The Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce

Bill and Melinda Gates divorce

The Bill and Melinda Gates’ divorce

Our managing partner, Amanda McAlister, offers her expert opinion on the news that Bill and Melinda Gates are to divorce, and looks at some of the issues involved.

I woke this morning to the news that Bill and Melinda Gates were to get divorced. Minutes later my phone starting ringing, as I took one request after another from journalists wanting to cover the story and get my opinion on what a later-in-life divorce involves. It’s no exaggeration to say that almost every media outlet around the world is keen to look closer into why this multi-billionaire couple would want to part after 27 years of a seemingly very successful marriage.

Gates, 65, the fourth richest man in the world, founded Microsoft in 1975 and met his future wife Melinda in 1987, the year he became the world’s youngest billionaire. In 2000 they established the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

They have three children – Jennifer, 25, Rory, 21, and Phoebe, 18 – and in the message announcing their divorce, they wrote:

“After a great deal of thought and a lot of work, we have made the decision to end our marriage.

“Over the last 27 years, we have raised three incredible children and built a foundation that works all over the world to enable all people to lead healthy, productive lives. We continue to share a belief in that mission and will continue to work together at the foundation, but we no longer believe we can grow together as a couple in this next phase of our lives. We ask for space and privacy for our family as we begin to navigate this new life.”

Prenups and separation agreements

Court documents reveal that the couple do not have a prenuptial agreement. We’re told Melinda, 56, filed for divorce at a court in Washington state, saying “this marriage is irretrievably broken” when asked to explain the split, also revealing there was no prenuptial agreement when they wed on a Hawaiian golf course in 1994.

However, famously Bill used a pro and con list on a whiteboard to decide to whether or not to ask Melinda to marry him, so I suspect the couple may well have approached the ending of their marriage in the same carefully thought-out manner.

Indeed, the document, filed Monday in King County Superior Court in Seattle, notes that the pair has a “separation agreement.” A separation agreement is usually signed at the end of a marriage and lays out the terms of the split – it will, apparently, dictate how the couple will divide up their assets, which include the family home, a $125million compound overlooking Lake Washington on the outskirts of Seattle, a mansion in San Diego, a Santa Fe ranch, a countryside retreat in Wellington, Florida, a lakeside lodge in Wyoming which used to be home to Buffalo Bill and a garage full of Porsches, Ferraris and Lamborghinis. In fact, the Gates fortune is estimated at well over $100 billion, so I’m not surprised Melinda has not requested spousal support, according to the filing.

Divorcing after a long marriage

It’s interesting to note that there has been a significant increase in the number of couples filing for divorce who have been married for more than 20 years. I think it’s significant that the Gates’ youngest child recently turned 18: it’s reasonable to assume the couple wanted to wait for all their children to reach adulthood before they announced their formal separation, and I would also say it takes guts to do this after such a long marriage – perhaps even more so when your relationship, and your life, is so public.

How would this divorce be treated here?

Technically, separation agreements aren’t legally enforceable under UK law. But if both parties have been open and honest about their finances and taken independent legal advice about the agreement, then it’s entirely likely the court will decide you should stick to it.

However, under our jurisdiction there is also what’s known as the “millionaire defence”. This is a term created following the case of Thyssen-Bornemisza v Thyssen-Bornemisza (No) [1985] FLR 1069 where a wealthy party put forward a defence to providing full disclosure, on the basis that he had sufficient wealth to pay a lump sum or maintenance to the financially dependent party. In other words, why should the court go to the trouble, time and expense of investigating the millionaire’s means, when it is clear that he/she can meet whatever reasonable order the court is likely to make?

This defence causes some controversy as the court has an obligation to consider the parties’ financial resources properly. Furthermore, in order for the court to conclude that an order is fair and reasonable, it must consider the full and frank disclosure of all material facts, documents and other material. Nevertheless, it remains a viable option for the very wealthy, who are hopeful of keeping the precise details of their finances entirely private.

Keep it respectful

When Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie announced their split after 25 years of marriage, they emphasised that the decision was mutual. But even when a couple part on amicable terms, the financial untangling is likely to be complex, simply because the sums involved, and the assets held, are so huge. However, neither party has said anything derogatory in public about the other, and both have moved on: MacKenzie married again two years after the divorce, her ex-husband Jeff has been with his girlfriend for two years.

