You'll have seen that on our Facebook page recently we have been posting some of our client's questions and our answers to their legal problems. Everyone's situation will be unique but the information we give on Facebook can help someone decide whether they need further help from us. Here's a collection of the posts that our followers were most interested in.
Jess' Question: Can I sit with my daughter when she goes to court for her hearing? Can I sit with my daughter in court as she does not have an attorney, not as representation but only support?
Neelam says: Usually, no. The family court is not open to the public and only the parties and their representatives are permitted to attend.
However, it is possible to get permission for a McKenzie Friend to attend with your daughter. A McKenzie friend assists an unrepresented person in a court. This person does not need to be legally qualified and is often a friend or family member. You would not be able to speak for your daughter but you can take notes, remind her what she planned to say and generally be supportive.
The other party will need to agree as well as the judge. Provided the friend is somebody suitable (perhaps a new partner would be inappropriate), permission is usually granted.
There are professional McKenzie Friends that can offer the same support for a fee. They tend to be cheaper than a solicitor but are not able to give advice about the legal issues.
Carol's Question: Can I get engaged before the divorce is finalised?
Neelam says: Yes, you can get engaged while your divorce is pending. Being engaged is not a legal contract like a marriage. Being engaged could impact on your divorce and associated financial and children matters though. It raises the issue of adultery, intended cohabitation and financial support from another person.
Colin asked: "In a separation are mothers always awarded custody of the children?"
Lisa says: "Fathers often believe that they are at a disadvantage when a court considers where the children should live, but parents start off on equal terms.
The court will make a decision in the child's best interests, after taking all the circumstances into account.
Often, a baby or a very young child will be more suitably cared for by its mother, but this isn't always true. Many fathers are equally capable of caring for their children from babyhood and not all mothers provide the best care.
Sometimes it’s simply a matter of practicalities. Perhaps the mother doesn’t work whilst the father has a full-time job.
The existing circumstances are very relevant. If the couple have already separated and the children are settled with one of them, the court will be reluctant to change the status quo.
Each case depends on its facts but the focus will always be to achieve the arrangement that is the best interests of the child."
Sarah’s Question: Hi, I have two little girls (3 years and 1 year old). Their Dad is very abusive mentally and physically, I want to leave him but I’m worried he can get our girls. How can I keep him away from us? He has told me in the past he never wanted kids and they are pains.
Lisa says: First of all, you need to get your girls and yourself to safety. Call your local police or Women’s Aid for assistance. They can help you find somewhere safe to stay. Then you need a solicitor to help you get a non-molestation Order that forbids him from contact you or approaching you. You should also apply for a court order that says what the arrangements for the children will be. It is very unlikely he would obtain an order saying the children should live with him but you need a court order to confirm it.
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