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.

Seeing your children at Christmas when you’re separated

seeing your children at Christmas when you're separated

Seeing your children at Christmas when you're separated

This Christmas, the children of separated parents will probably spend the festive period travelling between homes, with each parent doing their utmost to make the day as happy as possible. Undoubtedly, many of those children will enjoy ‘double’ celebrations and receive extra presents.

What happens if you can’t agree contact at Christmas, and what are your options?

Many family lawyers start getting requests for advice on the issue shortly after the October half term ends. The end of year break is the next major school holiday and parents who don’t live with their children are keen to sort out arrangements.

Heather Lucy, family law solicitor, offers her advice around this issue.

First of all, it’s important you communicate with your ex-partner: talking through the arrangements really is the best starting point. The vast majority of separated couples are able to sort out Christmas arrangements between them. It really is much better to agree to a plan together than to find yourselves with one that might be imposed by a court.

Can you compromise?

Inevitably, to make matters work for all concerned, there will need to be some give and take from both sides if the children are going to have the best of both parents. Whatever you agree for this year, can you agree to alternate the arrangements the following Christmas? Perhaps you can you split the day’s celebrations? Sometimes the court will reach a decision whereby the children spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with the parent they live with, and spend the rest of the day and overnight with the other parent. Is that something that could work for you and your children?

Put yourselves in your children’s shoes

If there is a long distance between the two homes, do the children really want to spend several hours in the car? If you think the children are old enough to have a view, what would they want?

Mediation

If you cannot agree the arrangements, consider going to mediation where an independent person may be able to help you reach a sensible compromise

Get professional advice

If mediation is not achievable, consider seeking the advice of a family lawyer. It might be that, with their help, an agreement can be reached.

Ultimately, if there is no other option, you can apply to the court for a child arrangements order. December is a very busy month for the courts so any application must not be left too late. At the court hearing, the judge or magistrates will try to broker an agreement that meets the needs of the children. Their welfare will be the court’s paramount consideration.

If you are experiencing difficulties agreeing arrangements for your children this Christmas, please contact us as soon as possible. Our experienced family law solicitors will help you in trying to achieve the best possible outcome.

McAlister Family Law chosen as one of The Times Best Law Firms

McAlister Family Law chosen as one of The Times Best Law Firms 2022

Only 200 of the 10,000 firms in England and Wales made it into The Times Best Law Firms 2022. We are honoured to have been chosen.

Statista, an international market research firm working with The Times, asked solicitors and barristers in England and Wales to recommend the best law firms in any of 26 categories covering business, public and private-client fields.

To make sure the survey was fair, respondents were not allowed to choose their own law firm, and technology and other scrutiny was put in place to prevent anyone from voting more than once.

Those with the most votes from more than 4,500 respondents made it into The Times Best Law Firms 2022.

Amanda McAlister, Managing Partner, said: “When McAlister Family Law launched four years ago, with our unique business model, many in the legal sector said it could not work. Today, our multi award-winning practice is revealed as one of only 200 law firms in the country to make the grade as one of The Times’ Best Law Firms. This amazing accolade is down to the sheer talent, hard work and dedication of everyone in our team, and the fantastic support of Beyond Law Group. My personal thanks go to everyone involved – I genuinely could not be more proud of our truly excellent people.”

Matt Fleetwood, Beyond Law Group founder, added: “This national recognition is an absolute credit to Amanda and her team, and affirms that visions really do become reality.”

When divorcing spouses are in business together – who keeps the business?

divorcing couples in business together

When divorcing spouses are in business together – who keeps the business?

It is not uncommon for couples to be in business together. Sometimes they are equal partners in the business, both often bringing different skills, for example one an expert in sales and the other an expert in management. Sometimes one spouse is the main driving force behind the business, with the other taking a lesser role. Whatever the dynamic of the couple within the business, if they divorce, they are both usually worried about what will happen to the business and their role within it.

Partner Fiona Wood, who is one of the UK’s foremost experts at dealing with divorce cases where there are substantial and complex business assets, explains the options.

Under English divorce law a judge can order one spouse to transfer their shareholding in a company to the other spouse. A judge also has the power to order that a business is sold, as long as there are no third-party shareholders in the company, although this does not happen very often.

However, most divorces are not decided by a judge. Most divorcing couples reach a financial agreement, with the assistance of legal advice, and this includes those divorces where the couple are in business together.