I hope Bill and Melinda Gates both go forward in positivity and enjoy a fulfilling and happy future, and in particular I applaud their decision to continue to work together on their charitable foundation – showing respect for one’s ex is vital if they are to be a couple who, instead of being known for how wrong they got their divorce, are known for getting it right.


If you would like to consult one of our expert family lawyers about any aspect of divorce or separation, please do get in touch today. We are here to help you. 

We welcome Caroline Bilous as partner

Caroline Bilous joins McAlister Family Law as partner

We are delighted to welcome Caroline Bilous to McAlister Family Law as partner; she joins the team in response to a significant increase in new enquires in both the divorce and finance, and children law divisions.

Caroline is the fourth partner recruited by Beyond Group since lockdown; she will be heading her own specialist team within McAlister Family Law, as well as playing a wider leadership role within the Group, which encourages responsibility and ownership of initiatives.

Caroline was previously a partner and head of the Family department for Davis Blank Furniss, is a highly experienced family lawyer of more than 15 years. Her new role at McAlister Family Law will see her acting on behalf of clients seeking advice and guidance in relation to a wide variety of family matters, including separation and divorce, civil partnership dissolution, financial proceedings and children law proceedings. 

She is also an acknowledged specialist in complete financial and property matters, and a trained collaborative lawyer and a member of Resolution, able to assist her clients resolve their family disputes using alternative means of dispute resolution through the collaborative process.

McAlister Family Law, which is part of Beyond Group, has climbed the rankings in both Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners year on year and has offices in Manchester city centre and throughout Cheshire.  It is home to the leading children law team in the North West which now boasts seven Law Society, Children Panel-accredited, solicitors.

“I am thrilled to be joining both McAlister Family Law and the wider Beyond Group,” said Caroline. “The opportunity to be part of the dynamic leadership team that is being cultivated is incredibly exciting. I’m ready for the challenges ahead.”

Amanda McAlister, managing partner, added: “I am extremely pleased to welcome Caroline to McAlister Family Law: I know she will be a tremendous asset and will make a significant contribution to the development of the practice, as we not only continue our programme of strategic growth but also cement our reputation as one the UK’s leading family law firms.”

Beyond Group Head Matt Fleetwood said: “The appointment of Caroline as a partner within McAlister Family Law is further evidence of the Group’s strategic growth. We are extremely pleased she has joined us, bringing with her the rare combination of expertise and human perspective that is the key to the success of all our businesses. We are all delighted to have her on board.”

How can I enforce a Children Act Order?

how can I enforce a Children Act Order?

How can I enforce a Children Act Order?

“They’re ill.”

“You were late by five minutes.”

“They don’t want to see you.”

“It isn’t on this week, you have your dates wrong.”

Above are just a handful of reasons that a parent might hear as to why a Child Arrangements Order cannot be complied with. But is this right and does this ultimately trump a court order? Associate Melissa Jones explains.

How can you enforce a Children Act Order? If you have been involved in Children Act Proceedings and obtained a final court order, there are consequences if a party breaches an order, as follows:

(a) They may be held in contempt of court and be committed to prison or fined; and/or

(b) The court may make an order requiring them to undertake unpaid work (an enforcement order) and/or an order that they pay financial compensation.

How does this really work in practice?

Essentially, the court makes the order and expects parents to ensure it works on the ground. There may be times though when a child is ill, or there is an emergency, for example , which might mean that the child arrangements cannot go ahead on occasion. However, this should not happen repeatedly and if it does then unless the other parent has “reasonable excuse” for not allowing the contact, then they would appear to be in breach of the order.

What is the enforcement court process?

There  is still an expectation that you take steps to resolve matters before applying to the court. As you may have heard before, the court is a last resort. It is best practice, before an application is made, to address the issue with the other party and inform them of the implications of not doing so.   If the matter is not resolved, then you may have little choice but to apply to the court for enforcement.

What happens when I make my application?

You can make an application to enforce the order if you feel that it has  not been complied with. At the first hearing the court can be asked to consider the facts of the alleged breach and, in some cases, if these breaches are not agreed, list a hearing to determine those facts. The court can also decide, if after listening to the reason(s) for non-compliance, if CAFCASS or Social Services need to get involved.

