Your family and the law
First published 23 October 2017 • Updated 03 July 2019
Families can have their ups and downs. But it’s not only when things go wrong that you might need the services of a solicitor. Legal advice can be invaluable for a wide range of big family decisions, from getting married and raising a family, to more difficult circumstances such as divorce. For this you will need a solicitor who specialises in family law.
Here are some of the life events for which you may need legal advice.
I’m getting married
Behind all the flowers, rings and champagne, marriage is essentially a legal contract between two people – and one that has major financial implications for both parties. For this reason, it’s becoming increasingly common in the UK for couples to seek prenuptial or postnuptial agreements. These describe what couples will do with their money and other assets if they decide to separate. Generally they are enforceable, though a court reserves the right to waive them in some circumsances.
Pre-nups and post-nups can be especially useful if one spouse is (or expects to be) financially dependent on the other. A second marriage may also benefit from such an agreement, for instance if one spouse has existing children whom they wish to protect from the consequences of another split.
Some people may also need the help of a solicitor in getting married. For example, couples who are from different countries could need assistance with the citizenship process.
We’re starting a family
Having children is the single biggest reason to make or update your will. Having a valid will in place ensures that, in the event of your death, your children are properly looked after according to your wishes. Do not assume that this will happen automatically, as intestacy law is complex and may result on your family missing out on important parts of their inheritance (or at the very least, having to wait much longer to get it). If have children from multiple marriages, a will becomes even more essential.
If you choose to adopt one or more children, you will probably need to consult a solicitor who specialises in adoption law. The rules surrounding adoption are complex, so your solicitor can guide you through the procedure to ensure that you are clear on all the legal issues you may face.
I'm in a dispute with someone
If you're facing a dispute with an individual or company that can't be resolved by other means, you may need to take legal action. Find out more about litigation.
We're getting a divorce
Divorce is one of the most common reasons for people to instruct a solicitor. Even in mutually agreed, amicable splits, it is still highly advisable to seek legal help to ensure a clean break and a division of assets than cannot be challenged at a later date.
The divorce process also involves a considerable amount of paperwork, so it’s a great help to have a solicitor to guide you through it. Remember too that emotions run high during any divorce, so having your solicitor as intermediary will make the process much less stressful as well as minimising the chances of making rash decisions. Last but not least, a good divorce solicitor is a friendly and reassuring presence who can provide both knowledge and moral support when you need it most.
Divorce and children
Children can be the single biggest point of contention in a divorce, and also the most emotive issue. If custody is awarded to one of the parents, the biggest concern of the other parent is usually how often they will see their children. Sometimes there’s even a question over whether siblings are split up. Getting a solicitor to help work out and agree an arrangement can minimise the impact on the children and help them continue to enjoy good relationships with both parents. Find out more about arrangements for children in a divorce.
Sharing out assets following a divorce
Deciding who gets what (in terms of money, property etc.) is actually a separate process from the divorce itself, known as ancillary relief. Your solicitor will be key to negotiating the best terms for you in any divorce settlement.
If the divorcing couple own a home, then the home will typically be award to one of them while the other receives other assets (e.g. savings, cars) to compensate. If there are children, they will usually live with the parent who is awarded the home.
Remember that pensions are very important assets in a divorce, though couples often fail to prioritise them. If one spouse has inferior pension arrangements (perhaps due to working less) then they need to take into account how the divorce will affect their retirement income. A financial adviser is required here, as pensions fall outside the expertise of most solicitors.
Someone close to me has passed away
When a loved one dies, there are a number of legal steps you may need to take. If you are the next of kin, you will need to register their death, which you can do through the government website. If the person has made a will, they should have appointed an executor to take care of it (if you are named as executor on anyone’s will, then you can appoint a solicitor to help you perform your duties). Find out more about what to do when someone dies.
If you are inheriting money or other assets, then depending on the amount and other circumstances you may need to consult a financial adviser, for instance with regard to inheritance tax.