Staying in business together

Some divorcing couples decide to stay in business together. This is often the case where the couple both have equally important roles in the business and taking either of them out of the business would damage it. It also happens when the couple already had a plan to build the business up with a view to selling it. This obviously works well where the couple are still on good terms.

Shareholders Agreement

A detailed Shareholders Agreement should be put in place by the couple when they divorce, if they did not already have one, to make sure that any disagreements that they have regarding the business going forward are dealt with fairly.

What if the couple both have important roles in the company, but one or both does not want to remain in business with the other? In this scenario one spouse often purchase’s the other spouse’s shares in the business. To do this the company and their shareholdings will have to be valued by an accountant within the divorce proceedings. The net value of the company, along with the non-business assets, will then need to be divided fairly between the couple.

Tax consequences

The tax consequences of the share transfer will also need to be considered and factored into the divorce settlement, as CGT is usually payable by the spouse transferring their shares not long after they have been transferred.

If both spouses want to retain the business to the exclusion of the other, a judge will have to decide upon this. Alternatively, the judge could order that the business is sold, so that neither retain it. In my experience it is very unusual for both spouses to want to retain a business and even if they do, it is usually the case that the business is not viable without one spouse, but is without the other, which decides the issue.

In most businesses owned by divorcing couples, one of the spouses plays a far more important role in the company and often owns more shares in the company than their spouse. In this scenario, the spouse with the more important role will retain the company as part of their divorce settlement, with their spouse transferring their shares to them. Again, the company will have to be valued within the divorce process to ascertain its value, the net value of the shares being transferred and the tax consequences of the share transfer.

The income that the spouse retaining the company will receive from the company going forward, compared to the earning capacity of the spouse leaving the company, is also an issue that will need to be considered. Sometimes the earning capacity of the spouse leaving the company will be considerably less than the salary and dividends that they received from the company. Again, this will have to be factored into the divorce settlement.

If you are a business owner and are experiencing problems in your marriage, it is important that you take advice from a solicitor who is experienced in dealing with businesses within divorce. Please get in touch today. We are here to help.

McAlister Family Law ranked in Chambers and Partners

McAlister Family Law ranked in Chambers

McAlister Family Law ranked in Chambers

We are delighted to share the news that McAlister Family Law has been ranked in the renowned legal directory Chambers and Partners with several members of our award-winning team also being ranked for their individual expertise, and the practice itself described as comprising “really excellent lawyers – and they are great with clients.” 

Here we share our entry in Chambers:

What the team is known for

A boutique family firm with a growing presence in the Manchester market. Provides varied advice on both matrimonial finance and children matters, including public care proceedings. Regularly handles complex divorce settlements involving extremely high net worth individuals and multi-jurisdictional issues. Advises on matters surrounding complex business and inheritance structures.

Amanda McAlister

Managing partner Amanda McAlister retains her ranking as an “Eminent Practitioner” – an outstanding accolade.

She has deep experience in matrimonial finance cases, often taking on matters involving international clients as well as those that include complex pensions and trusts issues.

“She has bags of experience and super connections which she backs up with her knowledge of the law.”

Fiona Wood

Fiona Wood frequently assists clients with financial remedy proceedings and is particularly adept at advising on cases involving complex business assets.

“Fiona has excellent communication skills and is always excellent on points in cases; she is remarkable.” “Fiona Wood is a formidable, detailed and pragmatic lawyer.”

Nick Hodson

Nick Hodson has a respected family law practice. He is particularly noted for his expertise in public law children matters as well as private law proceedings.

“Nick Hodson is compassionate about what he does and always has the children at the centre of all cases. He is an excellent advocate and negotiator.” “He is well regarded in the public law children arena.”

Paul Webb

Paul Webb advises on a range of children matters including public law issues spanning multiple jurisdictions.

“Paul Webb is excellent. He is reliable, hard-working and very knowledgeable in family public law matters.” “He’s an extremely strong, well-rounded solicitor. He thinks of all the angles and all his cases are well prepared.”

 

Amanda said: “I am incredibly proud of this unbelievably talented and dedicated team of family lawyers. They are the very best.”

