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    US Supreme Court overturning of Roe v Wade – what does this mean?

    A week has passed since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade to remove the constitutional right to legal abortion. Here Stowe Family Lawyer Megan Brookfield reflects on the unparalleled decision, and what it means. 
    Last week, the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark case of Roe v Wade 1973, which provided women with a constitutional right to an abortion. The opinion, drafted by Justice Samuel Alito stated that the judgement in the case was ‘egregiously wrong”.
    Roe v Wade
    The Court in the landmark 1973 case ultimately determined that it was a woman’s right to privacy to seek an abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy. After the first trimester, the ruling allowed states to regulate abortions, except when necessary to protect the life or health of the mother. Thereafter, the later case of Planned Parenthood v Casey 1992 reaffirmed the landmark case and a woman’s right to abortion, however it broadened the power given to state to regulate and restrict abortions. Several states already had restrictive legislation in place following this case.
    The new ruling on Friday 24th June came from the case of Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organisation. The Lord Justices who ruled on this case provided that abortion is no longer a constitutional right and instead, each individual state shall determine whether they will allow abortion to be legalised. It is expected that over half of the states in the USA will likely restrict abortion access.
    It is understood that a number of these states have already passed trigger laws which automatically ban abortion and such laws came into effect the moment Roe v Wade was overturned. Whilst some may carry an exception to the prohibition where there is a risk to the life of the mother, some states who impose the ban will not allow exemptions for cases involving rape or incest.
    It is extremely important to remember that abortion is not purely for women who do not want to be pregnant. Abortion procedures also form a major part of healthcare for women who wanted to carry their pregnancy to full-term, but now face life threatening issues such as ectopic pregnancies, miscarriage, stillbirth, or medical conditions that are not compatible with life. Irrespective of the circumstances, it’s indisputable that without safe and controlled management of abortion, women risk significant and long-term medical complications, trauma, and potential death.
    What the decision means
    Whilst pro-life campaigners celebrate the decision, the overturning of this landmark case is indeed going to have a number of widespread consequences. It is important to remember that whilst the US may prohibit abortions, it does not mean they are not going to continue to happen.
    Instead, to seek a legal abortion some women will travel thousands of miles to states which do continue to allow it. It’s also likely there will be a rise in home abortions and a reduction in the number of medical professionals who are willing to perform this procedure which now carries the risk of prosecution. In particular, for women who may experience financial difficulty and are unable to travel to a state which allows for abortion to take place, we are likely to see a rise in DIY abortions which carries significant risks.
    Understandably, thousands of people have gathered to protest outside the US Supreme Court, outraged by the decision. The true extent of the impact the removal of the right to abortion is likely to have on America and the rest of the world is yet unknown. There are however a number of assumptions which can be made about the outcomes for pregnant women and their families:

    The health of women will undoubtedly suffer
    Lack of access to abortion will compound and cause financial difficulty
    Mental health issues are almost certainly going to rise
    There will also be an increase in children being placed into the care system.

    What’s next?
    Whilst the recent case solely deals with the issue of abortion, Justice Clarence Thomas states within his opinion that a number of other landmark cases should be revisited. These cases are Griswold v Connecticut 1965, a case in which the Court ruled that married couples should be protected to buy and use contraceptives without government restrictions, Lawrence v Texas 2003, which legalised same sex relationships and sexual activity in every state across USA, and Obergefell v Hodges 2015, which legalised same sex marriage.
    This is indeed a very concerning time for America and the rest of the world. For women in America, a law which was in place protecting their right to abortion for half a century has now been overturned, removing a significant layer of autonomy. This highly sensitive and multifaceted issue, is now the topic of an intensely controversial social and political debate. A reversal of legislation to this extent is almost unprecedented and as such has the potential to affect the rights of more women globally. More

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    No-fault divorce has arrived