The court process usually follows the same process as your last case (the one where you obtained your final order), that is:

* First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA)- the purpose of the hearing is to try and agree matters as much as possible

* Review hearing- this will be listed if matters cannot be resolved at the first hearing and the non-compliance issue remains live. It might have been that a report was ordered at the FHDRA for CAFCASS or Social Services to complete, for review at this hearing

* Final hearing- where the court will make an order after listening to evidence from the parties

The bottom line in these types of cases is, that there is an order in force, and it should be adhered to. If a parent is not able to comply with an order, they are able to make an application to ‘vary’ the order to ensure that they do not indirectly continue to breach an order.

If the court finds that a party has not complied with the order it can take a number of steps as detailed above, but one of lesser known options, and quite a rarity, is to order a transfer of residence, with the child going to live with the other parent. The latter happened in the following case: Re C (A Child) [2018] EWHC 557 (Fam)

Given the implications of not adhering to an order and the court’s robust approach, it is best to get advice as early as possible.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised here, please get in touch today.  We are here to help you.

What the Family Mediation Voucher Scheme means for you

government mediation voucher

What the new Family Mediation Voucher Scheme means for you

In an attempt to battle the ever-rising number of cases before the family court, the Government is introducing a one million pounds mediation scheme to help separating parents avoid stressful court cases.

Associate Melissa Jones takes a closer look at what this new scheme could mean for you.

new family mediation vouchers

2000 families will be given £500 in total to use towards the costs of mediation. At present, if a mediation referral is made, either one party or both parties contribute to the fees, or there may be an exemption if certain criteria is met or legal aid applies.

The statistics provided by the government indicate that more than 70% of couples who use mediation resolved their issues outside of court.

Could mediation really help me?

The scheme is aimed at families who have disputes relating to private law children matters or financial matters relating to children of the family.

The information provided to date suggests there is an eligibility element to accessing the scheme in the first place, but if you do happen to obtain a voucher what can you expect from mediation?

What is mediation?

Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution which can help you achieve the resolution of many issues on which the court would otherwise decide. There are of course cases where mediation is not suitable – cases concerning domestic abuse or child protection issues for example – and the mediator will confirm this from the beginning.

Even with the pandemic, mediation is open and still accessible to hundreds of families up and down the UK and this is being achieved with remote appointments (via Zoom or Skype).  This might even seek to reduce any anxiety you have of being in the same room as your ex or former partner.

A trained mediator will allow both parties to speak and will look to see what matters can be agreed upon. It is a prerequisite to court that the parties attend mediation. The court places emphasis on mediation from the beginning and rightly so because the court is a last resort and if it can be avoided, it should.

Why it works

It is far better to reach an agreement between yourselves than have a court impose an order upon you. Mediation is effective in helping you negotiate an agreement regarding child arrangements or a division of property.

It is a positive if you and the other party who takes up this scheme, as it implies that you both have a joint goal of resolving your dispute.  If you do reach an agreement during mediation you can then take legal advice on this and make sure that any agreement is in your best interest.

Where it does not work

It is of course not suitable for those who simply will not engage in negotiations, or are unwilling to be flexible or to compromise, as this will be a counterproductive exercise.

A mediator also has no power to force you or the other party into an agreement and anything discussed in mediation is “without prejudice”, meaning you cannot rely on this in court proceedings.

What is being proposed?

What is being proposed under the Government’s mediation scheme is that once the parties have attended mediation and reached an agreement, it is then considered by a court before making it into a legal binding and enforceable court order.

It remains to be seen how this will work in practice, as mediators are precluded from giving legal advice and as such, the usual practice is that, if an agreement is reached, your solicitor would then advise you on the agreement before this is ratified by court. Thus, there is a question mark over when and at what stage you will engage your solicitor during the scheme, before the matter is considered by a court and what happens once you are in court proceedings.

We advise those who do take up the scheme to you stay in touch with their solicitor during the mediation process, and to ask for advice as matters progress.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised here, please get in touch today.  We are here to help you.

New legislation fails the needs of the most vulnerable children in society

new legislation fails the most vulnerable

New legislation fails the needs of the most vulnerable children in society

The pandemic has plunged more young people into the care system, placing pressure on all relevant legal and social work professionals, including the courts and local authorities. It has been reported that three-quarters of children’s residential settings in England are privately run, which can mean that they can choose whether a child fits their criteria rather than questioning whether the placement actually fits the welfare needs of the child.  This means that the most vulnerable children could be placed in unregulated and unsuitable placements.

Senior Associate Nicola McDaid explains further.


