The advantages of mediation to resolve a family dispute

All conflicts are capable of peaceful resolution,’ said Nelson Mandela, although it may be hard to envisage this when you are in the middle of a family dispute arising from a relationship breakdown.  It is important to remember that family connections can rarely be completely severed, especially if children are involved.

‘Seeking to win at all costs is not usually the best outcome, as most families will need to preserve some channels of communication,’ says Jo Scott, a Solicitor in the family team with Kidd & spoor Solicitors.  ‘Mediation provides an important alternative to dragging a dispute through the courts and it can be particularly effective at reducing conflict and animosity within a family by independently brokering a compromise.’

What is mediation?

Mediation is a voluntary process that you and your former partner attend in order to discuss your problems and see if a solution can be reached.  Mediation can be commenced at any time, however, if you wish to bring your case to court then normally you will be required to attend a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) before making your application.  A MIAM is an information session with a mediator but is not mediation itself.  It is aimed at informing you of your options and helping you make the choice on how best to proceed for you and your family.

The mediator will facilitate discussion between you and your former partner.  As a neutral party, they will allow each of you to air your feelings and views and communicate what is important. Talking with each of you separately, they can help both participants to see the other person’s perspective and encourage you to find common ground. In many cases this helps a couple to agree a solution that is acceptable to both parents and meets the needs of any children.

What types of disputes can mediation help?

Mediation can be helpful in resolving a number of different types of family disputes, which would otherwise need to go to court, such as:

  • disputes about where your children will live;
  • how much time your children will spend with each of you;
  • disagreement over a child’s upbringing, such as choice of school or extra-curricular activities;
  • medical treatment for your children;
  • separation of finances;
  • what time grandparents and extended family can spend with your children; or
  • arrangements for the family home.

What are the advantages?

Mediation offers several advantages over going to court:

  • Understanding your family needs. No one knows your family’s needs better than you. Reaching a mediated solution means you can tailor arrangements that will best fit you and your family’s requirements.  You can consider the details of each of your weekly routines, such as who will take the children to their swimming lessons or football matches at the weekend.  You can also suit your own needs if, for example, one of you has irregular or unpredictable working hours.
  • Avoids a court forcing a solution on your family. If you proceed via court, a judge will order what is to happen, effectively forcing a solution onto you and your family. This always comes with a risk, as you lose control over what the outcome will be.  It may make more sense for you and your partner to mediate and compromise on issues you are comfortable with.
  • More cost-effective. Mediation can result in significant cost savings. To begin with, both you and your former partner will pay the one mediator.  This is in contrast to you both having to pay for your individual independent legal advice via your own solicitors.  In some cases, you each may have a barrister involved as well.  The courts also make a charge for bringing applications before them, and for seeking a hearing.  Depending on the nature of your dispute, you may be able to avoid court altogether if you can reach an agreement in mediation, thereby avoiding court fees, for example by agreeing arrangements for your children.
  • More creative solutions. Quite often mediating couples will have more time and knowledge of their own circumstances to think up solutions that a judge simply would not have the time for. Mediating couples can discuss all eventualities that concern them and come to an understanding as to how they can resolve each issue.  Sometimes, solutions you can agree between yourselves may even be outside that which a court could order. For example, in a financial settlement, you may decide that one party will take on a jointly owned negative equity property on the understanding that when it is sold, the other party forgoes any financial interest they may have in same.
  • Speedier results. While mediation is a process, and how long it takes varies, it tends to be quicker than issuing court proceedings. It can also yield immediate results.  If you agree an issue, such as arrangements for your children at the first mediation session, implementation of this can occur straight away.  If you proceed via court, then you are likely to have to await the court date before obtaining progress.
  • Keeping communication channels open. Mediation is an open process, where both you and your former partner will be encouraged to discuss the issues you are experiencing, and face them head on. The mediator does not act for either of you.  By its very nature, court proceedings can pit you against each other.  You will each obtain independent ‘secret’ advice from your solicitors on what your rights and entitlements are.  In court, there can be a level of mistrust and suspicion between former partners that does not usually arise in mediation.
  • Less conflict and animosity. This tends to result in amicable resolutions with less conflict going forward. There is an openness between mediating couples that you tend not to find during a court process.  For couples with children, this is a major advantage not only now, but also into the future when your paths will cross again in relation to your children’s lives.
  • Partial results. Even if you can only resolve some of your issues, and still have to go to court to resolve the remaining issues, the mediation can have saved you some time and money.

Does mediation work for everyone?

Mediation is not for everyone.  If you have suffered abuse at the hands of your partner then you are unlikely to want to participate in a mediation process with them.

Both people need to want to reach a solution and must be prepared to talk openly and make compromises.  If your former partner is not willing, then mediation is unlikely to succeed.

How we can help

If you are embroiled in a family dispute and would like to explore mediation as a route to resolving the dispute, then please contact Jo Scott or Jennifer Bell in the family law team on 0191 2970011 or email

Is my prenuptial agreement binding?

If you are facing difficulties in your marriage and you have a prenuptial agreement, you may be curious to know just how binding the terms will be, especially if your life is now rather different to the one you envisaged when you planned to get married.