    As we welcome the arrival of no-fault divorce in England and Wales, Stowe Senior Partner Julian Hawkhead reflects on what this family law reform means for divorcing couples and how it impacts the role of family lawyers.
    “It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine” sang the US band R.E.M back in the late ‘80s, capturing a sentiment felt by many family lawyers this week as no-fault divorce is introduced.
    The advent of no-fault divorce is the biggest change to impact marital or civil partnership breakdown in decades. The Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, after years of campaigning by various stakeholders in and around the world of family law, brings about the removal of blame or the requirement to live separately for at least two years as reasons for divorce.
    The new changes take effect from 6th April 2022 and it is hoped will bring about a paradigm shift in the way separating couples approach the process of divorce.
    Does taking the blame out of divorce mean the end of family lawyers?
    Not at all. For many years family lawyers have recognised that the reasons given for a couple separating have had little, if any, material impact on the future plans and arrangements that need to be made following on from their divorce. That one spouse or civil partner behaved in such a way that the other party could no longer be reasonably expected to live with them would not itself be a factor in separating financial resources or making arrangements for the children. A barrister I worked with for many years would often tell me that the family court is not a court of morals.
    Turning the focus to the future
    As a family lawyer for over 20 years, I have seen many clients who have focused so much on their past that it created a distraction and shifted focus away from resolving the important issues that needed to be addressed. When anchored to the past, separating couples can often find themselves unable to move forwards, either emotionally or practically, and yet the court’s have expressed a lack of interest either through irrelevancy or simply a lack of time to do so.
    Mr Justice Coleridge in a judgement published back in 2002, sought to discourage parties from undertaking a general “rummage through the attic of their marriage to discover relics from the past” in order to assert a greater level of contribution to the marriage than the other party. The same could be said for any individual who has had to harvest a list of reasons why they believed the marriage broke down as if to satisfy a judge’s morbid curiosity when reviewing the divorce petition. Save that the judge had no such curiosity, but was instead simply performing an out of date statutory duty to check that sufficient boxes had been ticked to enable a divorce to proceed.
    However, from 6th April the requirement to rely on behaviour or a period of separation to justify divorce ends and is replaced with a single assertion that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. It is not an assertion that can be contested by the other person and the reasons for disputing a divorce are limited to questions relating to the validity of the marriage or jurisdiction.
    A simpler divorce process
    The divorce process has also been simplified, removing rather archaic language such as “decree nisi” and replacing it with a simpler more functional description of “conditional order”.
    It needs to be said that this simplification of the legal process is not making it easier to get a divorce. There is and never has been such a thing as a “quickie divorce”, a phrase often used by the media and much maligned by people working in family law. The new process will take at least 6 months to conclude with a waiting period of 20 weeks from the date of issuing the divorce application before the applicant, or with the new law, both parties as joint applicants, can apply for the conditional order.
    This 20 week period is designed to give the couple time to pause and reflect on their marriage and to also focus on addressing the practical arrangements that need to be made such as agreeing arrangements for the children and making progress towards a financial settlement. Parties will be actively encouraged to reach agreement wherever possible, using mediation and other forms of out of court dispute options where possible.
    The role of family lawyers
    Interestingly, when Stowe Family Law conducted a survey a couple of months ago it showed that the majority of people when asked about no-fault divorce were unaware of the imminent changes. A significant number still believed that bad behaviour during the marriage was and should be a factor that would influence the outcome of other issues in the divorce. A divorce process which removes any element of blame or causation to the act of ending your marriage may be difficult for some people, but it is a responsibility that rests on the shoulders of family lawyers and all those who attend to the needs of people going through relationship breakdowns to keep their attention and focus fixed firmly on looking forwards rather than looking backwards.
    Whilst no-fault divorce will not remove the pain that people feel when their marriages or civil partnerships end, it will hopefully help them get through the legal process of separation with less emotional impact and help prepare them for the next chapter of their lives.
    Get in touch
    For more information on no-fault divorce please do get in touch with our Client Care Team using the details below or make an online enquiry More

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    No-fault divorce and financial settlements

