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    Family Court Fees to Rise

    The Family Court fees are expected to rise soon, as a result of the Government’s proposal that court fees should increase by up to 10% in 2024. It is anticipated that these changes will happen in April 2024.
    The Ministry of Justice has stated that ‘implementing increases to court and tribunal fees is vital to our ongoing work to protect access to the courts for all those who seek justice.’
    The aim is to ensure that the courts can be properly resourced, as the increases will generate between £34 million and £42 million a year.
    Court fees have not increased since 2021, and the incoming change is to ensure that the courts can keep pace with increased costs, as well as improving service and reduce the taxpayer’s costs. The increased income will also support in subsidising the cost of the free services offered by the family courts.
    Prospective changes will include changes to the cost of getting a divorce or civil partnership dissolution, as well as price increases for child arrangements orders, financial orders that are not by consent, and applications for parental orders.
    Below we break down the changes.
    When the changes come in, the cost of a divorce/civil partnership dissolution application is set to rise from £593 to £652.
    Child arrangements orders will also see an increase in cost, rising from £232 to £255. Child arrangements orders are put in place by the court to set out responsibilities regarding children, including their living arrangements and their contact with both parents.
    Other children issues will also see the same cost increase, including orders such as Specific Issue Orders, Prohibited Steps Orders and Special Guardianship Orders, as well as applications for parental orders.
    The cost of an application for adoption, or permission to apply for adoption will rise from £183 to £201.
    A financial order application, not by consent, will see a cost rise from £275 to £303.
    In addition, financial consent orders are set to rise from £53 to £58.
    The Government website has a full breakdown of all the fee changes. More

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    Pathfinder Pilot Scheme Expanded

    Background and Purpose
    In March 2022, a pioneering pilot scheme, known as the Pathfinder pilot, was launched in some family courts in Dorset and North Wales to help improve information sharing between services such as the police and local authorities and the courts. It followed on from a review into the family justice system which concluded that the adversarial processes often worsened conflict between parents, retraumatising abuse victims and children.
    A crucial element of the Pathfinder pilot scheme is to enable local domestic abuse authorities to share important information with the courts, sparing abuse victims the painful process of retelling their experiences multiple times.
    In addition, the pilot aimed to ensure that children are listened to at every stage of the family justice process when going through their parents’ separation. Children were to be given more opportunity to explain their feelings, what they want and, should a court order be made, to feedback on whether it was working for them.
    How the Pathfinder Pilot works
    The Pathfinder pilot was launched in Bournemouth and Weymouth in Dorset, as well as Caernarfon, Mold, Prestatyn and Wrexham in North Wales initially.
    The piloted model involves more detailed initial investigations being carried out by the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), an independent body advising family courts on what is safe for children in family law processes. In most cases, this has involved speaking to the children involved in cases before the first hearing even takes place.
    Furthermore, the pilot has introduced a better integration system between agencies, such as domestic abuse organisations, and organisations specialising in mediation, and the courts, in order to best serve the families.
    The process involves:

    An early ‘gatekeeping’ hearing to look at the information
    Cafcass investigate any welfare issues and identify whether the family might benefit from another form of dispute resolution and can avoid court
    Cafcass will speak directly with the family and identify any families which have a domestic abuse risk
    Where appropriate, Cafcass will also speak with children early on in this process to understand their feelings and wishes

    The aim is for Cafcass to help families avoid court entirely, or, where this is not possible, to find a solution at the first hearing. The judge then reviews all the information and can request further documentation before the case reaches court.
    The idea has been to encourage a less adversarial process, keeping conflict out of the courtroom, and emphasising the investigation of issues, including allegations of domestic abuse.
    The Future of the Pilot
    The initial phase of the pilot reached its conclusion in February 2024. It has been announced that it will be expanded to two further locations, Birmingham and South-East Wales, before a national roll out.
    Phase 2 is due to launch in May 2024.
    Stowe Family Law Partner Rachel Fisher said this of the news that the pilot has been extended:
    “It is a really exciting development to see the expansion of the Pathfinder Pilot following the end of Phase 1 with the scheme now been expanded to South East Wales and Birmingham before hopefully a national rollout and the feedback reported has been extremely positive.
    This new Cafcass process is welcomed by professionals and families as a streamlined process with less delays for children who are at the centre of these disputes. The aim of the Pathfinder Pilot is to ensure that the voice of the children involved in each case is heard and to ensure that trauma to children and victims of domestic abuse is reduced as far as possible, which can only be in the children’s best interests.
    It is positive that the Pilot is being extended so that more families can benefit from the process which sees the court actively working with other local organisations and agencies to ensure matters are progressed promptly and with all the information being available to the court at an early stage through the in depth information gathering exercise at the outset by Cafcass to support a problem-solving approach to resolving arrangements for children.”
    In addition, the Government recently announced a pilot, due to launch in summer 2024, trialling a scheme publicly funded early legal advice for parents/carers. This advice will allow parents to make better informed decisions regarding their children when it comes to separation.
    The pilot aims to help separating parents resolve disputes without court intervention. The Pathfinder pilot will be important for those cases which do get to court. More

