward.”

And building further on its reputation for leading the way in the legal marketplace, Sintons continues to innovate to stand out from the crowd.

Having carried out a full rebrand in early 2020, to give the firm a fresh yet timeless identity, Sintons continues to invest in its future.

“Our rebrand was a significant step for the firm,” says Christopher. “Our branding represents the firm that we are; bold, innovative and providing clear and confident advice to our clients – a firm that stands out from the crowd.

“The use of technology to better serve our clients has always been an essential part of our growth strategy. Our founding partners would be aghast at the thought that we were able to have virtually all our colleagues working remotely – with some as far away as the Cayman Islands and Texas – without any impact on client service.

“By investing heavily in our website and online presence, we have created a resource which is available to clients wherever they are in the UK or indeed the world, giving them immediate access to information and support in ways which weren’t available before.

“The legal sector isn’t always the first to embrace change, but we are rightfully proud of the reputation we have built for standing out in that respect. For 125 years, we have taken bold moves, we have never shied away from making investment to equip the business for the long-term, and we have shown foresight and innovation to make the firm what it is today.

“This is a landmark anniversary for us, and in uncertain times, the investment we have made for many years in our infrastructure, development of our people and strategic recruitment means we remain confident in our future and the service we can continue to provide to our clients and to the regional community of which we are a fundamental part.

“These truly are changing times – but with 125 years behind us then we must be doing something right!  We know that our business will continue to evolve, with further investments in technology and infrastructure changing how and where we work. However, as we move forward, what is clear is that Sintons will always be right there, by the side of our clients, as we have been since 1896.”

Law firm Sintons is marking its 125th anniversary

Since its foundation in 1896, Sintons has grown to become one of the leading law firms in the North of England with a client base which extends across the whole UK.

It has become known as a key advisor to businesses and individuals acting on major, complex matters, regionally, nationally and internationally.

In many of its practice areas, including business, healthcare, private client and neurotrauma, Sintons is regarded as one of the UK’s leading specialist advisors.

Sintons has built a well-deserved reputation for delivering expert legal advice and outstanding service to every client, which is at the heart of the trusting and long-lasting relationships it has built during the past 125 years.

Testament to the quality of service provided is the fact that many of the firm’s clients have been with Sintons for decades, with the firm routinely being trusted to advise multiple generations of families and business owners.

Now, in its 125th year, and despite the ongoing challenges being presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sintons remains confident in its future as the firm continues to develop and grow.

The firm can trace its roots back to the formation of Sutton Cheshire & Thompson on February 8, 1896, which merged with John H. Sinton & Co in 1971 to become Sinton & Co, and later Sintons.

The expansion of the amalgamated firm has seen it move offices a number of times in order to house its growing number of employees, moving from Portland Terrace in Jesmond to bigger premises in Osborne Terrace which were soon outgrown, resulting in the relocation in 2004 to its current purpose-built home, The Cube, opposite St James’ Park in Newcastle. A second site was added with the opening of a consulting office in York two years ago to help the firm service its increasing demand for work from around Yorkshire.

The move in 2004 acted as a springboard in the development of Sintons, with many people not having realised how big the firm had grown and heralded a period of strong growth across the firm as a whole, with legal talent continually added to build its expertise and capability further still.

This has been backed by continued investment in its IT infrastructure, digital offering and people, to ensure Sintons is well positioned for the future.

“We are very proud of the reputation we have built over the past 125 years, which has seen us become known on a national scale as a law firm of the highest capability which is absolutely dedicated to its clients,” says Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons.

“We have never been afraid to be leaders and to take bold decisions, which have frequently put us at the very forefront of the legal sector. We were, for example, building our online presence and digital business development platforms way ahead of our competitors and long before it was something that was embraced widely within the legal sector.

“Going forward, we are in a strong position, having built on the heritage and legacy of Sintons over the past 125 years to create a law firm with a national reach, regarded in the highest terms for the quality of both our legal and personal client service.

“This is a very significant milestone for us as a business, and while we reach it during some of the most challenging economic conditions in the country’s history, we remain confident in the future of Sintons.”

Increasing confidence in separation and divorce

As we hurtle through 2021 (astonishing that we are in February already) it would seem that any reticence in taking active and formal steps with regard to separation and divorce seems to have subsided.

Along with the usual increase of cases in January, many people deciding that they will ‘get Christmas out of the way first’, the team has received additional enquiries and new instructions from clients who have been very cautious and we would go as far as saying scared of hitherto taking action to end a relationship or trying to resolve matters by way of divorce.

The team has also received a significant increase in cases concerning the arrangements for children. This coincides with the onset of the third national lockdown and whilst parents have had to navigate this situation twice previously it would genuinely seem that this time it is simply taking its toll on already jaded and exhausted families.

The Family Team at Sintons has fully embraced the virtual way of working so that clients’ needs continue to be exceeded.  In fact, we are finding that this approach is often much more convenient for our clients.  Following on from that we have introduced a Virtual Platform which allows our busy clients to engage with us and provide information and documentation when its suits them, not us.

The traditional core hours of practice have become more fluid in the space of the last 12 months and our clients seem on board with these changes.

Coupled with that the team now has the added benefit of a Solicitor Apprentice which provides for a more varied charging structure to suit all of our clients’ budgets.

Whatever your personal situation, you need to be comfortable that it is the right time to take matters forward. That may include having an initial telephone or video chat with us to ensure that you have all the necessary up to date information and are on the right track as to how you would like things to progress.

If you would like to arrange a meeting with a member of the team please contact us on 0191 2267878 or by email

Is there such a thing as a good divorce

While divorce is often associated with conflict and acrimony, it need not always be that way. Elizabeth Gallagher discusses the steps that should be taken to ensure the process is as constructive as possible.

Divorce is, by its very nature, a distressing matter, and must surely be among the most stressful events in life. Usually it is the process of sorting out the family finances that causes the most difficulties.

However, if the process is handled sensitively and constructively, with all possible attempts made to minimise conflict and maximise positive communication, the stress of going through a divorce or separation can be greatly lessened.

When a couple separate, usually they are in different “places”.  One keen to move on (‘the leaver’), and the other experiencing difficulty coming to terms with the end of the relationship, (‘the leavee’).

Getting ready to go through the process of divorce and separation can be likened to an athlete training for an important race. The athlete will not be able to participate without the right ‘kit’ and will not be able to perform to the best of his or her ability without undertaking significant training and being at optimum ‘fitness’.

Appointing a sensible pragmatic lawyer is crucial. In addition to guiding and advising on the legal aspects of the divorce, lawyers should have a good network of other professional contacts, that they can call upon to assist at appropriate stages in the process.

A lawyer who simply bulldozes ahead with the legal issues, without giving consideration to the non-legal issues impacting, in particular, on the leavee, will create an acrimonious situation, often giving the leavee no choice but to instruct a lawyer to fight his or her corner.

The leavee may not be in the right frame of mind to look at the bigger picture, will feel insecure emotionally and financially, and may not be able to process information to make informed decisions. This can make the process become protracted, often resulting in litigation which in turn will increase costs and be stressful.

Often it can save time and be more cost effective if non-legal issues that can give rise to the aforementioned scenario, can be highlighted at the outset, and another professional brought into the process to assist.

Such professionals could include Family Consultants, who 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 dealt with and communicated to the legal team. This then helps both parties to get to optimum ‘fitness’ to embark on the process of divorce.

In addition to getting to optimum ‘fitness’ to deal with the legal issues, the appropriate ‘kit’ needs to be assembled before a financial decision can be made. This involves collating and exchanging financial information, so a picture is built up as to what is in the matrimonial pot.

It is vital to identify what is important and how best to achieve this at an early stage, as this can save time and money and will reduce stress and acrimony.

There is no point in a solicitor spending an inordinate amount of time wading through accounts they don’t understand, or looking at complicated documents about pensions, as they are not trained to do this and it will waste time and expense.

Lawyers can advise on legal issues but issues that require expert financial advice, should be referred to an appropriate expert, on a joint basis at an early stage.

Information can be provided by experts such as accountants, actuaries or independent financial advisors. This will enable transparent and informed discussions to take place with the expert and the parties at an early stage.

Once all the ‘kit’ has been assembled, the parties have to find a way of dividing the assets in a way that they think is reasonably fair, and that they can live with.

Asking a Court to make this decision is often not the best option, although if one party refuses to engage in the process or fails to disclose information, there may be no other option but to pursue a court application.

The Court process is slow and is a lottery, as different Judges will interpret the law in different ways. This means that the experience of going to Court is usually expensive and stressful.

A sensible, pragmatic lawyer will advise on all the options to resolve issues and steer a client towards the process that best suits that client and their family. This may be through the process of mediation, the collaborative process, instructing a barrister on a joint basis to give an early neutral evaluation, or referring the matter to arbitration whether this is to resolve all issues, or just a discrete issue.

Resolving financial matters when parties divorce, is not about blame or punishment for ‘bad’ behaviour. It is a problem-solving exercise to allow a couple to move forward with their lives.

With the right advice and assistance, there still may be no such a thing as a “good divorce”, but hopefully the whole experience will not be such a stressful experience, and will enable a couple, particularly with children, to be able to work together more constructively for the benefit of their children in the future.

Good divorce – what does it mean?

Family lawyers at Sintons are giving their support to Good Divorce Week 2020, which promotes the concept of achieving the best outcome in divorce or separation matters while avoiding acrimony.

Good Divorce Week is an annual initiative which aims to promote practical and constructive ways for divorcing couples, and supports parents to put the needs of their children first, which is a particularly important focus in the run-up to Christmas.

Organised by Resolution, a community of over 6,500 family justice professionals nationally who work with families and individuals to resolve issues in a constructive way, Good Divorce Week 2020 focuses around the body’s Code of Practice.

The aim is to show the value of seeking advice at the earliest possible stage, and how consulting a law firm which is committed to seeking an amicable way forward can help achieve the best results for all parties.

The family team at Sintons – winner of the Family Team of the Year at the most recent Northern Law Awards – is committed to adopting a holistic approach from the outset to achieve the best outcome for their client and family, and will always consider options including mediation and collaborative practice if and when appropriate.

Louise Masters, a senior associate in Sintons’ family team and member of Resolution, says Sintons are proud to support Good Divorce Week.

“We agree fully with the aims of Good Divorce Week and the concept that divorce and separation need not necessarily be acrimonious,” she says.

“Our aim is always to find the most amicable way forward, as we believe that will achieve the best solution for everyone, particularly where children are involved. These situations are often highly emotional and distressing, and by turning to alternatives to litigation where possible, that can help to preserve relationships in the longer term.

“We will always look at every option available in such matters, and will do whatever we can to enable parents to put their children’s needs first.”

* The family team at Sintons will offer free initial 30-minute consultations during Good Divorce Week, November 30 to December 4, to maximise its support of the campaign. For more information, please contact Louise Masters on

Top tips for separating families

The law, as a set of rules, is often regarded as detached and rigid so how does that fit with the family and all of the emotions which flow from a family breakdown?

These tips will hopefully help in breaching that void and assisting you to embark on the process in a constructive way.

  1. Choose the right lawyer

A good family lawyer will be alive to the fact that your family is unique and will approach your case with no pre-conceptions as to what you want to achieve.

One size does not fit all – your lawyer will listen to you and guide you through the best options for you and the family.

Trust is a very important aspect in this relationship and make sure that you have confidence in your chosen lawyer.