    The impact of no-fault divorce on the settlement of finances
    This week, the new no-fault divorce law is introduced in England and Wales. As well as transforming divorce law, these overdue changes will also be applicable to the dissolution of civil partnerships.
    It is a view held by many in the family law sector that the fault-based divorce law in England and Wales was outdated and no longer fit for purpose. Under previous law, the petitioning party was required to blame the other party for the divorce if they had not been separated for a period of two years or more, which was a common occurrence.  In many cases, this led to unnecessary animosity and upset. The move to no-fault divorce removes the need for blame, and is therefore a welcomed change.
    But what impact, if any, will no-fault divorce have on resolving the financial aspects of a parties’ marriage? Stowe Solicitor Melanie Quinn tells us more.
    Finances and divorce
    When a marriage comes to an end it is crucial that as part of the divorce process, the parties’ finances are also resolved, and that they reach a final settlement on how their assets should be divided which is transferred into a legally binding court order.
    This is vital to ensure that both parties have financial security and certainty going forwards.
    Reaching a financial settlement is necessary regardless of financial circumstances because in entering into a legally binding agreement as part of a divorce, a party is protecting their financial position not just at the time of the divorce, but also in the future.  For example, they can protect any future assets they may accrue and equally protect themselves from being responsible for any debt their ex-spouse may incur in the future.
    Issues with the old fault-based divorce law
    Previously, the most common fact relied upon for divorce was “unreasonable behaviour”.  This required the petitioning party to give examples of the other party’s behaviour, which they considered to be unreasonable.  Such allegations needed to reach a certain threshold to persuade a court that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.  Therefore, in many cases, the petitioning party had to raise unpleasant marital issues, when they would otherwise have no wish to.
    Even for the most thick-skinned respondent, it was unpleasant to read details about themselves of this nature, never mind for these allegations to be recorded in a court document.
    There was an understandable common misconception that the allegations made would have a bearing on the financial outcome of the divorce. However, the reality is that only in very extreme circumstances will a court consider a party’s behaviour when determining a financial settlement.  Therefore, the unreasonable behaviour particulars were a very unpleasant means to an end and it was difficult for parties to understand why these needed to be raised in the divorce petition, only to then be put aside in the next stage of the divorce when they came to resolve the finances.
    Furthermore, the court places a big emphasis on parties attempting to reach a financial agreement by consent, without the court becoming involved or indeed, without the court making the ultimate final decision on how the assets should be divided. Given this emphasis on the parties reaching a financial agreement amicably, it is easy to see why this was somewhat at odds with fault-based divorce law. This was arguably not conducive with the parties then reaching a mutual agreement on how their assets should be divided and understandably, if one party is upset about allegations made against them in the divorce petition they may be less inclined to take a fair and reasonable approach when negotiating the divorce finances.
    No-fault divorce law and financial agreeements
    Without the need for blame, it’s likely that the new no-fault divorce law will have a very positive impact on the financial aspects of a divorce.
    Under the new procedure parties will even be able to make a joint application, meaning from the outset couples can work together where they have reached the conclusion that their marriage has broken down irretrievably.  They will be able to take a cooperative and collaborative approach to the entire divorce process which can only be a good thing.
    Of course, there will still be cases where financial matters become contentious, regardless of the reason for the divorce.  However, in these circumstances, having a divorce process that required one party to apportion blame, arguably only made matters worse.
    The new cooling off period
    As part of the reform to the current law, a minimum cooling off period is going to be introduced. This will be a period of 20 weeks between the initial divorce application and the conditional order (previously known as decree nisi).  This is in contrast to the old process where as soon as a respondent had acknowledged the divorce petition the applicant could apply for the decree nisi.
    It is hoped that this new cooling off period will allow parties time to resolve the finances of their marriage. They will then be in a position to lodge a consent order recording the financial agreement they have reached with the court, once the conditional order is made.
    The reality is that reaching a fair financial agreement can take time, and this pause in the divorce process therefore better reflects this fact, ensuring that financial matters are not rushed through because one party has a desire to end the marriage as soon as possible.
    Of course, there will be cases where even after the conditional order is made a financial agreement has not been reached. However, it is hoped that in those circumstances, the extended time frame will allow time for some clear headway to be made in addressing financial matters.
    Reaching a conclusion
    In most cases, the reason for divorce has no bearing on financial matters.  Any increased animosity caused by the reason for divorce was therefore only likely to be a hindrance to reaching an amicable financial resolution.  The divorce law reform is therefore welcomed for the positive impact it will have on couples, allowing them to act in the best interests of both parties and therefore, in turn, any children of the marriage.
    Get in touch
    If you would like more information on finances and divorce please do get in touch with our Client Care Team using the details below or make an online enquiry More

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    Child Arrangements Orders – what you need to know

    A Child Arrangements Order is a legal court order that helps to ensure the welfare of children. They are most commonly used in cases where divorcing or separating parents have not been able to agree who their children will live with, or how they will see each parent. Here Stowe Solicitor Zoe Carter explains more.

    What is the purpose of a Child Arrangements Order?
    The purpose of a Child Arrangements Order is to legally define with whom a child is to live (previously termed residence) and with whom they should spend time (otherwise known as contact). This essentially sets out who has the responsibility for care of the child and when. Whilst Child Arrangements Orders replace ‘residence orders’ and ‘contact orders’, parents with these previous types of orders do not need to re-apply for a new order.
     
    What does a Child Arrangements Order cover?
    The Child Arrangements Order will cover who the child/children will live with and how and when they will see each parent. For example, it may say that the child/children should live with both parents on a shared care basis, or it may say they should live with one parent and spend weekends with the other. It will also likely cover arrangements for holidays including trips abroad and school holiday periods.
    A Child Arrangements Orders can also set out other types of contact and frequencies including phone or video calls, and letters and cards.

