Has the sun set?.

Rachel Lemon looks into the possible consequences of couples spending some real time together in Essence September 2019 issue. Rachel specialises in family law and advises clients on financial and children arrangements on the breakdown of a relationship. She also heads up the department’s Modern Families sector. Rachel is a Legal 500 recommended lawyer and a Mediator.

As summer passes and we embrace a new school term, it can be assumed (can’t it?) that families look back on the summer break with joyous memories of beach visits, the smell of sun cream, romantic meals alfresco, and generally spending quality time together. However, for some, summer can also be a time of strain.

Two people who tolerate one another when they are both working hard (either at the office or at home – or both), thrown together for a two-week break in the sun may just find that they no longer connect, enjoy the same things or just can no longer tolerate one another.

For those who conclude that the relationship has come to an end, September may mark the beginning of an ‘uncoupling’. This decision is a big one, one of life’s biggest. It can be a worrying time, and one which prompts many questions. What arrangements will be made for the children? How will we sort out the finances? Will I manage on my own?

The first thing to do is to take some early legal advice from a family law specialist.

It is a good idea to do some research online and find a reputable solicitor in your area. The Resolution website is a good place to start. Resolution is a national organisation committed to dealing with family disputes in a non-confrontational way. It may also be helpful to speak to friends and family to see if they can recommend someone to you.

The early stages are about information gathering, a decision does not have to be made at any first meeting with a solicitor. It is important to understand the process, the likely implications and the options available.

In families where there are children, they will be the priority. Arrangements need to be made to ensure the children have a good relationship with both parents moving forwards, that those arrangements are child focussed, but also workable for the parents.

Parents, understandably, are often concerned that their children will struggle to adjust to their parents separating or divorcing. However, research suggests it is the conflict children are exposed to that puts them at risk of harm, not the separation or divorce itself.

With regard to finances, there are a number of elements to consider. Often the family home is the main asset. In many cases, it can also be an emotive subject. One person may be more attached to the family home than the other. Ultimately, the needs of the children will be key as will the needs of the parties. This is an issue that may need to be dealt with sensitively, but often it comes down to affordability. Can the house be retained? Is the current mortgage affordable? Does one party need to be released from his or her liability in respect of that mortgage in order to rehouse?

How both parties are to meet their everyday costs is also an important consideration. If there are children then it is likely that child maintenance will need to be paid. It may also be that spousal maintenance is appropriate to ensure both parties have sufficient each month to meet their needs.

Other factors such as how pensions or business interests are to be dealt with may also be important aspects to consider.

There are many different ways to resolve these issues.

It is generally better to try to deal with family disputes outside of the court process. Inviting the court to make an Order as to how finances or arrangements for the children ought to be resolved can be a costly process (both financially and emotionally). The courts are overburdened with work and resources are stretched. There can also be long delays.

A court process also does nothing for retaining a relationship (which will be key if there are children). Instead, often positions become entrenched.

  • More preferable options are:Mediation – this involves attending joint sessions in which the issues are discussed openly, objectives are set out and options explored. All in the hope that an agreement can be reached. Mediation is a quicker and cheaper way of dealing with disputes. Importantly, it maintains, or re-establishes, a dialogue between the parties.
  • Solicitor negotiation can be conducted in a number of different ways, telephone, meetings or in correspondence. Often this is a cheaper and quicker way to deal with disputes and can be helpful in cases where mediation is, for whatever reason, not appropriate.

Each family is different. A bespoke approach is required. To find out the best way forward, it will be vital to gather information by taking early advice from a family law specialist.

The contents of this article are intended as guidance for readers. It can be no substitute for specific advice. Consequently we cannot accept responsibility for this information, errors or matters affected by subsequent changes in the law, or the content of any website referred to in this article. © Mundays LLP

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