How does the family law arbitration process work?

Once parties have agreed to enter into arbitration, the first step will be to agree an arbitrator. An arbitrator is a family lawyer (a specialist family law solicitor or barrister) who is qualified to sit as an arbitrator. The arbitrator will set the steps to be taken and the timetable.  Both parties may have solicitors to advise them during the process and either a solicitor or a barrister to represent them at the arbitration (akin to a court hearing before the arbitrator).

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What is a parenting plan?

A parenting plan is an agreement between seperated or divorced parents about how to raise their children. Both parents need to agree to the plan. A parenting plan can be changed at any time, for example as the children grow up, provided both parents agree. 

(A parenting plan is a voluntary agreement between parents and does not involve a court process).

Parenting Plan template is available from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS).

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Who has parental responsibility during a divorce or separation?

If you have parental responsibility before you separate from or divorce your child’s parent, you will not lose it because of the separation or divorce. 

If you were married when your child was born, both you and your spouse automatically have parental responsibility.  A mother has parental responsibility from the birth of the child regardless of whether she is married to the father.  If the father is not married to the mother when the child is born, they do not automatically have parental responsibility but will acquire it if their name is on the child’s birth certificate, if they have a Court Order granting it or if they have a legally binding agreement with the mother.

Who has to make child maintenance payments?

Regardless of who has parental responsibility, the parent with whom the child spends less time  is required to contribute financially to their children’s maintenance. If you are the parent with whom your child spends more time (perhaps the child is living primarily with you and spending time with the other parent) and you are not receiving  child maintenance, a solicitor can advise you about how to secure the payments. If the child or children spend equal time with both parents, there may be no payment due.

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When can I get divorced?

If you consider that your marriage has broken down irretrievably you can apply for a divorce, provided at least 12 months has elapsed since you married.  You no longer have to explain the circumstances surrounding the breakdown in the marriage (such as the other party’s unreasonable behaviour or adultery) or otherwise wait for two or more years before starting the process. 

How long does it take to get a divorce?

The shortest possible period from application to final divorce is 26 weeks but circumstances mean it could take longer.  Often parties will wait to complete the final stage of the divorce process after their financial arrangements have been agreed. 

How much does it cost to end a civil partnership?

The court charges a fee of £593 for an application to dissolve (end) a civil partnership.  

  • If you then reach an agreement between you as to the financial arrangements upon dissolution (i.e. how you will divide your assets and any ongoing financial support between you), the charge for the court approving your agreement to make it binding is £53 
  • If you are unable to reach an agreement as to your financial arrangements, you can apply for the court to adjudicate. The court fee to start that process is £275

The above court fees are payable whether you use a solicitor or handle the dissolution yourself.  Legal fees cover the cost of things like the solicitor or mediator’s time advising you, preparing documents and representing you at Court (if required). 

Depending on your individual circumstances, you may have to pay additional Court fees or be entitled to fee exemptions.

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What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence or domestic abuse can include any incident of threatening behaviour or violence and is a criminal offence. Types of domestic violence include:

  • Physical abuse/violence
  • Emotional abuse
  • Financial abuse/control
  • Psychological abuse
  • Sexual abuse.

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What is Controlling or Coercive Behaviour?

Controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships is a criminal offence where the behaviour has a serious effect on the victim. Examples of controlling or coercive behaviour can include acts of domestic violence, but also includes:

  • Isolating a person from their friends or family
  • Depriving them of this basic needs
  • Monitoring their time
  • Monitoring them via online communication tools
  • Taking control over aspects of their everyday life
  • Repeatedly putting them down
  • Enforcing rules and activity which humiliates and degrades

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What is an Occupation Order?

An occupation order is a type of order that the court can make, that regulates who is entitled to live in a property. An occupation order can:

  • Exclude someone from the home altogether,
  • Restrict the right of someone to live in the home
  • Regulate how the home is used – setting out who can use which parts of the home and when
  • Define who is responsible to maintain the home
  • Who should pay rent, mortgage instalments, other outgoings and bills
  • Who should keep the home and contents secure.

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