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12.04.2019

Impact of Domestic Abuse on Children- Children Law Explained

Written by Rosita Mendonca

Domestic Abuse can have a devastating impact on children and young people. There is consensus amongst medical experts, child psychologists and welfare organisations that exposure to domestic violence has an effect on a child’s emotional, behavioral and cognitive state. As a result, courts take the ‘Potential for Harm’ to children extremely seriously.

A pattern of abuse does not automatically disqualify a parent from having contact with a child- It does however indicate who is best placed to care for the child. With **62% of children living with domestic abuse being directly harmed by the perpetrator of the abuse, the Courts do not expect a parent to place their children at risk by facilitating contact.

If an offending parent wishes to re-establish contact with a child, the court will need to consider the following in the Child Arrangement Orders:

  • The impact of domestic abuse on the child
  • Reason for wanting to making contact
  • If the offending parent is making a conscious effort to change their behavior.

When there is a history of domestic abuse, it is important that relevant safeguarding measures be put in place. A few examples of safeguarding measures with an offending parent include-

  • Supervised contact
  • Monitored indirect contact
  • Therapy for individual or family as a whole

At NLS Solicitors, we understand the effects of domestic abuse on children, and when domestic abuse is present; contact with children may have to be specially considered. Our advice is clear and based on many years’ experience of children, families and the law.

Anyone concerned about domestic abuse and its effect on his or her children should seek expert legal advice. If you or your child or children have been victims of domestic abuse, you may be entitled to legal aid.  For more information, please call us on 0203 601 5051

**Caada (2014), In Plain Sight: Effective help for children exposed to domestic abuse. Bristol: Caada.

10.04.2019

No Fault Divorce Law Coming soon

Written by Rosita Mendonca

The BBC reported yesterday that divorce laws in England and Wales will be overhauled so that couples can divorce more quickly with less acrimony

Under the current rules, a couple can file for divorce proceedings on grounds of unreasonable behavior or adultery. These facts are considered ‘Fault Based’ as they seek to assign blame to the other person. However, as per the new legislation, couples will only have to state that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The proposed changes broadly include the following:-

  • Couples do not need to live separately for two years before divorcing
  • Couples no longer need to provide evidence of unreasonable behavior
  • Removes opportunity for the other side to contest the divorce

Organisations such as Resolution have been campaigning for years for a change in the law, which has remained the same for the past 50 years. It’s interesting to note that Sweden has had no-fault and mutual divorce law since 1973!

Justice Secretary David Gauke said the changes would help to end the “blame game”. The changes follow the Supreme Court’s rejection of a woman’s appeal for divorce after her husband refused to agree a split.

Kirsty Richards, Head of Family & Resolution Member shares her initial thoughts:

This is a great victory for all those involved in the campaigning to eradicate blame in divorce proceedings. The breakdown in any relationship is rarely amicable and almost certainly is emotionally draining at times. The impact of a family breaking up is one that affects not only the adult couple but also the children of the family. Anything that can be done to lessen the guilt/ shaming and blaming for the adults will certainly help the children at the centre of it

There is sufficient evidence to highlight the negative impact of the current system or ‘ blame game’  on couples, families and children. The reform to the current law is long overdue, and  NLS Solicitors welcomes the decision.

The new legislation will be introduced ‘as soon as parliamentary time allows’

NLS Solicitors offer initial consultations to assess your specific needs and determine the best route to achieve a successful & amicable outcome for you. For more information call us on 0203 601 5051

29.03.2019

What to do after a divorce

Written by Rosita Mendonca

Going through a divorce and managing life after is never easy. However, the right counselling, coaching and support system will help you deal with the anxiety and stress it causes.

Divorce is a form of finality so here are a few things to think about once your divorce comes through:-

Sort the finances:

A divorce does not address issues relating to marital finances. If there are no assets to divide, consider obtaining a Clean Break Order- this will prevent either party from making a claim in the future. If you have agreed about how to divide the finances/assets, you should consider having a Consent Order drawn up- This is a legally binding document that records what you have agreed. If you cannot reach an agreement, you should seek advise from a specialist family solicitor

Arrangements regarding children:

When parents separate, there are often decisions which need to be made about a child’s upbringing. It is important to maintain open channels of communication, which are centered around the best interest of the child.  For more information on Child Arrangement Orders, click here

Do a will:

Most married couples have wills leaving everything to their significant other. It is interesting to note that while re-marrying revokes all prior wills, a divorce does not! So, if you do have a will, make sure you revise it.