  1. Listen to your lawyer

You engage us to provide you with professional, tailored and direct advice.  Some of the things you hear may be very difficult to process and accept as you may have had a different plan.

Remember a good family lawyer has your best interests in mind at every stage of the advice and case and will try to help you meet your objectives.

  1. Mental Health

Regardless of what has taken place during the relationship or after, try to remember that both of you may be struggling.  It is likely that you will each feel various strong emotions at different times and you may benefit from some external individual help, such as a counsellor to support you through the process.

  1. Put your children first

Whilst children are resilient they are also very perceptive and can pick up on the slightest negative quip or comment.

Both parents should focus on shielding their children from any conflict and putting their needs before their own.

  1. Remain open-minded

The process is designed to be fair to both parties and you will receive advice about how a Judge would view your case.  In a family situation, there are no winners and losers – it is about making the best of the breakdown so that you can move forward in a positive fashion.

  1. Talk about it

Whilst your situation will be as unique as your family, it is likely that someone you know has been through something similar.

Research shows that venting or getting things off your chest, can help to reduce the flight or fight response and allow for a more logical thought process.

  1. Be patient

A straightforward divorce or dissolution in 2019 was taking around 66 weeks to conclude. Much of this was due to Court administrative backlogs which should be eased by the introduction of online divorce.

However, especially if there are finances or children involved, your case will not be resolved overnight, so try and be patient.

  1. Try ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution)

There are various methods in which you can resolve your family matters. Your lawyer will discuss these options with you to help you consider which route may suit your family.

They include the more traditional negotiation between solicitors, mediation, collaborative practice, court proceedings, private settlement conferences and arbitration. Please listen to our podcast on this issue for more information.

Family law and disputes about children

Sir Andrew McFarlane, the head of Family Justice in the UK, has supported a recent report which suggests that lawyers and Court proceedings should be the last resort when parents separate.

At present, around 40% of families take this course of action and the Court system is really struggling.

Instead, we should move towards a model of education for separating parents so that they can support each other and their children in their new roles and circumstances.

Of course the language and ethos of family law has changed considerably over the years, from the 19th Century when children were essentially property of the father, with the mother having very little or no say, to a complete reversal in the 20th Century of the ‘stay at home’ mother with significantly greater perceived rights than the father.

Thankfully, recent changes have abolished the types of orders which would give one parent the ‘upper hand’ and we are now in a position whereby both parents do have equal rights in law and the encouraged position is that the child should live with both parents at different times of the week (so long as there are no welfare concerns).

It is worth pointing out that there does not need to be an exact split of time to ensure that the children benefit from this ‘shared’ care arrangement. This provides a more level playing field and will hopefully support and encourage improved communication between the parents.

Whilst enhanced education would be brilliant, and the current Contact Activity Direction – the Separated Parenting Information Programme (or SPIP as it is often called) – receives very positive feedback from my clients who are referred onto it, this is only part of the solution.

As a profession, with assistance from the wider community, we can teach parents the theory as to why it would be better to work together, why it would be harmful to children if they bring them into the adult dispute or talk negatively about the other parent, but we cannot force them to accept and put into practice what they have learned.

All good family lawyers, will, as a matter of course, advise clients of all the other possible avenues to resolve their issues, during the initial meeting. These include mediation (which can currently take place virtually), collaborative practice, Arbitration and will also consider whether to signpost the client to counselling. So, from the outset, the profession is guiding clients down the right track for them, which may not necessarily be Court proceedings.

I am a strong advocate of these methods, especially given we can introduce trained professionals into those processes such as Family Consultants who can tend to the emotional aspects of the family and help parents through whatever they are facing.

However – and this why the Court process will still be used regularly by separating parents even if they are fully educated – separation, in whatever form, brings with it a high level of emotions which can impact upon people’s ability to be rational in the circumstances.

All family lawyers deal with clients who feel, contrary to legal advice, that they know what is best for their children. Often this is at odds with what the other parent feels is best for the same children. Sadly therefore, in these matters, the Court will need to decide. Parents should not feel bad about resorting to a Court application, if that is what their family requires.

If parents are struggling, a good family lawyer should be the first resort.

The lawyer should take an holistic approach to determine what is best for that particular family.

Whilst it would be unlikely for an immediate or urgent application to Court to be made (except in circumstances where the children could be at risk), it may be necessary sooner rather than later to ensure that children have a good quality relationship with both parents and their respective families.

Family law – where are we now?

Senior Associate Louise Masters from the Family Law team at Sintons recently recorded a podcast entitled ‘Family law – where are we now?’

Please click on the link below to listen.

Runners raise over £1,500 through Great North Run Solo

Over £1,500 has been raised so far by Sintons’ team of runners who took on the Great North Run Solo challenge.

The six-strong team committed to each completing 40 runs as part of the challenge, to mark the 40th anniversary of the Great North Run, which this year was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Collectively, the team ran more than 1,100km during the period of the Great North Run Solo challenge, which ran from June 28 – the birthday of the iconic half marathon from Newcastle to South Shields – and September 13, the date the event was due to be held.

In addition to funds raised for the NHS Charities Together COVID-19 Urgent Appeal, the event’s charity partner, Sintons are fundraising for the firm’s nominated charity, the North of England Children’s Cancer Research Fund (NECCR).

To date, more than £1,500 has been raised, with donations continuing to be made in support of the team – head of banking Jane Meikle, head of real estate Mark Dobbin, real estate senior associate Louise Kelly, family senior associate Louise Masters, Court of Protection lawyer Sophie Robinson-Davies and real estate solicitor Alex Wilkins.

“Our team of runners have covered a very impressive collective distance for their Great North Run Solo challenge, and the total they have raised so far is excellent. Their commitment has been excellent and their efforts are greatly appreciated by the firm,” said Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons.

“We would like to thank everyone who has donated in support of our runners. We appreciate that these are very difficult times but through the generosity of so many people, we have added well over £1,200 – and counting – to our ongoing fundraising for NECCR.”

To donate to Sintons’ Great North Run Solo challenge and help raise money for NECCR please visit

Sintons’ runners top 1,100km in Great North Run Solo challenge

The team of runners from Sintons who are taking part in the Great North Run Solo challenge have covered over 1,100km collectively with several days still to go.

Sintons’ team committed their support to the challenge following the cancellation of the Great North Run, the iconic 13.1 mile run from Newcastle to South Shields, in its 40th anniversary year due to COVID-19.

The alternative, the Great North Run Solo challenge, tasks runners with completing a minimum of 40 runs of any distance between June 28 – the birthday of the Great North Run – and September 13, the scheduled date of the 2020 half marathon.

With less than a week remaining, Sintons’ team – head of banking Jane Meikle, head of real estate Mark Dobbin, real estate senior associate Louise Kelly, family senior associate Louise Masters, Court of Protection lawyer Sophie Robinson-Davies and real estate solicitor Alex Wilkins – have collectively covered over 1,100km as they approach their 40-run targets.

In addition to the official Great North Run Solo charity, the NHS Charities Together COVID-19 Urgent Appeal, Sintons are also raising money for the firm’s nominated staff charity, the North of England Children’s Cancer Research Fund (NECCR).

Christopher Welch, managing partner of Sintons, said: “While the cancellation of the Great North Run was very unfortunate, particularly in its 40th anniversary year, the creation of the Great North Run Solo challenge has proved a very worthy alternative for our team at Sintons. While the runs have been done individually, collectively this is a great team effort.

“Furthermore, we are very grateful for the significant donations that have been made so far in support of our team. These are difficult times but the generosity of so many people is greatly appreciated.”

To donate to Sintons’ Great North Run Solo challenge and help raise money for NECCR please visit


Sintons leads way in remote arbitration

Law firm Sintons has become a regional leader in the use of remote arbitration, which has allowed clients to achieve much needed conclusions to their family issues despite the COVID-19 lockdown.

The specialist family team has encouraged parties to agree to arbitration – a form of alternative dispute resolution in finances upon divorce in and cases regarding child arrangements – for some time, as a means of avoiding the traditional costly and lengthy court process.

However, against the current backdrop, in which social distancing continues to be enforced and with the court struggling as a consequence, delays of many months are expected. As a result, Sintons has turned to remote arbitration to support clients in progressing their matters as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Through its use of remote arbitration, Sintons recently secured a binding and final decision for a client within five weeks, compared to the timescale of around 12 weeks just to get to the first hearing (where no decisions can be made) in the traditional court process.

Louise Masters, senior associate in the award-winning family team at Sintons, secured the award in this case, which was one of the first uses of remote arbitration in the North East.

“Whilst Sintons was able to move most employees to remote working essentially overnight, the COVID-19 lockdown has presented many frustrations and anxieties for our clients and their cases, especially where court proceedings were underway. Our absolute commitment to exceeding clients’ expectations meant that we were only too keen to find ways of securing the best route and outcome, while minimising delay where possible. Through the use of remote arbitration, we have been able to do this in a streamline and supported manner,” she said.

“There are various options of alternative dispute resolution and in every matter we are mindful of which method could suit a particular case. Remote arbitration is a new approach and one we at Sintons are very pleased to be leading the way with. The past few weeks have shown this can be done very effectively and efficiently via videoconferencing.

“Courts continue to be under significant pressure with an ever-increasing backlog, which we anticipate may lead to lengthy delays in many cases being heard. The courts themselves are encouraging parties to actively consider the use of alternative means of dispute resolution. Arbitration, and presently remote arbitration, is a very important tool in resolving cases enabling clients to secure a binding decision in a timely manner. Given the recent successes of the process overall, it is something which will be in the forefront of our minds moving forward.”

COVID-19 Q&A | Sintons | Family Law

During these unprecedented times, where the situation is changing on a daily basis, we are aware that individuals and business owners will have many questions and uncertainties about how these developments impact on them.

Here, through a series of Q&A with expert lawyers from across our firm, Sintons hopes to be able to answer some of those pressing questions, and provide some certainty and clarity for people who are unsure how to proceed.

We will bring you a question and answer per day for the next few weeks.

Q – I am isolating with my spouse and family and the situation has become untenable. I have decided I want a divorce. How do I go about initiating this?

A – This is a difficult time for everyone and being isolated together can exacerbate tensions and magnify matters that usually may be tolerable. Before you go any further, be certain that your marriage has come to a conclusion before taking any steps toward divorce.

If you do decide you want to pursue a divorce, this is absolutely possible in the current circumstances as everything can be undertaken remotely. We could have an initial telephone or video meeting and take instructions as to the current situation and how you foresee matters. The divorce can be issued online and we can liaise with your husband or legal representatives by email.

If a Court application is required, this can be made as normal and Court hearings are currently taking place remotely. Alternatively, we can consider whether another form of dispute resolution would be appropriate such as Mediation, Settlement Conference or Arbitration.

Be reassured that matters can progress regardless of the current pandemic, no matter how long it goes on for, and we can support you through the entire process.

* For advice on this or any other family matter, please contact Louise Masters, senior associate in Sintons’ family team, on or 0191 226 3641

How will Coronavirus impact upon children and parents from separated families

Prime Minister’s briefing of 23rd March 2020. 

The world as we know it, for the foreseeable future, faces challenges in unchartered territory. Naturally, health issues, the NHS, and our economy has been at the forefront of the media coverage, but parents and children have questions about their relationships.