‘One of the main reasons people enter a prenuptial agreement is to protect wealth from outside the marriage, such as a business or an inheritance,’ says Jo Scott, a Solicitor in the family team with Kidd & Spoor Solicitors, ‘It can be helpful to obtain certainty in regard to the financial position should the marriage come to an end.’

‘Sometimes other events can cause you to question whether the agreement is still appropriate.  For example, if you are entering a new business partnership, a divorce could have a significant impact on you and any business partners, and you may wish to guard against this risk.’

It is important that anyone contemplating a divorce or who has concerns about an agreement has a lawyer examine their prenuptial agreement.

Will the family court uphold my prenuptial agreement?

In England and Wales there is no law specifying that a prenuptial agreement is legally binding.  However, after a landmark decision in 2010 the courts decided that they would give weight to prenuptial agreements under certain circumstances when they are determining the outcome of the financial division of assets between spouses during divorce.  This provides some reassurance that, if done correctly, an agreement is likely to be upheld in court.

Is my agreement valid?

One of our specialist family lawyers can examine your prenuptial agreement and discuss with you the circumstances surrounding when the agreement was signed.

There are a number of factors which could be detrimental to the agreement being upheld, namely:

  • If the agreement was entered too close to the wedding day, as it is expected that the agreement should be signed at least three weeks before the big day – any closer and you run the risk that the court will think it was unfair.
  • If either you and/or your former spouse allege that you were put under duress to sign the agreement.
  • If either you or your former spouse did not make a full and frank disclosure of all assets and liabilities in your names, or that you hold jointly with any other person.
  • If the agreement was not in writing and independently witnessed.
  • If you and/or your spouse did not obtain independent legal advice on your entitlements.

What if I am no longer happy with my prenuptial agreement?

People’s lives will change throughout their marriage, and no one can predict at the outset what curve balls you may be thrown.  Sometimes a prenuptial agreement entered many years ago may no longer be an agreement you are content with, or one that allows for changed family circumstances which impact your previous plans.

For example, if one of you:

  • had to give up your career to look after your children;
  • had to give up work to care for a disabled relative;
  • suffered serious ill-health; or
  • has started a new business partnership or venture.

If you find yourself in this boat, it is useful to know that you do have options.

Can I renegotiate our prenuptial agreement?

Renegotiating an existing prenuptial agreement could be sufficient to alleviate any tensions between you and your spouse and allow your marriage to repair.  It can also provide confidence and security going forward after a change in family circumstances.

You can renegotiate the terms of your prenuptial agreement during the course of your marriage.  To do this, you will both be required to engage separate legal representatives and make a full and frank disclosure of your assets.

Can I apply to the court to disregard the prenuptial agreement?

When you divorce, you can apply to the court for them to consider your finances if you cannot agree with your spouse on the terms of the settlement.

The court will first determine if the prenuptial agreement should be binding.  In determining this they will consider the terms of the agreement as well as the circumstances surrounding when it was signed.

If upholding your prenuptial agreement would be unfair due to unforeseen changes in your family life from the time it was entered, then your lawyer can mount a challenge in court regarding the enforceability of the agreement.

If the court is not satisfied that the agreement should be upheld, then it will make the financial orders it deems appropriate considering your family and financial circumstances.

How we can help

If you are contemplating divorce, or simply want to have your prenuptial agreement reviewed, it is best to obtain early legal advice to understand your options.

For further information, please contact Jo Scott or Jennifer Bell in the family law team on 0191 2970011 or email

Reconciliation; can we change our minds about getting a divorce?

You are likely to have spent some weeks, months or perhaps even years contemplating getting a divorce before you decided to apply, and even then, you may still wonder if it is not too late to save your marriage, particularly if you have children together.

‘Issuing or receiving a divorce petition can be the spark that awakens feelings or renewed efforts and could lead to a reconciliation,’ says Jo Scott, a Solicitor in the family law team with Kidd & Spoor Solicitors.

‘It is not uncommon following a divorce petition for a couple to talk more openly to each other, perhaps supported via counselling or mediation.  This can be the start of working together to address the cause of unhappiness and could lead to a route forward together again.’

While the decision to divorce is a big step, there is time to change your mind and there are alternatives – such as a trial reconciliation or a formal separation.

Jo Scott outlines the options at each phase in the divorce process, and the things to consider.

When is the latest opportunity to stop a divorce?

Your marriage will be treated as being formally dissolved when the court issues your final divorce order (previously known as your decree absolute).  At any point up to the making of your final order it can be possible to reverse your decision.  Once your final order has been made your divorce is final.

What are my options during the divorce process

Before the petition has been formally served (usually by posting to your spouse) then you can stop your petition and seek for it to be withdrawn.  Under the no-fault based divorce, if your petition was a joint petition then you must both provide your written consent to the court for the withdrawal.

If your petition has been served but no final order made, then an application can be made to the court to dismiss the petition.

If you are unsure what stage your divorce is at, then it is best to check with your solicitor.

Considering a trial reconciliation

You may have been unhappy in your relationship for some time and wonder if your spouse is now just on their ‘best behaviour’ or if your reconciliation will last.  If you want to test the waters, a trial reconciliation may be a good route to consider before you make any final decision over the dismissal or withdrawal of your divorce petition.

