Family law conjures up visions of messy divorces and awkward custody battles in which there are no real winners, but family lawyers deal with many other facets of life including domestic violence cases, child maintenance issues, and they also offer advice on how to separate finances and property in the event of a break-up.
Few people realise that, in the event of the break-up of a family, there are several options available to them. The first, and simplest, route is that of a 'Do-It-Yourself' separation. This is best followed by couples who are still friendly with each other, and able to rationally discuss all the property and finances in the marriage or partnership, and who both agree on custody arrangements for the children and perhaps even pets. Once they have reached an understanding with which they are both happy they can visit a family lawyer together and have the agreement drawn up with the correct legal paperwork. This can be filed at court without the couple needing to be present in the court.
Mediation is the next step up from a completely DIY process and involves both partners agreeing to visit a mediator. Many family lawyers have mediation skills and can help a couple understand and navigate the legal process more easily. If an agreement is reached the paperwork is filed in much the same way as detailed above, with no need for the couple to attend any court procedures. If there is no agreement reached using a mediator, the couple may decide to move onto the next option.
Collaborative Practise is an agreement not to go to court, signed by both parties and the collaborative lawyer. There is no written correspondence with all negotiations taking place face-to-face until agreement has been reached, at which point the paperwork is drawn up in exactly the same way that it would be with a DIY agreement or under a mediator's influence. If no agreement is reached, the couple must find new lawyers in order to proceed to court. It is important to note that if agreement is reached at any stage before the court date the papers can be filed as above.
The next step is to go through arbitration, which involves essentially handing over all the information to an independent third party – the arbitrator – who will make the decisions and draw up the paperwork which is then filed at court. This method is similar to a court proceeding, being legally binding, but has the advantages of being private and relatively fast. You can instruct a lawyer to take you through the arbitration process, or you can directly appoint an arbitrator.
The final step, if all of the above has failed, or does not suit, is to take the matter to court – a lengthy and sometimes distressing process (especially in the case of acrimonious break-ups and disputed custody arrangements) that will need to be played out to the very end, at which point the judge will make his or her decision and record it formally.
Before you get to the point of finding lawyers and making the separation process formal, there is a wealth of information available on the Internet that can help you to make the best decision for your particular situation. Breaking up or separating is always hard and stressful, but you can get through it if you arm yourself with as much information as possible while working through the process.
The top six family lawyers/ law firms according to Legal 500, a comprehensive directory of the legal profession in the United Kingdom, are as follows:
Hughes Fowler Carruthers Ltd
Charles Russell LLP
Family Law in Partnership
Farrer & Co
Each of the above lawyers or law firms has a family law specialist who has performed exceptionally well on behalf of their clients. Their legal expertise and understanding of the processes and requirements give them the edge over less experienced colleagues when it comes to getting the best result for the client.
- Family lawyers deal with all aspects of marriage and home life, from prenuptial agreements, to child custody arrangements and child maintenance, to domestic violence cases and divorce
- There are as many as five different ways to reach an agreement: from Do-It-Yourself to a full court case, with mediation, arbitration and collaborative agreement filling in the spaces in between
- Divorce can cost as little as £500.00 – of which £410.00 is the court fee for registering the paperwork – or a potentially enormous sum, depending on the assets within the marriage and the determination of the other party to get as much from the divorce as possible.