What has changed in family law?
Off I waddled, all aglow and clutching gifted babygros and soft toys, in September 2014 to have my first baby. I’d been working as a family lawyer by that point for nearly 15 years and I was ready for a break. Seven years and three babies later it began to dawn on me, as I picked a dried Cheerio out of my hair, that it was time to get back to work. The horror of the last winter lockdown, with the home-schooling, the continual drizzle (Cornwall, obvs) and the developing wine habit, helped me to confirm that a little more balance in my life was required. I stepped out of my dog walking boots and into some proper shoes, thrilled to find that after only a couple of toe-crippling days, I could walk in them again as I found my way back to paid employment. A few months down the line and what has changed in family law?
Not only is a divorce now no-fault, but we do the whole thing online. This is truly ground-breaking stuff and something I did not think I would see. It means that we can concentrate on the really important issues – the children and the finances.
Becoming a mother has not altered the way in which I advise my clients. I was in my thirties when I had my first child and so this was a question I received fairly often from clients when delivering advice that may not be….. palatable. I have the same appreciation for the law and understanding of how the court will deal with, in particular, disputes regarding how a child’s time ought to be split between parents as I ever did.
So many more people are seeking prenuptial agreements prior to a marriage, particularly a second (or third). At the point at which I “retired” in 2014 I dealt with, perhaps, two or three each year. However, prenuptial agreements now account for approximately 20% of my caseload. Which is a marked increase. Part of this is down to the time that has elapsed since the ruling in Radmacher v Granatino 2010, which effectively provided that once a prenuptial agreement has met certain conditions then it is more likely to be upheld by a court.
Parents are, far more, sharing the care of their children following a separation, and doing so by agreement. I am finding that it is becoming more of a cultural norm and that the courts are fully supportive of shared care arrangements. I think the fact that so many more women are not giving up their careers once children arrive, coupled with fathers wanting to be more involved with their children’s lives than ever before, means that there is a fairer spread of labour during the marriage or relationship, which then naturally segues into how the family will conduct themselves following separation. I’m so pleased by this development as I think it illustrates only good things about how society views families and (predominantly) fathers.
It was recently reported that marriage rates have dropped again. Now there are more babies born out of wedlock than in.. The difficulty with this is that, in the event of a relationship ending, there are few laws governing how assets should be divided, even with children in the picture. I am reassured by the number of people who have instructed me to prepare a cohabitation agreement or declaration of trust compared with how few I dealt with before I went off on my extended maternity leave.
On the whole then, some things have changed in family law, but all good so far. The best has been that I no longer have a permanent slick of marmite on my clothing. Just the weekend…..
– Chartered Legal Executive, Katie Nightingale