If you have been living separately, you may need some legal assistance in agreeing the financial terms of any trial reconciliation period.  We can assist you reaching agreement over who is responsible for various outlays, and ensure you are receiving the correct level of maintenance during any trial reconciliation.

What about a formal separation?

A formal separation is usually only appropriate where you have decided to live apart.  It involves drawing up a formal agreement to deal with how to separate your finances and assets.  It can also deal with a number of other practical issues such as where each of you and any children will live, and any maintenance payments either of you will pay.  It is usually seen as a first step towards divorce.  However, it does not have the same finality and if you decide to reconcile after a signing a formal separation, you can both consent to end the agreement.

After signing a formal separation, some clients have reported that the mundane pressures of life and running a household together reduce.  This allows time to refocus on what first attracted you to each other.

If you wish to continue to live together then a post-nuptial agreement may be a good alternative option.  This can deal with many of the same issues as what a formal separation does, without agreeing to separate at that time.  It can mean you both give reconciliation a chance without the anxiety of what a divorce would mean financially.

We can assist you in agreeing the terms and drafting any formal separation deed or post-nuptial agreement.

Investing in your relationship

It is easy at the start of any reconciliation to feel your relationship has a new lease of life, and to view your spouse through rose-tinted glasses again.  It is therefore wise to acknowledge that your relationship has been in significant difficulties and if you wish to avoid the same problems in the future you will both have to work on it.

Many couples find mediation beneficial in doing this.  Mediation helps to facilitate discussions between you and your spouse.  It means you are regularly having to take the time away from your busy lives to focus on your feelings and discuss any issues in the relationship.  It can help prevent resentment building.

If there have been complex issues in your relationship in the past, or issues one of you is reluctant to discuss then you may find relationship counselling beneficial.

Supporting your children

If you have children that are already aware of your divorce, then you may feel anxious at the thought of a reconciliation not working out.  Your children will have been dealing with their own emotions in coming to terms with your divorce, and they may be keen for their parents to reconcile.

Undoubtably you will not want to risk the reconciliation not working out and putting your children through further upheaval and uncertainty.  You and your spouse will both need to decide and agree upon what you tell your children and when you tell them.  The message should be consistently conveyed by you both to help minimise any confusion for your children.

If you are already living under separate roofs, then perhaps a continuation of that arrangement in the short term would be best for your children, until you and your spouse are firm on your decision to reconcile and have worked through most of your differences.

We can help you reach agreement over any child care arrangements during any trial reconciliation in order that your children have consistency.

How we can help

For further information, please contact Jo Scott in the family law team on 0191 2970011 or email

Think twice before using social media during a family dispute

It is forecast that, by the end of this year, 90 per cent of the UK adult population will use a social media account at least once a month.  This is a remarkable statistic, but perhaps even more remarkable is that the average user is estimated to spend more than two hours per day on social media.  There is no doubt that we are putting more of our lives online than ever before.  We are more comfortable with posting about our family celebrations, our personal dilemmas and our relationship status.

‘Unfortunately, social media can bring its own set of problems when it comes to a family breakdown,’ says Jo Scott family law expert at Kidd & Spoor Solicitors limited in Whitley Bay ‘Once you may have told only your closest friends about your relationship problems, but grievances are now being shared on social media.  This has resulted in an increase in social media posts being used as evidence in the family courts, where one hot-headed tweet can have significant ramifications.’

Using social media while annoyed

It is not uncommon for tempers to run high at some point during a family breakdown.  Feelings are raw and stress inevitably contributes to people, on occasion, acting in a manner they would not normally condone.  This all too often manifests itself in people taking to social media to vent about their problems.  Often these posts are made in the heat of the moment, typically following receipt of a solicitor’s letter, a recent court appearance, not getting to see your children, or learning of your former partner’s new relationship.  Even if the post is later deleted, it could already have been saved by your former partner or one of their friends.

Using social media while you are upset is never a good idea, it could never be truer than while you are involved in a family dispute.  Postings will inevitably be read by your former partner and could worsen an already difficult separation.

Social media posts as evidence

With the introduction of the no-fault divorce this type of evidence may be of little use in a divorce, but it can still be relevant when it comes to arrangements for the children or family finances.  For example, if your social media posts aim to create a negative impression of your former partner then you may be accused of influencing your children in relation to their relationship with him or her.  Perhaps your former partner is refusing to let you see your children, but venting your frustration on social media could backfire if your posts are misinterpreted as being aggressive or threatening.

In relation to negotiating matrimonial finances, social media can also be troublesome.  For example, if you are a business owner it is likely that you will want to promote your business as being successful to the public.  For marketing purposes business owners may therefore decide to post on social media alluding to how well their business is doing, or highlighting a new contract they have won.  While this highlights positive news for the business, it could lead to questions or mistrust if it is at odds with representations made to the court about the business’s financial viability. Understandably, any financial difficulties your business could be facing are unlikely to be shared on social media.

If you have a disagreement over spousal maintenance, social media posts showing a luxury lifestyle could be used by your former partner to imply that you have significant surplus monies, and that there should be a levelling by way of increased spousal maintenance payments to them.

