Family Law: A Complete Guide
Family law broadly covers three legal areas: matrimonial (relating to marriage), finance, and child law.
While everyone dreams of having a happy family, sometimes life throws you a curve ball and you may need to get help from a family law solicitor. Finding your way in this landscape can be difficult, especially if you've never experienced the family court process before and the right family lawyer can help you get through and fix the problem quickly.
In this guide, we aim to provide in-depth insight into family law, the family court process, the role of a family solicitor, including how you can work with one to fix your family dispute or disagreement efficiently.
What does a family lawyer do?
Family law solicitors act on matters relating to family relationships, particularly when disagreements arise. While some family solicitors specialise in certain areas, others may practise across the whole family law spectrum and serve a wide range of clients.
The work a family lawyer does depends on the case and the client they are acting for. For example, a child law lawyer may represent their client in child access proceedings acting on behalf of parents or children, while other family lawyers may monitor mediation meetings in relation to child maintenance agreements or oversee family properties.
In short, when family matters become complex or require legal intervention, a family law solicitor is the professional you turn to for guidance and representation
In this guide, we’ll answer the following questions:
Do I need a specialist family law solicitor?
In answering this question, you should consider the issue's complexity, who is involved, and how tense things are in the relationship. Family law matters can be difficult for everyone involved, especially children, and solicitors can offer not only legal advice but also mediate discussions, represent you in court, and provide emotional understanding at an extremely stressful time. It is their job to guide you through the process and help you understand your next steps.
When facing complex family situations with legal implications, turning to a family law solicitor can provide essential knowledge, support, and guidance. These professionals are valuable particularly for complex and sensitive cases such as child custody, prenuptial agreements or taking out an injunction against a family member, helping you make informed choices every step of the way.
What kind of problems can a family solicitor help with?
Qualified and experienced family law specialists can help with a wide range of legal matters that revolve around family relationships including (but not limited to):
What kind of qualities should a family law solicitor have?
Choosing the right family law solicitor for you will make reaching a solution much easier. Trustworthy solicitors stand out due to their extensive experience, demonstrated success, and client-focused approach.
Qualities to look out for include:
To find a solicitor with these qualities, consider getting recommendations from trusted sources such as friends, family, or legal networks. You can also search for them online and check out their client testimonials and reviews, which will give you an insight into the solicitor’s approach, case outcomes and past client experiences with them. It is also a good idea to check a solicitor's record to verify their credentials and check they are on the SRA register.
Online platforms like ours also make it easy and fast to connect with family law solicitors who have these important qualities. At Lawhive, we quickly review your case and pair you with an expert family lawyer in under 5 minutes, along with a transparent fixed-fee quote. What's more, you can start working with them online right away, without needing to travel to an office, and all the necessary paperwork can be handled electronically.
What usually happens in family law cases?
Understanding the family court process is essential for informed decision-making. This section provides a step-by-step guide to help you navigate through the various stages of your family law matter, however this may vary depending on the nature of the case, who is involved and how complex it is. This is particularly true in family court processes. For example, child cases are handled separately from divorce cases to encourage parents to reach amicable child arrangements outside of court.
The best way to understand the next steps of your family law case is to speak to a qualified family law solicitor, who will be able to advise you.
Case Evaluation: Begin by consulting a family law solicitor to discuss the specifics of your case. They will assess the situation, provide legal insights, and advise on potential strategies.
Legal Strategy: Working closely with your solicitor to develop a legal strategy that aligns with your goals. This could involve negotiation, family mediation, or court representation.
Preparation of Documents: Your solicitor will guide you through preparing the necessary legal documents, ensuring they are accurate and in compliance with legal requirements.
Filing and Serving Documents: Once the documents are ready, your solicitor will file them with the family court and serve them to the opposing party.
Negotiation and Mediation: In many cases, negotiation or mediation is pursued to reach agreements outside of court. Your solicitor will advocate for your interests during these discussions.
Court Proceedings: If negotiation or mediation doesn't yield agreements, court proceedings may be necessary. Your solicitor will represent you in court, presenting your case to the judge.
Case Resolution: Upon reaching agreements or receiving a court decision, your solicitor will ensure the necessary legal steps are taken to finalise the resolution.
Post-Resolution Matters: Even after a case is resolved, certain things like child arrangement orders or support payments might require ongoing attention. Your solicitor can provide guidance on post-resolution matters.
How much does a family law solicitor cost?
The cost of a family law solicitor and family law proceedings can vary widely depending on factors such as the complexity of your case, the solicitor's experience, the region you're in, and the specific services required. Some solicitors offer fixed-fee packages for certain services, while others might charge hourly rates.
It's important to discuss solicitor fees and payment structures with potential solicitors to get a clear understanding of the expected costs for your particular situation.
Here is a breakdown of how family solicitors might charge for their cases:
Hourly Rate: Solicitors charge based on the number of hours they work on your case. Rates can vary depending on the solicitor's experience and location. More complex cases might require more time and result in higher costs.