Change your name:

Ladies may wish to revert to their maiden name on divorce. Start with the important documents like your passport and driving license before moving onto bank/ doctors/ employers documents etc

 

The family law team at NLS includes specialist Family Law, Divorce Solicitors and Children Law Solicitors with Resolution Accreditation. Resolution is a national organisation of Family Lawyers committed to non-confrontational divorce, separation and other family problems.

28.03.2019

Child Arrangement Orders Explained

Written by Rosita Mendonca

It is always preferred for parents to reach an arrangement between themselves regarding the children. However, this becomes a challenge in the event of a relationship breakdown. In such instances, a child arrangements orders may resolve disagreements such as where & with who children will live, and how much time they will spend with a parent.

The following persons can apply directly for a child arrangement order without specifically needing the court’s permission:

  • Parent, Guardian/Special Guardian;
  • Someone who has Parental Responsibility
  • If the child has lived with you for a period of at least three years within the last five years
  • If you are named in a child arrangement order as somebody the child should live with

Grandparents do not have a direct right to apply unless they meet the above criteria. Alternatively, they can apply to the court for permission to make an application, where the merits will be considered in the first instance.

The Process:-

The first step is for the parents to enter into a process called mediation (not applicable in cases of domestic abuse). This starts with a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) which is compulsory for both parents.  Parents speak with a trained mediator to evaluate if the dispute/ disagreement can be resolved via mediation. Parents will be called for additional sessions if is assessed that mediation is likely to be successful.

If an arrangement cannot be made during mediation, the parents can apply to the court for a child arrangements order

The court then schedules a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Hearing (FHDRA) hearing. This hearing will also normally be attended by a Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service officer (CAFCASS). They aim to safeguard the best interests of the children.

The next hearing that can be listed is a Dispute Resolution Hearing (DRA). The aim of this hearing is to try to resolve the disputes. If the dispute cannot be resolved, it will be listed for a final hearing. At the final hearing, the court reviews all of the evidence and statements and makes a final decision which is put into an order of the court.

The Court will consider the following when granting a Child Arrangements order, this is known as “the welfare checklist”.

  • The primary consideration is to the welfare of any children;
  • The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
  • The ability of the childs parents or guardians to meet the child’s needs
  • The effects on the child of any changes in circumstances as a result of the order.
  • Any harm the child has suffered or may be at risk of suffering;
  • The capability of the child’s parents (or other relevant people) in meeting the child’s needs, and

Types of Child Arrangement Orders:-

  • A defined order which stipulates where the child/children should live
  • A defined order which stipulates when the child/ children will spend time with the other parent
  • Specific Issue Order- this highlights specific details about the child’s upbringing such as where they go to school, changing of surname etc
  • Prohibited Steps Order which can prohibit either parent from taking certain actions like taking the children outside the country and/or failing to return a child after spending time with the other parent.

 

Once a Child Arrangement Order is made by the Court, the person or people named in that Order have Parental Responsibility for the child or children until the Order comes to an end. Child Arrangement orders often stay in place until the child is 18 years of age.

It is important to take specialist legal advice in respect of all issues relating to children. We can help make this process less stressful by giving you clear legal advice. Please contact us on 020 3601 5051 for further information.

22.03.2019

CAFCASS- What is their role?

Written by Rosita Mendonca

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) is a public body set up to promote the welfare of children and families involved in family court. CAFCASS is independent of Children’s Services.

CAFCASS become involved either:

  • When parents disagree about arrangements for their children or
  • When Children’s Services begin care & supervision proceedings;

This blog will focus on CAFCASS’s role when parents separate and disagree about the arrangements for their children.

Every court application between parents is sent to CAFCASS in order for CAFCASS to do initial safeguarding enquiries.  This means CAFCASS will speak with police and Children’s Services. In addition, CAFCASS will try to speak to both parents by telephone before the first hearing.

