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14.02.2019

Cohabiting Parents: what are the rights for you and your children?

Written by Rosita Mendonca

It is now common for many couples to live together in long term committed relationships without getting married. 47.6% of children born in the UK in 2016 were born outside marriage or civil partnership (Office for National Statistics statistical bulletin dated 19th July 2017), and hence, it is important to realise that the legal rights afforded to cohabiting partners are very different from those of married couples.

 

Parental Responsibility is defined in s 3(1) Children Act 1989 as being:

“all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.

The term ‘Parental Responsibility’  lays emphasis on the parent’s duties towards their child rather than the parent’s rights over their child.

 

My partner and I have a child. Are we both the child’s legal parents? Who has Parental responsibility?

 

  • Mothers , & Married fathers automatically have Parental Responsibility and will not lose it if divorced.

  • Unmarried fathers  do not automatically have Parental Responsibility. A cohabiting man who fathers a child can only acquire parental responsibility if he is registered as the father on the birth certificate, has entered an agreement with the mother, or following a court order.

  • Step-fathers and Step-mothers do not automatically have Parental Responsibility.

  • Grandparents do not automatically have Parental Responsibility

Because of this, cohabiting couples should consider appointing a guardian for their child should anything happen to the mother (if the father is not named as such on the children’s birth certificates).

 

I had a child with my boyfriend/girlfriend and we used to live together. We have since broken up – does my ex have to pay child support?

 

The law treats Parental Responsibility and child maintenance as being completely separate. An unmarried father who does not have Parental Responsibility still has a duty towards his child to provide child support maintenance. An unmarried father without Parental Responsibility will also still have some rights- as an example if the child is in Local Authority care, he has a right to have reasonable contact with his child.

You should be aware that when a father does not have parental responsibility, the mother does not have to consult with him when making decisions for a child or when removing the child from the jurisdiction (taking them outside England and Wales, whether on a temporary or permanent basis).

The legal system is generally flexible when it comes to matters concerning children, and avoids disadvantaging children based on their parents’ relationship status. This is to ensure that all children are financially provided for as much as practically possible.

09.02.2019

LASPO Review Signals Reduction in Hurdles to Accessing Legal Aid

Written by Rosita Mendonca

The provision of legal aid is governed by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO). The reforms made under LASPO were intended to target legal aid at those who needed it most. During the past year, the Government has been conducting a post-implementation review (PIR) to assess the impact of LASPO against its original objectives. National Legal Service Solicitors welcome the publication of the PIR &  Legal Support Action Plan by the Ministry of Justice.

Key Promises of the review include:-

  • £5m for ‘innovative’ forms of legal support. Such support could be a Skype tool or a program that converts lengthy written arguments into an appropriate presentation which people can automatically put into a claim form;
  • £3m over two years to support litigants in person.

 

As part of the action plan the MOJ will also:

  • Review the legal aid means test (by summer 2020);
  • Bring forward proposals to expand legal aid to include separated migrant children in immigration cases (by spring 2019);
  • Bring forward proposals to expand legal aid to cover special guardianship orders in private family law (by autumn 2019);
  • Work with the Law Society to explore an ‘alternative model’ for family legal aid;
  • Consider introducing an emergency procedure for urgent matters to access the exceptional case funding scheme (by the end of 2019);

 

Ms Kirsty Richards, Head of Family, National Legal Service Solicitors says “This is a very positive result that has come from the review and as a result of some particularly tenacious individuals and organisations that have been at the front line demanding change and reform.  There is no doubt in my mind that LASPO has had a devastating impact on the legal aid sector and more importantly, it has negatively impacted many vulnerable parents and children as they have not been able to get the advice they needed.  In some cases this has led to desperate actions of at least one parent in failing to return a child following contact, for example.  It will remain to be seen whether the proposed changes will bring about the tide of change that is actually required to start repairing the damage caused by LASPO.  But, this is certainly a positive start to that journey of repair ”

 

24.01.2019

Domestic Abuse & Eligibility for Legal Aid

Written by Ammarah Balouch

Legal Aid is available for victims of Domestic Abuse who satisfy the legal aid financial eligibility tests (usually those that are on low income or receiving income-based benefits). Your capital and savings, including the value of your home, will also be taken into account but the usual income and capital limits are waived (which means you could still be eligible although subject to paying a monthly contribution). All the financial information you give to us has to be supported by up to date proof.

