When a relationship breaks down, whether it’s a marriage or a civil partnership, the emotional stresses are matched only by the practical implications. Here at Higgins Miller we offer calm, up to date and relevant advice on all issues around family law, specialising in areas such as prenuptial and cohabitation agreements, special guardianship and divorce and civil partnerships.
At all times we take care handling the emotional fall-out of relationship breakdown as well as the technicalities which have to be dealt with. We understand that feelings can run high in cases of this kind, and that part of our job is to help our clients remove the emotion from the equation, reach a fair and balanced settlement and move on in the manner which will best equip them to make the most of the rest of their life.
This is particularly true when dealing with children disputes.
Whilst the end of a relationship is always likely to see feelings running high and a huge number of financial and practical loose ends which have to be cleared up, the emotional impact is multiplied many times over if there is a child involved. Of course, the vast majority of parents feel that nothing is a higher priority than the welfare of their children, but the bitterness and anger inherent in some relationship breakdowns can temporarily blind them to this. Part of the job of the experts at Higgins Miller is to ensure that the welfare of the child sits at the heart of everything that happens when a relationship comes to an end.
In the majority of cases, parents manage to come to an amicable agreement regarding the future of their children. What this generally involves is coming to an arrangement with regard to where the child will live and what financial contributions will be made, and by whom, to their financial well-being. The details of such an arrangement will be included when filing for a divorce and in the majority of cases the court will accept that a voluntary arrangement of this kind is likely to be more successful in the long run.
If an arrangement of this kind cannot be reached, the Judge may suggest mediation, or request reports and a meeting with a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) officer. As the solicitors involved in a children dispute, we will always advise that, if possible, an agreement should be reached without having to work through a court process which is often long and drawn out. If we think mediation will work we will help to arrange it, and can negotiate on your behalf. At every stage of the proceedings we will help you to balance the realities of the law with care for the welfare of your child, explaining exactly what your rights and responsibilities are and how we feel any court would be likely to view your case.
If mediation and negotiation should fail, your children dispute will be settled in court, and at this point it will be imperative that you utilise the services of a solicitor able to explain exactly what your rights and responsibilities are in the eyes of the law.
The Children Act 1989 states that the child’s welfare is the most important fact to be considered, and discusses ‘contact’ with the child and the issue of ‘parental responsibility’. Married couples will both have parental responsibility whilst a father who is not married to the child’s mother can only acquire parental responsibility with the mother’s agreement, by marrying her, or by applying to the court.
The issues covered under parental responsibility deal with every aspect of a child’s well-being. This includes basics such as protecting and maintaining a child, naming the child and choosing their school, all the way to selecting a child’s religion and choosing where they should live.
In financial terms – the issue which, along with contact, forms the basis of most children disputes – parents have responsibility for a child until they reach the age of 17 or leave full time education, whichever comes later. Whichever parent is deemed to be responsible for meeting this financial obligation will have to continue doing so whether they are in regular contact with the child or not. In many children disputes, these issues can become intertwined, with one or the other being used as a form of bargaining chip. Part of our job when advising you will be to ensure that this situation does not arise; in legal terms, contact and financial responsibility have no bearing on each other and we will ensure that you understand this, no matter what emotions you may be feeling.
As even a brief introduction such as this makes clear, the issues surrounding children disputes are hugely complex, particularly when the emotion of the situation is taken into account. At Higgins Miller a 20 minute legal aid appraisal, taking place over the phone or face to face, is free of charge. This will enable us to evaluate the basics of your case and decide whether we can be of assistance, after which, if we feel we can, a fixed fee first appointment will cost just £50 (Plus VAT). If you decide to proceed with a case, you’ll find that our prices are competitive and, in many cases, are offered on a fixed fee basis. For more details of our case funding approach, please see here, and if you’d like some advice, call us on 0161 429 7251 or email us at [email protected].