    Who can apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
    There are 2 categories of people that can apply:
    1 Those who have an automatic right to apply – this includes:
    a) Any parent regardless of whether they have Parental Responsibility or not (whether they are named on the birth certificate)
    b) A Step-parent (including those in a civil partnership);
    c) Any person with whom the child has lived for at least 3 years (this does not have to be continuous)
    d) A Local Authority foster parent
    e) A relative of a child who has lived with them for a period of at least one year preceding the application (for this purpose, a relative is deemed to be a grandparent, sister, brother, aunt or uncle)
    f) If you already have a child arrangements order in your favour, you can also apply straight away.
    2 Those required to have Leave (the courts permission) to apply. This covers anyone not automatically entitled to apply in section 1 above. Usually, this category would cover anyone in the child’s life that does not have Parental Responsibility which would typically include grandparents – unless they are considered a guardian for the child, they will need Leave of the court.
    The court will consider a number of  factors when deciding whether or not to grant leave including the nature of the application; the applicant’s relationship and connection with the child, any risk that the proposed application may disrupt the child’s life to such a degree that the child would be harmed, if a child is being looked after by a Local Authority the court will also consider their plans for the child’s future and wishes/feelings of the parents.

    When should I apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
    A Child Arrangements Order should be applied for when an agreement cannot be reached on the care of the child.
    Before an application is made it is important to try and agree arrangements with the other party.  Mediation can also assist parties in trying to reach an agreement, however if it is not possible to agree, then it will be necessary to issue an application for a Child Arrangements Order. In most cases, before an application is made to the court parties are required to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to establish whether the parties might be able to reach an agreement, rather than going to court.

    Is a Child Arrangements Order legally binding?
    A child arrangements order is legally binding on the parties until the child reaches 16 (or 18 in exceptional circumstances).
    If either parent breaches an order and does not comply with the terms, this amounts to contempt of court and there can be very serious consequences including fines, an order for compensation to be paid, community service and even imprisonment.

    Can a Child Arrangements Order be changed?
    Yes – an application can be made to the court to vary a Child Arrangements Order if the order is no longer fit for purpose or in the child’s best interests.
    It is important that an application is made to vary the terms of an Order rather than breaching the order. If you breach an order the other party can apply for the enforcement of the order, and you could be held to be in contempt of court. If this happens you could face serious consequences including fines, an order for compensation to be paid, community service and even imprisonment.

    How will no-fault divorce affect Child Arrangements Order?
    No-fault divorce will have no impact on any Child Arrangements Orders and will not affect how the court considers what is in the best interests of the child.
    However, the introduction of no-fault divorce removes the requirement to assign blame during the divorce process, which typically caused increased animosity and unnecessary conflict between parents, creating an unnecessary knock-on effect for children. Enabling couples to divorce without blame creates a more amicable foundation from which to move forward, meaning that separating parents can prioritise the future arrangements for their children.

    Get in touch
    If you would like more information on Child Arrangements Orders please do get in touch with our Client Care Team using the details below or make an online enquiry More

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    Four misconceptions of no-fault divorce 