Reposting quotes

It is common on social media accounts for reposting of quotes or stories to occur.  This can also cause difficulties in a family breakdown.  For example, you may be on a support group and see a post you can identify with your own family circumstances, such as a father that is being prevented from seeing his children.  While this will not directly name your former partner, reposting it could still be damaging to you in court.  This is because a court could interpret that it would be understood by people reading it on your social media account as relating to the behaviour of your former partner.

Things to consider before posting

It is advisable to limit any use of social media while going through a family breakdown and to avoid any posts that directly reference the breakdown or a former partner.  Ask yourself before you post ‘Do I want a judge to read this?’, or ‘Would I be embarrassed if this was read out in court?’  If you are at all hesitant then do not post.

It is important to be aware that even if your social media account is private, it is always possible for others to pass on information that you post.  Photographs taken of private messages and snap chats have also been used as evidence in court.

Finally, remember that most proceedings relating to a family breakdown are confidential.  It is therefore particularly important that the identity of any children involved in these types of proceedings are not made public via social media or otherwise.  Clearly a child has a right to privacy both now and into the future.

Outside of the family law arena, there are also risks associated with negative social media posts about someone.  If the post is defamatory then you could face a separate law suit for damages which could be very costly financially.

For further information, please contact Jo Scott or Jennifer Bell in the family law team on 0191 2970011 or email


Enforcing child contact arrangements

Following the breakdown of a relationship, most parents can reach an agreement amicably regarding the arrangements for children.  Ensuring practical working arrangement requires both parents to behave sensibly and in the best interests of each child.  Unfortunately, as any family lawyer will tell you, that does not always happen.

If a court had to decide your child’s living arrangements, then this will have been determined under a contact or residence order (prior to 2014) or a child arrangement order (post 2014).

‘For the majority of parents, when a court order is made, the terms are followed.  Sadly, that is not always the case,’ says Jo Scott family law expert at Kidd & spoor Solicitors Limited ‘When a court order is breached you have a number of options.  The circumstances surrounding the breach will dictate how you proceed.  Seeking early legal advice is always wise so that you can understand your options and rights.’

If you are abiding by the court order, but the other parent is not

Your first step should be to try and discuss the breach with your former partner.  There may be a valid explanation, such as an emergency or a car breaking down.  It is wise to keep a note of the dates of any breaches and details of the reasons your former partner has given.  Anything that is not permitted in the court order is technically considered a breach, however it is important to take a practical approach.  If your former partner is a few minutes late every so often, while annoying, it is perhaps to be expected that this will occur.  If, however, your former partner regularly does not turn up without warning or excuse, then this could be disappointing and even emotionally damaging to your child.

The courts will not take any enforcement action in relation to minor breaches of the order, and they will expect that both parents will adopt an element of flexibility in order that the welfare interests of their child are met.  If you reach an alternative arrangement with your former partner, then it is wise to have this recorded in writing.  This will help avoid future disputes over what you both intended to happen.

If your former partner is regularly refusing to take your child for the length of time that is stipulated in the court order, then you need to weigh up if this is worth seeking to enforce.  It may be detrimental to your child to be spending time with a parent who has been forced to do so.  In these situations, looking at reducing the level of time may be best.  This way your child will benefit from consistent time with their parent, at a level your former partner can commit to.  This will hopefully improve the quality of the contact as well.

If your attempts to resolve matters directly have failed, then you should contact your solicitor who will be able to advise you. They will seek to reach an amicable resolution with your former partner by writing to them.  If this is also unsuccessful then you may need to consider bringing the matter back to court for enforcement.

Court enforcement

Any breach of a court order is considered a contempt of court.  If your order was made after 8 December 2008 then it will automatically contain a warning setting out the consequences of breaching the order.  If your order was made prior to December 2008, then an initial application to the court to attach a warning to the order will be made.  This amended order will then be sent to your former partner so that they are put on notice of the consequences of their breach.

You can make an application to the court to enforce the terms of the court order.  Enforcement proceedings are normally listed within 20 days of the application.  The court will consider the full circumstances of a case, including the reason for any alleged breaches.  If the court is satisfied that a breach has occurred, then it has a range of powers available.  It must always do what is in the welfare interests of the child.  The court’s powers include:

  • referring both parents to mediation;
  • requiring unpaid work for the breaching parent of between 40 and 200 hours;
  • a fine or compensation to be paid by the breaching parent; or
  • in rare cases, the parent in breach of the order may even be imprisoned.

If you are the parent breaching the court order

It is not uncommon for parents to breach the terms of a court order as they believe they are acting in the best welfare interests of their child.  This may be the case, but it is important to be aware that court orders cannot be changed by one parent.  If both parents agree to a change, then it is important that you have this recorded in writing.  If both parents do not agree to the change, then you must apply back to court to seek a variation of the order.

If you have concerns over your child’s welfare while they are in your former partner’s care, then it is important to raise these concerns as soon as possible.  Ideally you should do so verbally with your former partner and then follow up any conversation with a text or email in order that a record is kept that can be used as proof in court if needed.  If you have immediate welfare concerns for your child, such as your former partner being incapacitated through drink or drug usage, your paramount concern will be to ensure your child’s safety in stopping your child seeing their parent in that state.  In these circumstances you should contact your solicitor immediately in order that urgent action can be taken to ensure you are not deemed to be in contempt of the court order.