Everybody, including separated families, has been told we must live life under a different set of rules. In response to the lack of cooperation with our government’s guidance, from sections of the public, tough measures followed in the Prime Minister’s briefing on the 23rd March 2020. Where does this leave parents that live in separate households?

Momentarily after the briefing I received e-mails from parents seeking confirmation of the current position about moving children between households for the purposes of contact. Many individuals have taken to Twitter in search of answers. The good news is that we do have a degree of clarity about how we make child arrangement orders work.

Gov.UK have released updated guidance stipulating that ‘where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parent’s homes.’

Whilst it is fantastic news that we have a level of guidance, in turn, a plethora of new questions arise. We cannot realistically expect a prescriptive set of rules, exclusively addressing child arrangements, the law relating to separated families in normal circumstances has taken years to evolve. Common sense must prevail, and this may mean making sensible decisions without being told what to do.

I urge parents to be flexible and work together in these difficult times. Consult and communicate, keep talking albeit not face to face. We have so much technology at our fingertips, use skype, face time and co-parent to the best of your ability.

The most important message I want to share is that as a nation we must be the best parents we can.

My time in the team – Private Client Department

Fresh out of University, this was the first seat of my training contract with no real idea what the working world was going to be like.  Nevertheless, I was open minded and ready to learn.

My time was split between the Family team and the Wills, Trust and Probate team.  This was beneficial because it exposed me to a wide range of work. It has made every day completely different.

I read Wills and Trust work whilst at University as well as some Inheritance Tax, so I did have a brief understanding. However, I soon learned that academia is very different to practice. Adhering to timescales and managing client expectations have been particularly noticeable.

I had no prior knowledge of Family Law and was nervous.  I knew that I had to apply myself quickly if I was to properly be of assistance to the team.

I learned about the processes and the soft skills required in this area. Often the clients we attend to are dealing with the most traumatic things that will happen in their lives and part of the role is to put that client at ease whilst trying to deliver the case specific legal advice.

The financial aspects of divorce were fascinating because each case is looked at on the specifics.

Furthermore, I have dealt with interesting matters on protective planning. This included being exposed to pre-nuptial agreements. I originally believed that these were reserved for the rich and famous, but I have come to accept that they can help everyday people plan for their futures.

Perhaps most interestingly, I have been lucky enough to assist the Family team working with the Neurotrauma team.  Maybe this is why my next seat happens to be in Neurotrauma.

I have seen how the two areas of law can work together to better the client.  For example, someone who has suffered a serious injury may need family law advice if their family is going through difficulties.

Similarly, I have seen how the Private Client department as a whole can assist the other departments at Sintons.

For example:

  • The Court of Protection team also helps the Claimant Personal Injury team through Deputyships and Trusts.
  • The Commercial Team can refer their clients to the Family Team if they need private advice.
  • Or the Wills team if they need assistance with their Wills or Tax planning.

These connections between the departments shows the advantages of working in a full-service law firm. We can provide our clients with these varied services all under one roof. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about these connections and will continue to promote the internal referrals.

I have always enjoyed writing and so being encouraged to write articles for Sintons website and social media means a great deal to me and makes me feel appreciated.

The team itself has made me feel settled and supported. They are all approachable and would make time for me. I am grateful for this as starting out in the workplace can be daunting.

The aim of the training contract is to develop your career in various areas which I have certainly done.  I will look back on my time in the Private Client department very positively and I look forward to joining other departments in order to continue my learning experience.

Changing your child’s name – Options and what to watch out for

Changing your child’s name can be an important occasion for your family. There are lots of different things to consider and therefore please take note of the information below before embarking on this process.

One of the ways in which somebody can legally change their name or that of their child’s would be by Deed Poll.

This is a legal document which proves that a change of name has taken place.  It can be used to add or remove names, change any part of it, or change the spelling.

A Deed Poll can be complete in two ways:

  • Unenrolled, drafted and held by the individual; or
  • Enrolled, drafted and lodged with the Court.

Some institutions will not accept an unenrolled Deed Poll and the advice therefore is that it is better to go for the latter.

Once an enrolled Deed Poll is completed, the previous and new name are published in the London Gazette and thus are available to the public.

The process for changing your child’s name via Deed Poll has since come under the spotlight following a recent case in the High Court, W, F, C and D (minors) (Name changes disclosing gender reassignment and other matters) (Rev 1) [2020] EWHC 279 (QB).

The case focuses primarily on children who wish to reassign their gender and the problems parents have encountered when attempting to change their child’s name. However, the case can be widely interpreted and can relate to a usual change of name.

The case centred on the parents of a child undergoing gender reassignment, who completed an enrolled Deed Poll to change the name of their child from a ‘female’ name to a ‘male’ name.

The main issue here was that the information was to become public as mentioned above.

Under separate legislation, it is a criminal offence, for a person in an official capacity, to disclose the fact that a person is of an acquired gender.

Therefore, if, as in this case, the name changes from a stereotypical female name to a stereotypical male name, one may assume that they have undergone gender reassignment thus publicly disclosing the actual fact. This would be contrary to the aforementioned legislation which seeks to achieve privacy and protection for those individuals.

The Judge in this case determined that only the surname would be published.  The court file would be marked as private and could only be inspected with the Court’s permission.

The Judge also stressed that all parents should be aware of the other ways they can change their children’s name.  There are other, more private ways to change a name such as by unenrolled Deed Poll or Statutory Declaration. Both of which fulfil the same purpose.  These documents would be especially useful in cases where the child’s anonymity needs to be preserved due to welfare and risk issues.

In the GDPR age we currently live, people expect a higher degree of anonymity and therefore it begs the question whether reform is on the cards.

Before deciding to embark upon the formal and public route of enrolled Deed Poll, other avenues should be explored in order to decide what is in the best interest of your child.

Modernising Divorce – The Online Process

Sintons LLP’s Family Department is proud to announce that we are now able to issue divorce proceedings quicker and more efficiently by using the online portal from HMCTS.

For decades, the paper process for obtaining divorce has been drawn out and arduous. It added pressure to an already stressful situation for those seeking relief from their marriage or civil partnership, with timescales increasing to around 8-12 months for a straightforward divorce or dissolution. However, with the introduction of the online divorce service, that difficult process can now be made that little bit easier.

Originally offered to Litigants in Person, the scheme was introduced to streamline the process, make it simpler and most importantly, quicker. Thankfully, it has now been rolled out to professionals.

The major benefits are: –

  1. Historically, the petition would have to be submitted in paper and posted to the court, posted out to the respondent who posts back the acknowledgement, (and it wasn’t that long ago that the client had to visit another firm to have their statement in support sworn) then all other correspondence with the court would be via post. This pedestrian approach is outdated in the world in which we currently operate. Now we can submit your petition with just a click of a button and any correspondence we receive is via the portal;
  2. Less time engaged on the telephone with waiting times of up to 30 minutes to speak to an advisor; and
  3. More environmentally friendly. With more than 90,000 divorces last year (each sending the petition of 15 pages in triplicate to the Court) the green impact will be huge.

This is a positive step for anyone in the unfortunate position who requires a divorce or dissolution. It is worth pointing out that the cost will likely remain because although the process is streamlined, the same steps do need to be taken.

If you would like to discuss this service or anything relating to it, please click here.

Divorces in the dental sector

Like many professionals working in the healthcare sector, being a dentist can be a very stressful role. In addition to the long working hours, targets, and financial pressures, dentists’ home lives can also suffer as a result. Sometimes, personal relationships can become strained and can break down – and often, this can be very acrimonious.

Because of the way dental practices are structured, often with monies invested in property or the business by other family members, legal proceedings that follow from a relationship or marriage breakdown can be expensive, protracted and extremely stressful, particularly if other family members have to become involved in the legal proceedings.

Having practiced family law for over 25 years, it is clear that an acrimonious divorce, apart from costing significant sums of money, has a detrimental impact on all parties concerned. Where children are involved, the effect can be long lasting.

In view of this, and taking into account that the current court system is overstretched and under resourced, which means that nothing happens quickly – and also bearing in mind that the court process can be a lottery where control is surrendered to a judge – it makes sense  to consider alternatives to litigation, such as mediation, collaborative practice and arbitration.

With mediation, both parties can resolve all issues that arise upon a relationship breakdown, by discussing matters with an independent mediator. Mediators are there to facilitate discussions and cannot provide legal advice, so usually the parties will obtain some parallel legal advice in addition.

With arbitration, the parties nominate an independent arbitrator who will be a senior lawyer. The process is like hiring a private judge, but the arbitrator can arbitrate on a range of issues or just a discrete issue. Arbitration is suitable where parties are unable to reach a decision themselves and need an independent person to make a decision for them, and is a much quicker and more cost-effective way of a decision being made, rather than embarking on litigation through the Court system.

The collaborative approach involves each party instructing a collaborative lawyer and the parties making a no Court commitment at the outset. This involves the parties agreeing that they will not resolve their issues through the Court process but will resolve their issues in a series of four-way meetings with their collaborative lawyers at their side.

Assuming the parties reach an agreement, this can be converted into a formal Court Order at the end of the process. This means the ultimate outcome, i.e. an enforceable Court Order, is the same as if the parties had issued proceedings at Court – but the major difference is that both parties have input into the final agreement and have complete control over timescales. Moreover, usually the costs will be less than if the case proceeds to a final contested hearing at court.

The advantage of the collaborative process is that it is a team approach and other professionals can be brought into the process to assist, such as accountants or financial advisers, who will look at the best solution for both parties in the light of the available assets.

Whether it is possible to have a ‘good divorce’ is debateable. In cases where there is a family business, such as a dental practice, which is needed to provide income and security for the family going forward, in many cases the collaborative approach can be a much better option. It involves a much more holistic approach rather than two parties going into battle where one is seen to be a winner and the other a loser. In the collaborative approach, both parties can be ‘winners’ if they can reach a settlement that they can both live with, and the settlement provides a solid base for each party and the children to build a new life going forward.

The collaborative approach is not suitable in every case and communication is key. If both parties can see the bigger picture and look forwards rather than backwards, the collaborative approach empowers them to be creative as to how to resolve issues that arise when a relationship or marriage breaks down. Where there are potentially complicated issues, including the ownership of a dental practice, resolving such issues in the collaborative process will reduce the hostility and negativity that is often seen in traditional litigation, and lessen the negative impact that a divorce inevitably has.

Sintons continues commitment to grassroots sports

A boys’ football team has secured sponsorship from Sintons, continuing the law firm’s longstanding commitment to grassroots sport in the region.

Sintons have become the main sponsor of Corbridge United under 15s, with the firm’s branding now adorning the front of the team’s shirts.

Corbridge United has a thriving junior division, with boys from across the area playing for the club at various age levels.

The Newcastle-based law firm is known for its commitment to supporting grassroots sport across its native North East and has a long history of lending its backing to local rugby, football and cricket clubs. It is also one of the main sponsors of Newcastle Eagles, which runs the award-winning Hoops for Health programme in schools around the North East.

Sintons’ commitment to regional sport also forms part of its CSR programme, which involves the firm and its staff actively working in the community to help charities and voluntary organisations.

Mark Quigley, managing partner of Sintons, said: “As a major brand and prominent business proud to be based in the North East, we are committed to making a difference to our local community, and to lending our support wherever possible. Grassroots sport in the North East is something Sintons have been proud to be involved in for many years, and engaging young people in such positive activities is something that can have profound benefits.

