Family Law

Family Law
Family Law
Full Overview Of Family Law

Family law is a complex and multifaceted area of legal practice that encompasses various issues related to familial relationships. This includes matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody, financial settlements, domestic violence, and adoption. At DLS Solicitors, we understand that family law cases can be highly emotional and sensitive, requiring a nuanced approach that balances legal expertise with compassion. This comprehensive overview aims to provide a clear understanding of the various aspects of family law, the legal framework governing these issues, and practical guidance for those navigating family law matters.

Marriage and Civil Partnerships

Legal Framework

In the UK, marriage and civil partnerships are legally recognised unions between two people. The legal framework governing these unions includes the Marriage Act of 1949, the Civil Partnership Act of 2004, and the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act of 2013. These laws outline the requirements for forming, recognising, and dissolving marriages and civil partnerships.

Marriage Act 1949

This Act governs the formalities of marriage, including the legal requirements for a valid marriage, such as age, consent, and the publication of banns or obtaining a licence.

Civil Partnership Act 2004

The Civil Partnership Act allows same-sex couples to enter into a legally recognised union with rights and responsibilities similar to marriage’s. This act also outlines the procedures for forming and dissolving civil partnerships.

Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013

This Act legalised same-sex marriage in England and Wales, allowing same-sex couples to marry and enjoy the same legal rights and recognition as opposite-sex couples.

Legal Requirements

To enter into a legally recognised marriage or civil partnership in the UK, certain requirements must be met:

  • Both parties must be at least 16 years old.
  • Parties under 18 require parental consent.
  • Both parties must have the capacity to consent.
  • The marriage or civil partnership must be conducted by an authorised person and witnessed by at least two people.

Divorce and Dissolution of Civil Partnerships

Legal Framework

The legal framework for divorce and dissolution in the UK is primarily governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and the Civil Partnership Act 2004. These laws set the grounds and procedures for ending a marriage or civil partnership.

Grounds for Divorce

Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the sole ground for divorce is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, which must be proven by one of the following five facts:

  1. Adultery: The respondent has committed adultery, and the petitioner finds it intolerable to live with them.
  2. Unreasonable Behaviour: The respondent has behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with them.
  3. Desertion: The respondent has deserted the petitioner for at least two years.
  4. Two Years’ Separation with Consent: The parties have lived apart for at least two years, and both agree to the divorce.
  5. Five Years’ Separation: The parties have lived apart for at least five years, regardless of whether the respondent consents.

Grounds for Dissolution

The grounds for dissolving a civil partnership are similar to those for divorce, excluding adultery. The irretrievable breakdown of the civil partnership must be proven by one of the following facts:

  1. Unreasonable Behaviour
  2. Desertion
  3. Two Years’ Separation with Consent
  4. Five Years’ Separation

Divorce and Dissolution Process

The process for divorce or dissolution involves several stages:

  1. Filing a Petition: The petitioner files a petition with the court, citing the grounds for divorce or dissolution.
  2. Acknowledgement of Service: The respondent must acknowledge receipt of the petition and indicate whether they intend to contest it.
  3. Decree Nisi: If the court is satisfied with the grounds for divorce or dissolution, it will issue a decree nisi, a provisional order.
  4. Decree Absolute: After a waiting period of six weeks and one day, the petitioner can apply for the decree absolute, which finalises the divorce or dissolution.

Child Arrangements and Custody

Legal Framework

Child arrangements and custody matters are governed by the Children Act 1989, which emphasises the child’s welfare as the paramount consideration in any decision regarding their upbringing.

Types of Orders

Child Arrangements Orders

These orders determine with whom a child will live and how much time they will spend with each parent. They can also include provisions for other contact forms, such as phone calls and visits.

Prohibited Steps Orders

These orders prevent a parent from taking specific actions concerning the child without the court’s permission, such as relocating or changing the child’s school.

Specific Issue Orders

These orders resolve specific disputes about parental responsibility, such as decisions regarding medical treatment or education.

Factors Considered by the Court

When making decisions about child arrangements, the court considers several factors, including:

  • The wishes and feelings of the child, considering their age and understanding.
  • The child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs.
  • The likely effect of any change in the child’s circumstances.
  • The child’s age, sex, background, and characteristics the court considers relevant.
  • Any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
  • The capability of each parent to meet the child’s needs.

Financial Settlements and Maintenance

Legal Framework

Financial settlements and maintenance issues are primarily governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and the Child Support Act 1991. These laws outline the principles and procedures for dividing assets and awarding maintenance in divorce and separation cases.

Types of Financial Orders

Lump Sum Orders

These orders require one party to pay a specified lump sum to the other, either as a one-off payment or in installments.

Property Adjustment Orders

These orders involve the transfer, sale, or settlement of property owned by the parties. The court can order the transfer of ownership or dictate how proceeds from a sale should be divided.