    After years of campaigning to remove the need to blame one party when divorcing, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill gained Royal assent in June 2020, reforming divorce law in England and Wales, and paving the way for no-fault divorce.
    With the introduction of no-fault divorce planned for the 6th April 2022, Stowe Solicitor Hannah Stubbs shares the most common misconceptions and explains what it means for couples who will divorce in 2022 and beyond.
    Four misconceptions of no-fault divorce 
    The introduction of no-fault divorce, due to arrive in the UK in April 2022, will be the largest shake-up of divorce law since it began and will impact the entire divorce process. 
    But what do the actual changes mean for people getting divorced? I have already heard many misconceptions and myths circulating about no-fault divorce. 
    This article will help dispel some of them and answer the questions surrounding this change. 
    One: A no-fault divorce is a “quickie” divorce.
    Actually, no – despite the media reports, a no-fault divorce is not a “quickie divorce” by any means. 
    Currently, the only set ‘cooling’ off period in the divorce process is that once the decree nisi is pronounced, you have to wait six weeks and one day before applying for the decree absolute. 
    Under the new system, people will now be required to wait for twenty weeks from filing their divorce petition before being able to proceed with an application for a conditional order (currently known as the decree nisi). 
    Once the twenty-week period is up, the applicant will need to confirm to the court that they wish to proceed; without this, the divorce will not move forward.
    This period has been included to provide parties with a period of reflection to try and work on any issues that may stop the relationship from breaking down. 
    It is currently estimated that a “standard” (uncontested) divorce process can take anywhere between six to eight months, and it is expected that despite the changes, cases are likely to take a similar amount of time,  not quicker. 
    Two: No-fault divorce will be cheaper
    Not necessarily. When parties remain amicable, the case is less likely to have delays due to disagreement and, therefore, will cost less. However, removing blame from the process does not automatically mean the case will be shorter and less expensive. Remaining amicable and having a clear idea of any financial settlement and child arrangement details from the beginning will help manage costs. 
    Three: Only one person can make the divorce application
    Currently, when one person is responsible for filing the petition, this automatically indicates there is someone to blame as the “Petitioner” has to prove there has been an irretrievable breakdown. However, choosing a no-fault divorce will allow couples to be co-applicants of the divorce petition, jointly applying for divorce.  
    Four No-fault divorce is just about the removal of blame
    No – the new law will also bring some key changes to divorce terminology in England and Wales. 
    Currently, the person making the divorce application is known as the “Petitioner”, and the other party is known as the “Respondent”. This will change when the new law is introduced, when “Petitioner” will be changed to “Applicant”. This change in terminology is designed to remove the assumption of blame simply because one party is filing the petition and the other person isn’t.
    The new divorce process will still involve the two stages of decree nisi and decree absolute, but these names will also change. The decree nisi will become a ‘conditional order of divorce’, and the decree absolute will become the ‘final order of divorce’.
    So, is it worth waiting for a no-fault divorce?
    It is an interesting question and one that family lawyers are being asked a lot. The answer is not that straightforward, as it really does depend on the circumstances of the case. 
    For some, when considering the benefit of filing for divorce where there is no fault, and no fault has to be attributed, it’s worth the wait to April 2022. However, if people want to move forward with separation without unnecessary delay, parties can still elect to file a divorce petition on one or more of the existing grounds for divorce. 
    The new reforms will be introduced on 6 April 2022 and will apply to onward divorce petitions. Existing divorce petitions before the Court (i.e. filed before 6 April 2022) will remain live and will not need to be amended or refiled. 
    It is important to keep in mind that there is likely to be an influx of divorce petitions in April 2022 on the ground of no-fault divorce, and it is unknown whether there may be some delays in the court process because it has never been done before.
    Get in touch
    If you would like advice on no-fault divorce, you can contact our dedicated Client Care Team today to speak to one of our specialist family lawyers. More

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    Five misconceptions of no-fault divorce 

    After years of campaigning to remove the need to blame one party when divorcing, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill gained Royal assent in June 2020, reforming divorce law in England and Wales, and paving the way for no-fault divorce.
    With the introduction of no-fault divorce planned for the 6th April 2022, Stowe Solicitor Hannah Stubbs shares the most common misconceptions and explains what it means for couples who will divorce in 2022 and beyond.
    Five misconceptions of no-fault divorce 
    The introduction of no-fault divorce, due to arrive in the UK in April 2022, will be the largest shake-up of divorce law since it began and will impact the entire divorce process. 
    But what do the actual changes mean for people getting divorced? I have already heard many misconceptions and myths circulating about no-fault divorce. 
    This article will help dispel some of them and answer the questions surrounding this change. 
    One: The “blame game” is completely over.
    Not entirely. Under the new law, couples can divorce without citing blame. However, they can still cite one of the five current facts for a marriage breakdown (behaviour, adultery, five-year separation, two-year separation with consent, desertion).  
    In practice, this means that people will no longer need to prove conduct or fault of the other party as grounds for divorce, but they can do if that is the route they want to take. 
    From my experience with clients, I think that many couples will now choose to divorce without blame, and we will see a large reduction in the use of the other five facts.  
    Two: A no-fault divorce is a “quickie” divorce.
    Actually, no – despite the media reports, a no-fault divorce is not a “quickie divorce” by any means. 
    Currently, the only set ‘cooling’ off period in the divorce process is that once the decree nisi is pronounced, you have to wait six weeks and one day before applying for the decree absolute. 
    Under the new system, people will now be required to wait for twenty weeks from filing their divorce petition before being able to proceed with an application for a conditional order (currently known as the decree nisi). 
    Once the twenty-week period is up, the applicant will need to confirm to the court that they wish to proceed; without this, the divorce will not move forward.
    This period has been included to provide parties with a period of reflection to try and work on any issues that may stop the relationship from breaking down. 
    It is currently estimated that a “standard” (uncontested) divorce process can take anywhere between six to eight months, and it is expected that despite the changes, cases are likely to take a similar amount of time,  not quicker. 
    Three: No-fault divorce will be cheaper
    Not necessarily. When parties remain amicable, the case is less likely to have delays due to disagreement and, therefore, will cost less. However, removing blame from the process does not automatically mean the case will be shorter and less expensive. Remaining amicable and having a clear idea of any financial settlement and child arrangement details from the beginning will help manage costs. 
    Four: Only one person can make the divorce application
    Currently, when one person is responsible for filing the petition, this automatically indicates there is someone to blame as the “Petitioner” has to prove there has been an irretrievable breakdown. However, choosing a no-fault divorce will allow couples to be co-applicants of the divorce petition, jointly applying for divorce.  
    Five: No-fault divorce is just about the removal of blame
    No – the new law will also bring some key changes to divorce terminology in England and Wales. 
    Currently, the person making the divorce application is known as the “Petitioner”, and the other party is known as the “Respondent”. This will change when the new law is introduced, when “Petitioner” will be changed to “Applicant”. This change in terminology is designed to remove the assumption of blame simply because one party is filing the petition and the other person isn’t.
    The new divorce process will still involve the two stages of decree nisi and decree absolute, but these names will also change. The decree nisi will become a ‘conditional order of divorce’, and the decree absolute will become the ‘final order of divorce’.
    So, is it worth waiting for a no-fault divorce?
    It is an interesting question and one that family lawyers are being asked a lot. The answer is not that straightforward, as it really does depend on the circumstances of the case. 
    For some, when considering the benefit of filing for divorce where there is no fault, and no fault has to be attributed, it’s worth the wait to April 2022. However, if people want to move forward with separation without unnecessary delay, parties can still elect to file a divorce petition on one or more of the existing grounds for divorce. 
    The new reforms will be introduced on 6 April 2022 and will apply to onward divorce petitions. Existing divorce petitions before the Court (i.e. filed before 6 April 2022) will remain live and will not need to be amended or refiled. 
    It is important to keep in mind that there is likely to be an influx of divorce petitions in April 2022 on the ground of no-fault divorce, and it is unknown whether there may be some delays in the court process because it has never been done before.
    Get in touch
    If you would like advice on no-fault divorce, you can contact our dedicated Client Care Team today to speak to one of our specialist family lawyers. More

