Matrimonial and Family Law

Experience tells us that issues such as divorce, separation, domestic abuse, harassment, seeking contact with your children or social service involvement in your family are emotionally charged, challenging, exhausting and sometimes, if we are honest, frightening and overwhelming.

We offer support, clear and straightforward advice and a promise to protect your best interests at all times.

Our team of specialist family lawyers will represent your interests in a dynamic and decisive way, dealing with issues promptly, thoroughly and compassionately.
Janice Spence heads up the family department and has a wealth of experience together with a reputation for consistently yielding results when dealing with novel or difficult circumstances.

Janice specialises in high value and complex divorce and matrimonial cases. As a member of the Guardian Ad Litem panel, the Children’s Order panel ,a qualified collaborative lawyer and advanced advocate she has a huge range of skills and experience to draw on whether acting for spouses, parents or children.

Catherine Sides, also a member of the Children’s Order panel, has extensive knowledge and experience particularly in the area of family proceedings, domestic proceedings and care cases.

DMC can assist you with:

'Matrimonial and Family Law' Specialist

Contact Janice on
02892 601421

'Matrimonial and Family Law' Specialist

Contact Catherine on
02892 601421

01.

Divorce and Separation

As Lisburn’s leading matrimonial practice we know emotions can run high and it can be difficult to make rational decisions during a divorce or separation.

If you have taken the decision to divorce or separate, or if your spouse or partner wishes to separate from you it is essential that you seek legal advice as soon as possible. When relationships break down it is often in circumstances where there is little time to prepare for all the decisions that need to be taken. Our Matrimonial team will ensure that you are properly equipped and informed on all decisions that must be taken, especially with regard to children and finances. We will always try to resolve matters for you quickly and without issuing proceedings if at all possible,

You don’t need a court order to become legally separated; the physical act of leaving the relationship is sufficient. You can reach agreement in relation to arrangements for children, payment of maintenance and division of savings, debts and assets, including any property. DMC can help settle matters by negotiating and drafting a Separation Agreement between you and your partner. This can, at a later date, then be made an order of court should you decide to formalise your separation by seeking a divorce.

A Court can only issue a Decree Nisi for divorce however if it is satisfied your marriage has irretrievably broken down. This can happen in 5 different ways:-

1. If one party behaves unreasonably
2. If one party deserts the other
3. If one party commits adultery
4. If you and your spouse have lived apart for two years and your spouse consents to the divorce
5. If you and your spouse have lived apart for five years

We can assist in resolving all financial and childcare issues by discussion and negotiation then prepare a document known as a Full and Final Separation Agreement. This can then be made an order of court as part of your Divorce Petition. Once the court grants your divorce it issues your Decree Nisi. We then apply on your behalf for your Decree Absolute 6 weeks and 1 day after the Decree Nisi hearing.

If we cannot help you resolve matters regarding finances through negotiations then we will issue a Divorce Petition and an Ancillary Relief application on your behalf. Ancillary Relief is the formal process where, in the absence of agreement, the court will make a ruling on the division of assets, savings and debt. Both parties are required to make full disclosure of their respective financial position and we act closely with other disciplines such as accountants, estate agents and actuaries to ensure that we have the complete financial picture before settlement or trial.

These proceedings can be complex and contentious and at DMC we have extensive experience in getting the best results for our clients. Given the effect that the outcome of these proceedings may have on the future of you and your family it is vital that you ensure that you have the very best advice to hand throughout.

02.

Contact and Residence

We know it can sometimes be difficult to reach agreement about arrangements for children. It is often seemingly impossible to decide where children will live and how much contact you or your spouse might have. At DMC the child’s best interest is always at the centre of all decisions we help you make. We strive to help you reach an amicable arrangement wherever we can. If however agreement can’t be found we will represent your interests in Court and assist you, where appropriate, to engage with the Court directed mediation process to present you case to the Court in the most persuasive and appropriate way.

03.

Care Proceedings & Social Services

The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 empowers a Trust to issue an application for a care Order for the removal of a child. Social Services can only seek a Care Order if they believe that the threshold criteria is met and that the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm or the child is beyond parental control.

A Care Order allows the local Trust to share parental responsibility with parents. The Trust can provide the child with accommodation and care until either the child becomes 18, the child is adopted, a residence order is made for another party or the Court discharges the Order and the child returns to the parent. In cases where the Trust believes the child to be in immediate harm or risk they can apply to the Court at short notice for an Emergency Protection Order which will usually allow for the immediate removal of a child.

Usually, before a child is taken into care the Trust will produce a plan for the future care of the child. The Trust is required to make extensive efforts to keep the child with its family but if the efforts are deemed to have failed then the parent(s) will be invited to attend a pre-proceedings meeting with the Trust.