Surrogacy: latest news

surrogacy latest news

Surrogacy: latest news

The number of parents having a baby using a surrogate in England and Wales has almost quadrupled in the last 10 years, according to new figures. Parental orders, which transfer legal parentage from the surrogate, rose from 117 in 2011 to 413 in 2020. Two-thirds of applicants are now mixed-sex couples often in their 30s or 40s. The report is by the University of Kent and My Surrogacy Journey, a non-profit organisation which supports surrogates and intended parents. What exactly is surrogacy, what does it involve, and what are  your rights?

Senior Associate Nicola McDaid explains.

There are a number of differing types of surrogacy now available, and UK law supports same-sex parents conceiving through surrogacy in the same way as it does different-sex couples.

There is what might be termed traditional surrogacy, when the surrogate provides her own eggs to achieve the pregnancy. The intended father, in either a heterosexual or male same-sex relationship, provides a sperm sample for conception, through either self-insemination at home or artificial insemination with the help of a fertility clinic. If either the surrogate or intended father has fertility issues, then embryos may be created in vitro and transferred into the uterus of the surrogate.

Gestational surrogacy, when the surrogate doesn’t provide her own egg to achieve the pregnancy, is when embryos are created in vitro (the literal translation of which is “in glass”, in this case meaning outside their normal biological context), and transferred into the uterus of the surrogate, using the eggs of the intended mother, fertilised with sperm of the intended father or donor.  Alternatively, it might involve the eggs of a donor, fertilised with the sperm of the intended father, where the intended mother cannot use her own eggs, or the intended parents are a same-sex male couple.

Your rights as a donor, a surrogate or an intended parent

Your rights differ depending on whether you are the donor, the surrogate, or the intended parent(s).

A typical situation is when a couple finds a surrogate, and all parties draw up, and agree to, a contract whereby the baby is placed in said couple’s care when s/he is born. However, there are certain issues of which you should be aware:

  • Surrogacy arrangements and contracts before/after birth are not legally binding in UK law, and do not transfer parental responsibility, which means that the surrogate (in effect the birth mother) remains the child’s legal mother until the court makes an order removing her parental status. The woman who gives birth to a child is always considered the legal mother in UK law, even when using a donated egg
  • Intended parents can make an application for a parental order which reassigns parenthood fully and permanently, and extinguishes the legal status and responsibilities of the surrogate (and her husband or wife.) Same-sex parents have been able to apply for a parental order since 6 April 2010.

How do you become a child’s legal parent?

As outlined above, you can apply for a parental order; if you are applying with a partner, you must meet the following criteria ( although this can be subject to interpretation and without question is ripe for amendment):

  • one of you must be genetically related to the child – in other words, be the egg or the sperm donor
  • you must be married/civil partners/living as partners in an enduring family relationship
  • have the child living with you
  • reside permanently in either the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man
  • You must apply within six months of the child’s birth

If you are applying as a single person (enforced since 3 January 2019)

  • you must be genetically related to the child in other words, be the egg or sperm donor
  • have the child living with you
  • reside permanently in either the UK, Channel Islands or Isle of Man

Whichever the scenario, the court must be satisfied that you have freely, and with full understanding of what is involved, agreed unconditionally to the making of the Parental Order.  What’s more, the court must be satisfied that no money or other benefit ( other than expenses responsibly incurred) has been given or received by either applicant(s), unless authorised by the court.

If neither you nor your partner are genetically related to the child, adoption is the only way you can become the child’s legal parent.

For many, the surrogacy journey can be full of potential pitfalls and it is important that you research the subject as fully as possible; we would certainly advise you consult a lawyer well-versed in the subject.

For example, if you donate sperm through a Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) licensed clinic, you will not:

  • be the legal parent of any child born
  • have any legal obligation to any child born
  • have any rights over how the child will be brought up
  • be asked to support the child financially
  • be named on the birth certificate

Bear in mind that if you use an unlicensed clinic to donate sperm, you will be the legal father of any child born from your donation, under UK law.

Some people, who consider the UK’s laws with regard to surrogacy to be restrictive, may seek help abroad. However, bringing a surrogate-born baby back into the UK is a legal minefield.  You can read more about international surrogacy here.

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

What to do if you can’t agree about your children going back to school

post pandemic back to school

What to do if you can’t agree about your children going back to school

What happens if you want to continue to home school your children, but your ex wants them back in school? In recent weeks we are hearing from parents about strong disagreements on this challenging subject.

Family Law solicitor Heather Lucy looks at the options available.

If parents cannot agree arrangements for their child or children, an application can be made to the court for a remedy. Parents can also apply to court in relation to a Specific Issue, and the court can address the issue of whether or not a child should return to school.

