Family Law Solicitors

We are a niche firm of solicitors specialising in all areas of family law and associated matters. We understand that relationship breakdown can be one of the most difficult and emotionally draining experiences for an individual. We provide clear positive advice, ensuring that the client fully understands all of the options open to them allowing them to make a balanced decision about how to proceed. All of our initial consultations are free of charge allowing us time to fully explain the options available to you, and you the time you need to fully digest the advice given without having to clock watch.

As specialist family solicitors we are able to assist in many complicated and specialised areas of family law. This could include what might happen if a spouse hides assets, intercepts your mail or email, or hacks into your computer. You may be concerned about what might happen to your business upon divorce or separation, particularly where your spouse or partner has some form of control or involvement in the business. Inheritance issues are also often a cause for concern and a sensitive issue for divorcing couples.

It may be that there are criminal issues to consider. Perhaps one spouse has committed a criminal offence and the criminal court is attempting to confiscate assets, which may include the family home. This may involve issues of conduct which can affect a financial settlement on divorce. Our experience in international children matters such as child abduction law and moving abroad with children may be the assistance you require.

These are just some examples of the more complex situations which may arise following relationship breakdown which Sousa Richards Solicitors specialise in. As a niche firm our specialist family solicitors are able to provide detailed advice and representation whatever complicated family situation you might find yourself in. For a divorce Solicitor in Southampton please contact us on 02380 713060


The breakdown of a marriage can be one of the most traumatic experiences for a person. It will raise all kinds of difficult questions and potential problems that will need resolving. We will help you answer those questions and guide you through both the practical and emotional problems you may face, however complicated and overwhelming they may seem.

The undefended divorce procedure itself is in fact a simple paper exercise, particularly where both husband and wife have mutually agreed that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The spouse applying for the divorce (the petitioner) is only able to present a divorce petition to the court after having been married for at least 1 year. They must prove to the court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down by relying upon one of 5 facts.

International Divorce

It is not unusual these days for families to travel extensively and relocate abroad. In such circumstances, when a relationship breaks down, it is essential that specialist advice is sought as to which country any divorce or family proceedings should be initiated in. There must be a careful and detailed analysis of the benefits and drawbacks of issuing in a particular country. The likely financial outcome in each particular country will often determine the country of choice, which may include consideration of whether there is a binding pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement in existence. Decisions about where children will live, with whom, and in which country may also need to be made which could involve child abduction issues or consideration of moving abroad with children.


A married couple may experience relationship difficulties but may not have reached the point of irretrievable breakdown. A reconciliation may be possible, and perhaps some form of marriage counselling or guidance will assist the couple. A period of separation may be the best way forward for the family, whether temporary or permanent. It is important that agreements are reached regarding the financial issues on separation as soon as possible and recorded in a formal separation agreement. It is also important that specialist legal advice is obtained before negotiating or entering into any separation agreement as in most cases the agreement will be upheld at the point of any future divorce.

A couple may feel that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, but they do not wish to proceed with divorce due to religious beliefs or for other reasons. In such circumstances a Judicial Separation may be considered appropriate. A Judicial Separation involves proceedings similar to that of divorce, and specific financial applications can also be made to the court if agreement cannot be reached.


An annulment is a legal declaration by the court that the marriage was not legally valid when entered into, or has become legally invalid subsequently. The grounds for annulment are very limited and are not always easy to prove, therefore it is essential that specialist family solicitors such as ourselves are instructed. Some examples of when an annulment may be appropriate are as follows.

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When a relationship breaks down it is important that the children of the family are prioritised. Breaking the news to children that their parents are separating is a tough time for any parent or carer. It is essential that such issues are handled sensitively by all members of the family in a planned and calm manner so that the children are reassured that their parents love them and so that they know what to expect about where they will live and when they will see both parents in the following months. It is always best if the adults involved are able to discuss any disputes and reach agreement themselves directly rather than having to use the court process to make a decision about such issues. Specialist legal advice should be taken and use of Mediation or the Collaborative Law process should be considered to achive the best possible outcome for the children.

Only as a last resort should an application to the court be made. The court will only become involved and make orders in relation to children where it is necessary for them to do so and where it is in the best interests of the children. We are able to give detailed and clear advice on the following:

In considering any application the Court’s paramount consideration will be the welfare of the children and as such it will consider a number of factors known as the ‘welfare checklist’. The Children Act 1989: Statutory Welfare Checklist. Under Section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989 the court must have regard in particular to :-

Financial Matters upon Divorce or Separation

At Sousa Richards we actively encourage divorcing or separating couples to agree financial matters sensibly and amicably whether directly, through Mediation or via the Collaborative Law process.

