Family law

  • Overview

    Our national team of family law solicitors is highly regarded and ranked in the first tier for family law in the latest editions of Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners.

    Seeking the advice of a legal expert on family matters may be necessary at some point in your life. We have extensive experience in dealing with complex cases, often involving substantial assets and high profile individuals. You can feel reassured that you're in safe hands.

    Whether you need a divorce solicitor or advice on a cohabitation dispute or civil partnership dissolution, the size and experience of our family law team means we can respond quickly to your needs. All of our team are members of Resolution, the family law association promoting a non-confrontational approach to family law issues. Our team includes Resolution accredited family law specialists, and many are actively involved in regional and national committees of Resolution, helping shape the future of family law.

    We understand the importance of combining efficiency and value for money with a sympathetic approach to all difficult personal problems. The aim of our family law team is to achieve solutions by agreement wherever possible and to provide a service tailored to the precise needs of each individual client.

    We offer collaborative law solutions, which focus on resolving issues between clients in a dignified and respectful way. Collaborative law, and also family mediation, aim to resolve cases in a more time efficient manner than commencing court proceedings.

    As part of a full service law firm, we are able to draw on the expertise of specialists in a variety of complementary disciplines, including the propertyowner managed business and healthcare sectors. We have extensive experience of advising business owners and medical professionals.

    We recognise that, more often than not, it's difficult for clients to see their family solicitor within normal office hours. Our family law solicitors are flexible in both the timings and locations of appointments and are happy to talk to clients on an individual basis.

    We operate across the United Kingdom from our offices in Birmingham, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London and Manchester.

    What others say about us

    "The firm is one of the leading firms in the North West."

    Chambers & Partners 2018

    Weightmans LLP fields a 'technically very strong, very professional and sensible team that fights hard for its clients while also being very collegiate and supportive'.

    Legal 500 2017

    A very efficient and cost-effective service, for which I am grateful.

    Anonymous client

    Thank you to both Fiona and Carole for their empathy, professionalism and understanding and helping what was an awful and distressing time much easier to cope with.

    Anonymous client

    "Throughout this I have received very good advice and, as importantly, a level of support which was 'beyond the norm' which was a great source of strength for me in a difficult period."

    Anonymous client

    "Your recommendation came very highly and I will certainly pass on that recommendation to anyone I know who needs a sensitive and professional solicitor."

    Anonymous client

    "The help, support and advice I received was wonderful. It made a very difficult time easier to deal with."

    Anonymous client

    "Thank you so much for all your hard work and support on my behalf. I am so grateful."

    Anonymous client

    "A thoroughly professional service."

    Anonymous client

    "More than helpful and every aspect explained fully in layman's terms."

    Anonymous client

    Frequently asked questions

    Questions on cohabitation

    • Is there anything I should do before I begin to live with my partner?

      At the outset of the relationship and to protect you as a cohabitant there are many issues you should consider.  We provide a free 30 minute consultation where we will discuss all your options with you.  If you are purchasing a property with your partner, you will need to consider whether you want to own the property equally or whether you need a declaration of trust setting out the unequal ownership of the property and what might happen if it were to be sold in the future.  You may also need to consider life insurance, making a Will or entering into a cohabitation agreement.  We will advise you on what is appropriate for your particular circumstances. 

    • Can I enter into a written cohabitation agreement?

      Our family law solicitors have extensive experience in drafting agreements setting out the arrangements which will apply whilst a couple lives together as well as establishing rights on the breakdown of the relationship.  Such an agreement must meet certain conditions and standards if it is to be valid and we can ensure that these criteria are met to provide you with as much certainty as possible.  You can regulate how you deal with your financial affairs during the course of your relationship as well as dealing with the division of assets should you separate.  This can include what percentage each party will pay towards the bills and mortgage/rent.  What proportion of the property each of you will own now and on separation, how any debts should be paid and how contents should be divided if you separate.  In entering into the agreement before you cohabit it means that on any breakdown both you and your partner know exactly what will happen and will avoid the expense and stress of legal proceedings. 