Parents will be asked if they have any concerns  & it is important that parents raise any safeguarding concerns during this interview.  The outcome of the exercise is then sent by CAFCASS to the court in the form of a Safeguarding letter.

CAFCASS can help the Court reach a decision in the following ways:

  • A CAFCASS officer can speak to the children and submit to the court a ‘wishes and feelings report’ – however, this usually only applies for children over 10 years of age.
  • In very serious cases, CAFCASS may be asked to represent the child by being appointed as the children’s guardian. This situation only arises if both parents are unable to represent the child’s best interests and there are serious issues to resolve.

If you’re involved in a case about children and preparing to speak to a CAFCASS officer, please give us a call. If you’re not sure what to ask for at your first hearing, make an appointment to see one of the family team for initial advice and/ or representation.

For more information on CAFCASS please contact our Head of Department, Kirsty Richards, on Kirsty.richards@nationallegalservice.co.uk

19.03.2019

The 30th Anniversary of the Children Law Act

Written by Rosita Mendonca

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the implementation of the Children Act 1989.

 

The Children Act 1989 introduced several principles including:

  1. The child’s welfare “shall be the court’s paramount consideration”.
  2. Delay in resolving matters is “likely to prejudice the welfare of the child”.
  3. The court “shall not make any order unless it considers that doing so would be better for the child than making no order at all” – otherwise known as the “No Order” principle.

 

The 1989 Act did away with the terms such as of ‘custody’ and ‘access’, and replaced them with ‘residence’ and ‘contact’ (and, later, with ‘child arrangements orders’). The Act brought together both private and public children law under the same roof.  The courts consider and apply the welfare checklist’ set out in section 1(3) IE the rights of the adults are not significant when looking at the needs of the child concerned.

 

The courts look at the child’s best interests for now and the future and will look particularly at the emotional needs of a child and not the parent’s desire to spend time with the child. Hence,  we still regularly come across parents seeking to enforce their ‘parental rights’. For more information, read our blog on Cohabiting Parents & their rights.

 

So, while the law has been with us for nearly thirty years, what does the future hold?

 

Kirsty Richards, Head of Family says

Sadly with the ongoing catastrophe that has been evident for all practitioners working in legal aid, post LASPO, there are many families with significant disputes around children arrangements (s.8 of the Children Act 1989) yet they are simply ineligible for legal aid.  Whilst some of them may have gateway evidence as a result of either domestic abuse or child protection concerns (Regs 33 and 34 of LASPO), they fall foul of the financial eligibility test and are not eligible for legal representation in private children act proceedings. 

At NLS, we are committed to helping as many clients as possible to navigate through the court system and have offered free legal advice and undertaken pro-bono court work but it still means that many clients are representing themselves in the family court for this type of case.  So, whilst the court continues to have the child’s welfare at the forefront of any decision making process, the parents involves in those disputes are often without the benefit of legal representation and therefore struggle to properly present their case to the Judge, this can impact / skew the issues before the court. 

If anyone has any children act disputes, private law and public law (care and supervision), seek legal advice as early as possible so that you can be guided through the process and helped from the outset, if at all possible.  At NLS, we have a number of highly specialised solicitors (members of the law society’s children panel) that will be able to offer some help in this process.

08.03.2019

Reflections on International Women’s Day

Written by Rosita Mendonca

2019 marks the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, the legislation which first recognised women as ‘persons’ in England and Wales – this  paved the way for women to practise law and some strong willed, intelligent women seized the opportunity to qualify and practice as solicitors and barristers.

 

At NLS Solicitors, we don’t go out specifically to attract female talent to our team – this just happens to be the case and  we are very proud of that fact. In the 100 years since women have been able to practice the Law, we would like to think that we have played a small but increasingly important part in the development and advancement of female lawyers, and we hope to continue to do so for the years to come.

