Surviving Christmas: our top tips for separated parents

surviving christmas

Surviving Christmas: tips for separated parents

Christmas, for many, is all about children. The excitement of the tree being decorated, the school carol concert, the anticipation of receiving gifts – it can be a very emotional period, particularly so for those dealing with the added pressure of a past separation from a former partner, and all that brings in respect of complications for family life.

Here, managing partner Amanda McAlister offers her top tips to separated parents for surviving Christmas.

Trying to agree contact arrangements and when or where the children will spend time with each of their parents can be difficult at the best of times, but there is something about the emotions around Christmas that can cause real problems.

Issues of managing and maintaining contact with children following separation can of course become a difficult issue for parents living apart; while any difficulties in the relationship may well be those of the parents, it is the children who can reluctantly find themselves in the midst of adult arguments, confused that those to whom they look for guidance are not getting along and often incorrectly blaming themselves for either parents’ upset or even anger.

Focus on the children’s needs

It is easy and perhaps natural for a parent going through such a difficult time to concentrate on themselves at these times, but it is very important, if trying to sort arrangements out amicably, not to lose focus of a child’s needs or emotional wellbeing when they may already be feeling overwhelmed and trying to understand why their parents might not be friends, as  well as feeling distress and confusion about their new family circumstances.

If charged with deciding, the court will determine matters in accordance with what is in a child’s best interests. As such, even if it’s not what you want to hear personally, try and listen to your children, they may well help you in taking a step back from your own bubble and decide what’s best for them.

Plan ahead, and keep lines of communication open

Good forward planning and open lines of communication with the other parent are essential when working towards organise your children’s Christmas. Despite past difficulties, there are families who are able to work together to the extent that they can celebrate Christmas together, although sadly this is not the usual situation.

However, whether you and your former partner are on good terms or not, taking the time to plan your child’s Christmas gives each other time to come to a mutual decision about what’s best. From selecting Christmas presents together or arranging how and where the children are going to spend time with each of their parents over the festive period, the welfare of your children is what’s important.

Modern families

And it’s not just parents to consider; modern families come in all wonderful shapes and sizes. One-size-fits-all arrangements will not work in all circumstances no matter how hard one tries – you are likely to have to factor in each side’s extended family, there may be other siblings, and more – it takes time and effort to make the arrangements as special as they can be.

Two Christmasses?

I have seen arrangements agreed where the children have spent the first half of Christmas Day with one parent, opening their presents and having an early lunch, before being able to spend the afternoon and evening with the other parent.  Some families even have two “Christmas Days”, each one celebrated with either parent and alternated each year, particularly if families are separated by a considerable distance and therefore decide to take turns to have the children with themselves over Christmas or New Year.

It isn’t easy but it needn’t be difficult either. A little bit of seasonal good will can go a long way and we would encourage you to try and give a little to reach an agreement that will suit everyone involved, particularly your children.

If you’re affected by any of the issues raised here, please get in touch immediately. We’re here to help you.

I want a divorce: your step-by-step guide

divorce procedure heather

I want a divorce: your step-by-step guide

“I want a divorce.” But what is the process – what do you need to know? Heather Lucy, family law solicitor, is here to help you with a step-by-step guide covering the divorce procedure.

Special Procedure

Don’t be frightened by this term.  All it means is that when you apply for a divorce in England and Wales, the process, in the vast majority of undefended cases (that is, a case where one of you wants to divorce and the other does not oppose), is called Special Procedure.  All this means is that a judge will consider the divorce petition on paper and neither you nor your spouse will need to attend court to explain why your marriage has broken down.

Please bear in mind there is no such thing as a “quickie” divorce, no matter how many times you might read about this in the media. If you want more details on the length of time a divorce might take, please take a look here.

It’s also important to remember that the reason for the breakdown of your marriage rarely impacts on how the finances are divided.  It is a common misconception for example that adultery makes a difference – more details here. The court will deal with the financial consequences of the end of the marriage separately from the process of obtaining the divorce itself. You do not need to wait to resolve financial arrangements before divorcing, but you should not divorce without first getting advice how it may affect you – I really want to stress this point.

Before you apply for a divorce, you will need either your original marriage certificate or certified copy, as well as a certified translation if your marriage was abroad and the document is not in English.

Applying for a divorce

The divorce procedure is started by sending to the court a divorce application known as the Petition. The party making the application is known as the Petitioner, the receiving party is known as the Respondent, and either party to the marriage can apply to the court for a divorce.

Where possible, we will try to agree with your spouse which party will initiate the process and the grounds for divorce.  This will then allow the divorce procedure to continue on an undefended basis.

Grounds for divorce

There is only one ground for divorce, namely that the marriage has “irretrievably broken down”. To evidence this, the petitioner (applicant) for the divorce will need to rely upon one of

The Five Facts

In the Petition, the Petitioner has to prove that 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

– five years’ separation (the consent of the Respondent is not needed)

The most common facts relied upon are adultery, or unreasonable behaviour.

The Decree Nisi

Once the divorce petition is issued by the court, it is sent to the Respondent who then usually has 14 days (possibly longer if the Respondent doesn’t live in the UK) to complete return the Acknowledgement of Service to the court.