    • I do not have a cohabitation agreement and have separated from my partner, what happens to my home?

      If your relationship has broken down the most common disputes relate to the ownership and occupation of your home, financial provision for your children and the arrangements for the care of your children.  We understand that this can be an upsetting and stressful time and we will ensure that matters are dealt with sensitively and cost effectively in order to achieve the best possible outcome for you. 

    • Our home is owned in joint names, do I own half?

      If you own your property jointly with your partner, if the correct procedure was followed when the property was purchased, the shares in which you own the property should be clear.  Otherwise, it will be presumed that you own the property in equal shares unless one party can prove otherwise. 

      There are a number of issues to consider such as the financial contributions you have each made, how you conducted your finances and why the house was purchased.  We can advise you on the prospects of success of achieving a share in excess of 50% and how best to go about this. 

    • The property is owned in my sole name, does my partner have an interest?

      If your home is owned in the sole name of you or your partner and either party wishes to establish an interest in it, there are complex issues to consider as that party will need to establish the existence of a resulting or constructive trust, or proprietary estoppel.  It is not possible to establish an interest just as a result of having lived in the property for a period of time.

      Resulting trusts can be established by a direct contribution to the purchase price by the non-legal owner.  We can advise you on whether any contribution you or your partner has made will be sufficient to establish a resulting trust and the likely share of the property they will receive.

      A constructive trust can be established if it can be shown that both parties intended to share ownership of the property despite it being in one party's sole name and that one party acted to their detriment on the basis of this intention.  There are a number of considerations for both establishing a common intention as well as detrimental reliance, such as conversations you have had with your partner, the reasons why the property is in one party's sole name, payments made towards the mortgage, financial contributions towards improvements to the property or actually working on such improvements.  Usually, normal household duties or a contribution to household expenses will not be sufficient.

      Our family law solicitors have extensive experience in this area and can advise you on whether any contribution you or your partner has made and whether in your particular circumstances there is any prospect of establishing a constructive trust.

    • Can I stay in the property?

      If you do not have any legal or beneficial interest in the property our family law solicitors can advise you on whether you have any prospect of continuing to reside there by way of a licence or in circumstances of domestic violence.  Otherwise you may have no legal right to remain in the property and could be excluded on being given reasonable notice.

    • Who owns the furniture and possessions in the house?

      The division of belongings after a relationship breaks down can be a difficult process.  Usually anything purchased by one party will remain in their ownership but items bought jointly can be more difficult to deal with.  We can advise you on how best to approach these issues to reach a sensible solution.

    • Will my partner have to pay me maintenance?

      Unlike a married couple, if a cohabiting couple separate there is no legal obligation to provide any financial support to your partner over and above any child maintenance that may be appropriate.  This is the case regardless of the history of the relationship and despite the fact that one party might have been wholly financially dependent on the other.  For this reason it becomes even more important that your position is protected in respect of your property.

    • We are not married does this affect our children?

      If a child's parents are not married, although this makes no difference to the day to day care of the child whilst the parents are cohabiting, there are legal differences which alter the position if the parents separate.  We understand that making the appropriate arrangements for your children can be the most difficult aspect of the breakdown of a relationship and our family law solicitors will always provide sensitive and clear advice, see our section on children.

    Questions on divorce and separation

    • What do I need to do to get a divorce?

      We provide a free 30 minute consultation where we will discuss all your options with you. If you have been married for more than a year and either you or your spouse live in England and Wales, then it is open to you to seek a divorce. If neither you nor your spouse live in England or Wales, the court may not be able to deal with your divorce. It is important to establish that the court has jurisdiction so if you are in any doubt speak to one of our family law solicitors. 

      The ground for divorce is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and in order to prove this you must rely on one of five facts these are:

      1. Adultery.
      2. Unreasonable behaviour.
      3. Separation for 2 years with both parties' consent.
      4. Separation for 5 years without the other person's consent.
      5. Desertion.