If parents cannot agree arrangements for their child or children, an application can be made to the court for a remedy. Parents can also apply to court for a Specific Issue Order and the court can address the issue of whether or not a child should return to school.

The court application

A Specific Issue Order is an order from the family court to resolve a particular issue in dispute in connection with a child and a Prohibited Steps Order is an order that limits when certain rights and duties can be exercised, such as making decisions about their education.

The court will take into account the parents’ opinions and the best interests of the children. The children’s educational development, efficient home -schooling techniques and underlying health issues in the family may all be considered by the court when deciding the issue.

The court’s guidance to promote an agreement

Before making an application to the court, parents should try and agree arrangements as much as they possibly can.

This court guidance promotes as much communication as possible between the parties to enable parents to consider the children’s best interests. Therefore, an application to court should only be made if there is no hope of an agreement regarding the children’s schooling and very much as a last resort.

The court’s ability to hear an urgent specific issue application

Unfortunately, because of the pandemic and the resultant backlog of cases, there is still little time for the courts to deal with these issues; even if the case is an urgent one, there is no guarantee that the court will be able to hear the case before the children are due to go back to school. This may leave parents in limbo and wondering what to do. Mediation can be an option to see if an agreement can be reached, but both parents must agree to that route, so seeking legal advice may assist them as they attempt to reach that agreement.

If you are unsure about what to do in relation to arrangements for your children, we would advise you to seek specialist independent legal advice from an experienced family lawyer.

Please get in touch today – we are here to help you.

Love and marriage – the return

Love and marriage – the return

We’ve had such a great response to our previous Love and Marriage blogs that we thought we’d add some more quotes to our special selection of celebrity words of wisdom about love, relationships and marriage.

Because there’s no doubt that on this topic everyone has their own opinion: some have their own personal deal-breakers, some know for certain the one thing that will melt their heart – and a lot of people will tell you it takes hard work and commitment.

See if you agree!

Fiona Shaw

“I’m married to a very unusual person, but maybe it took a very unusual person to be willing to marry me.”  Fiona Shaw

 

 

marriage quotes

“There are people you have mad passionate affairs with and people who you marry. Marriage is finding somebody who you can raise a family with, grow old with and who you want to come home to.” Hermione Norris

 

 

Celebrities Visit BuzzFeed's "AM To DM" - October 15, 2019

“Marriage is like a graph – it has its ups and downs and as long as things bounce back up again, you’ve got a good marriage. If it heads straight down, then you’ve got some problems!” Dame Julie Andrews

 

 

Gwyneth Paltrow

“I asked my dad once: ‘How did you and Mum stay married for 33 years?’ and he said ‘Well, we never wanted to get divorced at the same time.’”  Gwyneth Paltrow

 

 

Will Ferrell - Rotten Tomatoes

“Before you marry a person, you should first make them use a computer with slow internet to see who they really are.” Will Ferrell

 

 

Mickey Rooney

“Always get married in the morning. That way if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted the whole day.” Mickey Rooney (married eight times)

Beyond Group targets strategic growth as turnover hits £7.5 million

Beyond Group targets strategic growth

Beyond Group targets strategic growth as turnover hits £7.5 million

Beyond Group, encompassing specialist practices McAlister Family Law and Beyond Corporate continues strong growth with increased revenue and Group-wide recruitment.

Manchester and Cheshire-based Beyond Group has announced a 20% increase in annual turnover to £7.5 million with multiple, Group-wide new recruits up to partner level, and key promotions.

The Group currently comprises corporate law practice, Beyond Corporate and specialist family and children law practice, McAlister Family Law, both of which have grown exponentially despite the challenges of the past 18 months, in response to an increasing demand for the Group’s services.

Now in its fourth year of trading, Beyond Group began as a specialist concept which would bring corporate and consumer legal services together, a concept which has rarely been successful in the UK but which Beyond Group has undoubtedly achieved. Many firms offer an effective corporate law service, and there are many flourishing consumer law practices, but few bring corporate and consumer together on the same scale, and with the same success, of the Group.

“A significant part of our success has been bringing in the right people to run the specialist practices,” said Matt Fleetwood, founder and head of Beyond Group. “Jim Truscott, head of our corporate practice and Amanda McAlister, head of our family law practice, have both worked in top international law firms and were excited about what we could achieve together. The Group’s success clearly demonstrates that what we offer is what clients – and lawyers – want.”

