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    Divorce rates fall by 30%

    Divorce rates have fallen by 30% according to the Official for National Statistics (ONS).
    ONS statistics released this morning have revealed that the number of divorces granted in 2022 fell by 29.5% to 80,057, in comparison to the previous year’s 113,505 divorces. This is the lowest number since 1971.
    Family lawyers have widely been anticipating an increase in divorce rates and enquiries. Whilst the statistics have come as a surprise, it is not so surprising when examining the impact of various factors which have caused such a significant decrease in divorce rates.
    The introduction of no-fault divorce in April 2022 is likely to have had a significant impact on the overall divorces granted. Although some couples were waiting for no-fault to be introduced, which removed the need to attribute blame, to proceed with their divorce and there was a surge in enquiries at this point, no fault divorce introduced mandatory waiting periods. It is likely that these extended periods meant that fewer divorces were actually granted in 2022.
    In addition, the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic meant that 2021 saw a 9.6% increase in the number of divorces on 2020’s figures. The pandemic caused significant disruption to the family courts, meaning fewer divorces were processed that year. However, whilst the pandemic and lockdowns continued through 2021, the family justice system introduced remote hearings and more divorces were granted. Thus, in comparison to 2022, it is possible that this was artificial inflation caused by a surge in 2021.
    However, the drop in rates in 2022 is so dramatic in comparison to both 2021 and 2020 figures that this cannot be explanation on its own.
    The impact of the cost-of-living crisis is being cited as a key reason for the downward turn as many couples who were wanting to separate postpone their divorce for cost reasons. As gas and electricity prices soared, food, bills and housing all increased and money did not, and has continued to not, stretch as far. Worries over future finances and going from a dual income household to a single income household was at the forefront of many couples’ minds.
    Here at Stowe Family Law, we conducted a survey on the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on relationships. 30% of respondents said that they were staying in their current relationship because of fears they could not afford to live alone.
    In addition to these factors, ONS reported last month that marriage rates in England and Wales had fallen below 50% for the first time since comparable records began. Only 49.4% of adults over 16 were reported to be married or in a civil partnership in 2022. This has direct links to the number of divorces as without marriage there can be no divorce.
    Family lawyers will be interested to see over the coming years whether the decrease in divorce rates is an ongoing trend, or whether they are a direct result of the economic and social factors of the last few years.
    Useful Links
    Can I afford to divorce my partner?
    The rise in birdnesting after divorce
    What happens to the family home?
    Client Guide: Divorcing during the cost of living crisis

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    Stowe Talks How To: Part 2

    Stowe Talks How To
    Our next instalment of our Stowe Talks How To videos are now freely available to watch.
    To recap, these videos are guides for some of the key aspects of the divorce process, so you can be taken through step-by-step accompanied by our expert lawyers.
    We know that divorce can be overwhelming and stressful at times, which is why we have produced these practical videos and accompanying guides for you to download for free.
    Videos
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    Guides
    The supporting guides can be found here.
    A full playlist of all the Stowe Talks How To videos can be found here.
    Other Useful Links
    Introducing Stowe Talks How To
    Stowe Support – a huge range of free resources (blogs, guides, podcasts etc) covering all matters family law including divorce, child arrangements, unmarried couples, finances, and much more besides. More

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    January Stowe Support roundup

