The Family Way – with Hegarty, your local legal team

The Family Way - with Hegarty, your local legal team

When family relationships begin to fracture, reaching out for help seems hard, particularly in the current economic climate. The family law team at Hegarty aim to make this stressful, uncertain time more bearable with up-to-date legal knowledge around divorce, separation and child arrangements – with sympathy, understanding and kindness. We spoke to a member of the family team, paralegal Sarah Chapman, to find out more...

Sarah Chapman HegartyFirst of all, can you give us a rundown of what the term ‘family law’ covers?
Well, family law covers a variety of different things including divorce, associated financial aspects of divorce, collaborative law, separation agreements, change of name deeds, and cohabitation agreements, too. We also deal with issues surrounding children including special guardianship orders and child arrangements orders. A child arrangements order replaces the terms ‘custody’, ‘access’, ‘residence’, and ‘contact’. It includes a residence order – who the child lives with – and a contact order: how the child spends time with each parent.

If someone contacts you to say they’re splitting up with their partner and are no longer on speaking terms with them – that’s pretty tricky territory to navigate, isn’t it?
It certainly can be tricky and challenging for anyone going through this. We aim to deal with all family matters with empathy and sympathy and take the ‘tricky’ out by listening to our client’s situation and explaining all of the legal options available to them to help them navigate this difficult time.

We also try to make things easier by focusing on resolving any issues and coming to an agreement away from the courts. At Hegarty, we can also offer collaborative law, which is an alternative approach for couples going through separation or divorce that emphasises cooperation and open communication, allowing couples to have more control over the outcome of their separation and resolve issues out of court.

Our aim is to assist clients in achieving the best possible outcome quickly and amicably, and to try to come to an agreement, particularly when children are involved. Divorce can be especially challenging and emotional for children, and so if both parties can negotiate and come to an agreement, it is especially beneficial for maintaining the best interests of any children.

So, yes divorce or separation is always going to be tricky, but we aim to make things a little easier for our clients, offering support and guidance to try to take the stress out of the situation and work towards getting the outcome that they want.

Are you able to deal with emergency situations, for example if someone is frightened of a partner who is violent?
Yes, we can, and we do deal with emergency situations for people by applying for injunction proceedings, which include non-molestation and occupation orders. A non- molestation order is something that enforces restrictions to prevent a partner or former partner from harming you or your children. An occupation order allows the court to decide who should live in the home or any part of it and who should not, and also has the ability to exclude the other person from an area of 100m around the home.

This would be done in situations such as where one partner is violent, but also another example would be a child that has not been returned to their primary carer by an ex-partner. In this circumstance we would assist by making an emergency application to the court to have the child returned. We would also help the client by discussing their legal options and ensuring them peace of mind moving forward.

What kind of initial advice would you give to two people with children who are planning to separate?
If a couple is separating or divorcing and they have children, the first step is to sit down together and have a conversation to try and reach an agreement regarding the children. This includes things like who the children will live with and how they will spend time with the other. As I said before, we encourage parents to work out a solution outside of the court and in an amicable manner.

If this can’t be done, then we would advise booking an appointment with a lawyer to discuss all the options available to you. We would usually suggest, following an attempt at having a conversation, that we would write a letter on behalf of our client to their ex-partner to see if progress can be made this way. Following this, if no outcome is reached, then we would advise taking the case through mediation and failing that, into court.

HegartyWhat can you offer people who are trying to decide whether or not they need or want legal advice with their separation?
Firstly, whilst online divorce without a legal advisor is possible, it can often be best to make sure things are fully covered and accounted for when factoring in things such as the financial aspects of divorce and more importantly, any children involved. Getting a legal professional is only likely to make things easier and make it more probable that the outcome of the divorce is beneficial to you and what you want.

To make it easier for a client to decide whether they need or want legal advice, we usually have a chat with them over the phone to get a better idea of their situation and determine what help they need. If it’s a straightforward issue, we would typically provide some initial pointers over the phone and explain to them how we can assist them with their case.

We would then offer our one-off, fixed-fee appointment. During this appointment, we gather further information and provide appropriate advice, along with an estimate of costs and timescales specific to their situation. We understand it can often be a lot of information during the one- hour appointment to take in making it potentially challenging to digest. That’s why we always recommend going away and discussing it with friends and family before making a final decision. During this time, you can always call to check any information or ask any questions you have, our team are happy to help.

Hopefully, by this stage the client will have an informed decision as to whether they will instruct a lawyer and we will have offered everything we can to help them feel confident in making this decision.

Just as an extra point, because we want our clients to be fully informed, we do warn about the possibility of future issues that can sometimes be forgotten about during the divorce itself. A legal professional can make sure that nothing is missed and avoid any problems from popping up later down the line.

For help with any aspect of family law, get in touch with Hegarty at or by phoning 01733 346 333.

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