On Friday 19th February 2021 the Department for Education announced that it will ban the use of unregulated accommodation (this is accommodation which is not Ofsted approved, registered or inspected by the council) for children in care aged 15 and under. This means as from September 2021 through amending

The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010

it will be illegal to place children in unregulated accommodation.

Vulnerable children

The government’s change in legislation is intended to ensure that the most vulnerable children are cared for in placements which best meet their needs.

However, this ban does not affect the thousands of 16 and 17-year-olds who already reside in unapproved, unregistered and unregulated placements which can be known as semi-independent or supported accommodation and are not inspected by a regulator in England or Wales.

Sadly, many children aged 16 and 17 years old, having already experienced abuse, trauma and/or exploitation and who may end up in these unregulated settings, are also the most vulnerable children who clearly need the additional support which will not be provided to them under this new legislation.

New legislation

Many legal professionals have already expressed concern that this new legislation won’t meet the welfare needs of these children, at a time when they need it the most, as they progress to adulthood. There is a feeling amongst legal and social work professionals that this could create a two-tier system, with the state effectively washing its hands of young people when they get past a certain age.

The government has promised it will look to introduce national standards for unregulated accommodation for older children in care and care leavers (a child 16 years old or above) to ensure the standard of placements are a high quality and that will meet the welfare needs of these children, but unfortunately such legislation is not yet in force.

Without question this is a very worrying time when the burden on the system means that more unregulated placements are having to be utilised, and it is hoped that the government will make this a priority to ensure that all children of all ages have the best possible care when they are unable to reside with their families.

We are here to support you. Come to us with your questions and our expert team of family lawyers are on hand to give you the assistance you need. Please get in touch today – we’re here to help.

Divorce is not your only option

divorce is not your only option Louise Redknapp

Divorce is not your only option

Louise Redknapp has been reported this weekend as saying she has regrets about divorcing her husband Jamie: “I should have paused for a minute and thought about other people and had just a bit more time to work out why I felt I couldn’t do it anymore. All I know is, I wish I’d tried [to save the marriage].”

She added: “I want to say to anybody who is thinking of running: ‘Just slow down. Don’t run.’ Because once you run too fast, you can’t make up the ground you’ve lost.”

People make decisions that they believe are right at the time, and nobody is criticising Ms Redknapp for taking the path she did. However, it is sobering to think that perhaps the Redknapp’s marriage might still be going strong today had decisions not been made so quickly. Divorce is not your only option.

Our managing partner, Amanda McAlister, explains there is another option available to those unsure as to whether or not they want press the divorce button.

“As a family lawyer of many years’ experience, and someone who has herself been divorced, I can say with certainty that although you will have heard stories of acrimony and bitterness, it doesn’t have to be that way. Being transparent about your emotions, and managing your expectations are two key areas to focus on.

“But for those couples not ready to bring an end to their marriage through a divorce or dissolution of their civil partnership, or who want to allow a period of reflection, there is the option of a Legal Separation.”

What is a Separation Agreement?

A separation agreement, entered into by both parties, is an agreement setting out how the couple’s assets should be divided and whether there should be any ongoing financial support – it can be tailor-made to the couple’s individual circumstances.  Within the document the parties commit to commencing divorce proceedings after they have been separated for two years.

Is a Separation Agreement legally binding?

In a word, no. But if it has been properly drawn up with full financial disclosure, and various safeguards have been met, then the court could hold the parties to it, unless their circumstances have changed substantially since the agreement was signed.

What are the advantages?

It can provide a sound basis for the ultimate financial consent order that should be presented to the court once the divorce or dissolution has reached the appropriate stage. And entering into a separation agreement is far less uncertain that simply deferring the question of the financial settlement until the divorce proceedings are initiated.

And the disadvantages?

In brief, a divorce brings closure, a separation agreement doesn’t. And closure can be extremely important, particularly for children who need certainty, and for the wider family who will then be able to accept that the marriage ending is final.

Remember that although the No-Fault Divorce Act received Royal Assent in June 2020, the reforms have not yet come into force. This means that your divorce petition must prove the marriage has irretrievably broken down by evidencing one of five, specific, statutory facts:

  • adultery
  • unreasonable behaviour
  • desertion (in practice, this is rare, and difficult to prove)
  • two years’ separation, with agreement by both that there should be a divorce (and it’s worth considering that this two years of separation in itself provides a “cooling-off” period – a time for reflection)
  • five years’ separation (the consent of the Respondent is not needed)

“To summarise, whist the prospect of commencing a divorce is incredibly stressful and upsetting, it does provide closure not only to the adults but also children, allowing the whole family to move on. A divorce also allows a binding financial settlement to be achieved ensuring that both parties are provided with financial certainty and security for the future.”