Regular breaches of the order, or breaches that are found to be unwarranted, risk a finding of hostility being made.  Ultimately, in cases of implacable hostility, the court has the power to transfer where the child primarily resides.  It is important that you seek legal advice if you have breached or are contemplating breaching a court order as the consequences to you can be significant.

For further information, please contact Jo Scott in the family law team on 0191 2970011 or email

Who pays private school fees after divorce or separation?

According to the Financial Times the average fee for independent schools is now over £15,000 a year for day pupils and £36,000 for boarders. This represents a substantial financial commitment over the education of a child, and often has to be taken into account when negotiating a financial settlement after divorce or separation.

Disputes can arise for many reasons, perhaps parents have different priorities or maybe one parent is finding it harder to cope with paying school fees and all the extra costs.

‘Perhaps one of the largest bones of contention between separated parents when it comes to their children’s schooling is how the school fees will be paid,’ says Jo Scott family law expert at Kidd & Spoor Solicitors Limited ‘Often, even prior to separation, parents have made sacrifices in order to pay for their children’s school fees.  With the division of pooled financial resources, the continued payment of school fees may no longer be met as easily.’

If agreement cannot be reached between you and your former partner, you may be wondering where the law stands on who is responsible to pay these fees.  You will be glad to hear that the court does have powers under the Matrimonial Causes Act to make a parent pay a contribution which can be used to pay school fees.  In deciding if that power should be exercised, the court will look at a number of factors including:

  • Where are the children currently educated?

Are the children already in attendance at a private school, or is it intended they would move to one or start at a new one?  If they already attend the school, they may have significant ties there.  Moving to a new school now may cause unnecessary upheaval when they are already dealing with the upset of their parents separating.

  • What were the parents’ intentions?

Was it always agreed between the parents that their children would attend private school?  Perhaps siblings already attend private school, or one of the parents went to that school.

  • Affordability.

If there are limited resources to pay for school fees, then a court is likely to view them as a luxury rather than a necessity.  The basic housing needs of a child will always come as a priority and a court will not leave a parent in financial difficulty in order to meet school fees.  The court will take into account all financial circumstances between the parents when deciding if a contribution order should be made.  If one parent could easily afford to continue to pay school fees and the other parent has more limited resources, then the court is likely to make a contribution order against the wealthier parent.

Providing a private school education for your children may be important to you, but affordability is one of the main considerations.  You may feel that it gives them the best start for their future career, however a court will not view a private education as a necessity.

Refusal to pay school fees

If a parent can afford to pay for their children’s school fees but decides not to continue paying, then the court is likely to be very critical of their failure to do so.  An order under the Matrimonial Causes Act, forcing that parent to pay additional monies to the other parent who can then use them to cover the school fees, is highly likely.  If the parent still refuses to pay despite a court order, then they could be deemed to be in contempt of court and face a fine or even imprisonment.

If school fees are not paid, then the school may decide to seek remedy under their contract with the parents.  It is likely that both parents may have signed this contract and therefore both will be liable for any non-payment.  If you are concerned that fees have not been paid then the school may run a bursary scheme.  You could make enquiries to see if this could assist.

Ultimately, if fees continue to go unpaid, the school may have grounds to expel your child.

How we can help

We recommend that you obtain early expert legal advice in order that your children face as little disruption to their education as is possible.

For further information, please contact Jo Scott in the family law team on 0191 2970011or email


Can a non-molestation order prevent someone bothering me?

Domestic abuse can impact men and women, of any age or race and is seen across all parts of society.  Unfortunately, statistics from the Office for National Statistics reveal that domestic abuse is on the increase, with cases having risen by six per cent since 2020, and it now represents an astonishing 18 per cent of all reported crime in England and Wales.

These statistics will bring little comfort to those in the midst of an abusive relationship, but a non-molestation order can provide a great comfort to someone who has bravely taken the step to leave.

‘I often see clients that are frightened, perhaps having been cut off from family and friends, and having endured abuse for such a period of time that their own self-worth is diminished,’ says Jo Scott family law expert at Kidd & Spoor Solicitors Limited. ‘Obtaining a non-molestation order can prevent your former partner contacting you again and can give you the breathing space to rebuild your life.’

What is a non-molestation order?

A non-molestation order is a type of injunction.  It is an order from the court that forbids a person you know from threatening or using violence against you.  It bans them from pestering, molesting, or harassing you, or, from encouraging any other person to do so.  It can also order that they must not come within a certain radius of your home or even your place of work.

Who can be stopped?

A non-molestation order can be obtained against a partner, a former partner and other relatives too.  The legislation states you must be associated to the person you are seeking the order against.  The following list provides examples of who would be considered an associated person:

  • your spouse or partner, a former spouse or cohabitee;
  • someone you have been engaged to marry;
  • people living in the same house as you (but excluding tenants, lodgers or employees);
  • the parent of your child;
  • a relative; or
  • a person involved in the same family court proceedings as you.

If you are unsure if you would fall within one of the above categories then please contact us for advice, as alternative options may be available.

What are the grounds for a non-molestation order?

