Family & Relationships

Most of us, at some point in our lives, are involved in relationships of one sort or another be it with a partner, parents, grandparents or children. Like many other aspects of life relationships bring with them both rights and responsibilities. This section deals with the more common aspects of relationships and family matters, such as marriage, civil partnerships, ending relationships, children and inheritance.

Our Advisers can give you advice and information about all aspects of family life but may on occasions refer you on to someone, such as a solicitor, more qualified to deal with your specific issues.

Remember all problems can be solved. Here at NESCAB we have a team of Advisers on hand to help you.

Marriage, Civil Partnerships & Co-habitation

Marriage

In the UK a man and a woman can get married if:

  • You are both 16yrs or over (16 and 17 year olds must have parental consent),
  • Single, widowed, divorced, or if they were previously in a civil partnership it has been dissolved,
  • You are not related in certain ways

You must marry in a building that has been solemnised for the purpose of marriage. You can find a list of approved civil marriage and civil partnership ceremony venues here.

A person who is authorised to register marriages in the district must either conduct the ceremony or be present.

For more information about civil and religious ceremonies and what you have to do when you want to marry, see here.

Forced Marriages

Forced marriage, where you are pressurised into a marriage against your will, either through emotional blackmailed or physical threats is a criminal offence. If you are afraid that you might be forced into a marriage you should contact the police or the Forced Marriage Unit. You can also get advice about forced marriages and ‘honour’ crimes from the Honour Network Helpline, telephone 0800 5999 247.

If you are being forced into marriage or are already in a forced marriage you should get legal advice.

You can apply to the county court for a Forced Marriage Protection Order.

This order forbids families from:

  • Taking you abroad for marriage.
  • Taking your passports away.
  • Intimidating or using violence against you.

It can also require family members to reveal where you are. The police can also apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order. If someone breaks the order, they could be sent to prison for up to two years.

If you are afraid that you or someone else may be forced into marriage overseas, before travelling you should contact the address below for advice.

Forced Marriage Unit
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH
Tel: 020 7008 0151

Email: fmu@fco.gov.uk

Civil Partnerships

A civil partnership is legally recognised relationship between same sex couples and has many of the same rights and responsibilities as a marriage.

If you are a same-sex couple you can register a civil partnership if:

  • You are both 16yrs or over (16 and 17 year olds must have parental consent);
  • Neither of you is already a civil partner or lawfully married, and
  • You are not related in certain ways.

You can never register a civil partnership with any of the following relatives:

  • Child, including an adoptive or former adoptive child.
  • Parent, including an adoptive or former adoptive parent.
  • Brother or sister, including a half-brother or half-sister.
  • Parent’s brother or sister, including a half-brother or half-sister.
  • Grandparent.
  • Grandchild.
  • Brother’s or sister’s, including a half-brother’s or half-sister’s, child.

You cannot register a civil partnership with any of the following relatives, unless both of you are aged 21 and the younger of you was not a child of the other’s family before the age of 18yrs:

  • Child of a former spouse or civil partner
  • Former civil partner of a parent or grandparent
  • Former spouse of a parent or grandparent
  • Grandchild of a former civil partner or former spouse.
  • Former civil partner of the person’s child (but only if the child and the child’s other parent is dead)
  • Former spouse of the person’s child (but only if the child and the child’s other parent is dead)
  • Parent of a former civil partner (but only if the former civil partner and the former civil partner’s other parent is dead)
  • Parent of a former spouse (but only if the former spouse and the former spouse’s other parent is dead).

You can register a civil partnership at broadly similar places as civil marriages.

You can also register a civil partnership at religious premises. However religious organisations are not obliged to host civil partnership ceremonies.

For more information about civil partnerships and what is involved, see here.

If you want help or information about civil partnerships, request advice.

Co-habitation

You may chose to live with your partner without going through the formal process of a marriage or registration of a civil partnership.  The rights and responsibilities of co-habiting couples are different in some respects from married couples and civil partners

Note, co-habiting couples are treated as a couple for benefit purposes.

If you want help or more information about co-habiting, request advice.

Divorce & Ending a Civil Partnership

Ending a Marriage

If you and your spouse decide to end your marriage you can decide:

Divorce

You cannot get a divorce unless you have been married for at least 1 year (2 years in Northern Ireland).

To get a divorce you must be able to show the court that your marriage has broken down irretrievably.  This means that one of the following applies:

  • Your partner has committed adultery.
  • Your partner has behaved unreasonably.
  • Your partner deserted you at least two years ago.
  • You’ve lived apart for at least two years if you both agree to the divorce.
  • You’ve lived apart for at least five years if one of you doesn’t agree to the divorce.

If you want to start divorce proceedings you will need to get the forms from the court or you can download them.

There are a number of things that need to be considered when ending a marriage, including;

  • Children and childcare.
  • Money.
  • Housing.
  • Property and possessions.

For more information, see here.

If you want help or more information about ending a marriage, request advice.

Ending a Civil Partnership

If you and your partner decide to end your civil partnership you can ask a court to grant:

If you’re not a British Citizen, ending a civil partnership may affect your right to stay in the UK.