We are here to support families, whether they are making up, or breaking up. Nobody knows what the future holds, but we want to assure you that you are not alone. Come to us with your questions and our expert team of family lawyers are on hand to give you the assistance you need. We’re here to help.

When parents can’t agree on vaccinating their child

child vaccination

When parents can’t agree on vaccinating their child

Parents, married or separated, will quite naturally disagree on many things. As family lawyers, we see these disagreements a lot but there is a worrying rise of cases where parents cannot agree on vaccinating their child.

Vaccinations have already proved to be a tricky subject for some parents: you may remember parents disagreeing about the MMR vaccination in late 1990s and the now disproven theories about the connection to autism.

It is important to bear in mind that the starting point regarding childhood vaccinations is that everyone who holds ‘parental responsibility’ for a child should be consulted and should consent to children receiving any vaccination.

A recent case has brought the issue regarding whether or not children should receive vaccinations to our attention again.

In December 2020, the court handed down Judgement in the case of M v H (Private Law Vaccination) [2020] EWFC 93, [2020] All ER (D) 115 (Dec)

The court determined whether two children should receive the vaccinations as set out in the NHS vaccination schedule.

The parents concerned had been separated for some time, and had two children from their relationship. The father’s initial application sought a Specific Issue Order, requiring that the children have the MMR vaccine. However, this was later extended to include any further childhood vaccines as per the NHS schedule, any vaccinations that may be required before foreign travel, and any vaccination against COVID-19 (should that become a government recommendation).

However, the mother opposed this application. The Judge hearing the matter, Mr. Justice MacDonald,  decided he would limit his Judgement to only those vaccinations on the NHS schedule, stating it would not be appropriate to determine at present vaccinations for foreign travel, which may or may not be required in the future, and likewise the COVID-19 vaccination. He found there was no evidence before the court on these vaccinations, and therefore it would not be appropriate for him to decide on this.


When giving his Judgment in relation to the COVID-19 vaccination, Mr. Justice MacDonald did however state in paragraph four of his Judgment:

“I wish to make abundantly clear to anyone reading this judgment that my decision to defer reaching a conclusion regarding the administration to the children of the vaccine against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 does not signal any doubt on the part of this court regarding the probity or efficacy of that vaccine. Rather, it reflects the fact that, given the very early stage reached with respect to the COVID-19 vaccination programme, it remains unclear at present whether and when children will receive the vaccination, which vaccine or vaccines they will receive in circumstances where a number of vaccines are likely to be approved and what the official guidance will be regarding the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine to children.”

Children Act

The parents were going through private Children Act proceedings regarding contact arrangements, however on the recommendations of the children’s guardian, it was agreed this issue should be dealt with separately. The mother represented herself as a litigant in person (it should be noted she did apply for an adjournment to seek legal representation, this being refused by the Judge, who said he did not feel the mother would be prejudiced by matters proceeding without her being legally represented, and that the two statements she had filed demonstrated her understanding of the issues and her ability to argue and put forward her case and position).

The court relied on the statements of the parties only, that is, without any expert evidence, and having nothing from a jointly-instructed medical professional.

The arguments put forward

The mother was opposing the children having their NHS scheduled childhood vaccinations saying her opposition was based on six years’ research; she also referred to an article she had found suggesting a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. The mother directed the court to various articles and papers, including an American paediatrician, Larry Palevsky, and American nephrologist, Dr Suzanne Humphries. It was commented by the Judge that both individuals were vocal advocates against vaccinations. The mother suggested it was not in the children’s best interests to have the vaccinations, suggesting this put them at risk of further health issues, and children whom had not been vaccinated had a better natural immunity to illnesses.