    Stowe Support is a dedicated home for Stowe’s free resources designed to help inform and support anyone with family law concerns.
    With new blogs, guides, podcasts, videos and events shared each month, here’s a handy Stowe Support roundup from the past month in case you missed anything.
    Latest blogs from Stowe
    What is in store for family law in 2024?
    The Importance of Pensions in Divorce
    Thinking about divorce this ‘Divorce Day’?
    Navigating the path to divorce and what to do next
    Expansion of Family Court Transparency Pilot to 16 more courts
    Dissolution and Divorce – What’s the Difference?
    Navigate the Complexities of Separation and Divorce with Family Mediation
    Marriage Rates Fall Below 50% in England and Wales
    A Guide to Financial Dispute Resolution
    Platonic Co-Parenting – Can I really have a baby with my friend?
    Watch our recent webinars
    The Break-up Club: Building a new life after divorce
    Stowe talks: Making your money go further after divorce
    Listen to the latest Stowe talks podcasts on Spotify
    Stowe talks 26: The unique challenges of a relationship break down in the LGBTQIA+ community
    Stowe talks 27: Creating financial wellbeing following a divorce or separation
    Stowe talks 28: How to prepare for your financial settlement in divorce
    Watch ‘Stowe talks: How to’ guides
    Stowe talks: How to get divorced online
    Stowe talks: How to pull together information for a financial settlement
    Stowe talks: How to obtain a financial consent order
    Stowe talks: How to represent yourself in court
    Stowe Support
    To explore our full range of resources dedicated to helping people with family law matters, visit Stowe Support.
    Here you’ll find a wealth of helpful guides, videos and blogs on divorce and separation, finances, children, domestic abuse, cohabitation, alternative parenting, mediation, as well as support with relationships and wellness More

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    Platonic Co-Parenting – Can I really have a baby with my friend?

    In recent months, the idea of platonic co-parenting has gained traction. A recent article in The Guardian on the topic was written by a woman who, after much back and forth, decided to have a baby with her gay best friend. The friends were both happily single, but wanted a child and were concerned about the social and financial implications of raising a child as a single parent.
    Platonic co-parenting can take a variety of different forms and can be entered into for a whole host of different reasons. It can be between an opposite sex ‘couple’, same sex, or even as three parents where the couple are unable to have children so bring in a friend who not only can be a donor but can be present as another parental figure.
    In essence, platonic co-parenting is when a child is raised by two or more people who are not, and have not in the past been, in a romantic relationship (although there may be a romantically involved same-sex couple as part of a three+ parental group). The child might be conceived by treatments like IVF, intracervical insemination (ICI) or intrauterine insemination (IUI). The prospective parents may choose to go down the surrogacy route or adopt a child.
    What does platonic co-parenting look like?
    Platonic co-parenting looks different for every set of parents. The reasons behind platonic co-parenting are as varied as how it can look in practise, but some reasons might be:

    Two happily single individuals each want to have a baby,
    Financial constraints mean an individual cannot afford to be a single parent,
    A same-sex couple want to have a child with a donor and the donor wants a relationship with the child.

    With any number of reasons for wanting to platonically co-parent, how it can look practically is unique to the situation. However, by definition, platonic co-parenting means that each parent is involved in the upbringing of the child, whether they are biologically connected or not.
    Each set of parents will need to come to an agreement about how conception will work, and what the practicalities will be once the baby is born. For example, for the woman and her gay best friend mentioned above, they came to an agreement that they would try ICI first to get pregnant, and then IVF. They discussed finances and decided on a 50/50 split, potential baby names, the baby’s surname and where the child, and the parents, would live (for the first year the father would move in with the mother and baby).
    In some cases, there are more than two parents. The law only recognises two legal parents; however, platonic co-parenting opens up opportunities for more communal parenting responsibility.
    In some cases, a same-sex couple may ask a close friend to be a donor, or a surrogate mother, and this friend becomes part of the family. In other examples, a gay couple and a lesbian couple might ‘join forces’ to have a four-parent family.
    There are also matchmaking apps now that allow prospective parents to meet each other or meet sperm donors.
    Is it legal/How can I make it legal?
    Platonic co-parenting is entirely legal.
    Complications can arise with the difficulties in law around parental responsibility and each platonic co-parenting relationship will be unique. However, if a parent wants to have legal guardianship of a child, this must be registered.
    For example, if a heterosexual ‘couple’ have a child together, the father can be officially recognised as the child’s legal parent by being named on the birth certificate.
    The law only allows for two legal parents, so where a group of co-parents want to raise a child, only two can be recognised as such. The woman who carries the child will automatically be recognised as the child’s legal parent. However, the law allows for more than two people to have parental responsibility, for example as step-parents, or grandparents.
    For families where there are more than two parents, it is important to consider what other arrangements and agreements you may need to put in place to grant parental responsibility over the child. This can be done through a ‘parental responsibility agreement’.
    More legal information around platonic co-parenting can be found here.
    What are the benefits of platonic co-parenting?
    There are a variety of benefits of platonic co-parenting, and these do depend on your unique situation. However, here are a few:

