When should I see a family lawyer?
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Family lawyers are there to help you at various points throughout a marriage or relationship, from the beginning until the end.
Jon Whettingsteel, Partner and Family Law Solicitor at Hampshire firm Dutton Gregory, says many couples are unaware that advice and support are available at every stage.
“People often think about coming to see us when things go wrong but there are other times we can also help,” he explains. “Whether you are at the beginning of a relationship or the end – or are very happily together but want to protect your assets – by coming to see us early on, you can end up saving a great deal of time, money and emotion.”
Jon suggests different times to see a family lawyer:
At the beginning of a relationship
If you are considering getting married, you may well want to think about establishing a Prenuptial Agreement, setting out what you wish to happen to your assets if things go wrong. Hopefully you will never need this, but in the event of a relationship breakdown, it could help you to protect anything you have accumulated before the marriage.
If you are moving in together but not getting married, then a Co-habitation Agreement could be an ideal solution. This is often drawn up when individuals decide to buy a house together but are not contributing equal shares.
For example, someone might have been given money towards the property by their parents and they want to be able to walk away with that same sum (to use in the next stage of their life) rather than having to split it with their former partner.
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During a relationship
You may have been married for a short period of time or for many years when there is a need for a Postnuptial Agreement to protect assets that one party has accumulated individually, often through an inheritance or a gift. It might be that there was an intention for this money or property to stay on one side of the family rather than being divided up in the event of a relationship breakdown.
People also come to see us during a relationship to understand their legal rights and options. For example, if a relationship is starting to sour, they can come and have an hour’s meeting for a fixed fee to discuss their choices.
We can explain how any separation might work out procedurally, financially and in terms of child support and contact if there are children involved. Sometimes they decide to continue to try to make the relationship work, but they now have an understanding of the different routes that might be ahead if things change.
Family solicitors also have the opportunities to help establish and strengthen families by arranging Parental Orders for surrogacy so couples or individuals can legally be recognised as parents of a child, helping with adoption and establishing parental responsibility agreements.
At the end of a relationship
This is traditionally when people come to see us, and our suggestion is not to leave it too late. We can offer help with divorce proceedings or separation agreements to divide joint assets, work out finances and make arrangements over custody, child maintenance and contact.
We advise people on their rights and what to expect in terms of processes. This might involve going to a family court, but where possible we will encourage them to look at alternatives.
If people can negotiate through mediation rather than going to court, they can usually save a lot of money and time – and remain in control. Although we support our clients, our role is also to help them by sometimes taking an outsider’s perspective. Clients often get advice from a friend or family member, but these are likely to be people who are also emotionally invested. Sometimes it is helpful to suggest they take a step back and consider all their options.
Our job is also to ensure we take into consideration and protect the interests of any children. After all, the end of a relationship is not the end of a family.