When deciding whether to grant a non-molestation order, the court will consider all relevant circumstances including the need to protect you and any children.  What constitutes molestation is not defined in the legislation, but it has been found in practice to cover a wide range of abusive behaviours.  For example, this could be sexual abuse, financial abuse, pestering, verbal abuse or coercive behaviour.

Often abusive behaviour can be ongoing for so long that it can almost seem normalised.  One of our expert family lawyers will take the time to discuss with you the nature of your relationship and look at all aspects of how you have been treated.

How can I obtain a non-molestation order?

It is necessary to provide a statement to the court outlining the abuse you have suffered and why you require the protection of an order.  We will draft this statement for you after taking your detailed instructions.  We will also prepare the necessary supporting court forms.

Most non-molestation orders are obtained ex-parte, which means without notifying the other person first.  Normally this would be seen as an unfair hearing, as one person is having a court order made against them without being able to have their say.  However, it is permitted in these cases due to the higher level of protection it gives to you.

In most domestic violence situations, we would recommend that you apply ex-parte as it means you have the protection of the order without fear of your former partner contacting you to dissuade you from applying, or worse, threatening you.  If an ex-parte order is made, then the order will be served on your former partner and a new court date will be set to allow them to attend and have their say.  They may agree to the order or decide to contest it.

If a non-molestation order is contested, then a hearing will be needed.  The judge will hear evidence from you both before making a decision.  We will represent your interests at the hearing and cross examine your former partner regarding their abusive behaviour.  If an order is granted it can be for a set period, or until a further order.  Most orders are made for a 12-month period. This can be extended or varied if circumstances should change.

What happens if a non-molestation order is breached?

Sadly, not all non-molestation orders are respected by the person they are made against as there is a section of society that has no respect for the law and may ignore the order.

It is therefore always important, first and foremost to take practical steps to protect your safety.  You may want to look at installing cameras around your house or a panic button.  You should consider changing the locks to your house if your former partner previously had keys.  You may even want to let a few neighbours know to be on the lookout for your former partner.

If a non-molestation order is breached, then you should contact the police immediately.  They will arrest your former partner if they have breached the order, as this constitutes a criminal offence.  The current punishment is up to five years of imprisonment.  You should also let your lawyer know, as it may also be possible to consider an alternative route of seeking their committal via a civil process if the police do not prosecute.

For further information, please contact Jo Scott in the family law team on 0191 2970011 or email

Is a prenup part of your business risk management strategy?

Managing risk is an essential part of any business operation and while personal relationships do not often appear high on a business risk register, an acrimonious divorce has the power to devastate a small business.

‘While few anticipate or want to believe their own marriage will break down, sadly recent statistics show that over a third of all marriages end in divorce,’ says Jo Scott family law expert at Kidd & Spoor Solicitors Limited. ‘It is not uncommon for directors of a family business to insist that members of the next generation enter into a prenup before they get married, in order to protect the business assets from the effects of a divorce.’

It is sensible for all entrepreneurs to consider a prenuptial agreement if they are thinking of getting married or entering a civil partnership just in case the relationship does not last.  This provides important protection for any assets which have been built up prior to the marriage, and any contributions to the business that are made at the time of marriage.

What impact can divorce have on my business?

It will be necessary to agree a financial settlement as part of a divorce, with the wealthier spouse often having to provide for the other person.  This may involve paying a significant lump sum, for example to purchase a property, or ongoing financial maintenance.  Either situation can put a strain on a business if this is the sole source of income or if capital is tied up in assets rather than cash.

Alongside the financial concerns, a divorce can have an impact on fellow partners or shareholders, family members and employees who rely on the business.  Sometimes a couple may work together, or one may be an employee of the other; each scenario bringing its own complications. Divorce can be a stressful experience for anyone, but when it is tied to your livelihood there is no doubt that the stress is magnified.

How is a business considered within the financial settlement?

A business is an asset which, like any other, will be taken into account during the calculation of the financial settlement.  Your business will need to be valued, usually by an independent accountant.  This will involve disclosing your business accounts and assets both to the independent valuer and to your former spouse.

Once a valuation has been placed on your business then it will be considered as part of the overall matrimonial pot, which needs to be fairly shared.

Fortunately, the courts recognise the importance of enabling a business to keep trading, and they tend to be keen to allow businesses to continue as a going concern.  This then means that you may need to trade off an interest in another asset, such as a pension or the matrimonial home, in order to keep your business intact.

How can a prenup protect business owners?

A prenuptial agreement allows you to set out in advance how your business assets should be treated in the event of a divorce.  It may be that you wish for the entire asset to be outside of the matrimonial pot, or that you specify a certain interest or capital which would be due to your spouse should you divorce in the future.  We can advise you on what is a realistic division of your business depending on your circumstances and what other assets are held.

If your new spouse will also be joining the family business as an employee, then the prenup can specify how they would be compensated for their work.  If they receive a market wage, then it is unlikely they could claim any higher interest in your business on this basis.  If on the other hand your spouse is an integral part of the business and shares in profits, then reasonable provision will need to be made for them financially to allow them to readjust to their new lifestyle outside of the business.

A prenup can also cover how a business would be valued in a divorce; what if any percentage interest your spouse would receive on divorce; and how that should be calculated.  For example, you may want this to cover only growth during the period of the marriage and not prior to marriage or after separation.