    It allows happily single individuals to become parents without the pressure of solo parenting,
    Sperm donors can have a more active role in the child’s life,
    Potentially more people with parental responsibility – this can mean more support and love for the child,
    It is another way for the LGBTQIA+ community to become parents without requiring romantic relationships with the opposite sex.

    Are there any downsides?
    As with parenting generally, there can be conflict in co-parenting relationships, which is why it is important to discuss legal, social, environmental, and physical factors before embarking on the journey. These can be made into a Co-Parenting Agreement, more widely known as a Parenting Plan, which, whilst not legally binding, help define the expectations of each parent and what agreements have been made.
    Communication is key in all parenting and the more open and transparent you are with your other co-parents, the better. It is important to get all your thoughts out on the table and discuss what compromises may need to be reached.
    The law can be complicated in areas such as surrogacy, and fertility treatments, so you might need to seek legal advice around these matters, and around seeking parental responsibility.
    If disagreements do arise, mediation can often help resolve difficulties and help co-parents reach amicable solutions.
    Useful Links
    What is platonic co-parenting?
    Surrogacy and parental orders
    Travelling abroad with different surnames
    What is parental responsibility?

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    Marriage Rates Fall Below 50% in England and Wales

    Marriage rates fall below 50%: more calls for cohabitation reform
    New ONS statistics have revealed that marriage rates in England and Wales are continuing to fall year-on-year. For the first time since comparable records began, the percentage of people over 16 who are married or in a civil partnership has dropped below 50% to 49.4%.
    Solicitor Abi Jones examines what this means and the pressing need for cohabitation reform.
    Relationships and the way we view marriage as a nation is constantly changing but sadly our laws are failing to keep pace with modern family structures. Different types of families like blended, cohabitees and single parent families and even platonic co-parenting are over-taking marriage as more popular ways to have relationships and children.
    However, same-sex marriages have increased, and it is estimated that the number of people in these marriages in 2022 is around 167,000. This has increased dramatically from 26,000 in 2015 but marriage in general continues to decline in popularity.
    It is clear to see that there is an ever-increasing populace of couples who are not getting married or entering into a civil partnership, instead choosing to live together without any of these ‘official’ statuses in place. The ONS figures noted that the increase has reached more than a fifth of over 16s in England and Wales, from 19.7% in 2012 to 22.7% in 2022.
    These statistics from ONS have led to more and stronger calls for reform in this area as marriage rates decline but cohabitation continues to be the fastest growing family type in the UK.
    Cohabitation reform has long been discussed, and an introduction of a Cohabitation Rights Bill that aimed to establish a framework of rights and responsibilities for cohabiting couples however this still needs to take the normal course through Parliament and be subject to scrutiny and parliamentary debate before it can be formed into a law and implemented.  At the Labour Party Conference 2023, Labour MP Emily Thornberry announced Labour’s commitment to reforming cohabitation laws if they win a general election.
    Currently if a couple is cohabiting but not married or in a civil partnership, irrespective of the amount of time that they have been together, there is no entitlement to a share of the other’s wealth upon the relationship breaking down.  It does not matter how the finances were arranged within that relationship, nor does it matter how long the parties have been together. The idea of the ‘common law marriage’ is entirely mythical.
    The reality is that if a cohabiting couple separate, they will have no claim for financial support or claim to share the other party’s wealth upon the breakdown of that relationship.  These couples are often left having very limited rights upon separation and having to potentially wade through more complicated areas of law such as the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act claims.
    Until such time that there is a cohabiting rights bill and due to the lack of rights and protections afforded to unmarried couples they should consider getting advice from solicitors and potentially enter into a cohabitation agreement.
    Useful Links
    Cohabitation Client Guide
    Stowe Support resources for Cohabitation
    What rights do cohabiting couples have? Watch on Youtube or Listen on Spotify
    Taking control of your finances on separation and beyond with Lottie Kent: Listen on Spotify More