Consent Order

If you agree financial matters upon divorce a consent order can be drafted by us incorporating the terms of the agreement. There may be some financial issues which you have not considered if you have come to direct agreement such as pension assets or maintenance payments for example. You will be advised by us about any missing parts of the agreement for inclusion into the Consent Order to ensure that the Order is comprehensive and there is no possibility of the order being overturned or revisited in any way in future.

You will be asked to provide a schedule of the value of assets and liabilities (including equity in property and pension valuations) whether in joint or sole names. This information will be recorded in a form known as a Statement of Information and must be accurate. The Consent Order and Statement of Information are both sent to the Court for approval by the Judge with the Court fee of £45. The Consent Order cannot be filed with the Court until after decree nisi is pronounced and importantly the Court will not accept the Consent Order without the statement of information.

The District Judge will consider the Consent Order and Statement of Information and if satisfied that all is in order the Consent Order will be approved and sealed by the Court making it a final Order and legally binding. The Judge does have the power to refuse to make an Order, although this rarely happens. If on the face of the paperwork the agreement appears essentially unfair the Judge may ask questions or even request a hearing to justify the reasoning behind the agreement.

Court Proceedings

If financial matters are not capable of agreement then it may become necessary to issue court proceedings for financial orders to be made so that a Judge may decide on what should happen with regards to the couple’s finances. If the matter proceeds to a final hearing then the interval between filing the original application and the final hearing may be in the region of 10 – 12 months.

Under the court rules there are various stages where the control of the procedure is in the hands of the court. The principle stages in an application to decide financial orders upon divorce are set out below in a simplified form. It is important to remember that each stage can be avoided if prior agreement or settlement of claims is reached.

First Directions Appointment (FDA)

Both husband and wife and their legal advisors should attend this hearing unless excused from doing so by the court. The court will be in possession of a substantial amount of information about the financial issues between the couple and the Judge will set out an agenda for the case which would usually include a timescale within which the questionnaires must be answered and within which any valuations must be obtained for certain assets such as property, businesses or pensions. The Judge will also consider whether any other evidence should be filed to enable effective negotiations between the couple. This agenda will be set out in a court order and will include a date for a 'Financial Dispute Resolution' (‘FDR) Appointment often 3 – 4 months later.

Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR)

As with the FDA this hearing must be attended by both parties and their legal advisors who must all arrive at least one hour before the hearing is listed so that some negotiations can be attempted before if possible. The FDR will be conducted by a Judge who will have copies of all offers for settlement which have been made and all evidence which has been filed with the Court. There is a duty of on-going disclosure and therefore further updating statements and values may be required at this stage to ensure that an accurate schedule of assets and income can be produced. The purpose of the FDR is to see if it is possible to come to an overall financial settlement. Frequently but not always this objective is achieved and the Judge can then make a final order which once complied with means that the case has been concluded. At FDR a Judge will be invited to give an indication as to the likely outcome of the case if it were to proceed to Final Hearing. This can be an invaluable tool to assist settlement. If the FDR is unsuccessful and agreement is not reached the Judge will give further directions for any remaining documents or evidence to be produced and will fix a date for a Final Hearing.

Final Hearing

At the final hearing the Judge will hear evidence from both husband and wife in a witness box and decide on the appropriate financial order. The Judge will ask specific questions about each party’s financial dealings. The final order may or may not be in line with what one spouse was seeking. This hearing usually lasts at least 1 day or more. When making a financial order upon divorce the Court will take various matters into account. The Court considers all the circumstances of a case, and in particular the Court has regard to the following matters.

Collaborative Law

This unique process is sometimes referred to as 'no court divorce' as avoiding court proceedings is the fundamental aim of the process. It recognises that the breakdown of a relationship is one of the most difficult and painful times in a persons life, and that communicating to resolve issues is often a far more beneficial approach for both individuals than fighting through the court process. It is generally a faster and more family focused approach than the traditional approach. The collaborative process ensures that the divorce or separation is dealt with in a dignified and respectful manner for the benefit of the entire family, and is particularly beneficial where there are children of the family.

Collaborative law involves a series of round table meetings with the couple and their respective collaborative lawyers, allowing honest and open negotiations and avoiding heated solicitor correspondence and the threat of court proceedings. The meetings are tailored to the specific circumstances of the family and the process is extremely flexible so as to enable the best resolution for the entire family, including any children of the family. At the same time you will have your lawyer on hand to advise you throughout and to protect your interests, whilst negotiating a fair and reasonable settlement of the issues within the meetings.