      Our divorce solicitors can advise you on the best option for you and the best way of ensuring that the divorce proceeds smoothly without any objection from your partner. 

    • What documents do I need to file a divorce petition?

      In order to file a divorce petition, the court require your original marriage certificate or a certified copy which can be obtained from the General Register Office. There is also a court fee payable to the court when a Petition is filed which currently stands at £550.

      We will prepare a divorce petition for you stating upon which fact you believe the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

    • How long does a divorce take?

      The time a divorce takes to conclude can vary widely, however our specialist divorce solicitors will keep you fully updated in order to reduce the stress and worry that you may be feeling. Typically, we estimate from filing a petition to obtaining Decree Absolute takes between 4 and 6 months provided you and your spouse complete the necessary paperwork and file it with the court without delay.

      Once your spouse has acknowledged the divorce proceedings and is not defending the divorce, we will prepare all of the necessary documentation to obtain your Decree Nisi to include the necessary statement in support of your petition.  Once we have obtained your Decree Nisi, it is open to the court to consider any financial settlement that has been reached.

      Our family law solicitors are also experts in negotiating beneficial financial settlements and this advice can be provided alongside the divorce process. 

    • When am I considered divorced?

      The Decree Absolute is the final stage of the divorce proceedings and this can be applied for 6 weeks and 1 day after the Decree Nisi.  If your spouse is the person who has filed the petition but they have not applied for Decree Absolute then after a further 3 months you are able to make an application for Decree Absolute.  The court will grant the application unless there is good reason not to do so.  Examples of which are that financial issues have not been resolved.

      Our divorce solicitors will advise you on when to make the application as often it is in your interest to delay it especially if there are outstanding financial issues to be resolved.  Once the Decree Absolute has been granted, the marriage is at an end and both parties are free to remarry if they wish.

    Questions on inheritance

    • My partner has died and not made sufficient provision for me in their Will, what can I do?

      An unmarried partner has no automatic right to their partner's estate if they die without making a Will.  It is therefore essential that unmarried couples make a Will.  

      There are however certain circumstances in which you could make a claim against your partner's estate if you can show that you are being maintained by them prior to their death or you have lived with your partner as husband and wife for two years prior to their death.  This provision also extends to same sex partners who are not in a civil partnership.  In addition to this there are special guidelines for the court to consider such as your age, the length of your cohabitation and the contributions that you have made to the welfare of the family.  Our specialist family law solicitors can advise you of your rights if your partner predeceases you and the appropriate course of action to achieve the best possible outcome for you. 

    • Could the court ignore my father’s wishes if my brother contests his will?

      The court will take into account as part of the evidence why your father chose not to include your brother in his will but ultimately the court does have the power to make an order that would be contrary to your father's wishes.

      The court's decision will turn on the extent of your brother's financial need, the extent, if any, to which he was dependent on your father, combined with his conduct and your father's reasons for excluding provision for him.

      This can be extremely hard to reconcile with the idea that a UK subject has the freedom to leave their estate to whom they choose and it is therefore essential to obtain specialist legal advice early to understand the strength of his claim. If your brother were successful in his application his legal costs could end up being paid by either you or the estate.

    • I am the executor and I know both the beneficiaries or the estate and the applicant personally. I believe strongly that the applicant does not have a claim, what can I do?

      In your capacity as executor, your role within the proceedings is limited to providing the relevant information concerning the assets and liabilities of the estate. You are expected to take a neutral and risk an application to remove you as executor if you do not.

      If you feel unable to act neutrally, or that you risk damaging your relationship with the other parties, you may want to take advice on stepping down as executor.