 

The firm has grown significantly over the past year, and with that growth the gender balance of  the management team and the firm as a whole has changed dramatically. Currently:-

  • 3 out of 6 of the firm’s Directors are women

  • 76% of our legally qualified staff are women

  • 5 out of 8 members of the management team are women

  • Our first 3 training contracts were awarded to aspiring female lawyers

 

So here’s what some of our team have to say :-

 

Kirsty Richards, Head of Family & Director :-

I find it incredibly rewarding to work in, and lead, a department that has given so much opportunity to talented women and has recognised the need for flexibility in the workplace. Many of our female staff, including myself, are also mums and it is imperative that we do all we can to ensure that being a working mum is possible. When making it possible,  we also need to ensure that we are aware of and nurture wellbeing, particularly in the field of law – where working hours are often unkind and lengthy – but in understanding the need for flexibility, the tenacity and dedication of many mums means that they are able to smash through glass ceilings and be leaders. At NLS we are proud of all our work force but today we are especially proud of all our wonderful women part of our team.

 

 Kate Probert, Head of HR:-

During my time in Human Resources I have heard, and unfortunately still hear, many shocking stories of how women in the workplace are treated differently and discriminated against. I am so proud to have recruited so many strong and determined women to join our team. Some of us already have years of experience behind us, some are just stepping foot on the career ladder and I can’t wait to see where it takes them. We learn from each other, we laugh together, we cry together but most of all we support each other.  We are also lucky at NLS to have gentlemen who support women in the workplace. Even in these modern times, others are not so fortunate.

 

Ann-Marie Mullings, Paralegal:-

I am grateful to Dr Ivy Williams QC and Helena Normanton for paving the way for women in the legal profession, to never give up and keep persevering.

 

Thakmina Begum, Supervising Solicitor:-

 Having worked at NLS since September 2018, I have had the privilege to be surrounded by women and men who support each other to help hundreds of victim of domestic abuse every month. We have a diverse team of people with the ability to speak a variety of languages enabling us to assist survivors of abuse from all backgrounds. Being part of such a  movement is humbling and rewarding. On this day, I would like to celebrate all the wonderful people who support women every day!

Gita Duggal, Solicitor:-

Today is a day to celebrate female empowerment, recognising how far women have come but acknowledging the work that still is required, as many women continue to be unheard, excluded, face gender inequality and abuse of power and violence.

I joined  the legal profession as I find it extremely rewarding in helping people access justice within the family law arena, in particular helping women who are victims of domestic violence and ensuring they obtain the relevant protection from the perpetrator.

Traditionally  the legal profession has been a male dominated profession but has today has come a long way with more female judges, women heading up legal departments and running their own successful practices, which shows how far women have come and being recognised in their own right.

Although there is still more to do, today can be summed up perfectly by the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception”

 

Fatimah Iqbal, Solicitor:-

I raise up my voice—not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard…we cannot succeed when half of us are held back- Malala Yousufzai

Growing up in a matriarchal environment I watched my mother build a career and run a household, she was relentless. When I asked her how she did it she always replied ‘we are women, strength is an integral part of us’. I never understood that at the time but now looking back I salute all the women who came before me who taught me that when the going gets tough, we put on our high heels and get the job done! I’m from a generation where many glass ceilings have been shattered for me, though we continue to strive for new heights in equality to make our predecessors proud. NLS is an environment where all staff thrive, strong women are in positions of power and worthy role models. A society where women nurture and cultivate their peers is one that will always prosper. From my first day at NLS I knew this would be the perfect springboard for my career and confidence. All the women who struggled to make their mark and pave the way for me have left me indelibly stronger, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Baroness Warsi, Emmeline Pankhurst are some of my heroes. I became a solicitor after reading about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she inspired me and made me feel like I’m stronger than I am and most importantly, that I can make a difference.

 

Shazia Saliheen, Supervising Solicitor:-

It is important now more than ever, that we as women support other women to develop and progress in terms of their experience and careers.  It is unfortunate that we still live in a world where we are still having to fight for equal pay /equal career development and opportunities as men.  Women are still being sexualised and marginalised and as women, we need to stop this and support each other.

It is important to recognise that there are women across the globe who continue to suffer in terms of forced marriages /child brides /FGM/control and are prevented from attending schools /learning to drive etc having their own voice.  We have to ensure that these issues are highlighted so that the necessary steps are put in place to stop this.  Days such as international women’s day are so important to concentrate people’s minds that although we have had changes for the betterment of women we still have a long way to go.

At NLS, we have a strong family department which promotes all genders /ethnicity and shows we can all work together.

 

 

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 ”