“We are delighted to be able to lend our support to Corbridge United and their under 15s team, and wish them the very best with the season ahead.”

Meet the Family Team with Louisa Bestford

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

I joined Sintons just over a year ago and I am an associate in the family team. I have found it to be a group of very strong and experienced individuals who collectively share knowledge and support each other. We have a unique dynamic and I am delighted to be part of it.

Tell us about your career to date…

I trained at a small firm in Cumbria, which, given the nature of the size of the firm but the strong profile it had in the community, meant I learned a lot quickly and got great experience, but reputation was absolutely everything as word travelled fast. One of the many things I took away was the huge importance of giving an outstanding service to every client.

I then became a head of department in a mid-sized firm in Teesside, which gave me insight into the balance of doing a great job for your clients while also being mindful of developing the business and the commercial side of your role. This experience has been so important and I’m finding it hugely valuable to the job I am doing at Sintons.

What attracted you to Sintons?

Sintons has a fantastic reputation for its family team, and in general, the focus on clients and commitment to exceeding expectations is something I absolutely share. That came across from my very first meeting with Steve Freeman, our department head, and I have come to see that it runs throughout the firm.

The fact it is a large full-service firm was also very appealing, as you can build relationships with clients knowing that we can offer them everything they need without having to refer them elsewhere. Everything is under one roof at Sintons and you can come to know and trust your colleagues, so can refer your clients to them with absolute confidence that they will deliver the same levels of legal and service excellence as you do.

What does your role involve?

I deal with all aspects of family law, but I am always especially keen to promote the fact that we aren’t just here for when things go wrong. We can help with future planning in the form of pre- and post-nuptial agreements so we can put the ‘what ifs’ to bed from the outset and ensure our clients have the peace of mind that if things sadly don’t turn out as planned, they have already made provision to protect themselves and their family and have expert advisors on hand to support them.

I am also very keen to develop Sintons’ reputation even further and am one of our team who regularly writes articles and makes podcasts. I also provide legal comment on BBC Radio Newcastle for family and matrimonial issues, which is a privilege to be asked to do.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

Joining Sintons has been a big highlight and being given the opportunity to build on what I had achieved previously. Although I was a head of department in my previous firm, my role at Sintons has allowed me greater involvement in high-value and complex cases across the whole UK. Each and every case is different and securing the best outcome for your client is a highlight in itself.

I am also very proud to be part of a team which was named Family Team of the Year at the Northern Law Awards 2019. The citation mentioned our strength and collaborative approach and we were absolutely delighted to be independently recognised as leaders in our field in the whole North of England.

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

The collaborative working of the team and how we support each other is fantastic. This positively impacts on our levels of client service and the job we can do – clients are benefitting from the expertise of our whole team, rather than just one lawyer within it.

Our reputation is second to none and that continues to develop through the innovative ways we use to promote ourselves, such as through using social media, podcasts, and other digital means of communication. We are very forward-thinking and keen to lead the way.

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

Sintons is a very ambitious firm which is growing quickly and there are many opportunities on offer here. The senior team lead by example and are very accessible. We sit in an open plan office and the most senior people in the business, including our Managing Partner, are always willing and available to have a chat with you if ever there is something you need.

We have a culture here which is far from the strict hierarchical structure many other law firms operate. Your views are considered and people as individuals can play a role in decision making, which is very unusual for a bigger firm. There is a fantastic atmosphere here and I am really proud to be part of the Sintons team.

What are your interests outside of work?

I have a husband and two children and live near the coast so we spend much of our free time on the beach – we are so lucky to have such a wonderful coastline in the North East. My children play rugby and I am the team manager of the Whitley Bay Rockcliff RFC under 8s, which also keeps us busy on weekends. I am also a keen runner – one year ago I did my first Parkrun, and then just last month completed the Great North Run. This is something I’m very proud of.

Trio of promotions at Sintons

Law firm Sintons has promoted three of its lawyers as it continues to grow and develop across key areas of the business.

Danielle Dale and Kate Nicklin have both been promoted to senior associate, with Louisa Bestford becoming an associate.

Danielle is a highly-rated real estate lawyer who handles all aspects of the sale, acquisition and finance of commercial properties. She is regularly involved in major regional real estate transactions and acts for an array of clients regionally and nationally.

Recently hailed as a rising star by Legal 500 and associate to watch by Chambers, Kate is a leading name in neurotrauma, acting on behalf of clients with life-changing injuries. She handles high-value, complex cases across the UK.

Louisa is part of Sintons’ award-winning family team and is a specialist in advising on divorce and separation matters, particularly those involving high net worth assets, as well as future planning by way of cohabitation and pre- and post-nuptial agreements.

The three promotions come as part of Sintons’ continued development across the firm through its Strategy for Growth, which is underpinned by the recruitment and retention of outstanding legal talent.

Mark Quigley, managing partner of Sintons, said: “Danielle, Kate and Louisa have all excelled in their specialist fields of work, continually delivering an outstanding legal service together with a first-rate personal service. We are very pleased to reward their dedication and commitment to achieving legal excellence with promotions.

“We are a firm which is committed to investing in the training and development of our people, to enable them to achieve their ambitions and progress in their careers. Our people will always be at the heart of everything Sintons does and the retention, alongside the recruitment, of outstanding lawyers will continue to be a central factor in our growth.”

A new dawn for family law – Divorce reform

As we reach the pinnacle of Brexit, whether this is a dark day or a celebration, depending on your persuasion, another matter relating to ‘divorce’ is upon us. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill is due to have its Second Reading in the House of Lords on 5th February 2020.

The bill will reform the process in England and Wales for married couples to obtain a divorce or judicial separation and for civil partners to dissolve their civil partnership, by introducing a ‘no fault’ divorce model in England and Wales for married couples to divorce. It will bring an end to what has been reported as the ‘blame game’.

What are the proposed changes?

The bill will:

  1. Replace the requirement to provide evidence of conduct or separation. Instead there will be a new requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown followed by an overall period of notice of 26 weeks.
  2. Remove the possibility of contesting the divorce as this statement of irretrievable breakdown will be taken as determinative of such.
  3. Introduce the option for a joint application.
  4. Update the language used to ensure it is fit for the modern age; e.g. decree nisi to conditional order and decree absolute to final order.

The Law Society have defined their position in their Parliamentary Briefing ahead of the forthcoming reading; the Law Society welcomes and supports the government’s introduction of no-fault divorce in the bill. They are supportive of joint petitions and the principle of divorce based on the statement of irretrievable breakdown of marriage coupled with the 26-week notice period.

Is reform needed?

Based upon my experience with clients over the past ten years, I would say yes. Quite simply the system is not fit for purpose.

There a number of couples who find themselves in a position where they have simply grown apart and want different things out of life. Having made the difficult decision to separate, to be told they must wait a further two years before they can seek closure by way of divorce, unless they agree to apportion blame to one party, can be heart breaking.

The consequence of this outdated process has often resulted in couples working around the system and frequently you hear about couples fabricating the particulars of a divorce petition as a means to an end. In many situations one party may be at fault but recording this in black and white within the petition is unlikely to be the best starting point for amicable negotiations in respect of children and financial matters.

There must be a better way in times when family lawyers promote a conciliatory approach to family law and it seems that this will be embodied within legislation in the near future. As a matrimonial lawyer, my view is that the approach of Parliament in this divorce issue is something to celebrate. But, as with Brexit it depends on your persuasion.

Co-habitation agreements vs Opposite sex Civil Partnerships

The issue of opposite sex Civil Partnership has been widely reported in the press over the Christmas period. Our family team has a keen interest in the changing landscape of family law and so it was a hot topic on our first day back in the office.

An interesting story was published about one of the wide range of couples we can expect to see entering into Civil Partnerships. In this case a heterosexual couple who have had a relationship spanning some 37-years long, during which they have had three children in West Yorkshire, have recently decided to enter into a Civil Partnership. Although they had not been inclined to marry previously it was reported that ‘equality in respect of financial and legal affairs, was the tipping point.’

They will now benefit from the financial security of married couples that the mythical common law husband and wife relationships do not. This will not be for everyone, but it at least brings to light the myth that are ‘common-law marriages’ and hopefully make more couples aware of the securities they may need in this ever-changing modern society.

A common law marriage is one in which a man and woman live together unmarried as if they were husband and wife. Some people choose to do this as they do not believe in marriage or do not wish to be married. However, it is important to know that an unmarried couple is treated in the eyes of the law as two single people. They do not enjoy the same level of protection a married couple enjoys. This includes financial protection such as widowers pension entitlement or property protection such as home rights.

Until recently, a civil partnership was reserved for same-sex couples. This was because at the time of its introduction in 2004, same-sex couples were not allowed to marry and so needed an alternative. Now a same-sex couple has a right to choose between a civil partnership or marriage. The same right was not given to opposite sex couples. That was until 2 December 2019 whereby opposite sex couples can now register to enter into a civil partnership.

Rebecca Steinfeld and her now civil partner Charles Keidan paved the way for opposite sex couples to become civil partners by campaigning for the cause and for then being victorious in the Supreme Court in 2018. After eventually gaining her civil partnership, Rebecca Steinfeld said “There is now a space for new, modern possibilities for people to express their love and commitment to one another”.

It is now expected that around 84,000 opposite sex couples could form a civil partnership in 2020. This shows how the law is ever-changing and how we as a team are keeping up to date with the law in order to offer the best advice we can.

So, what exactly are civil partnerships and how do they differ from conventional marriages? Firstly, a married couple and a civil partnership both enjoy the same rights as each other in terms of tax benefits, pensions and inheritance. However, the main difference between the two is that a civil partnership does not have any religious connotations like a marriage. This makes them desirable for those couples who want to enjoy the rights of a married couple but do not want the conventional marriage.

A cohabitation agreement records arrangement between two people who agree to live together, as a couple or otherwise. It records each party’s rights and responsibilities in relation to the property where they live or intend to live together, financial arrangement between them, both during and following cohabitation and the arrangements to be made if they decide that they no longer want to live together.

Cohabitation agreements are frequently entered into by cohabitees who want to regulate their financial and living arrangements both during cohabitation and if cohabitation comes to an end. They are usually entered into by couples who have decided not to marry or enter into a civil partnership but have decided to live together.

In the end, what is best for you and your partner is your decision. The main benefit of a Civil Partnership is that it legally formalises your relationship and you enjoy the same rights as a married couple without the need to get married. If you are happy in a meaningful relationship without formality but want a level of financial security, a cohabitation agreement is one alternative way to formalise how you would disentangle your finances in the event of separation.

If you would like to discuss civil partnerships or matters relating to cohabitation, our team would be more than happy to advise you in more depth.

Collaborative Uncoupling

Elizabeth Gallagher, consultant in the family law team at Sintons, is a member of Collaborative Family Law North East. The group comprises family lawyers who are all members of, and have been trained in collaborative law, by Resolution. Here, the group discuss how working in collaboration can lead to a positive outcome for all parties.

The phrase “conscious uncoupling” hit the spotlight in the aftermath of the breakup of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. It was used to describe a breakup or divorce that sought to avoid an acrimonious and contentious separation.

Many family lawyers now see going to court to be completely unsuitable and outdated. Apart from incurring significant financial cost, acrimonious protracted litigation can often cause long-term irreparable emotional damage to the couple and their children.

There are now an increasing number of lawyers in the UK that see the way forward as resolving issues through the collaborative law process (also known collaborative practice).