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    Who can adopt?

    This week is national adoption week, and this year’s aim is to dispel misconceptions about who is, or is not, eligible to adopt. Stowe Adoption Lawyer Lucy Birch explains more:
    Challenging discrimination
    There have been a number of cases before the court in recent months surrounding adoption and the restrictions that some adoption agencies have attempted to place on who exactly is able to adopt/foster care.
    A recent case before the High Court was brought by an independent foster agency whose policies allowed only heterosexual evangelical Christians as potential foster carers.
    Ofsted had concluded that the foster agency’s policies breached the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 and required the agency not to discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation. The Court of Appeal agreed that the policy was unlawful discrimination and the foster agency’s appeal was dismissed.
    So, who can adopt?
    The law in England and Wales says that the following people CAN apply to the court to adopt a child/children:-

    Single people
    Married couples or civil partnerships applying jointly, whether of opposite sexes or the same sex
    Unmarried couples applying jointly, whether of opposite sexes or the same sex
    Step-Parents
    Foster carers
    The partner of the child’s parent

    You CAN apply to adopt in the UK if:

    Over 21 (there is no upper age limit)
    Married, living together, in a civil partnership, opposite-sex couple, same-sex couple or single
    Employed or on benefits
    Any ethnic or religious background
    Have children or not
    Own your home or live in rented
    Already adopted a child
    If you are disabled
    You are not a British citizen (although you must have a fixed and permanent home here and have lived here for at least a year before you begin the application process)

    You CANNOT adopt if:

    You, or an adult member of your family, have been convicted of a serious offence; for example, a crime committed against a child.

    Relationship matters
    For any couple to be considered as adoptive parents (married or unmarried) they must prove they have a stable and lasting relationship and that they can provide a loving family environment for a child.
    This is set out in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and established via a combination of assessments including meetings with your social worker, personal references from friends and family, and completion of a series of preparation classes.
    Can I adopt if I’m under 21?
    The Act also sets out further conditions for prospective adopters in relation to age.
    An adoption order may be made on the application of a couple where both have attained the age of 21 years. Or alternatively, on the application of a couple where one of the couple is the mother or the father of the person to be adopted and has attained the age of 18 years, and the other has attained the age of 21 years.
    Living with adopted children
    There are also residence requirements. In the majority of cases, the child must have had their home with the prospective adopter for a minimum duration of time before the application being made. The duration depends on the route to adoption. They are as follows:-

    Local authority foster parents: The child must have lived with the adoptive parent(s) for the period of one year preceding the application. Although they can request permission from the court to apply within a shorter period.
    Step-parent adoption: The child must have lived with the adoptive parent(s) for the period of six months preceding the application.