Spousal Maintenance

Spousal maintenance involves periodic payments from one spouse to the other to support the financially weaker party. The amount and duration of maintenance depend on factors such as the length of the marriage and the parties’ financial needs and resources.

Child Maintenance

Child maintenance is financial support for children, typically calculated based on the paying parent’s income. The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) can help calculate and enforce child maintenance payments.

Factors Considered by the Court

When determining financial settlements and maintenance, the court considers several factors, including:

  • Each party’s income, earning capacity, property, and other financial resources.
  • The financial needs, obligations, and responsibilities of each party.
  • The standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage.
  • The age of each party and the duration of the marriage.
  • Any physical or mental disability of either party.
  • The contributions made by each party to the welfare of the family, including non-financial contributions such as homemaking and child-rearing.

Domestic Violence and Protection Orders

Legal Framework

Domestic violence and protection orders are governed by the Family Law Act 1996 and the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. These laws provide mechanisms for protecting individuals from domestic abuse and regulating the occupation of the family home.

Types of Protection Orders

Non-Molestation Orders

Non-molestation orders prohibit a person from harassing or molesting another person, protecting them from domestic abuse.

Occupation Orders

Occupation orders regulate who can live in the family home and can exclude an abusive party from the property.

Application Process

To apply for a non-molestation or occupation order, the applicant must complete and submit Form FL401 to the court. The court will consider the evidence and decide whether to grant the order based on the risk of harm to the applicant and any children involved.

Adoption and Parental Responsibility

Legal Framework

Adoption and parental responsibility issues are governed by the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and the Children Act 1989. These laws outline the procedures for adopting a child and the responsibilities of parents and guardians.

Adoption Process

The adoption process involves several stages:

  1. Initial Enquiry: Prospective adopters contact an adoption agency to express their interest.
  2. Assessment and Approval: The agency thoroughly assesses the prospective adopters’ suitability, including home visits and background checks. If approved, the adopters are placed on a waiting list.
  3. Matching and Placement: The agency matches the child with suitable adopters and arranges for the child to be placed with them.
  4. Adoption Order: The adopters apply for an adoption order, which, if granted by the court, legally transfers parental responsibility to them.

Parental Responsibility

Parental responsibility refers to a parent or guardian’s rights and duties concerning a child. It includes decisions about the child’s upbringing, education, and welfare. Both biological parents automatically have parental responsibility if they are married. Unmarried fathers can acquire parental responsibility by jointly registering the birth, entering into a parental responsibility agreement, or obtaining a court order.


Family law encompasses a wide range of issues that affect individuals and families at some of the most critical moments of their lives. Understanding the legal framework, processes, and considerations involved in matters such as marriage, divorce, child arrangements, financial settlements, domestic violence, and adoption is essential for navigating these challenges effectively.

At DLS Solicitors, we are committed to providing expert legal advice and compassionate support to those dealing with family law issues. If you have any questions or need assistance with any aspect of family law, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our experienced team is here to guide you through every step of the process with professionalism and care.

Family Law FAQ'S

Family law is a branch of law that deals with matters related to family relationships, such as marriage, divorce, child custody, adoption, and domestic violence. It encompasses legal issues that affect families and children.

To start divorce proceedings, you must file a divorce petition (Form D8) with the Family Court. You need to demonstrate that the marriage has irretrievably broken down by citing one of the five grounds: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years’ separation with consent, or five years’ separation without consent.

A Child Arrangements Order is a court order that sets out the arrangements for where a child will live, with whom they will spend time, and how they will maintain contact with each parent or other significant individuals.

Child maintenance is calculated using a formula set by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). The formula considers the paying parent’s gross income, the number of children, and the number of nights the children stay with the paying parent. Additional factors, like other dependents, may also be considered.

Domestic violence includes physical, emotional, psychological, financial, and sexual abuse within a domestic setting.

Legal protections include non-molestation orders, occupation orders, and domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs), which can help safeguard victims from their abusers.

Yes, grandparents can apply for contact with their grandchildren. They usually need to obtain permission from the court before applying for a Child Arrangements Order unless the child has lived with them for at least three years.

The adoption process involves several stages, including attending an information session, undergoing an assessment by an adoption agency, and being approved by an adoption panel. Prospective adoptive parents must then be matched with a child and undergo a placement period before applying for an adoption order from the court.


A financial settlement in a divorce is an agreement or court order determining how the couple’s assets, liabilities, and financial responsibilities will be divided. It can include property, savings, pensions, debts, and maintenance payments.

To change a child’s surname, you need the consent of everyone with parental responsibility or a court order. If one parent does not consent, the other parent can apply to the court for permission, and the court will decide based on the child’s best interests.


This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 11th July 2024.

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Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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