Due to the flexibility of the collaborative process, tailored and creative solutions can be achieved that will benefit the family as a whole. As all meetings are conducted in a dignified and managed way couples are much more likely to be on better terms at the conclusion of the process than if they had chosen the traditional route. It is however fair to say that the collaborative approach is not right for every couple as both must have a genuine desire to resolve matters, as well as being able to listen to and respect the views of the other. You should contact Catherine Sousa on 02380 713060 for further information about this area of law, or visit the Collaborative Family Law (CFL) website

Sousa Richards Mediation Services

Sousa Richards Solicitors are fully committed to resolving family disputes amicably where possible. We offer a full range of family services including solicitor mediation. From April 2011 due to a change in family law procedures any person wishing to make a specified family application to the court must first have attended a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM). At this meeting you will discuss with the mediator whether the mediation process is suitable for you and whether any other form of dispute resolution such as collaborative law may be preferable.

Mediation provides separating couples with a forum to come to agreed settlements themselves. The mediator is impartial but will assist you in negotiating a solution that works for you.

A solicitor mediator can 'reality test' the proposals you are making, introduce possible options, and give you detailed information about legal issues and processes. They do not give legal advice. Both of you have the option of obtaining legal advice from your own solicitor throughout the mediation process, and indeed will be encouraged to do so.

You decide what is right for you together. You both have to be in agreement to reach settlement, so there are no winners or losers. By contrast the Court process is adversarial and stressful; and ultimately if you cannot agree a settlement during the course of proceedings the Court will impose a solution on you.

Mediation is voluntary. You can withdraw from the process at any time if you are not happy with it. It involves you attending a series of meetings to discuss the areas of conflict and negotiate a sensible solution. If agreement is reached it is invariable significantly cheaper than if you had independently instructed solicitors and proceeded with the traditional adversarial route.

Unmarried Couples

There really is no such thing as a common law husband or wife and this common myth leaves many cohabitees financially unprotected. A person will not gain any legal rights or financial protection by virtue of them living with another person (whether it be for 30 days or 30 years!), unless they are married or have entered into a civil partnership with that person. Principles of fairness and reasonableness do not apply to unmarried couples and often upon separation the financial outcome can be very unjust. To avoid such an unfair outcome, or indeed a very costly legal dispute should the relationship end, the couple should consider entering into a living together agreement at the outset of the relationship.


When purchasing a property jointly as an unmarried couple you should both consider very carefully how the property will be owned, although it is usually appropriate to own the property as tenants in common as opposed to joint tenants. This is particularly important should you be making unequal contributions to the purchase price in order to avoid any future property disputes. Unfortunately there are occasions where either the couple are not given accurate legal advice in this area, or do not fully understand the advice they are given when they are purchasing their home. We are able to offer specialist and clear advice to unmarried couples in relation to their property purchase.

Schedule 1 Children Act Claims

Applications can be made by a parent or guardian under the Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 for financial provision in relation to a child who is living with them. Such financial provision can include maintenance orders, lump sum orders and property transfer or settlements. These applications are complex and often made in conjunction with an application under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA). Specialist advice should be sought from us in this area as soon as possible after the breakdown of a relationship where there are children involved.

Parental Responsibility

An unmarried father will only have automatic parental responsibility for his child if he is named on the birth certificate and if the child was born after 1st December 2003. Parental responsibility can be acquired by a father by marrying the mother, by entering into a parental responsibility agreement or by obtaining a parental responsibility order from the court. For detailed advice in any of these areas please contact us on 02380 713060 for a free initial consultation.

Civil Partnership

For some time now same sex couples have been able to have their partnership registered by conducting a civil ceremony similar to that of marriage, giving legal recognition to the relationship and their commitment to each other. However with such legal recognition comes associated risks should the relationship breakdown. It is important that the couple receive independent, comprehensive advice about the legal implications of the registration.

A civil partnership cannot be dissolved within the first year after registration. Thereafter the grounds for dissolution and the facts that must be proved are similar to that of divorce, other than adultery is not a permitted reason for dissolution of a civil partnership. Civil partners also have similar legal rights to financial provision on dissolution as with a divorcing couple, including claims against property, maintenance, pension sharing and potential inheritance act claims.

Remember that registration of a civil partnership will automatically revoke any previous will or codicil that had not been made in contemplation of the registration of the civil partnership in the same way marriage does and a new will should be executed. For more detailed advice please contact us on 02380 713060 for a free initial consultation.

Property Disputes

You may be purchasing a property as your first home, an investment property or as a business asset. It may be a joint purchase with your spouse, partner, parents or other family members. Whatever the circumstances it is important that when jointly purchasing a property all owners consider very carefully how they are to hold the property in order to avoid a future dispute. The relationship between the owners, their respective contributions and tax implications like with appartement loi pinel 2020will all need to be considered when advice is given at the point of property purchase. There are 2 different ways in which you will be able to jointly own a property.