There are a number of things that need to be considered when ending a civil partnership, including

If you want help or more information about ending a civil partnership, you can request advice.

Ending a Co-habiting Relationship

If you are living with your partner to whom you are not married or you are not in a civil partnership with someone, and you decide to end your relationship,  you do not have to take any legal action to separate. However, there may be issues about children, housing, property and money to sort out. This can be done either by informal agreement or by making a written separation agreement.

If you have children, a court can make orders about who the children should live with and have contact with.

A court can also make an order about rights to stay in your home and selling any jointly-owned property.

If you want help or more information about ending a co-habiting relationship, you can request advice.

Family Mediation

Family mediation can help you sort out disagreements and reach decisions about things like money, property and looking after the children. It can also save you money in solicitor’s fees. To use this service, you both have to be willing to go along voluntarily. Any decisions you make there will not be legally binding.

Two main types of family mediation are available:

  • Out-of-court mediation, where you can refer yourselves or be referred by, for example, a solicitor or adviser.
  • Court-based dispute resolution, where you are referred by the court when children are involved.

For more information on Family mediation, watch this video.

Children

Parental Responsibility

The Children Act 1989 defines parental responsibility as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’. Although not defined specifically, responsibilities include:

  • Safeguarding and promoting your child’s health, development and welfare.
  • Financially supporting your child.
  • Providing direction and guidance to your child.
  • Maintaining direct and regular contact with your child.
  • Acting as a legal representative until your child is 16yrs if required.
  • Ensuring that your child is suitably educated.

Who has parental responsibility?

Married parents each have parental responsibility for their child. They share parental responsibility jointly but can exercise it independently.

Unmarried mothers automatically have parental responsibility, whether or not they are living with the child’s father

Unmarried fathers do not have automatic parental responsibility even if they are living with the child’s mother. However, an unmarried father acquires equal parental responsibility if:

  • On or after 1 December 2003, he registers or re-registers his child’s birth jointly with the child’s mother. The date that the child was born is irrelevant. Note re-registration of a child’s birth is possible only in limited situations.
  • He has made a parental responsibility agreement with the mother; or
  • He has acquired a parental responsibility order from the court; or
  • He is appointed as guardian; or
  • He and the child’s mother marry.

Note – It could be argued by unmarried fathers that the fact that they do not have automatic parental responsibility may constitute a breach of a fundamental human right (the right to a family life) which is protected by the Human Rights Act 1998.

Step-parents can acquire parental responsibility for their step-child if they are married to or in a civil partnership with the child’s parent and if:

  • The child’s parent has parental responsibility; and
  • The child’s parent (or both the child’s parents if both have parental responsibility) make(s) a parental responsibility agreement with the step-parent to give the step-parent parental responsibility; or
  • A court orders that the step-parent shall have parental responsibility.

A civil partner or member of a same-sex couple can acquire parental responsibility as an unmarried parent or through a court order that affects parental responsibility. A civil partner can acquire parental responsibility as a step-parent.

From 1 September 2009, if a woman has a child by donor insemination or fertility treatment and she has a civil partner who is the child’s legal parent at the time the child is born, both women have parental responsibility for the child.

From 1 September 2009, if a same-sex female couple are not civil partners, and one of the couple has a child by donor insemination or fertility treatment and the other is the child’s legal parent,  the mother has parental responsibility for the child. The legal parent can acquire parental responsibility for the child if she:

  • Registers or re-registers her child’s birth jointly with the child’s mother. The date that the child was born is irrelevant. Re-registration of a child’s birth is possible only in limited situations;
  • Has made a parental responsibility agreement with the child’s mother; or
  • Has acquired parental responsibility through a parental responsibility order from a court.

Other people, for example grandparents, may be able to acquire parental responsibility

For help or more information about parental responsibility, please request advice.

Contact with your child

It is always best if parents can agree the arrangements for their children such as who the children should live with and when each parent may have contact with the children. To avoid confusion and conflict in the future these arrangements should recorded in writing, dated and signed by both parents.

Family Mediation

If you want to apply to the court for an order relating your children, you usually have to arrange a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting. If you then go on to apply for a court order you will be asked to file a completed Family Mediation Assessment Form (FM1). Note Family Mediation is not required where there are domestic violence or child protection issues.

The courts can make a number of orders:

  • A parental responsibility order – see above.
  • A residence order specifying who the child should live with and  will include a parental responsibility order.
  • A contact order requiring the person with whom a child lives to allow her/him contact with another person.
  • A prohibited steps order which can prohibit a specific activity in relation to the child without the express consent of a court.  For example, a prohibited steps order may prevent a person with a residence order from changing the child’s surname or moving the child to another part of the country.
  • A specific issue order – decides a particular question in relation to the child e.g. which school a child should attend.

Contact Orders

A contact order can specify the nature and frequency of the contact with the child and usually last until the child is 16yrs but it can be shorter and in exceptional circumstances can last until the child is 18.

It can include:

  • Direct contact – visits and/or overnight stays.
  • Indirect contact such as telephone calls, texts and e-mails.
  • Where the contact should take place.
  • Whether someone else must be present (supervised contact).