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

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” and the collaborative “team” comprising the couple, their  lawyers and possibly other professionals, (such as family consultants, Independent financial advisers, pension experts and tax specialists), have to work together and be creative, to reach a tailor made solution for that particular family.

With the collaborative process, the couple keep control. Ideally where there are children, it also means they retain a civil relationship going forward.

The Lawyers

In the North East there are over 30 collaborative lawyers. One requirement is that the lawyers have to be part of a group of collaborative professionals that meet regularly to discuss practice issues and build relationships. The North East Collaborative Lawyers group is one of the most active in the country.

All the lawyers in the group have many years of experience and have seen the damage caused by more traditional processes. Although from different firms, they share the common goal of trying to resolve issues that arise when a relationship breaks down, in a constructive, fair and dignified way.

The Family Consultant

Just as 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.

A Family Consultant will meet the couple separately before the first meeting and can provide support though the process, if necessary. Without assistance managing any emotional or psychological issues, the couple will not be able engage in the process properly. At best it may take longer to finalise matters, meaning more stress and more legal costs are incurred. At worst, it may mean that the process comes to an end without resolution and the couple then have to go to court.

The Neutral Financial Advisor

Financial security for the family as a whole is often one of the key areas of concerns when a relationship breaks down. There are likely to be concerns about how long money will last; will assets need to be sold? Will each party be able to manage financially on their own? Will the needs of the children’s education and future be met?

Bringing a financial planner to the collaborative table means there can be open discussions about these issues and expectations in a supportive environment. Specialist advice can be given by looking at the overall asset pot, with the lawyers on hand to advise on the legal implications. This results in an outcome which maximises the resources available for the benefit of the family as a whole.

Family team hailed for specialism in high value matters

The specialist family team at Sintons is praised by Legal 500 2019 for its levels of expertise, particularly in acting in high value matters.

The department – named as family team of the year at the Northern Law Awards 2019 – won further independent endorsement of its capability in the newly-released Legal 500, with its work with high net worth individuals hailed as being outstanding.

Its work in “unusual” cases, including those related to the Hague Convention and international financial matters, is also singled out.

Steve Freeman, head of family law, is highlighted for his work in high net worth financial remedy matters, and recent appointments Elizabeth Gallagher and Louisa Bestford are also hailed as being key additions to the growing team.

Sintons’ family team routinely acts across the UK in complex and high value matters and has a client base comprising public figures, sports professionals and other high net worth individuals.

Mark Quigley, managing partner of Sintons, said: “Our family team is regularly appointed in matters across the country, such is the reputation and quality of the work we do here, and this is a department which continues to grow to accommodate the increasing levels of instructions we receive.

“These excellent rankings from Legal 500 2019, coming so soon after being named team of the year at the Northern Law Awards, provide further independent recognition of the work we are doing and the ambition we are displaying as we continue to make our presence felt on a national scale. Steve and the team are doing a fantastic job of delivering an excellent legal service, combined with first-rate client care, and I am delighted they continue to be recognised for their work.”

What If It’s Not ‘Happily Ever After’?

Amidst the happiness and excitement of planning a wedding, and then the blissful honeymoon period after the marriage, no-one wants to think of it being anything other than “happily ever after” for the newlywed couple.

However, it is sadly the reality that some marriages do end in divorce, which can result in lengthy and unpleasant arguments over a multitude of issues, although financial matters are very often a central factor in disputes.

Whilst at the time of a marriage this scenario will probably seem a hugely unlikely outcome, and certainly not one that anyone wishes to plan for, planning for the worst-case scenario can be a very beneficial – although admittedly unromantic – thing to do.

There has been a notable rise in the levels of prenuptial and postnuptial agreements being made in the UK – no longer are they a US phenomenon and the domain of A-list Hollywood superstars – as couples realise they can be very practical documents, which are often likened to a form of insurance policy in case the worst does happen within a relationship.

Increasingly, couples are doing so these days, and not just in cases where significant levels of wealth are involved.  Also, they are popular with couples who have been married before.

The “pre nup” is the most common of the two nuptial agreements and is prepared ahead of a marriage detailing what will happen in the event of a split. Amongst other things they can seek to ringfence assets brought into the marriage (or acquired during it by way of inheritance) as well as dividing those accumulated during it.

The “post nup” works in a similar way but is done after the marriage. Critics have said that “post nups” are a pre-cursor to a divorce but this is certainly not the case. Usually they are made by couples as a means for them to determine key matters in an amicable and constructive fashion should their marriage ever fail.

The current position is that nuptial agreements are not binding in England and Wales and the act of entering into one does not override the ability of the court to decide how a couple’s finances should be dealt with upon divorce. However, they carry far more weight than they used to following a leading decision a few years ago. Consequently, they have become much more common.

It is important that, in the event you do decide to enter into a pre or post nuptial agreement, you consult with a specialist family legal advisor to ensure it is prepared correctly so it is something a court will be able to take into account. Further, they should also be reviewed and updated as necessary, to take into account changes in circumstances like the birth of children or acquisition of any significant assets.

Although clearly a difficult subject to broach and negotiate, nuptial agreements can give clarity and reassurance to both parties in the unfortunate event the worst does happen in their marriage. A specialist legal advisor will be able to advise on your options sensitively and guide you through the process.

Julie Gallon is a Senior Family Law Practitioner at Sintons, with over 20 years’ experience of advising in high net worth divorce and separation matters. To discuss nuptial agreements, please contact Julie on 0191 226 or

Meet the Family Team with Julie Gallon

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

I am a Senior Family Law Practitioner and have worked at Sintons for just over 6 years.

Tell us about your career to date

I began my career at Dickinson Dees (now Womble Bond Dickinson) where I remained for 18 years. I then moved with a former partner of Womble Bond Dickinson to her niche family law practice in Jesmond, Lowthian Gray.

What attracted you to Sintons?

I came to Sintons via a different route to most. As mentioned above, I worked at Lowthian Gray which was a small, niche family law practice from 2009. The firm merged with Sintons in 2013 and I have not looked back since.

It was an excellent move and by merging with such a highly respected, full-service law firm we were able to offer our clients a wider range of services and expertise.

What does your role involve?

I advise on all aspects of family law including cohabitation agreements, divorce and associated financial issues, matters relating to children and pre and post nuptial agreements.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

The team were recently awarded Family Law Team of the Year at the Northern Law Awards which is a brilliant achievement and recognition of all the hard work and dedication the team put in, for the benefit of our clients, each and every day.

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

The team is regarded highly for its levels of expertise in a wide range of family related matters, with particular expertise in high value complex cases. We act for high net worth individuals across the whole UK, with our client base comprising high-profile sports people, public figures and professionals. The majority of our work comes from recommendation or referral, which speaks volumes about the quality of the service we provide, and I’m very proud to be part of this.

The team is hugely supportive and is headed by Steve Freeman, who is also the head of the wider personal and family team within the firm. We all work extremely well together and this enables us to provide a strong and outstanding service to our clients, utilising the various complementary skills and knowledge each member of the team brings.

Our absolute focus at Sintons is on our clients, and I am incredibly proud of this ethos.

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

Sintons is a very exciting firm to work at. We announced our Strategy for Growth a couple of years ago and this has resulted in some fantastic new additions to our team and the firm overall. There is such a buzz about Sintons and many positive developments have taken place internally within the firm as well, which makes it such a fantastic culture to be part of.

To top it off, Sintons won law firm of the year at the 2019 Northern Law Awards, which was an amazing achievement for us all.

What are your interests outside of work?

I enjoy spending time with my husband, family and friends outside of work either relaxing, wining and dining or having fun days out.

I also enjoy cooking, reading and having as many holidays and weekends away as possible!

Julie Gallon is a senior family law practitioner at Sintons. To speak to Julie further, please contact her on or 0191 226 7912.

A ‘to do’ list for those planning holidays with children

It is the summer season, your sunny destination holiday has been booked, everybody is excited, and it is time to pack your bags. However, if for example you are a separated parent there may be a few extra items you require in your cabin bag.

First and foremost, you must get permission from everyone with parental responsibility to travel with a child, if this is refused, you can obtain an order from the court allowing you to do so. A child’s mother automatically has parental responsibility, this may not necessarily be the case for anybody else related to the child including their father. It is important to check who has parental responsibility for the child you wish to travel with.

The exception is where there is a Child Arrangements Order. If the order defines you as the person who the child ‘lives with’ unless the order states otherwise, you can take the child out of the country for a period of 28 days without the permission of anybody else.


If you have requested the permission of everyone with parental responsibility and there are no objections before you set off there are a few more boxes to tick. Have you got evidence to prove that you have their permission to travel? The current guidelines are to take the following;

  • Evidence of your relationship with the child e.g. birth or adoption certificate;
  • A divorce or marriage certificate if you are a single parent but your family name is different from your child’s;
  • A letter from all those with parental responsibility including contact details and details about the trip.

Application to the court

If things don’t quite go to plan, you have already booked your holiday and then discover that somebody with parental responsibility objects to the travel arrangements it is time to consider taking legal advice.

You can make an application to the Court for a Specific Issue Order. If permission for a child to travel is being unreasonably refused the Court can make an order for you to take a child abroad if they consider this to be in the child’s best interests. Life experiences such as holidays are often considered as enriching for children and will meet these criteria.

Planning a holiday should be an enjoyable experience so our top tip would be to get the admin done early. If you have doubts about any issues relating to parental responsibility it is best to seek advice from a solicitor. Hopefully, you will not face these difficulties but if you do it is better to be prepared. Sintons’ Family Law team can assist you with this.

Leading the way for private clients

Sintons’ private client team has built a reputation as one of the major players in the North of England, with the department’s recent success at the Northern Law Awards confirming its position as being at the very forefront of the field.

 (This article was featured in the June 2019 edition of North East Times.)

With a heritage of over 120 years in acting for families and individuals, supporting them with many of the most significant events and milestones in their lives, Sintons has become one of the best-known, most trusted and highly-rated private client advisors in the North of England.

The specialist private client department, which brings together excellence in family law, wills, trusts and probate work and residential property, works far beyond its native North East, with clients coming to Sintons from across the UK on the strength of its stellar reputation.

Renowned for its legal expertise and the clear, direct advice it gives to clients, Sintons also offers an unrivalled personal service, which has set the firm apart in the marketplace since its inception in 1896. The majority of work into its private client department comes from referral, recommendation or from long-standing clients who return to the firm time and again – with several generations of families routinely being Sintons clients – which is testament to the quality of service it provides.

The private client department was recently named as winner of two of Sintons’ five accolades at the Northern Law Awards 2019 – with the firm also winning the highly-coveted overall title, law firm of the year – with its family and wills, trusts and probate team both being named as leading the way in the North of England. The residential property team is a previous Northern Law Awards winner.

And to increase its capability further still, Sintons’ private client department is growing strongly, with strategic new appointments across the board to strengthen and develop its offering, creating a department that few can rival in the North East or wider North of England.

Sintons is well-known as a leading advisor to high net worth individuals and families and is regularly instructed in matters of great complexity and involving significant levels of assets.

The family law team is known across the UK for this very reason, and is why it is appointed in so many high value divorce and separation matters. Regularly, the team act for professional sports people, high-profile public figures, senior medical and legal figures and other high net worth individuals. The specialist team, led by partner Steve Freeman – one of the region’s leading matrimonial lawyers – is known for advising clients sensitively yet directly, and fights hard on their behalf to achieve the best possible outcome.

