Family Law – An Overview

Family law covers a wide range of topics but the most common are; divorce, child maintenance, domestic abuse, cohabitation and civil partnerships.

Divorce is probably the most used element of family legislation. One in three marriages now end in divorce, so it is no wonder that it is the busiest area of family law. In the UK there are five legal reasons why you can apply for a divorce, if your partner has committed adultery, displayed unreasonable behaviour, has left you for two years without contact or you have been separated for two or five years. These are all legitimate grounds for divorce. The divorce process can be time consuming and costly if you decide to go through the courts. You may want to consider using an alternative method of divorce such as mediation or collaborative family law.

Child maintenance goes hand in hand with divorce in this area of law. If you divorce or break up from your partner, the partner that doesn’t live with the child will, by law have to pay maintenance for the child’s upbringing. This can either be arranged between the couple themselves, which is known as a private arrangement or through the Child Support Agency. If a family has gone through the Child Support Agency and the non resident parent is not paying their child maintenance, the Child Support Agency has the right to pursue the money through legal procedures.

Another element is domestic abuse. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, you should inform the authorities. Family law deals with domestic abuse cases by issuing abusers with different orders that forbid them to have any kind of contact with the person they are abusing. In extreme cases, the police will take action.

Cohabitation is often an overlooked area of family law for couples who live together but are not married or in a civil partnership. Many couples believe that if they live with each other for long enough they will be in a ‘common law marriage’ this however is not the case. Cohabiting couples have a lot less rights than married couples. If you are a cohabiting couple it is advisable to research into your rights in family law.

Civil partnerships are a relatively new area to family law, with the first civil partnership taking place in 2005. Couples in civil partnerships are granted the same rights as a married couple. If a civil partnership breaks down, a dissolution will need to be applied for, not a divorce. The grounds for a dissolution are similar to divorce except that you cannot ask for a one on the grounds of adultery as in the eyes of the law the term only applies to heterosexual couples. If adultery is the reason, you can highlight this as unreasonable behaviour.


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