In order for us to determine f you are eligible for legal aid, it is essential that you provide us with:

  • Your national insurance number

  • An estimate of the value of all your capital assets, including the value of your home and any other properties

  • A bank statement covering the last 3 months for all your bank accounts- including Savings accounts, ISA’s , Child Saving accounts

  • If you are employed, proof of your income via payslips covering the last 3 months if you are paid monthly, or covering the last 6 weeks if you are paid weekly

  • If you are self-employed, your most recent accounts and  tax returns.

  • If you are  in receipt of benefits or tax credits, a current letter (dated within the last six months) confirming your entitlement.

If you decide to make an application to court on a family matter concerning children or finances, Legal Aid will only be available if you can demonstrate:

  • You have been a victim of or at risk or domestic violence

  • The child who is the subject of the order is at risk of abuse from someone other than you.

In either case, allegations alone are insufficient and you have to provide evidence that you meet the criteria. You can find a list of the evidence accepted for domestic violence and when a child is at risk of abuse on the Ministry of Justice website.

To assess your capital, we will apply standard disregards for mortgage and equity, and if the remaining capital meets current criteria you will eligible .

To assess your income, we  will take into account income tax and NI payments, mortgage or rent, standard allowances for dependents living with you, child care and maintenance payments.

If the amount remaining meets current criteria, you will be eligible. To fully qualify for Legal Aid, you must be eligible on both capital and income grounds, it is possible that you may partially qualify for legal aid whereby they will pay a part of the legal costs, but you may be asked to pay a contribution. 

18.05.2018

14th to 20th May Is Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

Written by Rosita Mendonca

This year the focus for Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May) is stress. Research has shown that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in this. By tackling stress, we can go a long way to tackle mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and, in some instances, self-harm and suicide.

At the National Legal Service we are aware that stress and poor mental health can have a major effect on people. As a firm that specialises in family law we often deal with clients who are going through a difficult time. A lot of our work consists of supporting victims of domestic violence and we do our best to support them through what is a stressful process.

In turn, we support our own employees who are constantly faced with cases that are complex and involve clients that are vulnerable.  We have a relaxed atmosphere where by the staff feel as though they can speak to one another on their teams regarding any difficulties they may have with their cases. We are also aware that all staff have a life of their own outside of work and that can add to the elements of stress that can impact work life.

Mental health to us is equally as important as physical health and it is vital that we focus on the well-being of our staff and our clients. We ensure that everyone in our team knows that they have a part to play at the making the workplace a positive one.

In the future, we hope to put in to place coffee mornings and other activities whereby the staff can take a break and just engage with one another.  We hope that this will lead to building stronger relationships at work so that as a firm we can support each other better to stay physically and mentally well.

 

09.05.2018

Perpetrators of domestic abuse could be electronically tagged under new proposals of a draft bill

Written by Rosita Mendonca

It is appalling that in 21st-Century Britain, nearly two million people every year – the majority of them women – suffer abuse at the hands of those closest to them.

The government has set out new proposals to tackle the way that perpetrators of domestic abuse are dealt with in the UK. Perpetrators could be electronically tagged under government proposals for England and Wales and could be required to attend parenting programmers or drug and alcohol treatment to hopefully reduce the risk of them carrying out further abuse.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the bill could “completely transform the way we tackle domestic abuse” by providing better protection to victims and bringing more perpetrators to justice.

She added “we know that domestic abuse affects those from all walks of life. Victims can be young and old, male and female, and I hope as many people as possible will come forward to give us their views and share their experiences, as we seek to put an end to this abhorrent crime for good.”

Currently thousands of domestic abuse victims are unable to access a service due to lack of available spaces in refuge centers.  Research conducted by Women’s Aid shows 94 women and 90 children fleeing from domestic abuse were turned away from refuges on one day in England in 2017.