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    A Guide to Prohibited Steps Orders

    The breakup of a family can be a time of heightened emotions and in some cases, it may be necessary for the family court to enforce legal structures to prevent problems in relation to child arrangements.
    One example of this is a Prohibited Steps Order (PSO), which is sometimes used in acrimonious cases where the welfare of the separated couple’s child may be at risk.
    Stowe Family Law Paralegal, Becka Headley explores what they are, how they work, and how best to navigate them.
    What is a Prohibited Steps Order?
    A Prohibited Steps Order is a legally binding order that prohibits someone from exercising some elements of their parental responsibility. Where a Prohibited Steps Order has been put in place, the person against whom the order has been made must have the court’s permission before doing something set out in the order that would usually be done by a parent.
    They are usually used in cases where parents have separated, although the order does not have to be made against a parent, just someone with parental responsibility.
    Who can apply for a PSO?
    The following people have an automatic right to apply for a Prohibited Steps Order in relation to a child:

    Any parent, guardian or special guardian of the child
    Anyone who is named in a Child Arrangements Order which is in force in respect to that child, which states that the child is to live with them
    Anyone else who holds parental responsibility for the child.

    Any other party who wishes to apply for a Prohibited Steps Order will firstly need to apply for permission from the court before doing so.
    How can I apply for a PSO?
    You can make an application to the court for a Prohibited Steps Order by completing Form C100 and submitting this to the Family Court local to where the child lives. There is a fee of £232 for submitting this application to the court. Your application will then be issued by the court and listed for a hearing to consider application.
    If you do not have automatic permission to apply for the Prohibited Steps Order, you will firstly need to make an application for permission. This can be done on Form C100 also, with a cost of £232, to the Family Court local to where the child lives. A hearing may be required for the court to determine if permission is granted. If and when the court grant you permission to apply for the order, you can then proceed to apply for the Prohibited Steps Order as above.
    It is possible to apply for an Emergency PSO. These are often made in a ‘without notice’ hearing, where the other party is not aware of the application. There does need to be evidence that an emergency order is needed and that the welfare of the child is at risk.
    What can a Prohibited Steps Order cover?
    Prohibited Steps Orders can cover a wide range of prohibited actions, which prevents someone from carrying out an action which they would usually be allowed to do as a parent. For example:

    Changing or removing the child from school
    Changing the child’s surname
    Changing the child’s GP
    Consenting to the child undergoing a medical treatment
    Relocating a child within the UK or overseas
    Prohibiting the child from seeing a specific person

    The time for which the Prohibited Steps Order lasts can vary from case to case. It will usually remain in force until further notice, although it will automatically end on the child’s 18th birthday.  The court will impose a duration which they feel is in the best interests of the child, which can range from one month to several years.
    Can a Prohibited Steps Order be overturned or lifted?
    A Prohibited Steps Order can be over-turned; however the court will not do so if removing the order may negatively effect the child. The court’s first priority is the wellbeing of the child.
    A Prohibited Steps Order can be lifted if the parties reach an agreement that it should be. In these circumstances, the person who initially made the application for the Prohibited Steps Order can request that the court lift the order. Before lifting the order, the court will consider whether this is in the child’s best interests.
    What happens if a Prohibited Steps Order is breached?
    A Prohibited Steps Order is a legally binding and enforceable court order. Therefore, if a person breaks the order, they will be in contempt of court. This offence is punishable by imprisonment, fines and/or unpaid work.
    If breach of the order is found to be justified as it was in the best interests of the child, the court may reduce the penalty for the breach, or there may be no penalty at all.
    Useful Links
    What the family court expects from parents
    Can my ex stop me moving away with the children?
    My ex and I can’t agree on our child’s school
    Supporting children through divorce: Listen on Spotify
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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.
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    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