The mother put forward nine arguments:

  • Referencing the comments of Lady Justice King in the case of Re: H (A Child: Parental Responsibility; Vaccination) that, “vaccination is not immunisation”. She submitted that the administration of a vaccination is to help the body develop an immune system to protect from the disease and is therefore not 100% effective. The mother’s submissions were that between two and 10% of cases a vaccination was ineffective
  • That the vaccination did not prevent a party carrying the disease
  • That the diseases which the children were being vaccinated against are generally mild and cause limited difficulties for healthy, well-nourished children
  • That further investigation was required into the ingredients in the vaccinations and, listing the ingredients in the MMR vaccine, the mother stated she objected to these ingredients being injected into her children
  • That the recommendation by Public Health England that children should be vaccinated was out of date, and had fallen behind further research and developments and advances in science, which were suggesting the vaccines caused long term health issues in children
  • That the vaccines cause damage to the children, with the side effects being more detrimental to the children than the benefits. The mother suggested there have been only two deaths of children under 10 from measles in the last 10 years whereas, by comparison, a far greater number of claims have been made for damages against the UK Vaccine Damages Programme Unit
  • That the children should be tested for ‘natural immunity’ before being given any vaccinations
  • That any order forcing her to have the children vaccinated would be an unnecessary and disproportionate breach of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, right to a family life, and asserting forcing the children to be vaccinated would constitute an assault or grievous bodily harm

This case can be distinguished from previous authorities where vaccinations have been directed on the grounds that the previous case referenced by the Judge Re: H (A Child: Parental Responsibility: Vaccination) was a public law case. The mother submitted in this case there were wider welfare concerns, which did not apply in this matter.

The Children’s Guardian supported the father’s position that the children be vaccinated, stating this was in accordance with the recommendations of Public Health England and NHS Guidance.

The Judgment

In giving his Judgment, Mr Justice MacDonald considered the Guidance on Parental Responsibility and where those holding parental responsibility could not agree on the immunisation of a child, this should be determined by the court.

Mr Justice MacDonald made reference in his Judgment to the case of Re H (A Child: Parental Responsibility: Vaccination), stating the Court of Appeal undertook “a comprehensive review of this area” and reached the following conclusions:


  • It cannot be doubted that it is both reasonable and responsible parental behaviour to arrange for a child to be vaccinated in accordance with the Public Health Guidelines but there is at present no legal requirement in this jurisdiction for a child to be vaccinated
  • Although vaccinations are not compulsory, scientific evidence now establishes that it is generally in the best interests of otherwise healthy children to be vaccinated, the current established medical view being that the routine vaccination of infants is in the best interests of those children and for the public good
  • All the evidence presently available supports the Public Health England advice and guidance that unequivocally recommends a range of vaccinations as being in the interests both children and society as a whole
  • The specific immunisations which are recommended for children by Public Health England are set out in the routine immunisation schedule which is found in the Green Book: ‘Immunisation against infectious disease’, published in 2013 and updated since
  • The evidence base with respect to MMR overwhelmingly identifies the benefits to a child of being vaccinated as part of the public health initiative to drive down the incidence of serious childhood and other diseases
  • The clarity regarding the evidence base, with respect to MMR and the other vaccinations that are habitually given to children, should serve to bring to an end the approach whereby an order is made for the instruction of an expert to report on the intrinsic safety and or efficacy of vaccinations as being necessary to assist the court to resolve the proceedings pursuant to FPR Part 25, save where a child has an unusual medical history and consideration is required as to whether the child’s own circumstances throw up any contra-indications
  • Subject to any credible development in medical science or peer reviewed research to the opposite effect, the proper approach to be taken by a court where there is a disagreement as to whether the child should be vaccinated is that the benefit in vaccinating a child in accordance with Public Health England guidance can be taken to outweigh the long-recognised and identified side effects
  • Parental views regarding immunisation must always be taken into account but the matter is not to be determined by the strength of the parental view unless the view has a real bearing on the child’s welfare
  • This approach to the medical issues does not act to narrow the broad scope of the welfare analysis that is engaged

Mr Justice MacDonald held:

“With respect to the vaccines with which I am concerned, in the absence of new peer-reviewed research evidence indicating significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety of one of those vaccines, it is difficult to see how a challenge based on efficacy or safety would be likely to succeed.”

The future

This case reaffirmed the previous Judgment and guidance of Re H (A Child: Parental Responsibility: Vaccination) which still applies in cases where there is a dispute about a child being vaccinated. The court confirmed there is nothing, either in this jurisdiction or abroad, that goes against the recommendations of Public Health England that it is in the best interests for children to be vaccinated.

Although the Judge was very careful to try and avoid setting any precedent in relation to any possible COVID-19 vaccination, due to the timing of this Judgment, this case may have set a precedent and guidance that could prove highly relevant should it be suggested that children be vaccinated against COVID-19 and this form part of the NHS’s schedule and recommendations. If this was to be recommended by the NHS, it may appear likely that the court would find it difficult to direct children should not be vaccinated.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised here, please seek the advice of an experienced family lawyer. Get in touch with us today. We are here to help.

