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Family matters - family related legal problems solicitors encounter

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This first appeared in the Wigan Observer on July 15th 2014

Q: What are the most common family related legal problems that you encounter?

A: I could keep this really short and say that no two days are alike, and everyday really does bring something new. There’s an unfortunate perception that lawyers do well out of everyone else’s problems and although I can understand that view, I am never ceased to be amazed at the novel ways in which people can fall out.

Despite the similarly inaccurate view that ‘all’ lawyers look to cause a problem where none exist, there are too many times when despite my best endeavours clients really have said they would rather ‘spend their money’, rather than compromise or let the other win. A family lawyer can regularly find themselves being a legal advisor, social worker, therapist and agony aunt, and not necessarily in that order.

A good family lawyer will try to help you find ways how to work things out and to make things better by narrowing the issues in a dispute. You often find when this is done there is not much between a couple and certainly not enough to usually warrant an application to court. I will explain to clients the cost benefit of any application. For example if a couple are only £10,000 apart in a money dispute and each of their costs will be as much to pursue to a final hearing, it doesn’t take a genius to work out it’s not worth it and meeting in the middle might be better all round, as well as cheaper.

Sadly, in my job as a family law solicitor, family disputes are an everyday occurrence and they come in all shapes and sizes. But for someone experiencing their first legal dispute relating to their family, be it the most straightforward divorce to distressing situations involving children or complex financial applications following separation, it can seem like a really daunting experience for a client particularly when emotions are involved.

A typical working week for me could see me representing parents, children and Professional Children Guardians in a variety of legal disputes over children, whether that be private applications between parents, which incidentally are the most common faced by the courts, or Public Law child care cases when a child or children have been removed from home for their own protection. Such cases can be the most complex and emotionally demanding that a family solicitor will deal with as they can end in a child be placed permanently outside a family in a new adoptive placement.

At this time of year, it’s also not uncommon when one parent wants to take their child/children out of the country for a holiday or sometimes, to live abroad. The parent staying at home could be concerned over whether they will be brought back at all. If this happens we can apply to court to prohibit the removal if there is genuine reason to believe the holiday is a ‘sham’. In a very recent case we had to take such a case to the Court of Appeal to successfully argue that the original Judge got it wrong. These cases don’t come along often but are complex matters when they do. 

A lot of my work involves helping couples following divorce or Civil Partnership dissolution if there are disagreements over assets that were owned during the course of a relationship. This can include homes, insurance policies, pensions and cars. More than once, I have been involved in a case when the ultimate ownership of a sentimental item such as a picture or even tea set has caused such problems that the rest of the ‘deal’ has been at risk of falling through. This is usually when I role out my ‘cost benefit’ speech!

Decisions about money and property don’t have to be a time of argument and distress. I try to get a client to treat it like a business deal and set emotions aside. Settlements can be agreed by a couple themselves, leaving me to do the paperwork for approval by the court, or with my advice and input where I will attempt to negotiate with the former partner or their representative. We will also make regular referrals for a couple to engage in mediation or a collaborative process before the agreement is formalised into a legally binding Court order without the need for anyone to set foot inside a Court building.

There are occasions when it is not possible to reach agreement for a number of reasons and when this happens application are made to court whether that be regarding children or money matters, but the greater proportion of cases don’t need this. All in all it makes for a very busy week!