    Partner of the child’s parent: the child must have had his/her home with them for at least three years preceding the application.

    The Legal process
    Once these conditions have been met, the legal process can begin.
    If you have chosen to move forward with adoption, the first step in the process is to notify the Local Authority of your intention to adopt and apply to the court for an Adoption order. This must be done in writing. The court application Form (Form A58) can be completed and sent to the court no earlier than 3 months after the date the Local Authority were notified of your intention to adopt. The legal proceedings will then be underway.
    For advice on the next steps in this process, contact Stowe’s specialist Adoption solicitors.
    Alternatives to adoption
    Finally, it should be noted that Adoption extinguishes the parental responsibility of the birth parents, therefore the court has to be satisfied that such a permanent step is in the best interests of the child.
    There may be other legal routes that are more appropriate, depending on the circumstances of the case. Such as a:

    Parental responsibility agreement
    Child arrangement order
    Special guardianship order

    The exploration of these various routes require expert legal advice.
    As a family law solicitor, I specialise in adoption cases. I’m trained to manage the legal process of adoption and other alternative routes to parenting.
    If you’re considering adoption, or have begun your application to adopt, and would like to find out more you can contact Stowe’s specialist Adoption solicitors.
    Useful Links
    Download our guide to adopting a child PDF
    Stowe Family Law’s Adoption Services
    Blog: The Adoption Process More

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    Step-parent adoption: Insight from a family lawyer