To help meet client demand, the team has grown significantly in the recent past, with family law specialists Elizabeth Gallagher and Louisa Bestford both joining from senior positions with rival firms. Senior associate Louise Masters has also become a key name both in Sintons’ department and the region’s specialist matrimonial law field, through her work in many high-value complex cases.

Similarly, the wills, trusts and probate team has also grown strongly, with its reputation now making it a go-to advisor for matters of the greatest complexity, which other firms often do not have the expertise to handle. Under the leadership of partner Paul Nickalls – regularly named as one of the Leading Individuals in the North by the independent Legal 500 legal rankings – the team has developed strongly.

Senior associates Emma Saunders and Paul Collingwood have become leading names in their field, with Emma relocating from London to join Sintons, bringing her significant expertise in handling litigation through wills, trusts and estate disputes to the firm. Paul Collingwood plays a key role in developing junior members of the team, and has also helped to build Sintons’ specialist Court of Protection offering.

Alan Dawson, chairman of Sintons, remains one of the most sought-after advisors in this area with over 30 years’ experience in acting for families, many of whom are from farming and rural communities.

The conveyancing team also has national reach, and as well as its instructions from home buyers and sellers across the UK, it is also the long-standing advisor to many investors with significant portfolios of residential property. Clients regularly use Sintons for many years, returning time and again for their property purchases and sales, having been impressed by the levels of service and diligence from the department.

Led by partner Anna Barton, the team has developed strongly during her time at the helm, becoming a specialist in a wide array of areas, including high value transactions and new-build property purchases. Associate Andrew Graham has helped to develop Sintons’ new-build specialism since joining the team, and the department continues to grow on the back of demand.

Meet the Family Team with Louise Masters

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

I have worked at Sintons for almost five years. I am a senior associate within the family team and proud to be part of such a supportive and dynamic team. We really value our skills and clients, I suppose which are some of the reasons we were awarded the accolade Family Team of the Year at the Northern Law Awards this year.

Tell us about your career to date…

I trained and continued my career at a high street practice in a small village in Tyne & Wear. This was a wonderful experience over eight years which honed my skills and helped me develop into the lawyer that I am today. I am very loyal to the firms I work at and hope to be with Sintons for many years to come.

What attracted you to Sintons?

Following my first maternity leave, I was ready for a change, and the role at Sintons seemed like the right opportunity for me. Sintons is a nationally-renowned full service firm specialising in various areas of law and it was quite exciting to think that I would be able to internally refer my family clients for whatever other legal advice they required.

In addition, with Sintons based in Newcastle city centre, I knew we would also have good links with other imperative organisations such as financial advisors, accountants and so on.

Our clients not only often require this holistic approach but appreciate that we already have the trusted and long lasting relationships.

What does your role involve?

I can offer advice and assistance to clients from the very beginning of their relationships in forms of protective planning (cohabitation and nuptial agreements) right through to the end… and everything in between.  Our clients are often high net worth or ultra high net worth and therefore sensitivity and discretion is imperative.

I deal with matters relating to children and international matters as well.

Finally, I also work very closely with the serious injury team at Sintons. Unfortunately in cases where a client has had a serious injury, it often follows that there will be challenges (in some form or other) within their relationship. Drawing on the skills from the serious injury team has allowed me to specialise in advising these clients or their partners and spouses. I understand that we are the only family team in the North East to be able to offer this dual team approach.

What have been your personal highlights to date?

There are a few to mention. Firstly, coming to Sintons which is a splendid place to work. Our core values (professionalism, excellent client service, teamwork and our people) are not something which are not written down and forgotten about, they are promoted and adhered to on a daily basis throughout the firm. I am proud to be part of it.

Next is that I have secured two promotions at Sintons. Not only does this show that I am achieving the best for our clients, it shows that the firm recognises and supports those who strive to uphold our values.

Finally, and as mentioned above, our wonderful team won Family Team of the Year at the Northern Law Awards 2019. We had some very strong local competition and were utterly delighted that we ranked top in the whole of the North East.

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

The type of clients we meet and the support and help we provide throughout their journeys. That comes first. But very close to that is the relationship the team have. I think that we are unique. We are hugely supportive of one another, we care about each other and share ideas, skills and knowledge, and given that the team is so strong, it means we can always offer the best to our clients.

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

Sintons is a fantastic and innovative place to work. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. We have implemented a new strategy over the last couple of years which sought to increase turnover but also improve all other aspects of the working environment. This in turn should provide the absolute best service for our clients. I am pleased to say that it is working.

What are your interests outside of work?

I have two small children and when I am not at work, I am with them. I am very fortunate to have a wonderful and supportive husband who looks after them (and me), keeps us all in check and this allows us to do fabulous activities and have big adventures on a weekend.  He is a great cook and loves to bake which as you can imagine is great for my waistline!

Louise Masters is a senior associate in the family team at Sintons. To speak to her, please contact Louise on 0191 226 3641 or

Sintons shortlisted in six categories of Northern Law Awards

Law firm Sintons has been recognised for the strength and growth it has seen across the firm by being shortlisted in six categories of the prestigious Northern Law Awards.

Newcastle-based Sintons has been rewarded for all six submissions it made for this year’s awards with shortlistings in the following categories:

  • Firm of the year (6+ partners)
  • Team of the year – Family
  • Team of the year – Personal Injury
  • Team of the year – Litigation and dispute resolution
  • Team of the year – Corporate/commercial
  • Team of the year – Private client.

The multiple shortlistings follow double success for Sintons at last year’s Northern Law Awards, at which the firm won awards for Team of the year – Property/residential, and marketing manager David Pritchard won the Law Practice Management title.

The Northern Law Awards, now in their fourth year, celebrate and acknowledge the very best of legal excellence, talent and success across the North of England. The winners will be revealed at an awards ceremony in June, and will be chosen by an independent judging panel after interviews with all shortlisted firms and candidates.

Mark Quigley, managing partner of Sintons, said: “We are delighted to be shortlisted six times in this year’s Northern Law Awards – indeed in every category we entered – which helps to demonstrate the outstanding levels of capability and expertise we have here and the continuing progress we are making as a firm.

“Our Strategy for Growth has seen us strengthen departments throughout the firm and make a number of key additions to our team, and we are now starting to reap the rewards of these efforts through the strong levels of growth we are seeing.

“The Northern Law Awards are a highly-respected endorsement of legal capability and excellence and we are proud to once again be shortlisted.”

No Deal Brexit – the impact upon family law

Dealing with international clients in the midst of family issues can bring with it various complexities and legal considerations, not to mention heightened emotions.

Throw the current political challenges into the mix and families could be faced with even more uncertainty.

As things stand there is no agreement for the UK to leave the EU and no deal pertaining to future relations with all other Countries.  Whilst the Government is committed to avoiding this situation the recent discussions between the main negotiators would suggest that this no deal scenario is becoming more and more likely with only 38 days to go.

What therefore could be the impact upon families and family law in the event of a no deal Brexit?

Overnight, UK citizens would no longer benefit from EU rules.  It is anticipated that all EU Law in the UK will be repealed.  Do not be too worried about this – the UK has been making law to protect people since the Magna Carta some 800 years ago and are therefore quite good at it.

In the event of a no deal Brexit, a mish mash of things will happen.  National laws will re-apply together with the reliance on the Hague Convention (of which the UK is a signatory to various elements) and new legislation will be forged (most likely based on the previous EU law).  In addition, Andrea Leadsome has confirmed on the Radio 4 Today programme that there are around 600 pieces of secondary legislation which have been prepared behind the scenes over the last couple of years to ensure a smooth transition.  400 of these have already been passed and the remaining ones will be passed by the end of March if they need to be.

Inevitably there will be a period of confusion and there will also be situations in which an ‘old’ law cannot simply replace the repealed EU law and the secondary legislation does not fill the void.

Unfortunately in those circumstances the client may have to apply to the court to seek clarification.  In a time in which courts are already struggling to deal with the caseload and pressure, it goes without saying that this additional upheaval could have disastrous consequences.

In practical terms however, families will sadly continue to have international disputes and there will still be laws to protect them, one way or another.  It is the role of a good lawyer to ensure that any chaos caused by a no deal, takes place behind the scenes so the client is none the wiser and is fully supported and protected as they would have been if we were still part of the EU.

Louise Masters is a specialist family lawyer in our Personal and Family department. To speak to her, contact Louise on 0191 226 3641 or

Roses are red, violets are blue, should I sign a prenuptial agreement before saying I do?

Valentine’s day is a day of romance and love is in the air but, if you are planning to pop the question today don’t forget these words ‘prenup, prenup, prenup’.

It was once thought that prenuptial agreements were only for the rich and famous, however, times have changed. Increasingly those with modest means are turning to solicitors for advice about prenups.

A common question asked is whether a prenuptial agreement is worth the paper it is written on? The Courts have addressed this with the guidance below;

The law relating to prenuptial agreements has developed following a Supreme Court decision in Radmacher and Granatino in October 2010. In this case the Supreme Court said that the court should give effect to a prenuptial agreement that is freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of the implications unless in the circumstances prevailing it would not be fair to hold the parties to the agreement.

Following on from this decision on 27 February 2014 the Law Commission published a report, Matrimonial Property, Needs and Agreements. Whilst it was made clear that no agreement can prevent the court from making financial orders that are inconsistent with the terms of a mutual agreement, they will be a factor of the case when a judge is deciding what financial orders to make on divorce.

Many people are apprehensive about asking their future spouse to enter a prenuptial agreement. The sentiment of ‘nothing says I love you like a prenup’ is not uncommon but they are recommended as an invaluable insurance policy.

To protect your financial assets and ensure you have the best opportunity of persuading a judge the agreement should be adhered to my top tip would be to avoid the DIY approach and take professional advice from a specialist solicitor. A valid pre-nuptial agreement must satisfy strict criteria and getting this wrong can be costly mistake.

Louisa Bestford, is a specialist family lawyer in our Personal and Family department. To speak to her, contact Louisa on 0191 226 7924 or

‘Excellent’ family team hailed by Legal 500 2018

The specialist family team at law firm Sintons has been hailed as “excellent” by Legal 500 2018.

The team was praised for its work in high net worth financial remedy cases, Children Act applications and child relocation matters in particular, with its impressive client base comprising professional sports players, senior executives, medical professionals and fellow lawyers.

Steve Freeman, head of family law at Sintons, was singled out as a key name in the field, and is “renowned for giving sensible, no-nonsense advice, whether it is to settle or contest”.

Associate Louise Masters is also highlighted as a key figure in the team for her work in complex matters, including those which involve assets in various countries, and for her expertise in collaborative law.

Sintons’ family team has seen strong levels of growth in recent times, with new instructions coming from across the UK, and strategic new appointments being made to help develop the department further.

Mark Quigley, managing partner of Sintons, said: “Our family team is rightly regarded as being among the best in its field, handling the most complex and high value of matters and fighting hard in the best interests of their clients. The team has seen strong levels of growth in recent times and continues to build its presence nationally.

“We are delighted with this latest endorsement of its quality from Legal 500, who quite rightly point to the excellent levels of legal and personal service we provide to clients.”

Highly-rated family lawyer joins Sintons

Louisa Bestford moves to Newcastle-based Sintons from a senior position with a Teesside law firm. She is a specialist in divorce, separation, financial settlements and cohabitation, and regularly acts in high value complex cases.