Joint Tenants. The owners do not own any distict share in the property and they share the property equally. Should one owner die, their share will automatically be left to the surviving owners irrespective of what may be written in their will.

Tenants in Common. The owners will own a specific and distinct share in the property, usually defined as a percentage. This may either be an equal or an unequal share. The shares should be clear and detailed within a declaration of trust. Should one of the owners die their share will pass in accordance with their will or under the rules of intestacy should no will have been made.

Orders for Sale

If you are contemplating divorce proceedings or dissolution of a civil partnership then any order for sale required should be sought within the associated financial proceedings. Should there be no divorce or dissolution proceedings then an application for sale will usually be made under the Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA). Whether applying for or defending an order for sale you should ensure that you receive specialist legal advice from us, especially if the application is made by the mortgagee and there is a risk of repossession

Trusts of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA)

There are occasions where the registered legal ownership of a property does not correctly reflect the true ownership (known as the beneficial ownership). This may be as a consequence of unequal financial contributions towards the property which have not been recorded properly, or perhaps where a non-owner has acquired an interest in the property in some way (a resulting or construtive trust). In such circumstances it may be necessary to apply to the court for a declaration of ownership, or for an order for sale under the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996 (TOLATA). The law in this area is very complex. The case must be prepared thoroughly and correctly at the outset if it is to have any chance of success. The case will require specialist knowledge and advice in this area which we are able to provide you with.

Business Assets

Many couples enter into business together for all sorts of reasons. It may be that both are involved in running the business, or more commonly one person has primary responsibility for the business and the other is a partner, director or shareholder for tax reasons. When that relationship breaks down the business will also be affected, and it is essential that specialist advice is sought as to how best to deal with the family business.

When entering into a business with your spouse or partner advice will be usually be sought from an accountant and tax advice will be given. Advice may also be sought from a solicitor about the business itself and how it is to be set up. The business plan will inevitably have an exit strategy and detail what might happen if the business fails. However, often too little consideration is given as to how any divorce or separation will affect the business. We are able to plan for these eventualities by entering into a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement.

Disputes about the family business and problems that may be encountered are: One spouse withdrawing business funds, or dealing with business assets without consulting the other. One spouse refusing to resign as a partner, director or shareholder causing problems for the business. Disputes about who will continue the business or whether the business should be sold or closed down. Disputes about the value of the business, or whether funds can be raised to pay a settlement. Advice being sought by a co-director or partner whose other partner is going through a divorce and how they can protect their share in the business.

Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements

A pre-nuptial agreement is a legal agreement entered into prior to a marriage or civil partnership. The agreement will detail who owns what at the time of marriage and also how the couple intend that those assets should be divided in the event of divorce or separation.

A post-nuptial agreement is a similar legal agreement (sometimes referred to as a deed of separation or separation agreement) which entered into after the marriage or civil partnership. It might be entered into before or after separation

Technically speaking these types of agreement are not legally binding in this country; however, following the recent landmark Supreme Court case of Radmacher v Granatino, the Court will now give great weight to these agreements and uphold the terms agreed except in rare cases. Such cases might be where either the agreement was not entered into freely by either party, that either party did not have a full understanding of the implications of the agreement at the time of signing it or if it would be essentially unfair to uphold the agreement. These agreements cannot override the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973

If you are considering entering into a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement the you should take the following steps to ensure the best chance of it being upheld at some point in the future:

obtain independent legal advice. A specialist family solicitor should be instructed to ensure the agreement is correctly drafted and that you fully understand both the terms of the agreement and the implications of it. You cannot both obtain advice from the same solicitor and must instruct solicitors separately.

provide full and frank financial disclosure. An accurate schedule of the assets and income of both parties should be attached to the agreement as evidence of the fact that both parties were fully aware of the financial implications of the agreement. Documents to support the figures detailed in the schedule should also be provided.

do not delay. You must avoid any allegations of duress or undue influence where possible and with this in mind a pre-nuptial agreement should be entered into as early as possible before the marriage ceremony. Agreements should be entered into at least 28 days before the marriage if possible.

ensure the agreement is fair. If the agreement is esentially unfair as it is weighted too far in favour of one person, there is less chance of it being upheld. The court is unlikely to uphold an agreement that would result in one person being left unable to meet their financial needs, especially where children are involved.

preview the agreement. Pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements should only last until the birth of the first child of the family or for up to a period of five years. A provision for review by way of a further post nuptial agreement after being married for several years should be included in the agreement.