    This National Adoption Week, we share insights into step-parent adoption during the pandemic from Stowe family lawyer, and adoption specialist, Shanika Varga-Haynes:
    Step-parent adoption
    It is difficult to find any official statistics on the number of step-parents adoptions taking place in the UK with the figures focusing on the number of children being adopted out of the care system. 
    However, as a family solicitor and adoption specialist, I have noticed an increase in this area, through both enquiries, and my caseload. 
    Adoption is a varied and broad area of family law, and all cases bring great reward and challenges. However, Covid-19 and the multiple lockdowns have brought an extra layer of complexity to these already complicated cases. 
    What is step-parent adoption?
    Step-parent adoptions arise when the partner of one of the biological parents wants to adopt the child. The consequence of step-parent adoption is the other biological parent loses their parental responsibility. 
    These applications are usually made where there is an absent biological parent who has little to no involvement in the child’s life for some time. The other biological parent is in a new relationship, and their partner has taken on the parenting role. 
    There can be a reluctance to issue the application as it may result in the other biological parent seeking contact, which they otherwise would not have done. 
    Where the non-resident parent has relatively regular contact with a child, the court tends to be slow to make the adoption order given the serious consequence of the loss of parental responsibility. 
    There are exceptions to this, for example, if the non-resident parent supports the adoption; however, even then, the court will give the decision as to whether to grant the adoption order the weight it deserves.
    Who is involved in step-parent adoption?
    An application for a step-parent adoption involves numerous parties: the step-parent wishing to adopt is the applicant, their partner is the first respondent, the child’s other biological parent is the second respondent, and a guardian can be appointed to represent the child. 
    Other professionals involved in the case will be the judge, legal representation, the local authority who will produce the initial report and often a reporting officer.
    Race for time
    In the early stages of the pandemic, getting applications for step-parent adoptions issued became difficult as the family court was (and still is) prioritising work, and they were not at the top of the list. 
    This delay directly impacted one of my cases where due to a number of reasons, the application for adoption was processed the day before the child’s 18th birthday.
    Adoption applications can only be made if the child has not reached 18. Provided the application is made before the child’s 18th birthday, then it can proceed. If the child turns 19 during the proceedings, an adoption order cannot be made. 
    This meant that we had to make sure the application was dealt with before the child turned 19. Usually, that wouldn’t be too much of a concern as there are time frames the court follows to ensure cases involving children are dealt with as quickly as practicably possible. 
    However, the family courts were stretched before Covid-19, and the delays have noticeably worsened over the past year.
    The impact of delays
    In this case, several factors caused delays. At the beginning of the adoption case, the local authority provides a detailed report to the court about the parties and the child. 
    This report takes several months to complete as it can include interviews with friends and family, details about previous relationships, health, finances and the views of all involved in the case, including the child. The report ends with a recommendation being made to the court.
    Further delays can be caused by the collation of medical evidence. In cases where the applicant is the partner of a parent of the child, in accordance with FPR rule 14.12(c), it is not necessary for medical reports to be obtained. However, if the adopter is another family member such as an aunt, waiting for the medical evidence could add further delays. 
    At the same time, as the report is produced, safeguarding checks are carried out. Unfortunately, in this case, the local authority failed to do these checks. We were notified of this just before the first hearing, meaning a delay of several months whilst they were carried out.
    Due to their complex nature, adoption cases are dealt with by higher-level judges. There is also a preference to have judicial continuity, quite rightly, but this can cause delays due to judicial availability. 
    The first hearing on this matter was adjourned four times, once due to the local authority and three times due to the judge’s availability.
     Again, with a typical case, this wouldn’t be too concerning, but we only had a 12-month window to ensure the order was made. The application was issued in early summer, but by January the following year, we still hadn’t had the first hearing which gave little time for the next steps.
    Usually, the Annex A report prepared by the local authority is filed at court but not released to the parties immediately, although a request can be made for it to be released before the first hearing to speed the process up where time is sensitive. 
    In this particular case, we obtained permission from the Judge to have the report released in advance of the first hearing, so the contents could be considered and the matter progressed without the need for a further hearing. If this request hadn’t been granted we would have been at risk of matters not being finalised before the child turned 19.
    Opposite ends of the world
    This case also involved international elements as although both the biological father and mother consented to the adoption order being made, they lived abroad in separate countries with the applicant step-parent and the child living in England. 
    This was a complicated setup, and one of our challenges was to show the court and the local authority that the applicant and first respondent met the condition of being a married couple. They were a family unit but lived separately for various reasons, visiting each other every 6 weeks where possible. Although COVID-19 had meant this wasn’t possible over the past 12 months. 
    They met the criteria of the child having lived with the applicant for six continuous months prior to the application, but more detail than usual had to be provided regarding the intricacies of the relationship between the applicant step-parent and first respondent. 
    Adoption guardian
    The Judge also decided they wanted a guardian to report on the international element as there were three parties living in three different countries. This was required despite everyone consenting to the application and the Local Authority supporting it.
    The guardian’s role was to report on the living arrangements and assist the court with taking the necessary consents from the parties.
    The guardian confirmed they were satisfied the order should be made. The parties had confirmed their agreement on numerous occasions however it’s imperative that consents are executed and recorded properly. 
    Obtaining proper consent in a global pandemic
    During the pandemic giving consent via video call has been permitted.  However, due to the fact the first and second respondent lived outside of the jurisdiction this was not possible as FPR rule 14.10 (6) states:
    (6) Any form of consent executed outside the United Kingdom must be witnessed by –
    (a) any person for the time being authorised by law in the place where the document is executed to administer an oath for any judicial or other legal purpose;
    (b) a British Consular officer;
    (c) a notary public; or
    (d) if the person executing the document is serving in any of the regular armed forces of the Crown, an officer holding a commission in any of those forces.
    At this point, every country had different rules regarding COVID-19.  Therefore, there were concerns as to whether the first and second respondent would be able to ensure their consent was executed properly as we were unsure as to whether they would have access to someone who met the criteria above. 
    Thankfully the consents were executed and sent to the court and the adoption order was made two months before the child’s 19th birthday.  
    Managing adoption hearings during Covid-19
    Another issue I have experienced over the past year, and expect to in the futur, is the practicalities of a court hearing.  
    There are numerous parties and professionals involved in an adoption case and family courtrooms are not particularly large, especially when accommodating social distancing.
    Last October, one of my adoption hearings required nine people to attend. The hearing proceeded as a hybrid hearing with the local authority joining via video link and due to the fact we were in a Nightingale Court (large hotel conference room) there was thankfully enough space for the hearing to proceed safely. 
    I suspect if we hadn’t had the use of the Nightingale Court we would have had to limit who attended the hearing which could have resulted in complaints about fairness.
     Adoption in the future
    Whilst the pandemic has certainly brought challenges to the adoption process, I am hopeful that we will eventually return to normal, although I expect it won’t be as quick as we all hope. 
    It’s hard to see how the adoption process could be made easier, adoption has huge legal implications and therefore there must be a stringent process. I would like to see cases dealt with more quickly but balancing speed and the need to ensure the right decision is being made for a child is difficult.  
    Adoption cases are extremely rewarding and it is wonderful to have the opportunity to help build a family and transform a child’s life and future
    Get in touch
    If you would like any advice on step-parent adoption, adoption, or other family law issues, please contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist lawyers.
    Useful Links
    Adoption UK
    Adoption Matters
    Stowe’s Adoption Services More