Family, Children, Divorce Law & Mediation

Blackfords LLP Family Team

“They are extremely diligent in the work they do for their clients, whether it is a private paying case or a publicly funded matter.”

  • Recommended in The Legal 500, 2013 and Chambers and Partners 2014.
  • Our specialist Child Care and Family Team solicitors have many years experience of providing legal advice on all aspects of family law.
  • We recognise that family clients often find themselves having to seek legal advice at a stressful and emotional time.
  • We know that at such times clients need and appreciate clear, practical advice given in a straightforward, yet sensitive manner.
  • We are proud of our professional and personal approach to our clients and strive to work in partnership with our clients to resolve their problems through negotiation wherever possible.
  • Our Family Team is experienced in providing legal advice in relation to
    • Divorce, Separation and Financial Issues
    • Issues relating to Children at the end of a relationship
    • Issues relating to Children and Social Services
    • Domestic Abuse
    • Emergency injunctions
    • Child Abduction
  • We know that clients need clarity as to the legal costs that they may incur when instructing solicitors and clarity as to their potential eligibility for legal aid. Therefore, we provide as much information as we can about legal costs and legal aid eligibility to clients at the outset of a case.

Child Abduction

  • Under the Child Abduction Act 1984, it is a criminal offence to take a child out of the United Kingdom without the consent of everyone who has parental responsibility for the child, or the Court’s permission.
  • However if someone has a Residence Order in their favour, they can remove a child for up to 28 days without obtaining such consent, providing this does not interfere with any other orders in place, such as a Contact Order.
  • If you fear that your child may be removed from the United Kingdom without your consent, we at Blackfords LLP can advise and assist you in preventing the removal from taking place.
  • We can apply to the Court for a protective order such as a Prohibited Steps Order or Residence Order and assist you in alerting the police. If your child has already been wrongfully removed or attained in another country, then you may be entitled to apply for their return under Hague Convention, which currently applies to 75 countries and we can advise you to make application to the country for the return of your child.

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Children Issues Including Social Services

  • If Social Services have concerns about the parenting of your children, they may choose to convene a Child Protection Conference, invite you to a PLO (Public Law Outline) meeting or even start Court proceedings to apply to remove your children from your care.
  • We have experience of dealing with Social Services and the Local Authority and even the police when they become involved with the family in this way.
  • We can advise you in your dealings with Social Services and the Local Authority and can assist, support and advise a parent at this stressful time.

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Children Matters

  • At the end of a relationship, issues often arise as to where the children should live (residence) and when they should see their absent parent (contact). Sometimes other issues arise, such as decisions regarding the children’s schooling, the children’s religion or the wish of one parent to move to another part of the country, or the world.
  • We are aware of the potentially damaging emotional impact such disputes can have on a parent and the whole family whilst these matters are resolved.
  • We can advise you in respect of such disputes, informing you of the relevant law under the Children Act 1989.
  • We will work with you to attempt to secure an agreed resolution where possible, whilst recognising that on occasions, issuing Court proceedings on your behalf to seek assistance from the Court is required to resolve the dispute.

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Legal Costs

  • At Blackfords LLP, we undertake both privately funded and legally aided work.
  • We offer clients a professional legal service at competitively priced hourly rates. We can offer regular billing to ensure legal costs are controlled, and will seek to resolve matters by agreement and negotiation wherever possible, rather than issuing Court proceedings, which tend to increase legal costs.
  • We offer to private clients a fixed fee initial interview which is an opportunity to obtain legal advice about your particular case, without committing yourself to ongoing legal expenses.
  • We can assess your eligibility for Legal Help in respect of divorce or separation, financial matters or children matters.
  • We have been awarded a contract by the Legal Services Commission to enable us to offer legal aid to those clients who are financially eligible. Legal Aid enables us to start the Court proceedings and represent you at the hearings.

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Divorce Separation & Financial Matters

  • When a relationship breaks down, the resulting legal issues can appear to be overwhelming.
  • We can advise you about the law regarding divorce or separation and guide you through the legal process.
  • Our clear, practical advice and expertise will help to alleviate the stresses and high emotion at this difficult time.
  • We can advise you on all aspects of the financial issues, or ancillary relief which arise at the end of a relationship regarding family assets, including the family home, pensions, the family business and maintenance.

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Domestic Abuse

  • Domestic abuse describes the difficulties that can take place in families or couples who can be married, unmarried, related or even friends.
  • Domestic abuse can include threatening behaviour, violence or the threat of violence, a physical attack such as hitting or shoving, bullying or intimidation, emotional, financial or sexual abuse.
  • We recognise that domestic abuse can cause enormous distress to all in involved, adults and children alike. If you are at risk of suffering immediate harm, we can advise you on the emergency steps that can be taken to protect you and your children.
  • We can apply to the Court on your behalf for an emergency injunction under the Family Law Act 1996 or the steps to take under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to prevent further domestic abuse taking place. If you have been served with Injunction papers, we can advise you as to the most appropriate steps to take by way of response.