Fixed-Fee Packages: For specific services like drafting prenuptial agreements or uncontested divorces, solicitors might offer fixed-fee packages. This is an up-front cost for the entire service, which doesn’t change. This is the kind of pricing we offer at Lawhive because we believe the law should be accessible, affordable and reliable for everyone.
Retainer Fees: You pay an upfront fee (retainer) that the solicitor uses to cover ongoing work. As they work on your case, the retainer is spent, and you may need to top it up as you go, depending on how the case progresses.
Conditional Fee Arrangements (No Win, No Fee): In some cases, solicitors might agree to take on your case without charging upfront fees. They only receive payment if the case is successful, usually through a percentage of the awarded amount.
Mixed Billing: Some solicitors use a combination of billing methods. For instance, an hourly rate might apply for certain tasks, while other services are covered by fixed fees.
Other costs in a family law case can include expenses for expert witnesses, additional legal work, court fees, document production, and travel. To manage these, maintain clear communication with your solicitor and be prepared with a financial buffer.
Costs and Timescales for Common Family Law Issues
Below you will find a table of different family law issues, their approximate costs and how long they take. Please note that these are approximate costs and timescales, and they can vary significantly based on your specific circumstances. It's recommended to consult with solicitors to get accurate quotes tailored to your case.
Family Law Issue
Child Custody Arrangements
Child Support Agreement
Property and Asset Division
Domestic Violence Protection Order
Grandparent Visitation Rights
Working with a Family Law Solicitor
Working effectively with a family law solicitor is essential for achieving positive outcomes in your case. It’s important to keep open and honest communication with them and share all relevant information quickly to make sure they have a complete understanding of your case.
You should also never be scared to ask questions if you're unsure about any aspect of your family case. A reliable solicitor will take the time to explain legal terms and processes, and readily answer your questions as and when they arise.
You can also expect your solicitor to be responsive and open with you throughout family law proceedings. Setting expectations for communication is a good starting point with this, such as establishing preferred methods of contact (i.e. email, telephone, face to face) and how you will send documentation to each other.
Many people find it efficient to work with their family law solicitor online because of the many benefits it brings. However you choose to do it, be sure to lay out how it will work clearly between you. For example, if you have a disability or complex communication needs, it would be helpful for your solicitor to know this early on so they can make adjustments. Similarly, you should make sure you know who to contact if you can’t get hold of your solicitor in an emergency.
Last but not least, while any good family law solicitor will strive to resolve your family matter quickly and in your best interests, it’s good to be realistic about outcomes and be prepared to adapt if circumstances change.
Will I have to go to family court?
Whether or not you have to go to court depends on the specifics of your family law case. In the UK, there are alternatives to taking family matters to court, known as Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) methods. Many practising family law solicitors are trained in some of these methods, and they are sometimes more preferable because they can help family members reach a solution quicker than going to court.
Family Law ADRs
Whether or not you have to go to court depends on your family law case, however the family court does prefer for disputes to be settled outside of court where possible. This is why, unless you have a valid exemption, before you apply for a court order, such as a child arrangement order, you have to attend a MIAM (Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting) where you will discuss your case with a mediator and decide if mediaton or other ADRs are right for your case.
Below is a list of different types of ADRs you might encounter in your family law journey:
Family Mediation: Mediation involves a neutral third party who helps both parties communicate and negotiate to reach agreements. It can be especially effective for child custody, visitation, and financial matters, however not in cases where domestic abuse has happened. In the UK, the Family Mediation Council (FMC) is a not for profit organisation that maintains a professional register of family mediators you can work with.
Family Arbitration: Family arbitration involves an arbitrator who makes a binding decision after hearing both sides. It can be used to resolve financial disputes and disputes concerning children. While less formal than court, the decision is legally enforceable, and family arbitration can take place in parallel with an on-going family mediation.
Parenting Coordination: For ongoing child-related disputes, a parenting coordinator helps parents create and follow parenting plans, reducing the need for court intervention.
Collaborative Law: Collaborative law processes involve specially trained lawyers working together with you to reach an agreement without going to court.
Mediation is voluntary, and no one can be compelled by anyone to take part, not even the courts. However, ADR methods often promote more amicable resolutions, maintain privacy, and save time and money.
That being said, certain cases, like those involving domestic violence or complex financial issues, making an application to the court might be the only course of action. In these cases, the family court process involves filing the correct application followed by different hearings, such as a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment, Dispute Resolution Appointments, and Fact Finding Hearings before a final decision is made.
During this process, different agencies or experts may be involved such as CAFCASS, or social services depending on the case.
What are my next steps?
Navigating family law matters requires careful consideration and the right support. From understanding the role of family law solicitors to identifying their key qualities, exploring alternative options to court, and collaborating effectively, this guide equips you with insights to make informed decisions that work for you and those who depend on you.
While there are various ways to resolve family issues beyond the courtroom, seeking the guidance of a family law solicitor can provide the clarity and expertise you need to help you move forwards.
If you're ready to take the next step, Lawhive is here to help. Tell us about your case and we will connect you with a qualified family law solicitor in under 5 minutes who can offer fast, affordable, and accessible legal assistance tailored to your unique needs.