The court will then send a copy of the Acknowledgement to the Petitioner who then completes and files an Application for Decree Nisi and a supporting Statement.

When the papers are received by the court they will be considered by a judge who, if satisfied with the ground for divorce, will issue a Certificate of Entitlement for Decree Nisi. This will list a hearing date several weeks later, at which the Decree Nisi will be pronounced. This hearing can also be used to consider any applications for or objections to any costs orders sought, if not already agreed.

Do bear in mind that the Decree Nisi is actually an interim stage in the divorce procedure – it isn’t the final divorce, it is a document that says that the court does not see any reason why you cannot divorce.  Once you have your Decree Nisi, you can apply for the

Decree Absolute

Usually, the Petitioner waits until the finances have been agreed and approved by the Court before applying for the final decree of divorce, known as the Decree Absolute.  If the divorce has taken place before the finances are resolved and one of the parties dies then, potentially, benefits to which the other would have been entitled to by virtue of the marriage will be lost (an obvious example is a spouse’s pension).

International divorce procedure

Some people may be entitled to begin divorce proceedings in more than one country: if that is the case, we can assist in helping you to decide which is the better jurisdiction for you (and your family) as the divorce process varies widely from country to country, even within Europe, including as to financial outcome, timing and arrangements for your children. Speed can be of the essence in making the decision.  If you think this might apply to your situation, please do get in touch without delay.

Respectful divorce

Finally, I’d like to stress that here at McAlister Family Law we believe very strongly in achieving what we call a respectful divorce, wherever possible.  Our managing partner, Amanda McAlister, has spoken about this extensively in the media and shares her advice here as to the best way forward for couples who are divorcing.

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

Should I name the other person in my adultery petition?

can I name the other person in my adultery petition

Should I name the other person in my adultery petition?

This is a question we are often asked when a client first comes to us to talk about filing for divorce. Often that client is feeling angry and hurt.

Georgia Smith take a look at this challenging issue.

In simple terms, the divorce petition effectively sets out the petitioner’s reasons as to why the marriage has irretrievably broken down. In cases of adultery, it may be perceived that a third party is the sole reason for the breakdown, which is why the question “should I name the person who my partner committed adultery with in my petition?” is asked.

The straightforward answer is no.

It is not normally in your best interests to name the other man or woman in your divorce petition, even if you are divorcing on the sole basis of adultery. This advice can be a tough pill to swallow for most, who understandably wish to allocate blame after experiencing such feelings of hurt and betrayal.

It is usually enough for the petitioner (the person making the application for divorce) to provide the particulars of when the adultery took place and whether that relationship is ongoing. The respondent will then be served with a copy of the petition and will be asked to complete an acknowledgement of service form, which will ask if they admit to the adultery. Alternatively, your solicitor may request that the respondent complete a confession statement.

However, it may be the case that the respondent refuses to admit the adultery and the petitioner will have to prove the fact on a balance of probabilities.

What if I name the co-respondent?

Naming a third party in your divorce petition will make that person a co-respondent to your divorce. In practice, it is very rare for this to happen, as the Family Procedure Rules 2010 state that the third party should not be named unless the petitioner believes the respondent will contest the proceedings.

Significantly, naming a co-respondent could delay matters, as the third party will be served a copy of the petition and will be asked to fill out a form in response. If that third party proceeds to instruct a solicitor, your costs will only increase.

It is often wrongly assumed that adultery will be taken into consideration by the Court when determining financial settlement. This is not the case, and the judge can often take a dim view of a spouse who insists on naming a co-respondent.

In reality, naming a co-respondent only increases contention and may even cause the respondent to decide to defend the divorce. The urge to ‘name and shame’ can be short-lived and the real victory is in obtaining an amicable and swift divorce.

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

Do I need my ex’s permission to take my children on holiday?

permission to take children on holiday

Do I need my ex's permission to take my children on holiday?

The schools are breaking up now for the summer, and as certain travel restrictions are being lifted, for some of us that may mean the excitement of travelling abroad on holiday.  But if you are separated from your child’s other parent, this can bring issues which need to be addressed with your ex-partner prior to any trip away, particularly if you’re considering holidaying in what is currently deemed to be an “amber” country.

Associate Therasa Kenny explains.

If there is an Order in place, usually a Child Arrangements Order (formerly a Residence Order) then a child can be taken abroad for up to a month without needing the written consent of the other parent.

Parental Responsibility

If there is not a court order in place, what first needs to be considered is whether you have parental responsibility.  If both parents share parental responsibility, then what is often overlooked is that you will need to get written consent from the other parent in order to take your child out of the United Kingdom (Section 13 (2) of the Children Act 1989).  Failing to do so could lead to you committing an offence of abduction for which you can be fined, imprisoned or both.

Should consent be unreasonably withheld, then an application to Court can be made.  The Judge will take into account the individual circumstances of each family, and if permission is given (which it often is) then specific travel details will need to be provided.  These will include the dates of travel, address details for where the child will be staying and any flight numbers.