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Family Mediation

Blackfords have an active Mediation department with both Nicola Chamberlain and Aisling Rowe qualified family mediators and Solicitors within the family team.
Family mediation is a way of resolving the issues that can arise before, during or after separation or divorce.

The mediation process is an efficient and cost-effective alternative way to settle a wide range of family disputes, without the need for the costly and time-consuming process of litigation and court hearings. Most commonly, mediation will cover:

  • Children issues
  • Separation/divorce/dissolving civil partnership
  • Cohabitation disputes and agreements
  • Contact disputes
  • Financial settlement/pensions

It is a voluntary and confidential process during which you make the decisions about your future with your former partner, with the assistance of a qualified third party – the mediator.

A family mediator will:

  • Provide a neutral safe environment for your discussions
  • Help you to try to reach an agreement
  • Let you take control of the timescales
  • Facilitate your discussions
  • Suggest ways of solving a problem that you may not have considered
  • Reality test or check your suggestions and any final agreement
  • Make suggestions as to how various disputed issues could be resolved

A family mediator will not:

  • Give specific legal advice
  • This is because they act in a neutral capacity
  • Make the decisions for you
  • Mediation is there to help you make your own decisions about the issues that are affecting you.
  • Try and help you to reconcile

With the help of a family mediator, the aim is for you to reach a solution that works for you and your family.

Resolution is a national organisation of family lawyers who are committed to easing the pain and the financial costs of family breakdown. All Resolution members follow a code of practice, which encourages solutions rather than confrontation using a conciliatory approach, taking into account the needs of the whole family. Resolution also undertake comprehensive training for family lawyers to become qualified family mediators. As long standing members of Resolution, Nicola and Aisling are committed to working with you to achieve the right solution for your family.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What happens?

After the initial telephone call, the first step is to arrange a short 20-30 minute meeting with each party, separately, so that the mediator can assess whether mediation is suitable. This meeting will be free of charge. If everyone agrees to proceed, a mediation session will be arranged and you will be asked to sign an Agreement to Mediate.

Will I have to meet with my ex?

A mediation session will involve both people in the same room as the mediator. This is important because it promotes communication which is a key issue, particularly in cases where there are children from the relationship. Very occasionally, mediation can take place with the parties in separate rooms and the mediator shuttling between the couple. However, this is not common and is not recommended in most cases.

Can I bring someone else with me?

You are welcome to bring a friend, family member or current partner along to the initial individual meeting as support. However, mediation itself usually takes place with just the two of you.

How much does a session cost and who pays?

The initial calls and assessment meeting will be free of charge. Sessions are booked for 1 & 1/2 hours, and cost £200 plus VAT per hour. Usually the cost of the session is divided between the couple. However, it is not uncommon for one party to agree to pay the full fee, or for the fees to be paid from a joint bank account. The fees are paid at the end of each session.
Charges are not made for telephone calls, letters or emails during the mediation process. However, if an interim or final agreement is written up, the hourly rate of £200 plus VAT will apply for the time spent to do this. Again, the costs are normally shared.

How many sessions will I need?

On average, and depending on the issues, you will need anything between 3-6 mediation sessions. If there are issues about both finances and children it is likely that there will be more sessions, and an average might therefore be 4-6 sessions. If it becomes clear that the mediation process is not working for you then the mediator will let you know as soon as this becomes apparent.

Will there be any reports about what has taken place in mediation?

If an agreement is reached through the mediation process then the mediator will draw up a document setting out the terms that have been resolved and explaining the background. This will include a summary of the financial information that has been provided, if mediation has resolved a financial dispute. There will be a charge for drawing up this documentation as outlined above.

Is mediation legally binding?

No. Discussions that take place in mediation are private and cannot be referred to if mediation breaks down and the issues go to court. However, any factual and documented financial information disclosed and exchanged is open and can be referred to in court.

If an agreement is reached in mediation, this is also deemed private, or “without prejudice” and is not binding by law. This enables both parties to reflect on the agreement and to have independent legal advice on the terms reached. It is possible subsequently to give the proposals legal effect in a court order, particularly in relation to financial settlements.

Do I still need a solicitor as well?

You do not always need your own separate solicitor. Many people resolve matters through the mediation process and find that they do not need any further advice. This is often the case with children arrangements. However, where mediation deals with financial matters, the mediator will normally recommend that each party has independent legal advice from a solicitor, either during the mediation process, or afterwards, in relation to any agreement reached.

What happens if the mediation breaks down?

If you are unable to reach an agreement or if either party has a change of heart about mediation, the mediation process will end and Blackfords LLP will have no further involvement.

Can Blackfords LLP mediate when you have acted for me before?

Generally we cannot mediate for our own clients as there would be a conflict of interest. This would mean that there would be a potential for perceived prejudice in favour of a client for whom we have previously acted. This also means that we cannot provide family legal advice to a client for whom we have previously mediated. The mediation process can only work by being impartial and transparent.

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