What type of business assets can be covered?

A prenup can cover a range of business assets, such as cash in the bank, property, land, machinery, equipment, vehicles, intellectual property, stock, artwork and furniture.

You can choose to be specific about these assets or if the business has a separate legal entity, such as a company or LLP, then you may choose simply to refer to the business assets generally.

Any income stream that you receive from your business will need to be given careful consideration when considering your prenup.  If your income will be used to fund the family lifestyle, then reasonable provision will need to be made for your spouse in the event of a divorce.  Failure to do so could risk the agreement being found invalid.

How can I obtain a binding prenup?

In England and Wales, a prenup is not yet legally binding, but since 2010 our courts have shown that they are highly likely to enforce the terms of a prenup provided certain conditions are met.  These conditions are to ensure fairness and include:

  • you and your spouse must obtain independent legal advice on your rights and the implications of the proposed prenuptial agreement;
  • you both must make a full disclosure of all assets and liabilities held;
  • the prenup should allow for future family changes, such as what will happen if/when children arrive; and
  • neither of you must have been unduly pressurised into signing.

Bearing in mind the above, it is also important to factor in the timing of any agreement.  It should be a well thought out agreement that both spouses have had adequate time to consider.  An agreement in the run up to a wedding day, with all the emotion at that time, is more likely to fail in court as one or other spouse was under undue pressure.  Seeking early expert advice is the smart option to minimise your business risk.

For further information, please contact Jo Scott in the family law team on 0191 2970011 or email

Could my marriage be invalid?

Sadly, there are people who have believed they were legally married, only to find out years later their marriage was invalid.  This normally only comes to light when a relationship ends, or when one party to the relationship dies as it can have an impact on financial entitlements.

Jo Scott family law expert at Kidd & Spoor Solicitors Limited says ‘This can be a terrible shock when, as well as grieving the death of your partner, you encounter financial difficulties and find yourself embroiled in a legal argument over the validity of your marriage.’

What makes a marriage valid in England and Wales?

To be legally valid, a marriage (other than marriage according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England and the Church in Wales, and Jewish and Quaker marriage) must generally take place in a registered building.  Those who wish to celebrate their marriage in a venue that has not been registered for marriage must go through an additional civil ceremony to be legally married.

There are different rules for the venue of where your marriage can legally take place depending on if it is a civil or religious service, as well as the type of religion.  Civil marriages must be in a registry office or an approved venue (as listed on the government website).

The UK law makes special provision for an Anglican wedding, which can take place in a church or other building where the wedding banns can be published.  Jewish and Quaker weddings are also specifically mentioned, but there are no formal restrictions on the venue of these weddings.  Any other form of religious service must take place in a venue that is both certified for worship and registered for marriage.  There are exceptions to these rules under certain circumstances, such as if one party to the marriage is housebound or terminally ill.

It is of note that Muslim weddings have been found to be not valid, unless they comply with the civil requirements.  This normally means that a civil wedding complying with formalities must occur as well as a religious service.

Both civil and religious marriages must be registered after the marriage service to be valid.

Marriages which take place overseas will be recognised in the UK in specified circumstances.

When is a marriage invalid?

In law, a marriage may be invalid if it is a void or voidable marriage.  The difference being that a void marriage can never be valid, but a voidable marriage can be.

When is a marriage void?

A void marriage is one where the parties do not have legal capacity to marry each other.  This can be because:

  • one or both of the couple is under 16;
  • they are close relatives of each other such as brother and sister; or
  • they are already married or in a civil partnership.

When is a marriage voidable?

There are a number of situations in which a marriage can be ‘voidable’, including:

  • if the marriage has not been consummated, although a spouse cannot apply for the marriage to be void if they refuse to consummate the marriage;
  • if one person did not consent to the marriage, which could be because of unsound mind, duress, mistake or otherwise;
  • when at the time of the marriage the respondent was pregnant by someone else; or
  • after the marriage, an interim gender recognition certificate has been issued to one person.

The marriage can also be voidable if the marriage ceremony is not valid.  This can be for several practical reasons, such as insufficient notice of the marriage being given, no certificate for marriage being issued, or the marriage occurring in a building not registered for marriages.

What types of marriage have been found to be invalid?

The circumstances behind invalid marriages vary significantly.  From people who are committing bigamy (either knowingly, or believing their divorce was finalised), to those who have been married abroad in a fake ceremony or without adhering to necessary formalities.

Famously, Mike Jagger successfully claimed his marriage to Jerry Hall was invalid as it occurred on a beach in Bali, and under Balinese law the marriage had to be a Muslim marriage to be valid.  Their marriage was declared null and void.

If you intend to marry abroad or are otherwise unsure as to the validity of your intended marriage, contact one of our specialist family lawyers who can advise you on how to ensure the marriage will be legally recognised in the UK.

Can an invalid marriage be declared valid?

If your marriage falls into one of the ‘voidable’ grounds above then fear not, as it is possible to apply to court for a declaration of validity confirming that your marriage is valid.

To make an application for validity at least one party to the marriage must have been domiciled in England on the day of the marriage, or for one year before making the application.  One of our specialist lawyers will guide you through the court process and ensure your application is dealt with as quickly as possible.