In rare circumstances a contact order can prohibit contact.

The Court will always consider the child’s welfare above everything else. Generally, the law assumes that it is in the interests of the child to have contact with both parents, unless the child would be at risk of harm by having contact. The Court must also take the child’s wishes into account.

Anyone can apply for a contact order but some people, other than the child’s parents, have to apply for permission to apply for a contact order..

Residence Orders

Anyone who has parental responsibility for a child is assumed to have the right to have the child live with them. This can only be changed by a court making a residence order. Which states with whom the child should live. The court can make a residence order only in respect of a child under the age of 16yrs, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

For help or more information concerning children, request advice.

Wills & Intestacy

It is important to make a valid Will to ensure that any money, property or possessions go to the people you want to benefit. This is particularly important if you and your partner are not married or in a registered civil partnership as, without a will your partner cannot inherit.

To be valid a Will to be valid, it must be:

  • Made by a person who is 18 years old or over; and
  • Made voluntarily and without pressure from any other person; and
  • Made by a person who is of sound mind. This means the person must be fully aware of the nature of the document being written or signed and aware of the property and the identity of the people who may inherit; and
  • In writing; and
  • Signed by the person making the Will in the presence of two witnesses; and
  • Signed by the two witnesses, in the presence of the person making the Will, after it has been signed. A witness or the married partner of a witness cannot benefit from a Will. If a witness is a beneficiary (or the married partner or civil partner of a beneficiary), the Will is still valid but the beneficiary will not be able to inherit under the will.

Although it will be legally valid even if it is not dated, it is advisable to ensure that the Will also includes the date on which it is signed.

As soon as the Will is signed and witnessed, it is complete.

If someone makes a Will but it is not legally valid, on their death their estate will be shared out under certain rules, not according to the wishes expressed in the Will.

For more information about Wills, see here.

If you need further advice about Wills, request advice.

Wills of Service Personnel on Active Service

The requirements for a valid Will are less stringent for service personnel on active service. Such Wills are known as privileged Wills.

If you need further advice about privileged Wills, request advice.

Intestacy

If you die without leaving a valid will, your property (the Estate) must be shared out according to the rules of intestacy.

Only married or civil partners and some other close relatives can inherit under the rules of intestacy.

The intestacy rules are quite detailed. For more information about the rules in England & Wales – see who can inherit if there is no Will – the rules of intestacy.

If you need further advice about intestacy, you can request advice.

Changing Your Name

You can change your name (or any part of it) at anytime you wish provided that you do not intend to deceive or defraud anyone. You do not have to follow any legal procedure you simply start using your new name. However you may be required to provide evidence of your change of name for example when applying for a new passport or driving licence, so it is wise to change your change your name either by Statutory Declaration or by Deed Poll.

Statutory declaration

A Statutory Declaration is a statement, recording your intention to abandon your old name and adopt a new one.

You can prepare a Statutory Declaration yourself, or use a solicitor to help you. However, please note that solicitors normally charge for preparing and witnessing statutory declarations.

If you want to do one yourself, contact us for a sample Statutory Declaration form.

You must sign your Statutory Declaration using your new name. It also has to be witnessed, either by a solicitor (other than the one who helped you prepare the declaration, if you used a solicitor) or by a Justice of the Peace (JP).

Deed Poll

A Deed Poll is a formal document that proves that your name has been changed.

You can prepare your own Deed Poll on a special form, which you can get from a legal stationers. It must be signed in the presence of an independent witness, who must also add their name, address and occupation. You’ll need two witnesses if you want to have your Deed Poll enrolled. The Deed Poll should state that it is ‘signed as a deed and delivered’.

Alternatively you can use a solicitor to draw up the Deed Poll.  This has the advantage that the solicitor will enroll the Deed Poll but it can be expensive so check how much you will be charged first.

For more information on changing your name, see here.

If you would like further advice about changing your name, you can request advice.

NESCAB currently has a volunteer who is also a JP. If you want an appointment with this volunteer to change your name, please contact us.

Changing a child’s name

You can change your child’s name (or any part of it) at anytime you wish provided that you do not intend to deceive or defraud anyone and you have the consent of everyone who has parental responsibility for the child. You do not have to follow any legal procedure you simply start using the child’s new name. However you may be required to provide evidence of your child’s name so it is wise to change your change your name either by Statutory Declaration or by Deed Poll [see above / link to above].

If the declaration is for a child, the child’s parents will also need to sign it. A solicitor or JP may ask to see the child’s birth certificate.

You do not need the consent of the child or young person under 16yrs to change their name but if they object they can apply for a court order to prevent their name being changed provided they can satisfy the court that the understand what is involved.

As a child or young person under 16yrs you cannot change your surname without your parents’ consent.

For more information on changing your child’s name, see here.

If you would like further help about changing your child’s name, you can request advice.

NESCAB currently has a volunteer who is also a JP. If you want an appointment with this volunteer to change your name, please contact us.


You all do a marvellous job. It is a good thing we have places like yours to go to for help and advice.

You all do a marvellous job. It is a good thing we have places like yours to go to for help and advice.


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