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Settling Family Disputes: Repercussions in Court

View profile for Melanie Loxley
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Family disputes can arise in many different circumstances and can involve a wide range of issues - from those concerning financial matters to those involving children, as well as a myriad of issues in between

Financial disputes

Many of the disputes our family team helps resolve stem from the parties being unable to agree on how their financial claims against one another should be settled. The law is very different for those who are married or in civil partnerships (Financial claims on divorce - how to achieve financial settlement ( and those who cohabit (Cohabitation solicitor and unmarried couples Family law solicitors Essex (

Whatever the relationship status, financial disputes in modest asset cases often centre around a few key issues: whether the family home should be sold, when it should be sold and how the sale proceeds or equity in the property should be divided.

In an ideal world, all couples, whether married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting, would agree and document in advance what they intend to happen should they separate in the future. Depending on their relationship status, this can be easily and relatively cheaply achieved by entering into either a Prenuptial Agreement or Cohabitation Agreement with the help of a specialist family solicitor. These agreements are becoming more and more commonplace, although the vast majority of cases we deal with still don’t have them. That may be because those with these types of agreements in place have less need to instruct family solicitors. However, it remains crucial for any agreement reached between a couple on separation to be formally documented with the help of a specialist solicitor since, otherwise, it won’t be legally binding and can be revisited in the future. Sadly, I think many couples don’t realise this when they do a “DIY” divorce online. (The divorce statistics: financial remedy - Birkett Long Solicitors)

Where no such Prenuptial or Cohabitation Agreement has been signed, a couple who are in dispute can explore various forms of ADR but if these should fail or if one or both parties are not willing to use ADR, ultimately an application will have to be made to the court. 

Court applications are expensive and the Family Court is facing significant delays, both in processing paperwork and in listing court hearings. This is one of the primary reasons why ADR is becoming more and more popular.  

The court requires specific information and documents to be gathered and completed by the parties in accordance with a timetable which the court will fix. There can be serious consequences if those documents and information are not appropriately collated and prepared before the first hearing.  

For instance, the case may have to be re-listed to enable the proper preparation to be undertaken, in which case the next hearing may not be for many months. Cost orders can be made against parties who do not comply with court timetables – court time is valuable, and judges do not like it to be wasted. Furthermore, the couple will have wasted a valuable opportunity to narrow the issues as far as practicably possible or perhaps even to settle matters at that first hearing. Poor preparation could mean that the time, money and energy that has been invested to that point will have been for nothing.   

Children disputes

Disputes concerning children again can vary widely, from where they go to school to who they should live with. If all attempts to resolve the dispute have failed, or if there is an urgent issue to be determined, an application can be made to the court. 

In certain cases, the court can deal with a hearing on short or no notice, but generally, both parties will have a few weeks’ notice of the hearing and will have time to consult a specialist family solicitor for advice and representation. In advance of the hearing, various documents will need to be prepared and, if possible, agreed upon between the parties to ensure that the court’s valuable time can be focussed on the matters that are in dispute. 


For any family dispute, having a well prepared bundle which includes succinct, well drafted documents helps the court enormously. Many don’t realise that the Family Court often has many cases listed before each judge at the same time and that the judge has the unenviable task of trying to juggle all of them with very little time to dedicate to each case. Long, poorly drafted, ill conceived documents or arguments will not impress the judge and will certainly not help your case!

At Birkett Long, we are experts in preparing for court hearings. We can ensure everything that needs to be done before the hearing is in place and present your position in the best possible light to maximise the chances of resolution at the earliest possible stage.

If you would like to know more about settling family disputes and how we can help, our family solicitors all offer a free initial 15-minute telephone appointment to discuss your needs. I can be contacted on 01206 217384 or via email at

The contents of this blog are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this blog.