As a member of Resolution, she encourages the use of mediation and arbitration as a means to achieve the most amicable outcome.

Louisa’s appointment strengthens Sintons’ family team further, and comes only shortly after the addition of well-known matrimonial specialist Elizabeth Gallagher as a consultant. Already one of the leading names in family law in the North of England, Sintons’ team continues to grow with strategic appointments to help build its reputation and capability further still.

Steve Freeman, partner and head of the firms’ Personal and Family department said: “We are rightly regarded as one of the best around in the field of family law and have a long history of acting in the most complex of cases, fighting hard on our clients’ behalf to achieve the best outcome for them. We have a strong and growing team which is exceptionally busy.

“We are very pleased to welcome Louisa. With her experience and excellent legal capability, she is a great addition to Sintons. We will continually look at new opportunities to grow further and are confident Louisa, working with the rest of the team, will help us achieve our ambitions.”

Owens v Owens – will this lead to the end of fault based divorce?

The much-publicised recent case of Tini Owens, the unhappy wife who is unable to secure a divorce from her husband of 40 years, has reignited the debate over moving away from ‘fault’ based divorce.

The Supreme Court has ruled that Mrs Owens, whose claims of a joyless and irretrievably broken down marriage were disputed by her husband, must remain married until they have been separated for the standard period of five years, which will be in 2020.

The Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, upheld the previous decisions of the family court and Court of Appeal in the case, and concluded that Mrs Owens had failed to overcome the legal hurdle for a divorce based on unreasonable behaviour.

Mrs Owens claimed her husband did not give her love and affection, had mood swings which caused arguments and made derogatory remarks about her in front of family and friends. Mr Owens challenged these allegations, and the Judge in the first hearing agreed, saying these claims were of the “minor kind of altercations to be expected within a marriage”.

His ruling has since been upheld by the Court of Appeal and now also by the panel of five senior Judges in the Supreme Court, meaning Mr and Mrs Owens will have to remain married for at least two more years.

The current divorce law in England and Wales dates back to 1973 when social attitudes and life generally was very different. The law states that to obtain a divorce a spouse has to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and to verify this, one of five facts have to be relied upon. The facts are adultery, unreasonable behaviour, two years’ desertion, two years’ separation with consent or five years of separation.

It will be seen that two of the facts – adultery or unreasonable behaviour – are fault based, but it is now widely recognised that apportioning blame in divorce proceedings can be counterproductive. It often makes the parties polarised in their positions and means it is more difficult to resolve other issues such as disputes about children or finances. It can also substantially increase legal costs and will have no bearing on the ultimate resolution of financial matters.

For many years, family lawyers when drafting a divorce petition based on unreasonable behaviour, have been encouraged by guidelines such as the Law Society’s Family Law Protocol to try and keep allegations regarding the other spouse’s behaviour relatively brief. Many family lawyers are also members of Resolution, an organisation that has a code of conduct that is focused on reducing acrimony between separating couples and resolving disputes constructively, and the Resolution code suggests that it is good practice to serve a draft divorce petition on the other spouse before it is sent to court.

Consquently, lengthy unreasonable behaviour petitions are now largely a relic from the past and pre-Owens, most family lawyers would discourage a spouse from defending a divorce petition, and would advise that a pragmatic stance should be taken. Defended divorces have therefore been very rare.

It is no surprise, therefore, that the Owens case attracted a huge amount of attention. As allegations of unreasonable behaviour in divorce petitions are often now kept reasonably brief, many family lawyers hoped that the particulars pleaded on behalf of Mrs Owens would have satisfied the court that a divorce should be granted.

The Supreme Court, however, had to look specifically at what the 1973 divorce legislation actually says and apply the law to the facts of the case. What the legislation actually says is that the Petitioner has to prove that the Respondent has behaved in such a way that that the Petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the Respondent. When considering the case in light of what the law says, the Supreme Court dismissed Mrs Owens appeal

Although the outcome of Owens may seem very unfair to Mrs Owens, in practice, the Supreme Court was just restating the law, so it has fuelled further the cry for reform of divorce law which is seen to be outdated.

The concept of ‘no fault divorce’ has been around for a long time, and indeed is already in place in America, Australia, the Netherlands and Scotland. Resolution has long campaigned for its introduction in this country.

In my experience, there is little to be gained by entering into protracted litigation about who is to blame in divorce proceedings. Many couples do not wish to blame each other, and rather have just grown apart over time – and having to attribute blame so that a divorce can proceed can increase acrimony, even when spouses are on good terms. For those who are not on good terms, increasing hostility will mean it takes longer, costs more money and will be more difficult to resolve all issues. Driving a bigger wedge between separating spouses is also more likely to have a detrimental emotional impact, and may have long term consequences particularly where children are involved.

Of some concern is the prospect of reverting to an environment where lawyers consider they have to draft lengthy unreasonable behaviour petitions which involve “mudslinging” often with exaggerated allegations and with the consequences many of us for a long time, have been trying to avoid

There is some light on the horizon. Despite the judgment of the Supreme Court, Lord Wilson – one of the judges involved in the case – suggested that “Parliament may wish to consider whether to replace a law which denies to Mrs Owens any present entitlement to a divorce in the above circumstances”. In addition, Baroness Butler-Sloss has just introduced into the House of Lords a Private Members’ Bill with a view to introducing a system based on no fault divorce.

For now, however, the law remains as it is. While divorce is a very distressing and difficult time, a specialist solicitor will be able to guide you through the process and support you in achieving the best outcome for yourself and your family.

Elizabeth Gallagher, a leading specialist family lawyer and collaborative practitioner, is a consultant at law firm Sintons. To speak to her, contact Elizabeth on 0191 226 7813 or

No Fault Divorce

While most people get married with the hope and intention it will be for life, sadly, statistics show that 42 per cent of marriages in the UK now end in divorce, with the majority taking place within the first ten years.

To obtain a divorce, the person seeking the divorce has to establish that the marriage has irretrievably broken down by relying upon one of five facts, three of which require a period of separation of at least two years. As many separating couples do not want to wait that long, the only options available to them are grounds of adultery or of ‘unreasonable behaviour’.

In my experience, it is becoming increasingly common that couples do not wish to blame each other, and have essentially just grown apart over time – but currently, the law decrees that such blame does need to be attributed, which can lead to time and money being spent arguing over allegations just so a divorce can proceed. The resultant bad feeling between the separating couple can then lead to arrangements for the likes of childcare and financial issues becoming more contentious.

It does seem that in today’s modern world, some reform is needed of our divorce laws, which have been in their current form since 1973. Resolution, the Association of Family Lawyers which promotes a constructive approach to resolving family issues, has long campaigned for the concept of ‘no fault divorce’ to become a reality. No fault divorce is already in place in America, Australia, the Netherlands and Scotland, and its positive impact through removing the necessity for apportioning blame has been clearly shown.

The case of Mrs Tini Owens has again brought the need for reform into the spotlight, through the wrangling between she and her husband over claims of ‘unreasonable behaviour’, which has now reached the Supreme Court. This is a very unusual case, and in over 25 years of practice, I have only dealt with one instance of a client wanting to contest the divorce to a final hearing – the client was advised this would fail and it did, resulting in significant legal fees being incurred through having to pay the costs of both sides.

In the case of Mrs Owens, she claimed unreasonable behaviour on the basis that Mr Owens did not give her love and affection, had mood swings which caused arguments and made derogatory remarks about her in front of friends and family. Mr Owens challenged this and claimed the marriage had not broken down – the Judge initially agreed, saying these allegations were of the “minor kind of altercations to be expected within a marriage”.

The case then went to the Court of Appeal, where the appeal was dismissed on the grounds the Judge had applied the law correctly, and Mrs Owens has now taken her fight to the Supreme Court. We await judgement from that, and whether any reform of divorce laws may arise as a result, although the concern is that if Mrs Owens is not successful in her challenge, Judges may become more reluctant to grant divorces based on unreasonable behaviour in cases where the allegations are deemed to be somewhat flimsy.

Whatever the outcome of Mrs Owens’ case, it is clear that the current outdated system needs to be changed. Resorting to divorce is a stressful enough time without couples being encouraged to become polarised in their positions, making the vital issues of children and finances even more difficult to resolve.

Elizabeth Gallagher, a leading specialist family lawyer and collaborative practitioner, is a consultant at law firm Sintons. To speak to her, contact Elizabeth on 0191 226 7813 or

Leading family lawyer moves to Sintons

The specialist family team at law firm Sintons has continued its expansion with the appointment of a leading solicitor.

Elizabeth Gallagher has joined Sintons as a consultant, having moved from her previous role as head of family law at a Teesside-based firm.

She brings over 25 years of experience to Newcastle-based Sintons and during her career she has become known as a leading specialist in all aspects of family law, particularly in resolving complex financial issues arising from divorce or separation, arrangements concerning children and pre- and post-nuptial agreements.

Elizabeth is a collaborative lawyer and an active member of the North East Collaborative Lawyers Group. She is passionate about resolving family disputes at an early stage and without the emotional and financial cost of protracted court proceedings.

Elizabeth said: “It is a privilege to join the team at Sintons. From my early days in the legal profession I have always been aware of Sintons’ long-established reputation. I have been hugely impressed by their vision for the future. They have adapted to a hugely changed legal profession whilst continuing to, first and foremost, promote the interests of their clients.

“At the same time, they have maintained a culture which promotes the welfare and development of all their employees. This makes the firm attractive to lawyers at all stages in their careers, as is shown by the recent and ongoing recruitment across the firm.”

Mark Quigley, managing partner of Sintons, said: “Over more than 25 years, Elizabeth has built a reputation in the North East as a leading specialist family lawyer and we are very pleased she has chosen to join us here at Sintons.

“We have a very high-calibre family team acting for clients across the whole UK, and we have seen significant growth within the department over the past few months in response to demand for our outstanding legal advice and unrivalled personal service. We are confident that Elizabeth’s arrival will help develop our strength and reputation even further.”

Sintons shortlisted in eight categories at Northern Law Awards

Law firm Sintons has been shortlisted in eight categories of the Northern Law Awards 2018.

Newcastle-based Sintons has been named as a finalist in mutiple categories, in recognition of its strength across the firm.

Sintons has been shortlisted for overall Law Firm of the Year, Team of the Year in six different practice areas – corporate and commercial, conveyancing, employment, family, personal injury and private client – as well as Marketing Manager David Pritchard for a Law Practice Management award.

The Northern Law Awards, now in their third year, celebrate and acknowledge legal excellence, talent and success across the North of England. This year’s winners will be revealed, following interviews by a judging panel with all of the shortlisted firms, at an awards dinner at the Hilton Newcastle Gateshead on June 7.

Mark Quigley, managing partner of Sintons, said: “We are delighted to be shortlisted eight times for the Northern Law Awards – which is indicative of the strength and capability we have throughout the firm.

“At Sintons, we pride ourselves on offering first-rate legal advice coupled with unrivalled bespoke client service, and it is very pleasing that our commitment to this has again been recognised, particularly by an independent judging panel of legal professionals.

“The Northern Law Awards are a highly-respected endorsement of legal capability and excellence, and we are very proud to be shortlisted.”

Is January really “Divorce Month?”

Much is said about January being the ‘peak month’ for divorce, with many couples deciding that the new year will herald a new start for them in going their separate ways.