How to have a respectful divorce – read Amanda McAlister’s top tips

BBC Morning Live

How to have a respectful divorce

Following our managing partner Amanda McAlister’s guest appearance on BBC Morning Live, we thought you might find it useful to read her nine essential tips on how to have a respectful divorce.

I am very often asked if it is possible to have an amicable divorce, to which I always answer yes, it is, but only if both parties want it to be. In my experience, it’s only really when both people in the marriage or civil partnership have been separated for a considerable amount of time that they’re able to get their heads around what the split means for them and all those involved. You cannot escape the fact that divorce means huge change: wanted or unwanted, it’s still an enormous life event that even for the strongest of people, can create significant worry, insecurity and an enormous hit on a normally stable equilibrium.

What do you need to do to have a respectful divorce?

1. Get professional advice, fast

Understandably you will have lots of concerns, and for many those at the top of their list are will I lose the kids, and do I have to move out of my house? An experienced family lawyer will be able to help you with all your questions and take you through the divorce process step-by-step.   This will help to ease some of the fear and panic and will often feel empowering and prepared for what lies ahead.

2. Phone a neutral friend

Speaking of asking your friends, phone someone you know well, but who is neutral. Tempting though it is to speak to family members and your best mates, these people will, understandably but inevitably, take your side and by doing so they often fuel the problem. You need someone clear-eyed and with no axe to grind who will be honest. Only hearing what you want to hear is rarely the answer.

3. Team work is key

Choose your legal team carefully. It’s not going to help you in the long term if you engage the lawyer with the best record and a top reputation if you can’t connect with them. Do you feel your lawyer is empathetic? Will they be available whenever you need them? Do you feel reassured that they genuinely understand all your concerns? Once you’ve found that lawyer, get in touch with that neutral friend, then decide if you need to consult other professionals, such as a pension actuary or a forensic accountant.

4. Positive communication

Treat your divorce as though it’s a business dealing.  No matter how tempted you are to send a highly-charged, emotional WhatsApp or email, first ask yourself – would I send this to a work colleague? Would I call my boss all the names under the sun and accuse him or her of being a terrible person? Probably not, because all actions have consequences and if you provoke the other party in this way, ultimately, you’re not going to achieve what you want. A civilised, respectful divorce.

5. Do not use social media to try to hang onto your ex

We have all seen examples of people using social media to talk about their pain and hurt as they go through a split. A very recent example is that of celebrity couple Alice Evans and Ioan Gruffudd, where Evans announced on Twitter “My husband doesn’t love me” and went on to say he had left her and their children. No matter how much pain and hurt you are feeling, this is not the way forward and rather than bring your ex back to you it is more likely to inflame an already difficult situation and may even entrench your ex’s decision to leave the marriage. And if you have children, imagine how horrible they will feel as their friends tell them they’ve read all about your parents’ arguments on social media. And this leads me to say

6. Do not badmouth your ex to your children

I can’t stress this enough. It won’t achieve anything other than pain, and studies have shown that emotional conflict can be as destructive as physical conflict. Your children love you both, and you both love your children. Why hurt them? Because that’s all that will happen. I have dealt with some heart-breaking cases where children have been alienated from one parent because the other parent has used them as an attempt to punish their ex. It’s the children who suffer and it’s your duty to do the right thing by them. Sound off to your mate over a glass of wine. Tell your solicitor how badly your ex is behaving. Write it all down in a letter and then burn it. But don’t say anything to your children. One day, when they’ve grown up as well-rounded, well-adjusted adults, you, and they, will be grateful that you behaved well. It will be worth it, I promise you.

7. Develop a routine from the very outset

Know who is doing what, and when. Children need certainty and they will be miserable if they’re always the child who hasn’t got their PE kit for school the next morning or they’ve left their homework at their Dad’s last night because they thought they would be staying there the following day. If you can’t establish this routine with your ex, then look at mediation. A skilled mediator can put together a plan that works for both of you and takes the heat out of any potential conflict.