There has been a significant number of new people recruited and new practice areas launched: top litigation lawyer Dónall Caherty has been brought in to head the Group’s dispute resolution team, and he has been joined by Oisin Quinn and Matthew O’Brien. The Group’s highly rated employment team has been bolstered by the recruitment of director Lucy Flynn, and Beyond Corporate’s real estate team has grown with the recruitment of partner Owen McKenna and specialist construction associate Moe Yassin. McAlister Family Law has recruited two highly experienced partners, Ruth Hetherington and Caroline Bilous, further developing its private children law team.

And in the Group’s latest development, renowned conveyancing lawyer Sarah Edwards has been brought in, to head soon-to-be-launched Beyond Conveyancing, which has been developed in response to demand for conveyancing services from existing clients, and multiple enquiries from the wider market, including probate lawyers.

Matt added: “We asked our people, and our wider community, what they wanted from us and we have responded to their needs. As a result, the Group’s Manchester and Cheshire offices have undergone a full refurbishment, specifically designed to create a dynamic and inspiring working environment. And, unlike the majority of law firms throughout the UK, the Group did not make a single redundancy, nor ask its people to take a pay cut and did not furlough any employees throughout the pandemic. We are currently shortlisted for Lockdown Business of the Year in the Greater Manchester Business Awards, and I think that says a lot about how much we take care of our people, and our clients.”

Amanda McAlister, who leads the award-winning McAlister Family Law, said: “The great thing about the Group is that it is made up of specialist, independent practices which collaborate at strategic as well as operational levels, as well as cross-referring and consulting on multi-discipline cases. Culturally the wider Group is brilliant for our young people – they benefit from a strong mentoring programme, diverse forms of networking and are part of a dynamic organisation with human perspective at its heart.”

Jim Truscott, who heads Beyond Corporate’s corporate law team, added: “The Group and its practices continues to attract high calibre clients, and its growth is down to the ever-increasing demand for its services. Our people are best in class: committed, enthusiastic about our plans for growth and all of them play a vital role in making the Group such an exciting place to be.”

Matt added: “The calibre of our people is outstanding. Our culture is one where we work hard and support one another, and that culture really came into its own during the multiple lockdowns and its significant challenges. Now we’re about to launch the third specialist practice within the Group and are looking forward to announcing further recruitment and growth in the autumn – watch this space!”

How to have a happy holiday when you’re separated parents

How to have a happy holiday when you’re separated parents

This year more than most, the summer holidays for separated parents can be a difficult and confusing period. Trying to agree if one or both of the parents should be able to spend time abroad with the children can prove to be a tricky subject.

Associate Melissa Jones examines the issues.

Any difficulties in the relationship may well be those of the parents, but 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. 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 well-being when they may already be feeling overwhelmed and trying to understand why their parents might not be friends, as well as distress and confusion about their new family circumstances.

The child’s best interests

If charged with deciding, the court will determine matters in accordance with what is in a child’s best interests. As such, and even if it is not what you want to hear personally, try to 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.

Open lines of communication

Good forward planning and open lines of communication with the other parent are essential when working towards organise your children’s summer holiday. Despite past difficulties, there are families who are able to work together to the extent that they can spend a summer break together, although sadly this is not the usual situation. However, regardless of whether you and your former partner are on good terms or not, taking time to come to a mutual decision about what’s best is without doubt the best way forward: from agreeing a safe destination that both parents are happy with to arranging how and where the children are going to spend time with each of their parents over the holiday period, it is by maintaining these open lines of communication that you will achieve a good outcome.

We have seen arrangements agreed where the separated parents have both gone to the same resort or holiday area, and the children have spent one or two weeks with one parent and then spent another week or two with the other parent, meaning that travel arrangements are simplified and there is the smallest amount of disruption possible.

It isn’t easy but it needn’t be difficult either. A little bit of willingness to accommodate the other parent’s request – when they can get time off from work, or if there is a holiday home owned by relatives and can you take a break in the same region to make things easier – can go a long way. Here are McAlister Family Law we encourage our clients not just to try to achieve a respectful divorce, but to remain respectful of one another in the years after that divorce. If you can each try to give a little in order to reach an agreement that will suit everyone involved, particularly your children, in the long run you will be glad you did so.

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

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