The Court rarely denies permission to take a child on holiday abroad where there is an existing relationship between the parent and child and the plans are reasonable in all of the circumstances. Where they do, it is usually in circumstances where the plans are patently not in the child’s best interests or where the Court deems the child may not be returned to the country.

The child’s best interests

If only the mother has parental responsibility, and again there are no Court orders in place, then permission is not necessarily needed to take a child abroad on holiday.  That being said, and with your child’s best interests at heart, consultation should always take place with the other parent (if they are in regular contact with the child) in order to reach an agreement that is right for everyone.   As a father without parental responsibility, should you not agree to your child being taken abroad, you can apply to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order and a Prohibited Steps Order to prevent the trip.

What if my children’s grandparents want to take them abroad on holiday?

Should other members of the family, such as a grandparent, wish to take a child abroad, then it is worth noting that permission will be needed from both parents who have parental responsibility, and not just from one.  Again, it’s really helpful if you can maintain good relationships with everyone in your extended family, but if that isn’t the case, then we recommend getting good legal advice well in advance of any proposed trip.

What if my child has a surname different from my own?

You also need to be aware that customs officers may insist on extra checks where a child is travelling with somebody who has a different surname to them. In these circumstances and in order to avoid any hold ups, it is always useful to take additional documents to the airport with you which can help to verify your child’s connection to you, such as the child’s birth certificate (which may provide the details of both parents’ surnames) and/or your marriage certificate (which will show the surnames before the marriage) and any existing court order and so on.

Open lines of communication

What is important is communication, and trying to agree any travel arrangements between you and the other parent in advance.  This is not always possible, but if it can be achieved, it will avoid any applications to the court being necessary.

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

We welcome two new recruits: Brigid O’Malley and Stephanie Eastwood

Left to right: Brigid O'Malley, Amanda McAlister and Stephanie Eastwood

We welcome two new recruits

We’re delighted to announce the recruitment of Brigid O’Malley as Associate and Stephanie Eastwood as solicitor. Both join the team in response to a significant increase in new enquires in both the divorce and finance and children law divisions.

 

Pictured left to right: Brigid O’Malley, Amanda McAlister and Stephanie Eastwood.

Beyond Group’s specialist Family and Children Law practice, McAlister Family Law, has announced the recruitment of Brigid O’Malley as Associate and Stephanie Eastwood as solicitor. Both join the team in response to a significant increase in new enquires in both the divorce and finance and children law divisions.

The practice has climbed the rankings in both Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners year on year; the Group has offices in Manchester city centre and throughout Cheshire. The two new appointees reflect the continued demand for its expertise both in divorce and finance and children law matters.

Brigid, who studied Law at Leeds Metropolitan (now Beckett) University, graduated in 2009 and completed her LPC at the College of Law in Chester in 2010, where she gained a distinction. She qualified as a solicitor in 2014, and acts on behalf of clients seeking advice and assistance in relation to family matters that includes divorce, financial proceedings, civil partnership dissolution, nullity, domestic abuse, and children proceedings. A key member of the Divorce and Finance team, she also has considerable experience in private children law.

Brigid is an accredited Police Station Representative and is also experienced in criminal law, having represented clients at Police stations and magistrates court, and instructing counsel at Crown Court, including handling cases involving serious sexual assault and violent crime. She is particularly experienced in assisting both victims and alleged perpetrators of domestic violence within the family.

Over the last twelve months, the award-winning McAlister Family Law has seen significant growth having recruited two specialist partners, four solicitors and three paralegals.

Said Brigid: “McAlister Family Law is a practice absolutely committed not only to divorce and related finance work, but also to the welfare of children through its unique specialist children teams. To have the opportunity of being able to work on both is incredible.”

Stephanie graduated from Liverpool John Moores University in 2016, where she went on to gain her LPC. She began her career as a paralegal whilst still at university, working first in the field of Personal Injury claims, before going on to specialise in Family Law. She has joined the practice’s specialist children team and will represent both children and parents on all matters including child abduction, child arrangements and adoption.

Stephanie said: “I’m thrilled to join such a forward-thinking family law practice, and to be part of the wider Beyond Group. McAlister Family Law is home to one of the countries’ leading children law practices, having more than eight solicitors on the Law Society Accredited children panel. I am so looking forward to working with such a highly regarded, specialist team.”

Amanda McAlister, managing partner of McAlister Family Law, added: “I’m delighted to welcome Brigid and Stephanie on board. Both are very talented family law solicitors and bring skills and experience that complement the already comprehensive offering here at McAlister Family Law. Like everyone within our practice, they are dedicated to delivering the very highest level of service to our clients.

“They will, I am sure, make a significant contribution to the team as we continue to grow as a practice and cement our reputation as one the UK’s leading family law practices.”

Beyond Group Head Matt Fleetwood said: “The recruitment of Brigid and Stephanie is further evidence of the Group’s strategic growth and most importantly, they are a perfect fit for the Group’s culture and values. McAlister Family Law has been extraordinarily successful since we established the practice three years ago, and it’s great to see it expand further with these new recruits.”

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