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    Expansion of Family Court Transparency Pilot to 16 more courts

    In another significant step towards enhancing transparency within the family justice system, the judiciary has announced the expansion of the transparency reporting pilot.
    Described as a ‘huge step,’ this initiative aims to provide insight into family court proceedings.
    The transparency implementation group reporting pilot, which began in the family courts of Leeds, Cardiff, and Carlisle in January 2023, is set to expand to 16 additional courts across England, including Liverpool, Dorset, and Milton Keynes starting January 29th 2024.
    2024 Expansion of Family Court Transparency Pilot
    Under this ongoing pilot, accredited media and legal bloggers can report on the proceedings, subject to strict rules of anonymity. Judges presiding over the courts involved in the pilot will issue transparency orders outlining what information can and cannot be reported.
    The judiciary emphasises that this reporting initiative is being carefully piloted to ensure it can be conducted safely and with minimal disruption to those involved in the cases and the functioning of the courts.
    Sir Andrew McFarlane, Family Division president, hailed the extension as a continuation of the ‘pioneering year of reporting’. He expressed the judiciary’s commitment to increasing transparency, improving public confidence, and fostering a better understanding of the family justice system.
    Sir McFarlane invited members of the media to familiarise themselves with the provided guidance and visit family courts to witness the vital and challenging work undertaken in these settings.
    Understanding the impact of family court reporting
    The announcement has garnered positive reactions from legal professionals, with many viewing open reporting as a crucial step in addressing the challenges faced by family courts, such as backlogs, and hopes it will contribute to public understanding.
    Jake Mitchell, Leeds-based Stowe family lawyer echoed this “One of the biggest barriers to people seeking help with their legal issues is the amount of misinformation which is readily available and repeated.”
    Although some have raised concerns that journalist presence could cause potential discomfort to people going through the family courts, its hoped that journalists will use their newfound rights to raise public awareness of the workings of financial remedy courts and the strain they face due to under-funding.
    Locations included in the expansion of the Transparency Pilot
    The 16 courts participating in the pilot include Liverpool, Manchester, West Yorkshire, Kingston-upon-Hull, Nottingham, Stoke, Derby, Birmingham, Central Family Court, East London, West London, Dorset, Truro, Luton, Guildford, and Milton Keynes.
    Jake Mitchel continued “My colleagues and I welcome the expansion of transparency in the family courts. The more the public knows what goes on inside a court room, the greater the trust and confidence will be and that should lead to the right result for more people.” More

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    INTRODUCING Stowe talks: How to

    Ever wished you had step-by-step instructions to help guide you through typical divorce processes?
    We know that divorce and separation can feel like a minefield cluttered with complicated paperwork, legal jargon and complex processes.
    That’s why we’ve produced Stowe talks: How to a new range of free step-by-step videos and guides.
    What you can expect from Stowe talks: How to
    Each edition includes a video and accompanying guide available to download for free. The focus on offering practical, to-the-point information and guidance from a family lawyer on a specific topic related to divorce or separation, including:
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    Explore more Stowe talks: How to resources
    Watch Stowe talks: How to videos
    Download the accompanying guides More

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    What is in store for family law in 2024?