Can I get confirmation my marriage is invalid?

Rather than seeking to confirm the marriage is valid, you also have the option of seeking confirmation that the marriage is invalid by way of a petition for nullity.  You usually need to do this within three years of the date of marriage.  If you are outside of this time, then speak to one of our solicitors who can advise you on seeking permission to issue a petition late.

A petition for nullity is dealt with in much the same way as a divorce petition.  You must state the ground you rely on to make the marriage annulled.  If a petition for nullity is granted, then you will be entitled to seek the same financial relief on as you would have done had the marriage been valid.

What happens if the marriage is not valid and I do not get a decree of nullity?

In these situations, you will be treated as a cohabitant under the law of England and Wales.  It is noted that some other religions may deem your marriage to be valid, and you maybe entitled to relief under their courts (such as a Muslim and a Sharia Court).

As cohabitants, you will have no automatic rights to maintenance or an equal division of assets if you separate.  You may have to bring a claim in a civil court to seek rights over the house you both live in.

Being treated as a cohabitant significantly reduces the rights and financial remedies available to you.  It is therefore important that you seek legal advice on your ability to obtain a decree of nullity as it will drastically improve your financial position.

If your former partner is now deceased, rather than making a claim as a cohabitant, you may have to formulate a claim under the Inheritance Provision for Family and Dependants Act 1975.  This is a claim where you state you have a right over the estate of your late partner despite not having been married or otherwise provided for in a will (if any was made by them).  These types of claims are dealt with in the High Court and can be both timely and costly.  It is best to seek advice in this situation as this is an area in particular that benefits from early intervention and mediation.

For further information, please contact Jo Scott in the family law team on 0191 2970011 or email


What to expect at a financial dispute resolution (FDR) hearing

If you are applying for a financial order as part of your divorce then the court will list your case in for a financial dispute resolution hearing, often called an FDR hearing.  This is a private court hearing and is aimed at trying to assist parties in settling any dispute over finances.

‘The judge does not make a final decision, but instead tries to encourage the couple to reach an agreement.  It provides an opportunity for everyone to gather in court to discuss all the financial issues and to seek the guidance from an experienced judge on the legal position.  Most disputes can be resolved at this stage, without the need for a final hearing,’ says Jo Scott family law expert at Kidd & Spoor Solicitors Limited.

How to prepare for a financial dispute resolution hearing

Prior to the hearing you will have provided proof of all your financial assets and liabilities, as well as having completed Form E which outlines the relevant considerations for the court, such as your future financial needs and the needs of any children.  You will also see your former spouse’s financial information and their Form E.

It is important to provide full disclosure of your assets, and you should be satisfied that you have seen a full disclosure of your former spouse’s finances.  Any queries over missing information should be dealt with in advance of the hearing and can be raised by your lawyer in a questionnaire to your former spouse.

Having discussed the financial information with your lawyer, you may have put forward or received a proposal to settle.  If offers have been rejected, then the judge will need to be made aware of the details.  The judge is then able to tailor their advice and guidance to each party appropriately.

The financial dispute resolution hearing, by its very nature, will only be successful if both people are willing to settle.  In advance of the hearing, you should consider where you feel you could be more flexible.  If you are intent on buying out your former spouse’s interest in an asset, for example the family home, then you may also need to come prepared with what finances you can raise to do so.  Being open minded and prepared to consider creative solutions will be of benefit.

It can be a long day at the court hearing, so it is best to make sure you have booked the day off work and that you have made appropriate childcare arrangements.  On a practical front, bringing water and snacks to court can also be a good idea.

What happens at the hearing?

On the morning of your hearing, you will usually meet with your solicitor and barrister.  They will take your updated instructions and discuss potential outcomes.

You will not be expected to give any evidence, as your barrister will put your case to the judge.  Your former spouse’s case will also be put to the judge.

The judge will raise any questions or queries they have with the barristers.  In some situations, it will be clear to a judge from what is said, and from the previous offers made, that one party is behaving unreasonably.  The judge can highlight their views on this in the hope of encouraging a more rational approach.

The judge will then outline what they would do with the case if they were making a decision about it on that day.  This is an indication from the judge, not a final decision.

The judge normally allows the parties some time to engage in further discussions outside of the courtroom.  Quite often, hearing an objective independent judge’s opinion is enough for people to be able to reach an agreement.

The discussions will be undertaken by the two barristers involved.  You will not be expected to discuss the matter directly with your former partner.  The judge will normally be available should any further issues arise out of the negotiations.

If a resolution is reached, then the lawyers can draft an agreement for each party to sign which can be placed before the judge for approval and made into a final order.

What if we cannot reach agreement at the hearing?

If no agreement can be reached at this stage, then your case will be listed for a final hearing in front of a different judge.  The discussions that occurred at the financial dispute resolution hearing will not be disclosed to the new judge.

You will be expected to give evidence at the final hearing, and this time the judge will make a final decision on what is to happen.

It is sensible to continue to try and reach a settlement before the final hearing.  If a settlement can be achieved it will save you considerably in relation to costs.  It can also save time, as there is normally several months between a financial dispute resolution hearing and a final hearing date.

For further information, please contact Jo Scott in the family law team on 0191 2970011 or email