    Free family law consultation

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    People Glossary of terms

    A

    Acknowledgement of Service
    When a respondent receives a divorce or dissolution petition, the court asks them to acknowledge the same by filling in the acknowledgement of service. There are consequences if this is not completed. It also allows the respondent to state whether they agree with the petition or not.
    Address for Service
    The address given by a party stating where documents or correspondence can be sent to them.
    Adjournment
    Suspension of proceedings to another time or place.
    Adjourned Sine Die
    Adjournment for an indefinite period. No further date has been set.
    Adoption
    To take on legal responsibilities as a parent of a child that is not biologically your own
    Adoption Order
    Is a court order which makes the child legally a part of the adoptive family. This ends the child’s birth parents legal responsibilities for the child. This is a permanent order.
    Adultery
    Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse
    Affidavit
    A written statement by a party or witness. It must be signed before an authorised person. You will be required to swear on the bible or attest the truth of the document.
    Affirmation
    Formal declaration or oath that the statement is true to the best of your knowledge and belief.
    Annulment
    Legal procedure declaring a marriage null and void. The marriage will be considered as invalid from the beginning, essentially it is as if the marriage has not taken place.
    Appeal
    Request a re-hearing by another judge.
    Applicant
    The person applying to the Court for an order
    Ancillary Relief
    Application for financial relief
    Arbitration
    Settling on dispute between two parties using an impartial third party, acting in a similar role to a judge. Depending on previous agreement, the decision by the third party does not have to be accepted.

    B

    Barristers
    A specialised lawyer who represents parties at court. They can also provide advice and guidance on matters.
    Beneficial Interest
    A right a person has over something. I.e. someone who is a beneficiary of a trust of land has a beneficial interest in the land.
    Bigamy
    An offence which occurs when one persons marries someone whilst already married to another person.
    Brief
    A summary of facts and instructions provided to a barrister in preparation for a hearing.
    Bundles
    Folder of documents being referred to within a hearing. An identical copy will be giving to the parties, the judge and a copy will be available for any witnesses.

    C

    CAFCASS
    Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service
    CAFCASS officer
    An independent professional who helps the Court decide the arrangements for children if parents are unable to reach an agreement between themselves, usually by preparing a report after a meeting with the parents and children.
    Case Law
    Common law. It is law or legal guidelines that have been created by judges through their previous judgments.
    Case Management Conference
    A meeting between all parties and a judge to assess the progress of the matter and to determine steps moving forward.
    Care Order
    Court order placing the child in care of local authority
    CETV
    Cash Equivalent Transfer Value of a pension fund.
    Chambers
    Offices used by Barristers (also refer to judge's private rooms)
    Child
    Minor under 18 years of age.
    Child Abduction
    Unauthorised removal of a child from the care of their parents or carer.
    Child maintenance service
    Agency which runs the Child Maintenance system in Britain. It is a part of the Department of Social Security.
    Child Support Maintenance
    The amount of maintenance a non-resident part must pay towards their child
    Circuit Judge
    A judge who sits in the Crown Court or County Court
    Civil Partnership
    A legally recognised union between same sex couples. It provides many of the same legal rights and duties as marriage and is terminated by a similar process to divorce, called dissolution.
    Clean Break
    A court order which dismisses any future financial claims by one partner against the other following a divorce.
    Cohabitation
    Where two people, who are not married but share an emotional or physical relationship live together. This normally is on a long term basis.
    Collaborative Law
    A way of dealing with the litigation process on an amicable basis. It encourages a focus on working together to obtain a solution rather than fighting against the other side.
    Common Law Marriage
    Similarly, you may hear referrals to Common Law Husband or Common Law wife. This union has no legal status compared to marriage.
    Conciliation
    This is a flexible and confidential way of negotiating whilst using a neutral third party. Problems and issues are discussed with the hope of coming up with solutions.
    Consent Order
    A court order by which the parties have not objected to. It is usually drawn up by one of the parties.
    Contact Centre
    Neutral and safe environment for parents to spend time with their children, if the court is unhappy with unsupervised visits.
    Contact Order
    A court order determining how much contact a child should have with a specified person
    Co-Respondent
    A person named in the divorce petition as having committed adultery with one of the parties to the marriage.
    County Court
    A court which is able to deal with civil and criminal matters. The Family Courts division sits in the County Court.
    Counsel
    Also known as Barrister.
    Court Fees
    Fees payable to court in order to use their services i.e. issue divorce petition.
    Court Order
    An order from the court directing a party or parties to act in a certain way. Non compliance with a court order can lead to criminal prosecutions for acting in contempt of court.
    Costs Order
    A court order outlining which parties should pay the costs of proceedings and how much.
    Costs Recovery
    The process of trying to recover costs from the other party.
    Cross examination
    Questioning of a witness by a person from the opposing party.
    Custody
    A person has custody if they are in control and care of the entity in question.

