Ask the Experts – Family Law & Relationships

Q: I have recently married and have a four year old son from a previous relationship.  My son is estranged from his father and considers my husband as his father.  Can my husband acquire the same legal rights I have for my son?

A: If the child’s biological father’s consent was forthcoming then you could enter into an agreement for your husband to acquire step-parent parental responsibility which is sent to the Principle Registry of the Family Division for registering and sealing. If the child’s father does not consent, your husband would be entitled to apply to the family courts for a parental responsibility as a step-parent under S4A of the Children Act 1989.

Q: My husband and I are divorcing, we’ve agreed everything so why do I need a Solicitor?

A: Even if you have reached agreement about the division of your property and finances, it is important that your agreement is recorded in an order approved by the divorce courts – this is known as a ‘Consent Order’.  This has two advantages: it makes the agreement legally binding and enforceable and it also dismisses future claims between the parties and ensures a clean break with a full and final settlement.

Q: My husband and I have decided to separate. We are still on good terms with one another and we have agreed everything in respect of our finances. We would like to go and see the same solicitor to keep the costs down. Is this ok?

A: As solicitors we are unable to act for both parties in a divorce because of our professional conduct rules relating to conflicts of interest. That said, if you have agreed everything between you – and there is no need for matters to unravel or become acrimonious – then you should go and see a solicitor and set out exactly what it is you have agreed and take some advice as to the appropriateness of that agreement. If, following that advice you are happy that you want to proceed, your solicitor can then write to your husband setting out those terms for him to approve. Your solicitor is likely to advise your husband that he should seek his own independent legal advice and it would be a good idea for him to do so. Whether or not he does, however, is of course up to him. If both of you agree a the way forward the documentation can be drawn up and submitted to the Court hopefully without matters becoming complicated.

Q: My husband and I separated last year and are currently going through a divorce. When we first split up we agreed that he would see the children (who are eight and six) every Tuesday after school for a couple of hours and every other weekend. For the last three months he has either been late collecting them or late returning them or has not turned up at all. What steps can I take to try and make him stick to the agreement?

A: Sadly it is not possible for you to go to Court to persuade your husband to see the children more. In reality, the only way in which you can force the issue if he is refusing to adhere to what sounds like a sensible arrangement, would be for you or your solicitor to write to him. You need to tell your husband that he needs to stick to the arrangements or explain to you why they are not working for him and ask what his alternative proposals are. He needs to be made aware that it is really important for children that there is consistency and stability so that they know that they can rely on both their parents. If he continues to let the children down you could ask him to attend mediation or try and agree an alternative contact arrangement. As a very last resort, you could reduce the contact or remove it altogether. This is a difficult choice but is often the one thing that makes a less reliable parent sit up and take notice and take on board the children’s needs.

For further information contact Karen Witter a partner in our Manchester office.

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