The Family Law Act 1996 is an important legal resource governing matters related to family homes, domestic violence, marital breakdown, and the resolution of disputes and the welfare of children, among others. A divorce procedure in the UK, which can be assisted by our family lawyers in London, is governed by this document, just as well as any other subsequent disputes that may result upon the distribution of assets or when determining spousal maintenance after the separation.
One should note that several other Acts are relevant as a regulatory framework for discussing marriage and divorce matters as well as child support. Moreover, same-sex couples should look towards the Marriage (Same Sex) Act 2013 that sets forth the conditions to form marriage in their case.
This short guide on Family Law in UK presented by our family solicitors in London should only serve as a rough guide. For complete details, as well as adequate legal aid, please reach out to our lawyers.
Table of Contents
UK Family Law provisions
When discussing the Family Law Act 1996 is it useful to note that this document has several parts, all covering important matters for forming and, when needed, dissolving a family unit. It also contains important information pertaining to domestic violence in the UK as well as the treatment of children, including the separate representation for children, as applicable.
Our family law solicitors in London can give you all of the needed details about these legal issues. Below, we list the main issues covered by the Family Law:
- Part I: in which the general principles that underline Section 22, namely that the institution of marriage is to be supported and the parties are encouraged to make an effort to save their union;
- Part II: covers the court orders on divorce and separation, the statement of marital breakdown, the welfare of children as well as the resolution of disputes;
- Part III: legal aid for mediation in family issues, mediation in civil legal aid as well as the availability of this procedure;
- Part IV: covers the issue of family homes and domestic violence, including but not limited to non-molestation orders as well as the enforcement powers of the magistrates’ courts; this chapter also covers the issue of forced marriage;
- Part V: additional information such as the provisions for the separate representation of children.
The provisions of the Family Law Act 1996 are used in conjunction with other relevant laws. In case of marriages in which the spouses were not both UK residents, the Brussels Regulations applied until the UK formally left the EU. For cases commenced on or before 31 December 2020, the EU laws will continue to apply, however, after this date, cases gall under national law as well as the Hague Conference and Private International Law. Our divorce lawyer in London can provide you with more information on the relevant conventions.
The Family Court
The Family Law governs divorce proceedings in England and Wales and the Family Court handles the majority of family proceedings. This Court is divided according to several areas and each has a Designated Family Centre that is being managed by a Designated Family Judge. The manner in which the Law is enforced largely depends on the habitual residence, both that of the (former) spouses and that of the children if any.
Apart from the Family Court, family matters can also be dealt with in the High Court, the Family Division. A Magistrate who sits in the Family Court undergoes special training, as the procedures are different from those in criminal courts.
Examples of the matters handled by the Family Court include the following:
- parental disputes related to the upbringing of children;
- divorce decrees or those to dissolve a civil partnership;
- domestic violence – limited aspects;
- child maintenance;
- adoption and surrogacy;
- special guardianship;
- forced marriage protection and other matters.
When discussing how matters concerning children are sorted in court, a distinction is made between public and private law.
Public law cases involving children include care and supervision orders as well as emergency protection orders. These allow the local authority to intervene in cases that involve child safety, especially in case of emergency protection (in this case, the authorities can either decide to remove the child from the location and take him or her to safety or prevent their removal from a place that is considered safe).
Private law cases mainly include the separation or the divorce of the parents and refer to parental responsibility, financial issues, special guardianship orders or settling parental disputes that are related to the place in which the child lives.
The Family Court also handles matters involving adoption and marriage. When an adoption order is issued by the court, it removes the rights, duties, and responsibilities of the biological parents(s) and grants them to the adoptive ones. For all intents and purposes according to law, the child thereon belongs to his or her adoptive parents.
In marriage cases, the Court pronounces marriage invalidation cases, apart from divorce ones. A marriage is considered invalid when one of the parties is under 16 years of age, they are already married or they are not allowed to be married by law (when there is a family relationship between them).
The Court also grants orders that concern domestic abuse and these are the non-molestation order (prohibiting certain behaviours) and the occupation order (establishing the rules for home occupation). Individuals who breach a non-molestation order can be arrested. When the abuser lives with the child, The Court may pronounce a decision that the abuser is removed from the home and not the child. Our family solicitors in London can give you more details about these cases.
The Court of Protection
This is a specialist court that deals with decisions made on behalf of individuals who lack this capacity. Some of the decisions that can be issued by this court include the following:
- whether or not an individual has the capacity, or ability, to make a certain decision;
- issue statements, decisions or orders on the financial and welfare matters of people who lack the ability to make these decisions themselves;
- appoint or remove a deputy who makes the decisions on behalf of these individuals.
If you need assistance with matters concerning an individual who lacks the capacity to make decisions for himself, our family law solicitors in London can assist you.
In most cases, hearings are public, however, this court can decide to sit in private. Cases involving individuals who are unable to decide on their own behalf are presented to judges from the circuit and district courts and the High Court.
Legal assistance offered by our family solicitors in London
Our team of lawyers specializes in Family Law and has handled numerous cases involving divorce, separation and the resolution of disputes, which is often needed in these cases.
Requesting legal assistance, such as the services offered by our divorce lawyer in London, is recommended in all cases but most notably in those in which one or all parties have been habitual residents of other jurisdictions. This can be the case when one or both parties have been habitual residents of other EU countries or jurisdictions related to the UK such as Scotland, Northern Ireland, or the Isle of Man.
As seen in the description of the areas covered by Family Law in the UK, legal aid is available to those individuals who have serious cases. It should be understood that legal aid is different from regular legal assistance in the sense that aid is compensated for by the Government.
The solicitor, such as one of our family law solicitors in London, can take up your case and will evaluate it to see if you can apply. He will also be the one to apply and this means that if you qualify, the fees for the legal assistance will be paid by the government directly to the solicitor.
Legal aid can be offered in cases involving domestic abuse or when one of the parties is at risk of homelessness. Aid can also be offered for family mediation or if the individual has been accused of a crime and he/she faces prison. When requesting aid, it is important to show that the applicant cannot pay for the legal fees. In some cases, for example, if the children are in danger, the solicitor can apply for emergency legal representation.
Using the help of a specialist solicitor is common in divorce cases as well as in many other aspects concerning Family Law.
Divorce rates vary in the United Kingdom and the rate has lowered in recent years due to administrative reasons. According to data from the Office for National Statistics, there was a 10.6% decrease in the number of divorces in 2018 compared to 2017. Other data presented by our family solicitors in London show the following:
- the number of couples divorced in 2018: 90,871 out of which 56,294 were petitioned by the wife and 34,577 by the husband;
- couples that divorced in 2017: 102,007 couples in which the wife initiated the divorce proceedings in 62,712 of the cases;
- the woman’s age at divorce: in 2018 there were 12,950 women between 45 and 49 years of age who divorced, followed by 12,907 women aged 35 to 39 who ended their marriages (for same-sex couples);
- the man’s age at divorce: in 2018, out of all the men who divorced, the majority was in the 45 to 49 age group, with 13,521 individuals.
If you are in need of legal aid for divorce or separation in the UK, our team of family law solicitors in London can provide the needed assistance. Contact us for more information on how we can help.