    D

    Decree Absolute
    A final court order terminating the marriage.
    Decree Nisi
    A provisional court order stating that the divorce petition is sufficient to show the marriage has irrevocably broken down and may now be terminated if the parties wish.
    Directions Order
    Instructions given by a judge as what the next steps should be or what the parties should do.
    Disclosure
    In financial proceedings both parties must disclose any documents they intend to rely on to support their case. In Divorce proceedings this is completed using Form E.
    Divorce
    The legal end of a marriage.
    Divorce Petition
    An application to the court requesting a divorce (legal end to the marriage)
    Duxbury Calculation
    A method used to calculate a lump sum that can be provided by one party to the other as maintenance.
    Dissolution
    The legal end of a civil partnership.

    E

    Enforcement Order
    An order by the court making a party or person apply with the court order.
    Ex Parte Hearing
    A hearing where one of the parties is not present
    Expert Witness
    An unbiased professional witness who is able to give evidence on a particular subject which they are qualified in

    F

    Family Proceedings Court
    Court where family matters are heard
    FDA
    First Directions Application
    FDR
    Financial Dispute Resolution. The judge will have discussions with the parties, look at the file and previous offers and consider the likely outcome of the case at final hearing. The court cannot impose his decision on the parties.
    Filing
    Lodging documents with the court
    Final Hearing
    The last hearing available court timetable for a case. Any other hearings will be by way of appeal.
    Financial Remedy Application
    An application to start financial remedy proceedings done using a Form A
    Financial Remedy Proceedings
    Court proceedings aiming at settling financial dispute. There will be usually be an FDA followed by an FDR before final hearing.
    Form A
    This is used to apply to the court to begin financial proceedings within a divorce or dissolution claim. It will start the timetable for financial disclosure and it will set a court date.
    Form E
    This is an obligatory court form setting out a person's financial position and what order they are seeking. You will be required to confirm that the statement is true in court. It is common for parties to exchange financial information using Form E before court proceedings are even issued.
    Form G
    This form is used before a FDA hearing and informs the court whether it is possible to combine the FDA hearing with an FDR. If applicable, this can save time and costs.
    Form H/H1
    These forms provide information on the parties' costs so far and whether anything has been paid towards them. There are limited circumstances for costs recovery in a family matter.
    Former Matrimonial Home
    The Home that the Husband and Wife resided in before separation
    Freezing Injunction
    An interim court order preventing a party from disposing of a particular asset.

    H

    Hearing The trial.
    A judge will listen to the case
    High Court
    A civil court consisting of three divisions: Queens Bench (civil disputes i.e. personal Injury, breach of contract), Family (deals with matrimonial matters and proceedings relating to children), Chancery

    I

    Injunction
    A court order forbidding or requiring a specified person to do something
    Inter Partes Hearing
    A hearing between the parties. All parties should be present
    Interim Order
    A court order made during proceedings. It is not a final order.
    Issue
    Start of legal proceedings by issuing an application at court, a court timetable will become available allowing the matter to progress with the assistance of the court.

    J

    Joint Tenancy
    Where all parties own an undivided interest in the whole property.
    Judgment
    Decision issued by a court in legal proceedings
    Judicial Separation
    This is not a divorce. Both parties remain married however they are legally separated from each other and their normal marital obligations cease.

    L

    Legal Aid
    State funded assistance towards legal fees. Strict eligibility criteria
    Litigant in person
    A person who acts without legal representation
    Litigation friend
    A person who conducts litigation on behalf of someone who is unable to do so, i.e. minor or handicapped.
    Lump Sum Order
    Order that one party pays the other a fixed lump sum rather than payments by instalments. As this sum is fixed it cannot be varied in the future unlike periodical payments.

