What Areas of Law Does a Family Solicitor Cover?

Issues surrounding the breakdown of a relationship are, arguably, some of the most complex and challenging areas of law to sort out. When not handled correctly, they can take a lot of time and be expensive to resolve, so having the right support and legal advice is essential. But what areas of law do family solicitors cover? Read our guide to the various services a family lawyer can provide.

Pre- and Post-Nuptial Agreements

This is a written agreement made between a couple who intend to marry, or enter a civil partnership, and sets out the financial settlement which can be made in the event of divorce or civil partnership dissolution. It is signed before the marriage takes place. A post-nuptial agreement can be made at any time after marriage/civil partnership and sets out the financial settlement each party would be entitled to if they divorce. Post-nuptial agreements can also be used during the marriage to reflect any changes in a couple’s circumstances, e.g., children being born.

Civil Partnership Dissolutions

A civil partnership is a legal union between two people, giving them similar rights to those of married couples. It was originally introduced in 2004 to allow same-sex couples to put their relationship on a legal footing, however it was extended in 2018 to include opposite gendered couples. Before a civil partnership can be dissolved, parties must have been in it for over a year (the same requirement as married couples). The fundamental difference between the divorce and dissolution process is that the law only provides one basis or ‘ground’ for dissolution, namely that the civil partnership has ‘broken down irretrievably’.

Care Proceedings

Care proceedings are instigated by local authorities to obtain parental responsibility for children considered being at risk. This can happen if the local authority has reason to believe a child is suffering or is likely to suffer from emotional and/or physical harm and/or neglect or they are beyond parental control. Solicitors who deal with care proceedings, often offer legal aid for any person who has parental responsibility for a child who is subject to such proceedings. This is non-means tested, which means anyone who fits the above criteria will automatically be eligible for Legal Aid. Not all law firms deal with Legal Aid however, so you would need to ask about this upfront.

Domestic Violence/Injunctions

Injunctions can deal with any form of domestic abuse, including physical violence and coercive control, which encompasses psychological or emotional abuse, and a range of controlling behaviours. Together with protection against violence, threats or harassment, injunctions can give one party the right to remain in the family home. Legal Aid is available for those persons wishing to obtain injunctive solutions.

Cohabitation Agreements

Unmarried cohabiting couples are the fastest growing type of family in the UK, but they have far fewer rights than married couples, so it is easy to see why many decide to enter into an agreement before they move in together. An agreement can set out how finances are shared whilst living together or what happens if one of them becomes ill, dies or they separate.

Separation Agreements

This is a financial separation agreement setting out how a couple’s finances will be divided if their relationship ends. A separation agreement can be drawn up whether ending a marriage (before divorce), a civil partnership, or cohabiting relationship.

Parental Rights and Parental Responsibility

If both parents were married at the time of a child’s birth, then they will both automatically have parental responsibility. This means that they are equally recognised in law as having all the rights and duties that parents have in relation to a child. However, if the parents were not married, only the mother automatically has parental responsibility. If the father is named on the child’s birth certificate (after 1st December 2003), he will obtain parental responsibility. For any father who does not have parental responsibility, it can be obtained in two ways: both parents can sign a parental responsibility agreement, or the father can apply to the court for an order.


An adoption order grants parental responsibility for a child to the person adopting them and extinguishes the parental responsibility which any person had before the making of the order. In order to adopt, the adopter must be 21 years old and be living in the UK for a period of at least a year. Prospective adopters must initially contact their social service department and notify them of their intention to adopt.

Change of Name Deed

A change of name deed is a legal document used to record an intended change of name by a person or family. A solicitor will be able to draft a change of name deed and advise on any pitfalls and repercussions (if any) arising from the change.

Arbitration, Mediation & Collaborative Law (Alternative Dispute Resolution)

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) is an umbrella term that encompasses arbitration, mediation and collaborative law practices. The ‘alternative’ in the name refers to an alternative method of coming to an agreement without going to court. ADR allows parties to sort out issues arising from the breakdown of their relationship, enabling them to resolve disputes in a non-confrontational way via open discussions supported by their respective solicitors.

International Divorce

An international divorce might happen where one person lives abroad for work, because one party ends up living in a different country, or because the parties have different nationalities. A solicitor will advise which country someone can get divorced in, and if they have a choice of more than one country, work out which one is likely to give them the best outcome. In many cases, the country (referred to as ‘jurisdiction’) in which the divorce is handled is decided by which spouse is first to file for divorce in the country they have chosen.

International child abduction

This is a wildly complicated area of law and it is crucial for anyone whose child has been abducted outside the jurisdiction of the UK to obtain specialist legal advice as soon as possible. It is a fast-moving area of law, where a wrong step can have far-reaching consequences. Time is always of the essence in international cases, so it is vital that everyone acts promptly to ensure the best possible outcome.

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