Recently, there has been much media hype about there being an actual ‘Divorce Day’ – which this year fell on January 8. This is supposedly the date when internet searches for divorce are at their greatest level and calls to lawyers also reach their height.

It is true to say that January is the month that some couples do decide to separate, often as a result of the pressure building over the Christmas period together and magnifying tensions that had been there for some time.

However, couples take the difficult decision to separate at all times of the year, not just in January. There isn’t a right or best time to end a relationship, or to decide to seek specialist advice, and each situation is entirely different.

Again, such a decision lies with the individuals concerned, and no two situations are ever the same. What we would say is that if you do decide to seek advice, ensure you appoint a specialist family lawyer who takes the time to understand your situation and the outcome you want.

Our team at Sintons is renowned as one of the most capable in the North East and far beyond, and we act for clients across the whole of the UK, usually on word-of-mouth recommendation. We are well known for our ability to sensitively handle situations and offer clear and direct advice with our clients’ interests always at the forefront of our minds.

If you are considering January and 2018 as your new start, come and speak to us. Whether you want to clarify your options ahead of making your decision, or you are already clear about your desire to separate, we have the capability and experience to support your every need

Jayne Boyd is a specialist matrimonial solicitor at law firm Sintons, based in Newcastle. To speak to Jayne, contact her at or 0191 226 3692.

Is it time to end the blame game?

The concept of ‘no fault’ divorce has been raised for some time and has again become a topical subject through its recent discussion at the Conservative Party Conference.

Back in 2015, the No Fault Divorce Bill was introduced but it was not progressed and to date the law is unchanged. However, calls continue to be made for the divorce process to be modernised and for the idea of “no fault” divorce to become a reality.

Critics of the idea have said it could undermine the institution of marriage by making divorce easier. However Resolution, the organisation that promotes a constructive and non-confrontational approach to family law, believes “no fault” divorce to be an important introduction to today’s society.

Currently in England and Wales, the person seeking a divorce has to establish that the marriage has broken down irretrievably by claiming one of five facts. Three of those require a period of separation of at least two years, or else ‘blame’ has to be apportioned to one party on the fact of either adultery or unreasonable behaviour.

However, some people do not want to assign blame. Instead they wish to minimise pain and keep the unfortunate process as amicable as possible, especially when children are involved.

Often, couples divorce because they have sadly grown apart. They do not blame the other party and therefore do not want to add hurt to what is already a very difficult time. The fact a couple is divorcing can be traumatic enough without the need to bring blame into the equation, where in reality there is none.

In our experience, “mud-slinging” from the outset of a case can have a negative impact on important discussions regarding financial and child arrangements. This is particularly relevant when the parties need to co-operate for the benefit of their children.

Furthermore, with an under-resourced court system judges are spending considerable time going through divorce forms when they are really needed for other more urgent pressing cases.

In a society where couples are encouraged to resolve their differences outside court – this fault based system certainly seems counterproductive, adding unnecessary complexity, cost and delay.

Jayne Boyd is a specialist matrimonial solicitor with Newcastle law firm Sintons. To speak to her about this or any other matter, contact Jayne on or 0191 226 3692.

Family team hailed by Legal 500 2017

The specialist family team at law firm Sintons has won praise from Legal 500 2017 for its expertise and client commitment.

The team is singled out for its “high net worth financial expertise” and its ability to resolve complex family situations on behalf of its clients.

Steve Freeman, head of the personal and family team at Sintons, draws particular praise from Legal 500 for his ability to handle both financial matters and children issues, especially in high net worth cases.

Sintons’ family team has grown significantly in the recent past, with the majority of its work coming through recommendation and clients coming from across the UK.

Legal 500 is widely regarded as the clients’ guide to the best law firms and top lawyers in the UK. Research is based on feedback from clients, submissions from law firms and interviews with leading lawyers and a team of researchers who have unrivalled experience in the market.

Mark Quigley, managing partner of Sintons, said: “Our family team has seen strong growth in recent times, which is testament to their unrivalled capability and the very bespoke and personal service they offer clients. Their reputation is truly national with clients coming from right across the country. We are very pleased that Legal 500 has recognised their ability in this area.

“Our vision as a firm is to set the standard for legal excellence and in doing so to become the law firm of choice for individuals, businesses and organisations regionally and nationally. Our family team is just one example of how we are making great strides in achieving this.”

Half term headaches and resolving childcare issues

As the October half term fast approaches, many separated parents will be faced with the daunting task of trying to determine with whom the children shall live with over that week.

Whilst it may be surprising that these arrangements are not already in place, many families leave it to the last minute which inevitably results in disagreement and stressful situations for all involved. It also means that parents are unable to book activities and holidays in advance.

In these circumstances, one parent can feel hard done by or that they are missing out on important time. In addition, parents can often feel guilty or lonely when the children are with the other parent.

There are no set rules as to how the school holidays should be divided between parents and the majority of the eventual pattern should be reached by communication, taking into account working shift patterns, views of the children (if they are old enough) and other commitments.

What should also be considered are forms of indirect contact, such as video and telephone calls or text messages when the children are with the other parent.

Whilst previously-agreed arrangements can never provide for every eventuality, and a certain level of flexibility is highly desirable, it is always best for parents to agree an overall framework which suits the whole family during all holiday periods which can either be split, consecutive or alternated. However, in some circumstances Court intervention may be required to achieve this.

It goes without saying that having a routine in place which spans the school holidays across the year will provide for better relationships all round and a settled family with children who can feel happy knowing how much time they are spending with each parent at each holiday.

If you are struggling to agree a split of this half term or other school holidays, then specialist legal advice could help you reach a resolution.

Further growth planned for Sintons’ matrimonial team

The specialist matrimonial team at law firm Sintons is continuing its recent expansion by eyeing further growth.

The team, frequently cited as one of the best of its kind in the North of England, works across the UK and is known for handling the separations and divorces of wealthy professionals, with clients including a number of high-profile public figures.

Led by renowned divorce lawyer Steve Freeman, Sintons’ matrimonial team is now seven-strong, with plans in place to grow further to help keep pace with its growing caseload.

Newcastle-based Sintons is targeting growth across the firm over the next five years to achieve a £20m turnover by 2021, with its matrimonial team playing a key role in its progress.

Steve Freeman, Partner and Head of the Personal and Family team at Sintons, said: “Over the course of many years, our matrimonial team has built a well-deserved reputation as being among the best in the business. Our ethos is simple – we want the best outcome for our clients and we know how to help them get it.

“As a large full service firm with specialisms in a range of other matters that may arise during separation, such as issues regarding property, a business or wills, we can offer a comprehensive service that smaller firms simply cannot.

“We have grown significantly in terms of our case load, the majority of which comes from word-of-mouth recommendation, and we are expanding to help accommodate that. We have a highly capable team of matrimonial specialists and are keen to add to that as we continue to develop the department even further.”

Mark Quigley, managing partner at Sintons, said: “Our matrimonial work is one of a number of areas of the business where we attract work from across the UK, being based in the North East is certainly no barrier and proves clients are willing to instruct the very best advisors, wherever they happen to be based.

“Our vision as a firm is to set the standard for legal excellence and in doing so to become the law firm of choice for individuals, businesses and organisations regionally and nationally – our matrimonial team is a prime example of that ethos being put into practice and to great success.”

Financial settlements upon divorce – why 50/50 may not be fair

The recent case of a divorcee’s unsuccessful battle to secure half of the parties’ combined assets has again highlighted the question of how financial resources should be divided upon divorce.

In this particular case the pertinent issue was how non-matrimonial property should be dealt with. The non-matrimonial property here was the considerable wealth that the husband already had prior to the relationship. Whereas the former air hostess wife came into the marriage with “no assets, save for a Porsche.”

Karen and John Hart divorced after 20 years of marriage and Mrs Hart was initially awarded £3.5 million which was calculated as the amount required to meet her needs.

She appealed the decision, citing that there was no justification for the resources to be shared unequally. However the Court of Appeal recently rejected her argument and dismissed the appeal.

While Mrs Hart said it was “unfair and discriminatory” that her ex-husband received £5.9 million, Lord Justice Moylan agreed with the first instance Judge that proper weight needed to be given to the husband’s pre-marital wealth. As such an equal division of assets would be unfair.

There is no standard formula for calculating what constitutes appropriate financial provision upon divorce but this case serves as a reminder that there a number of factors that the court will consider. Each situation is different and will be judged on its own unique merits with consideration being given to all the circumstances of the case.

Mr Hart’s contribution was a crucial part of this case, however other significant factors that the court gives consideration to include needs and obligations, earning capacity, duration of marriage, age and standard of living.

To understand what may be a fair settlement in your circumstances, it is important you take advice from a matrimonial specialist who will guide you through the process.

Jayne Boyd is a specialist matrimonial solicitor at Newcastle law firm Sintons. To speak to her about this or any other matter, contact or 0191 226 3692.

The rise of the post-nup

While prenuptial agreements have now become widely known and regarded as a means of organising finances if a marriage breaks down, the growth in the popularity postnuptial agreements (post-nup) is rather more recent.

Working in a similar way to the ‘pre-nup’ – with the obvious difference that one is before and one is after a marriage – a postnuptial agreement (post-nup) can set out how assets are to be divided between couples if they separate, and can also help regulate financial affairs during their marriage.

Of course, both pre and postnuptial agreements can include much more than that – the television historian Lucy Worsley’s pre-nup even specified she would not appear on Strictly Come Dancing – but broadly speaking, financial security and clarity is at the root.

For a number of reasons, postnuptial agreements have increased significantly in popularity in recent years. They can be entered into by couples who simply don’t have the time to do a prenuptial agreement before their wedding, at what can be a very hectic time, so it is simply left until after the marriage. Some couples’ motivation to draw up such an agreement is to protect a husband or wife who sacrifices their career to bring up their family.

While critics have said that postnuptial agreements are a pre-cursor to divorce – especially in the case where it arises from one spouses’ infidelity, they are in fact more commonly made by couples as a means to agree key matters in an amicable and mutually-agreed way in the event that the marriage sadly breaks down.

However, what is important to stress is that such post-nuptial agreements should be made using a specialist legal advisor to ensure they are entered into correctly. Furthermore, it is good practice to make provision for the agreement to be reviewed for example after any major changes in circumstances, such as after the birth of children.

If should be emphasised that while they are not legally binding, it has been held that courts 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 it would not be fair to hold the parties to their agreement.

Although clearly a sensitive subject, postnuptial agreements, as with prenuptial agreements, can help to give clarity and security in the worst case scenario that things do go wrong, and can help to avoid sizeable litigation costs if that did happen.

Jayne Boyd is a specialist family law solicitor at Newcastle law firm Sintons. To speak to her about this or any other matter, contact Jayne on or 0191 226 3692.

A family lawyer at law firm Sintons has been named by Resolution as a specialist in her area

Louise Masters, Associate at Newcastle-based Sintons, has been certified as a specialist for family law by Resolution, a group which represents professionals who are committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes.

Louise is a well-known specialist in handling complex family matters, and is one of only a handful of lawyers in the North East to be trained in Collaborative Practice. She specialises in advising upon arrangements for children and also has experience as a mediator.

Steven Freeman, Head of the Personal and Family team at Sintons, said: “Louise is a very capable and well-respected family law specialist and I am very pleased she has been recognised by Resolution for her commitment to achieving a positive outcome for the families she works with.”