For the first time, Courts will be given express powers to impose electronic monitoring as a condition of the proposed domestic abuse protection orders (DAPOs). Under these recommended plans, any perpetrator who is found breaching the conditions of any DAPOs can be punishable as a criminal offence. The Domestic Abuse Bill could be a unique opportunity to make a real, long term difference in survivor’s lives that is sustainable. A government consultation on the recommended plans has stated that tagging should be alongside other conditions such as an exclusion zone, in order to monitor perpetrators in circumstances where it would be necessary and proportionate to prevent further abuse from occurring.

Kirsty Richards, head of family and childcare at the National Legal service states:

“Any changes to the law surrounding the issue of domestic abuse that goes towards offering stronger protection for victims and tougher restrictions on perpetrators can only be a good thing.  The more we continue to talk about domestic violence, its impact on victims and the children of victims; the better the understanding we all have in how devastating domestic abuse can be.  We need to continue the momentum that is in place in respect of how we can, as a country, do our best to help victims live safely as well as offering training & support for perpetrators to try and change their destructive behaviors.”

The proposed Bill will aim to include a new statutory definition of abuse and Economic abuse will be recognised for the first time as a type of domestic making it a punishable offence to force someone to take out loans, withholding access to wages or bank account, food, clothing and transport.

Other measures being weighed up for inclusion in the new bill include:

* The creation in law of an independent domestic abuse commissioner;

* Tougher sentences for domestic abuse that affects children;

* Enshrining in legislation the scheme known as Clare’s Law, under which police can disclose information about previous violent offending by a new or existing partner; and

*Giving domestic abuse victims the same status in court as those who have suffered modern slavery or sex offences.

National Legal Service Family law Department

At the National Legal Service we understand that situations of domestic violence are a delicate and sensitive matter, we pride ourselves in protecting survivors of domestic violence from any further abuse. Our Solicitors and Paralegals offer a range of services to survivors of domestic violence from legal aid, private funding to Pro-bono and can advise on the best way tackle the law when it comes to domestic abuse in all its forms, including abuse between partners and spouses, same sex partners and spouses, abuse towards the elderly, parent-child abuse, abuse in cohabitation, psychological abuse and financial abuse.

For expert legal advice on domestic violence, call the National Legal Service on 02036015051

The consultation period for the draft bill will run until 31 May.

03.05.2018

The London Legal Walk 2018

Written by Rosita Mendonca

#WhyWeWalk

At the National Legal Service we believe in access to justice, therefore what a better way to support over 100 organisations in London and the South East than to take part in the London legal walk. We walk so that we can help these organisations provide more free and pro-bono legal advice.

Last year 12,000 people took on 10km for justice and raised a record breaking £800,000. This is an enormous figure and we only hope that this year we can top this.  It is the National Legal Service’s first year as an organisation taking part and we hope to do so for many years to come.

As an organisation that works heavily with survivors of domestic violence and abuse, at times we come across clients who are simply not eligible for legal aid. This means they often fall in to a grey area, of not being able to obtain government funding and not being able to financially afford to pay themselves.

Therefore, thanks to the option of free legal advice and pro-bono services, they are given another option to represent themselves in court to obtain their protective injunctions.  Without this option many of our clients  would not be able to obtain the protection they need due to limited funding or no funding at all.

The legal walk focuses on charities mainly supporting: elderly people who need support to stay living independently; women and children facing trafficking and labour exploitation; those who have been unfairly discriminated at work; homeless people and families living in terrible housing conditions as well as people living with disabilities or illnesses

Pro-bono and free legal advice is vital in the legal industry as it often focuses  on impacting those who are the most vulnerable and unprotected in society. Without more access to pro-bono and free legal advice, many people affected by the above would not be able to access justice or protection by the law as they cannot afford it.

As legal professionals it is our job to uphold what the law stands for and ensure that justice is available to all in a fair and accessible way. Therefore, on Monday 21st of May 2018 we will be walking alongside many legal professionals to raise money, support and awareness for justice and support those organisations giving free legal advice.

Please support us by donating below: https://bit.ly/2KnP3oh