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Help with Family problems

Family law is a vast subject, too much to explain here. However, here are a few frequently asked questions.

How do I go about getting a divorce?


This information applies to England.


To get a divorce in England and Wales you need to have been married for one year or two years in Northern Ireland and your marriage must be recognised as valid by United Kingdom law. You or your partner must be living in England or Wales when you apply for the divorce or one of you must have been living in England or Wales during the year before the application is made.


If your partner does not object to the divorce you can apply for an undefended divorce. If there are no children and no complicated property matters then you may be able to complete the divorce procedure without the help of a solicitor.


If your partner does not agree to the divorce, it is called a defended divorce and you will need the help of a solicitor.


A divorce will be granted by the county court if you can show the marriage no longer exists. Legally, this is known as the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The court will look at the evidence to prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down. The court will accept any of the following as proof; adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation with consent or five years separation.

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My partner has been violent to myself and my children and we need to get away. What can we do?

This information applies to England.


If you and your partner are living together but you are sure you now want to separate, it is probably best for you and the children to leave home at least for a while.


You could stay with friends or relatives but this may not be a satisfactory long term solution. If you are afraid that your partner may find you, you could contact Women's Aid who can offer support and advice and can find you a place to stay in a safe refuge. A national 24 hour helpline provides access to advice and support to anyone experiencing domestic violence. The freephone helpline number is 0808 200 0247. This helpline is provided jointly by Women's Aid and Refuge.


It may be possible to approach your local authority for help with re-housing. If it is not possible for your local authority to re-house you, you could consider finding privately rented accommodation.


If you are on a low income you may be eligible to apply for a crisis loan, and, if you are renting, you may be eligible for housing benefit.


In the longer term there may be ways that you can go back to your home and get your partner to stay away, by seeking legal advice. You will probably need the help of a solicitor.

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My partner and I never got married. We've now separated and our children are staying with her. What rights do I have to see them?

This information applies to England.


The law generally encourages fathers to keep in contact with their children, whether or not the children’s father and mother are married.


Now that you have separated from your partner, it is best if the two of you can come to a friendly arrangement about the care of your children instead of seeking legal help immediately. This arrangement should include who your children will normally live with and how they will stay in touch with the other parent.


You may find it helpful in the long run to write down what is agreed. Bear in mind that this type of agreement isn't legally binding and doesn't give you parental responsibility for your children.


If you and your partner find it difficult to agree between yourselves, you can ask for help from the local Family Mediation Service. Mediators are people who are trained to listen to both sides, and to help you and your partner agree on what will be best for yourselves and the children. To use this service, you both have to be willing to go along voluntarily. Any decisions you make there will not be legally binding.


If you want to get parental responsibility for your children and don't already have it, you can sign a voluntary agreement, called a parental responsibility agreement, with your children's mother.

You will already have parental responsibility if you registered the birth of your child with your partner after 1 December 2003.


You don't have to go to court to make a parental responsibility agreement, although it will be legally binding and you should seek legal advice before making one. To make a parental responsibility agreement, you must use a special form, have it registered at the Principal Registry of the Family Division and witnessed by a court official.


If you and your children's mother can't reach agreement by yourselves and do not both want to use the Mediation Service, you can seek settlement through the courts. You'll need legal advice to do this. You may be looking for two things. The first is a contact order, which will set out arrangements for your children to visit or stay with you. As the children’s father, you have a right to apply for such an order. You will usually be granted this, except in exceptional circumstances.


The second order you can ask for is a parental responsibility order, if you don't already have parental responsibility. Being granted a parental responsibility order means you share with your partner in the responsibility for your children's health, education and welfare. It also gives you the right to keep up direct and regular contact with the child. It can be a good idea to apply to the court for both a contact order and a parental responsibility order at the same time.

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My girlfriend and I have been together for several years. She's got two children. We've been talking about becoming civil partners. What would be my legal position regarding the children?


This information applies to England.


If you enter into a civil partnership, you will become the step-parent of your partner's child. This will not give you automatic parental responsibility of the child, but you can apply for it, if your girlfriend agrees. This means you'd share with your partner in the responsibility for your children's health, education and welfare. If the children's father also has parental responsibility, he'll have to agree to you having parental responsibility. In some cases, you could go apply to court for parental responsibility. The court would then decide whether giving you parental responsibility would be in the interest of the children.


If you do get a parental responsibility order, it means you'll have a duty to provide financially for the children. It would also give you the right to keep up direct and regular contact with the child if you and your girlfriend separate.


You can also get parental responsibility by adopting your partner's child. The child must have been living with you and your partner for at least six months.

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Can I change my name back to my maiden name, or to any other name?


This information applies to England.


Anyone over the age of 16 can change their name at any time. You can change either your forename, your surname or both. You can add new names or drop a name you do not want. You can use your new name for all purposes including getting married or applying for a passport. You cannot change your name for purposes of fraud.


You do not have to fill in any forms or get permission. You just start using your changed name instead of your old one. However, you may find that some organisations want to see written evidence of your name change. This could be a letter from a doctor, priest or solicitor, or an announcement in the press. You may prefer to make a statutory declaration or change your name by deed poll.

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