    M

    Maintenance
    Financial support on an ongoing basis, usually paid monthly.
    Maintenance pending suit
    Maintenance payment whilst proceedings are ongoing. This will stop when proceedings are completed and a final order is made.
    Matrimonial order application
    Another name for Divorce Petition
    McKenzie friend
    Assists an unrepresented person in court. This can be through taking notes, assisting with documents and making suggestions as to how to act. A McKenzie friend does not need to be legally qualified.
    Mediation
    A form of dispute resolution, using an independent third party.

    N

    Non-molestation order
    Court order aimed at preventing one party from harassing, threatening or using violence towards another party or person.
    Non-Resident Parent
    A parent that does not live with the child.

    O

    Occupation Order
    An order outlining who will be living in a property

    P

    Parental Responsibility
    This is defined under Section 3 of the Children Act 1989. It includes all rights, duties, powers and responsibilities which, by law, a parent of a child has. This is in relation to the child itself and any property.
    Particulars
    The details of a claim or application
    Party/Parties
    People involved in the proceedings i.e. the applicant and the respondent
    Pension earmarking
    Option available during financial proceedings. When a party starts taking their pension, a proportion of it is provided to the other spouse.
    Pension sharing order
    Order that the pension shall be shared between the parties on divorce. This may be a 50/50 split or another percentage as provided by the court.
    Polygamy
    Being married to more than one person at the same time
    Post-Nuptial Agreement
    A written contract executed after the couple has married. It sets out the division of assets in the event of a divorce
    Pre-Civil Partnership Agreement
    A written contract executed before a civil partnership is entered into setting out the division of assets in the event of separation.
    Pre-Nuptial Agreement
    A written contract executed before a marriage is entered into setting out the division of assets in the event of divorce or separation.
    Privilege
    A right to prevent the opposing party from seeing certain documents. There are strict rules as to what can be withheld, for example communications between a client and their solicitor.
    Prohibited Steps Order
    A court order, in Children Act proceedings, prohibiting certain actions to be taken in regards to a child.
    Property Adjustment Order
    A court order which changes the ownership of a property i.e. from joint names into one sole name.

    R

    Residence Order
    A court order declaring who the child should live with
    Resident Parent
    The parent with whom the child lives.
    Respondent
    The person who has an application made against them. I.e. the person who has a divorce petition served on them.

    S

    Sale of Property Order
    A court order regarding the sale of a property and any conditions attached
    Seal
    A stamp from the court endorsing an order or application.
    Section 25 Factors
    These are factors which are considered by the court when determining financial settlements in matrimonial proceedings.
    Section 8 Order
    Residence or contact orders in respect of a child
    Separation Agreement
    A private contract between spouses agreeing a separation and the terms of the same i.e. financial distribution. The couple will not be divorced.
    Service
    Providing the respondent with a sealed copy of an application i.e. divorce petition.
    Statement of truth
    Signed verification by you that the document (usually witness statements) is correct to the best of your knowledge and belief. If you sign knowing that the content of the document is false you may be in contempt of court.
    Supervision order
    A court order that a child should be supervised by the local authority

    T

    Tenancy in Common
    Tenants in common own a set share in the property rather than owning it equally. This is usually on a 50/50 basis but the shares can be unequal. If one partner dies, the other will not automatically inherit the other half of the property.

    U

    Undertaking
    A formal and binding promise to the court to do or not to do something. This can also refer to a binding promise from a solicitor.
    Unreasonable behaviour
    One of the factors of divorce which indicate that a marriage has irrevocably broken down.

    W

    Without prejudice
    A tool used to negotiate in a matter that will not prejudice you at court. A without prejudice letter is not shown to the court until costs stage (if costs recovery applies) which allows for parties to make proposals at an early stage which will not be used against them later on.
    Witness summons
    An order given by the court requiring a person to give evidence on a matter
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