    2024 has the potential to see the conclusion of a number of UK government legislation amendments and consultations. Each carefully considered change will have a far-reaching impact on family law and those dealing with the personal impact of family law matters. So, as we begin the new year, we look at important changes on the horizon and suggest what may be in store for family law in 2024.
    Financial Remedies Court reporting pilot
    The spotlight on ‘transparency in the Family Court’ continues in 2024. Following on from last year’s introduction of measures to increase understanding and scrutiny of the system, a new pilot scheme is set to start on January 29th.
    The Financial Remedies Court (FRC) reporting pilot will allow accredited journalists and bloggers to report on financial remedies proceedings. These include financial issues arising from divorce and civil partnership dissolution, and child support cases.
    The FRC pilot will initially cover three trial courts: the Central Family Court, Birmingham, and Leeds. Notably, certain hearings, like Financial Dispute Resolution, will maintain confidentiality, preserving the privacy of those involved.
    Proposed amendment to Victims and Prisoners Bill affecting parental responsibility
    In January 2024 the Ministry of Justice’s proposed amendment to the Victims and Prisoners Bill moves to the next stage. The proposal announced in 2022 seeks to automatically remove parental responsibility for parents convicted of the murder or voluntary manslaughter of their co-parent.
    The legislation change emerged after the death of Jade Ward, whose partner and father of her child murdered her in 2021. He was found guilty and sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in jail. Since then, Jade’s family have lobbied for a change in the law to automatically remove parental responsibility so that convicted offenders can no longer seek information about their children or make key decisions about their lives.
    The Ministry of Justice have confirmed that there will be exemptions in cases involving domestic abuse.
    Possible outline of future financial remedies reform
    In 2023 the Law Commission of England and Wales launched a comprehensive review of financial remedy orders. The review examines how finances are divided among couples post-divorce or civil partnership dissolution, currently governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and Civil Partnership Act 2004.
    The aim of the review is to evaluate the effectiveness of current laws and ensure fairness for divorcing couples. Among other factors, the review set out to analyse discretionary powers of judges, explore wider powers for orders involving children over the age of eighteen, assess pension-related orders, review the mechanics and structure of post-divorce financial payments.
    The findings, anticipated in a scoping report in September 2024, may pave the way for significant reforms in future financial remedies legislation.
    Family court fees to rise
    Last month the UK Government completed a consultation which looks to increase court fees by up to 10% in 2024.
    The Ministry for Justice wants to increase revenue generated by the courts to ensure that they remain ‘sufficiently resourced’ to protect access to the courts for all those who seek justice.
    Users of His Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), including the family court, contribute to the cost of the justice process by paying fees. Court fees generated £727 million of the total £2.3 billion cost to run HMCTS in 2022/23, with the remainder funded by the taxpayer.
    By increasing court fees by 10% the UK government is expected to generate up to £42 million per year. The key objectives of the price increase are to keep pace with increased costs, improve service delivery, subsidise the cost of free services, and reduce the overall cost to the taxpayer.
    Key 2024 family court fee increases include:

    Application for a divorce, or civil partnership dissolution – fees will rise from £593 to £652
    Application for a parental order – fees will rise from £232 to £255
    Application/permission to apply for adoption – fees will rise from £183 to £201
    Application for a financial order (other than consent order) – fees will rise from £275 to £303.

    Resolving family matters out of court
    In 2024 we’ll see a continuing emphasis on encouraging parties to seek resolution of their disputes outside of the court system. Last year the UK government carried out a consultation ‘Supporting earlier resolution of private family law arrangements’ to review mediation in family law.
    As a result, in 2024 we could see mandatory mediation for all suitable low-level family court cases (excluding those which include allegations or a history of domestic violence). The aim is to divert family disputes away from stretched courts and protect children from the impact of acrimonious and long-running court cases.
    It’s hoped the proposals will mean more people can make decisions and achieve resolutions with the support of a qualified mediator, rather than placing the decision with the family court.
    General election
    While the date of the next UK general election is still to be announced, it’s widely anticipated that the current Conservative government will call for an election in 2024.
    The latest voting intention polls suggest that Labour may win the next election, meaning a change in government. Whilst no parties have yet released their election manifestos, and the exact nature of any proposed changes to family law is yet unknown, we can expect to see some impact. More