Legal advice: The right steps to take when a relationship ends
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More often than not, the breakdown of a marriage or long-term relationship is a traumatic experience. Not only is there emotional distress, but there may well also be serious anxieties around finances and the custody of children.
Following the good legal advice of a reputable family solicitor and understanding your rights could, however, go some way towards easing the process.
Solicitor Afsana Akhtar, from Abbey Law in St Albans, which offers conveyancing, commercial property, elderly client services, housing, immigration, road traffic offences, and wills and probate, as well as family law, answers some important questions:
Q: At what stage during a relationship breakdown should you take legal advice?
Normally the earlier the better. If you are thinking about leaving your partner or your partner has left you, it is best to get advice from a solicitor specialising in family law as soon as possible
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Q: Why is it so vital to take steps sooner rather than later?
Once the relationship has broken down the family assets need to be divided up. By doing this early on you can ensure there is a fair distribution. It will also help you to move on with your new life once everything has been decided.
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Q: What are the most common misconceptions around finances and custody of children in a relationship breakdown?
People worry about the stress of dividing up assets, making financial arrangements and coming to an agreement over custody of the children. But none of this has to be acrimonious. It can be worked out by both parties coming to an agreement and, in those circumstances, we can offer a fixed fee. Even if you can’t come to an agreement there is the misconception that divorce is an expensive process. However we can offer a fixed fee for each stage of the process to help manage costs better.
Q: Do entitlements differ depending on whether or not you are actually married?
Yes. Unfortunately, if you are not married you won’t have the same rights as a married couple. In this situation it is therefore even more important to seek legal advice early on in a breakdown.
Q: Does the length of a relationship make a difference in terms of entitlement to assets?
Yes, some of factors which the court look at are the length of the marriage and the needs of the party. Generally, the longer the marriage and the more contribution you have made into that marriage, the more you are entitled to. But it is important to understand that your contribution doesn’t just have to be from a financial point of view. Staying at home and looking after the children while your partner focuses on his or her career is also considered to be a contribution. Again, a good family solicitor can guide you through a situation like this.
Q: How is custody of children determined?
The primary concern is always the best interest of the child – this will always be first and foremost in any arrangement. Depending on the child’s age, however, his or her wishes may well also be taken in to account.
Q: What can you tell us about how finances might be apportioned?
Generally, it starts from a 50/50 basis. However, the court can depart from this and go upwards or downwards with one or other party. As family solicitors, we understand that people’s finances can be very complicated and, again, we can help you to understand how divisions might be made that are fair to both parties.
Q: What rights do you have if you are unhappy with a settlement or custody arrangement?
If having signed an agreement the circumstances change considerably, and you think the settlement is no longer right, then you can ask the court to revisit the matter. However, it is worth noting that changing it will be difficult.