8. Grit your teeth and work to transform your relationship with your ex

Something has ended, yes, but something new is beginning. If you have young children together you have many years of dealing with your ex ahead of you, so it’s in your interests to forge a new path. Remember, you don’t have to be friends – that’s often asking too much – but always being angry takes a great deal of energy and effort. Easier for your own mental health, and that of your children, to build new boundaries within which you are civilised partners working respectfully with each other in a way that benefits everyone.

9. Keep in mind that there is, truly, life after divorce

No matter how dark things seem or how hard the road ahead looks, it really does get better. There’s a good life ahead for you. Believe in it.

If you are thinking about getting a divorce, you should obtain advice from a specialist family lawyer. Get in touch today. We are here to help you.

Coercive and controlling behaviour: an important family law case

coercive and controlling

Coercive and controlling behaviour

Partner Ruth Hetherington looks at a recent case highlighting an area of domestic abuse: coercive and controlling behaviour.

As a family lawyer of more than 30 years’ experience, I am heartened by the recent judgment by Mr Justice Hayden in F v M [2021] EWFC 4 which highlights an area of domestic abuse that has not always been easily recognised until now: coercive and controlling behaviour.

As the first reported High Court case to analyse in great depth allegations of coercive and controlling behavior, it may be one of the most important to happen in family law for a long time, demonstrating just how difficult it is to evidence the type of coercion and control at play in this kind of case. It is only by examining the history of the relationship in its entirety that the pattern of coercion is truly apparent. Hayden J stated that: “Behaviour, it seems to me, requires, logically and by definition, more than a single act.” In other words, frequently individual acts, in and of themselves, do not offer up an obvious picture of severe coercion and control. Rather, together these actions develop over a significant period of time.

In addition, context is important. Sometimes an action that might appear innocuous in one relationship is, in another, part of a pattern of controlling behaviour, and therefore a single act must be evaluated “in the context of the wider forensic landscape”.

In this case, the court considered the circumstances of two separate families/relationships in which the father was the common denominator, there having been a successful appeal against an earlier decision to exclude the evidence in the second relationship.

At McAlister Family Law we are seeing an increasing number of cases where this type of abuse is clearly described. Although this particular case is quite an extreme example, there is no doubt this type of abuse needs to be recognised and addressed, especially as the victims are often isolated and behaviours may appear innocuous without proper context. I thought this a particularly pertinent point:

“Broader professional education on the scope and ambit of coercive and controlling behaviour is likely, in my view, to generate greater alertness to abuse of this kind which too frequently lies buried or only superficially investigated.

Finally, it is important to bear in mind the words of Mr Justice Hayden: “what is really being examined in domestic abuse of this kind is a pattern of behaviour, possibly over many years, in which particular incidents may carry significance which may sometimes be obvious to an observer but to which the victim has become inured.”

In short, Hayden J has provided all family law professionals useful guidance in that coercive and controlling is more than a single act, it has to be put into context, professionals need to look at the wider picture and the way in which we present these cases may not fit the kind of templates frequently used in family cases.

Family practitioners need to be alive to all types of domestic abuse, including those that may not be easily recognised, but nonetheless cause the victims and their families untold psychological and emotional consequences.


If you are affected by any of the issues outlined here, please get in touch today – we are here to help you.

With this ring…

engagement ring

With this ring…

For many people, February is the month of romance, because Valentine’s Day is right in the middle of it. Cards, roses, champagne, maybe even a proposal of marriage. So this month, our expert family lawyers are looking at all the issues that surround engagement and marriage, starting with the engagement ring.

The engagement ring is special. There’s a lot of nonsense talked about how much it should cost – that’s an entirely personal decision – but what is important is what it symbolises: a promise between two people of the intention to marry.

Sometimes the ring is a family heirloom, handed down from one generation to the next. Sometimes the couple buy it together. Sometimes the proposal is entirely planned between the two people concerned, for others it comes as a complete surprise to one of them.  But if, once all the excitement has died down, and after consideration, one half of an engaged couple decides to call off the wedding, what happens to the engagement ring?

Do I have to return the engagement ring?

The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 states:

“The gift of an engagement ring shall be presumed to be an absolute gift; this presumption may be rebutted by proving that the ring was given on the condition, express or implied, that it should be returned if the marriage did not take place for any reason.”

This means that the gift of an engagement ring is presumed to be just that – an absolute gift. However, where an engagement ring is, for example, a family heirloom, and if it can be shown that the gift was made on condition that it would be returned if the marriage does not take place, then the ring should be returned.

If you are affected by any of the issues outlined here, please get in touch today. We are here to help.


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