Family Law Briefing 2019: Past, Present and the future.

Family Law Briefing 2019: Past, Present and the future.

Following a successful series of Family Law briefings we reflect on many of the aspects raised during the presentation and Q&A session.

Family law is often associated with divorce, the reality is that family law encompasses a wide range of subjects that affect all areas of personal and family life. No two families are the same and family issues are often sensitive and can be emotional and stressful for all those involved.

An awareness and understanding of family laws and legislation can help people in our community to avoid conflict and chaotic situations in their daily lives, ensuring a better quality of life.

It has been over 45 years since the Matrimonial Causes Act which still is the legislation under which divorces take place. Moreover, its been over 40 years since the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act which still contains the rules surrounding claims being made against someone's estate after their death. The world we live in has changed so much during this time but the law has failed to keep pace.

While the team acknowledged a lot has changed in the law in recent years, there is still a lot that is out of date and even more alarming for Caroline Eaton, Family Solicitor was the increasing misconception around 'common law' husband and wife rights. Caroline said "We have seen developments in the law over the last 20 years or so when it comes to dealing with family finances upon the breakdown of a marriage. These developments have gone someway in reflecting the changing nature of modern family life. However, despite cohabiting couples being the fastest growing family type, the law has a much tougher job on its hands when it comes to dealing with the finances for unmarried couples when their relationships come to an end. There is no such concept as a "common law marriage" and couples often find, to their distress, that despite a long relationship which may have produced children or property ownership, that they are not entitled to the same rights and protections that married couples enjoy, if their relationship comes to an end or one of them passes away.

We think awareness is the key, and it's important that couples know the legal distinctions between being married and cohabitating, and how the current legal framework can help them to protect themselves, their partners and their families in the future. Whether the current legal framework is fit for purpose when it comes to providing adequate protections for unmarried couples is all part of this huge debate."

During the briefing the team covered:

  • 1973 Matrimonial Causes Act - how divorce law has developed (or not!)
  • 1975 Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act – how does this apply in our changing society?
  • 1989 Children Act – how has this adapted to new responsibilities of parents and the ending of old stereotypes
  • Claims against estates after death and contested probate disputes
  • The development of same sex relationships and marriage
  • Unmarried couples – the new "normal" but no rights

One of the changes Clapham & Collinge have introduced is how we deal with contentious probate and Inheritance Act claims within the Family Team. Increasingly the courts are treating litigation between families after death as family proceedings rather than the traditional view of it being civil litigation as the issues are very similar as well as the skills needed to deal with them.

Emerald Priscott, Family and Contested Probate Solicitor said "It is really important to hold legal briefings like these to raise awareness about topical legal issues in order to educate but also to "de-bunk" some of the myths. People don't like to think about there being a dispute after someone has died but contested probate cases are on the rise. There appears to be a number of reasons for this. One of the main reasons is that we are living our lives in different ways and there has been significant changes in the family structure. Blended families are more common than ever with many couples cohabiting, divorcing, remarrying and having children from previous relationships. Whilst these structures are exciting and ever evolving, they also bring more scope for arguments when loved ones have passed away. Society generally is also becoming wealthier as house prices continue to rise, estates become larger, meaning that there is more to argue about and people are prepared to take a punt. Contested probate is not going to be going away anytime soon!"

"The contested probate "horror stories" highlight the importance of making sure that you have the correct legal documents in place to ensure that your estate is dealt with in accordance with your wishes after you pass away. Making a Will is one of the ways that you can do this. It is important to keep your Will under regular review and especially after any life changing event. This may seem costly and burdensome but it can avoid problems later on down the line. After all, prevention is better than cure!"

Slides are available to download from the briefing to accompany the video playback of the individual speakers as listed below.

  • Neale Grearson, Family Solicitor and Partner. Introduction and family law timeline from 1973.


  • Caroline Eaton, Family Solicitor. Family law timeline from 1989 and the modern family.


  • Emerald Priscott, Family and Contested Probate Solicitor. Contested probate, past and present.


Delegate feedback:

"The whole presentation was very enjoyable."

"The presentations were all very good, interesting, relevant and up to date information"

"I enjoyed the matrimonial part of the presentation and the strong historical perspective"

"Background history of family law was very useful"

"As always, excellent presentation. I enjoyed it all"

"Excellent speakers, very interesting topics, perfect venue!"

At Clapham & Collinge we have a dedicated team of experts who are able to provide you with all of the necessary information, support and legal advice on Family Law, Wills, Trusts and Probate and Will Disputes. Contact us today on 01603 693500 or email us using the 'Make an enquiry' form.

Appointments available at our Norwich, North Walsham and Sheringham offices.

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