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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

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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

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    2023 In Review – Reflections on the Year in Family Law

    2023: A Year in Review
    Julian Hawkhead, Managing Partner, Reflects on the Year
    It has become something of a tradition for me to write a note as we draw towards the end of the year to reflect on what has happened over the past 12 months. Doesn’t the time fly by? This year I’m delighted to be joined by a few colleagues around the firm who have put down some thoughts on what has stood out for them over the course of 2023.
    At Stowe, it has been quite a year again! I’m trying to find some clever way of linking “Stowe” and “grow” together but have failed but yet again we have continued to cement our place as the most dominant family law practice in the country. We saw our colleague numbers increase to over 360 with a total of 178 lawyers serving 88 locations around the country. Yes, that’s right, we have 88 office locations, adding 22 new locations including those from Watson Thomas and Crisp & Co. this year. It has been an absolute pleasure to get to know our new colleagues from those two firms, to learn about their ways of working and what they have done to make themselves successful to continue improve our own Stowe Way of Working.
    Our client numbers also increased by 25% and by early December we had over 4,000 progressing matters underway as we continue to strive to support more and more people.
    Joanna Newton on The Rise of the Legal Age of Marriage
    In February this year, the legal age of marriage rose to 18. This has meant that 16- and 17-year-olds who were previously allowed to marry with parental consent are no longer allowed to marry or enter a civil partnership in England and Wales.
    As of 27th February, it is now a criminal offence to arrange a marriage for under 18-year-olds under any circumstances. The offence is now punishable by 7 years in prison.
    The idea behind this new law is to better protect children from being forced into underage marriages and protect them from abuse and coercion. The change is to crack down on forced marriages which can cause lasting psychological, and sometimes physical, damage on a child. It is also part of the government’s continuing commitment to tackling violence against women and girls.
    Prior to the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Minimum Age) Act 2023, the law had been unchanged since 1949 and had legitimised child marriage with children aged 16 and 17 permitted to marry with their parents’ consent.
    The mechanism of parental consent which existed under that law, whilst meant to be a safeguard, has, in some cases, proved to be a vehicle for parental abuse.
    This change is a welcome relief and over the coming years we will hopefully see it having a considerable impact reducing the number of forced marriages and violence against girls in particular.
    Gemma Davison on Changes to Fertility Legislation
    Earlier this year, the government announced that there would be a change to fertility law which aims to reduce the discrimination that female same-sex couples face when they are looking to conceive via reciprocal IVF (where one woman provides her egg and the other carries the child). It will also encompass a change for same-sex couples where one or both partners have HIV but the viral load is undetectable.
    Female same-sex couples will no longer be required to have an additional screening for infectious diseases (including rubella, hepatitis B and C) which will remove this extra barrier not faced by heterosexual couples and reduce costs by up to £1000.
    For same-sex couples with undetectable HIV viral loads, the change in legislation will mean that the couple will have access to IVF treatment, including known sperm or egg cell donation to friends or relatives.
    These changes will hopefully work to reduce the inequality that exists between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples regarding fertility options and treatment. However, there is still a way to go.
    In August 2022 as part of the Women’s Health Strategy, the government committed to removing all financial barriers for same-sex couples that are not faced by heterosexual couples. We are still awaiting this change. I hope to see more progress in reducing discrimination in the fertility space and more support of this method of parenthood in 2024.
    Megan Brookfield on ‘Love bombing’ being Recognised as a Sign of Abuse by CPS
    In April this year, the Crown Prosecution Service updated their guidance on controlling and coercive behaviour to include the term ‘love bombing’. The guidance now advises prosecutors on the range of tactics perpetrators of abuse can use against their victim and discusses love bombing and what this entails. Love bombing is a phrase used to describe a scenario whereby the abuser will periodically carry out over-the-top loving acts in between other behaviour to confuse and control their victim. It is most commonly seen in the early stages of a relationship.
    The update is a positive step. It has highlighted the diverse ways in which perpetrators can exact control of their victim. Furthermore, it provides a degree of clarity on the role of love bombing and how it is a coercive tactic. It also gives family lawyers a legal framework with which to support clients and indeed when obtaining protective orders from the family court.
    There are still numerous challenges to face when proving coercive control. The updates in legal framework have certainly improved this, but it is clear that more work needs to be done to help and support survivors and their families, particularly for those seeking to leave their abusive relationship.
    Ashley Le Core on Child Arrangements in International Divorces
    Most of us will have seen something about the divorce of Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner earlier this year. Their divorce raised some very interesting points in the family law space, including which jurisdiction should accept the divorce proceedings and associated financial remedy proceedings. This is particularly important to consider, as different jurisdictions will provide two differing ways of handling assets, which could favour one party over the other.
    However, most of the media drama of the divorce has been specifically about child arrangements, raising the issue of who gets the kids in international divorces, as Turner is British and Jonas is American. From media reports, it appeared that they had planned to settle their two young daughters in England. Initial divorce proceedings, however, saw some issues on this front, including accusations of child abduction.
    Unlike many divorces, these parents are of course very wealthy and therefore the reality is that wherever the determination is made that the children shall primarily reside, the other parent should be more than able to purchase an appropriate property in that country and therefore, the impact on the children will be drastically reduced. This is of course not available to every party in such cases.
    No absolute certain details are known about the long-term arrangements in relation to this divorce at this stage, but in the interim, the girls will travel between the UK and the US. In international divorces generally, it is unlikely the court would expect children to be travelling between countries on a regular basis, especially if they are of school age. In these cases, the primary focus has to be their schooling.  The onus would therefore be on one of the parents to do more of the travelling and to have a base in the relevant jurisdiction. The children then spend more quality time with their parents over longer periods such as school holidays.
    The Jonas/Turner divorce has been an interesting study in the various complex aspects involved in international and multi-jurisdictional divorces and has particularly drawn attention to what happens to children in such circumstances.
    A Final Sign Off
    There is little I can add to what has been said so eloquently above and a huge thanks to them for taking the time to share their thoughts. Family law is always evolving whether that is to reflect the changing values of our society, to adapt to the political or economic climate or to anticipate what factors such as new (and what can seem scary) technology. As a leadership team we are constantly surveying the horizon to see what might be coming up, whether that is a possible change of government or some new AI innovation. Whatever happens I do believe that 2024 will be great and exciting year.
    Wishing you and your families a safe, restful and joyous festive season.
    Julian, and all at Stowe Family Law. More