It is vital that you contact us urgently at this point as we can attend the meeting with you and offer advice and support. The parties can enter into a formal written agreement setting out how the child will be cared for. If you don’t agree to the proposals, or subsequently fail to follow the agreement then the Trust will likely progress their application for a care Order.
Given the draconian nature of care proceedings it is crucial that you seek assistance from our DMC expert family team as soon as possible. We will help you present your position to the Trust effectively and to your best advantage which protects both you and your children. We have a proven record in the management of care proceedings and helping repair broken relationships with the Trust. We recognise that there are usually multiple ancillary background family issues which need to be carefully managed as part of the process and we look at you, your perceived problems and your family holistically to help resolve matters.

If the Trust does insist on seeking a Care Order from the court then you will be able to rely upon our experienced and skilled team to fight your corner and to support you each step of the way through the court process. We work closely with other professionals and experts to add support to your position but we will always keep you at the centre of all matters.

04.

Non Molestation Orders

Unfortunately sometimes when relationships break down violence or the threat of violence is all too often present. If you feel that you are at risk of harm or believe that you have been harmed by your partner or spouse contact the police immediately and contact us as soon as possible thereafter. Non Molestation Orders are emergency applications which are given priority at DMC. We will ensure that if you need an Order that we will apply for you at your local Court that day or as soon as possible to get the protection you and your family need. These orders are usually taken on an ex parte basis which means that the court will consider the application without the other side being notified or in court on the first occasion.

05.

Occupation Orders

Very often Occupation Orders go hand in hand with Non-Molestation Orders.   The Family Homes & Domestic Violence Order 1998 legislation very clearly sets out that in order to protect families and children the perpetrator i.e. the person committing the violent act or threatening the violent harm should be removed from the home.   If you have grounds for an Occupation Order then we can ensure that this happens. Again this can be done on an emergency basis and usually without the perpetrator being notified or in court on the first application.

06.

Adoption

The notion of family today is very different from that of 20 years ago or even 10 years ago. Lots of our families nowadays are “blended”.   If your family consists of you, your partner or spouse and your various children then you are part of a growing type of family.   For many step-parents the natural step after commitment to a partner or spouse is the adoption of their step-children.   We have extensive experience in handling step-parent adoptions and deal with all of these applications at local County Court level.   Our attention to detail in attending to the preparation of the application always ensures that the application is straightforward and swift.   Let us help you complete your family.

07.

Civil Partnerships

Marriage for many has become unfashionable. It is a lifestyle choice rather than a necessity. Marriage however does have it owns advantages. Without marriage or indeed a civil partnership you are not protected if your partner dies without a Will or indeed if you and your partner subsequently separate after buying property. You are not necessarily entitled to your partner’s pension benefits or indeed their death benefits following a pension and according to a recent decision in our Court of Appeal you can miss out on widowed pension allowance also. Do not leave yourself or the family you leave behind vulnerable. Contact us regarding a civil partnership and we can discuss with you how best to protect yourself and your family.

08.

Pre-Nuptial and co-habitation Agreements

Pre-Nuptial Agreements provide a measure of certainty and the means of protecting pre-marriage assets, inheritance and existing family commitments such as children from a previous marriage. With figures of divorce in almost one third of marriages in Northern Ireland for many it is a practical way to protect assets. A Pre-Nuptial Agreement is not traditionally enforced under our laws but many believe that they should be legally binding. The Courts do however need good reason not to uphold them. We can help you to ensure that if you do want a Pre-Nuptial Agreement that it will be fair and stand up to the scrutiny of the Court.

09.

Domestic Abuse

The government defines domestic violence as “any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 years and over, who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.  The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to, psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional”.

In Northern Ireland domestic crime is on the rise with 2014/2015 recording the highest level recorded since statistics began.   28,287 incidents were reported to the PSNI, making the incredible statistic of PSNI responding to an incident every 19 minutes of every day.

Do you think you suffer domestic abuse?     If you suspect you might, or have ever spent any time or effort covering up an incident in your home which has occurred between you and a partner, then the likelihood is that you have.   Family life and relationships today are extremely tough with pressures upon couples and families from all directions; whether that be pressures of work and stress, financial pressure, addiction issues or family breakdown.

You do not need to suffer in silence in the hope that it is a passing phase and life will improve.    These are issues which need to be dealt with and these are the agencies willing and able to help:

You can call Women’s Aid 24 hour domestic and sexual violence helpline on 0808 802 1414 www.womensaidni.org/24-hour-domestic-sexual-violence-helpline

At DMC we offer support in tandem with the agencies listed above.     We can help you access the help needed to eject your abuser, move on and away from him/her or indeed try to improve the situation between you and your abuser by getting them help.     Non-Molestation Orders are just one way of accessing help from the Court and police but we offer a holistic and thorough approach and will assist you in negotiating and talks with the Housing Executive, Benefits Agency, Social Services and voluntary agencies to get the very best of assistance for you and your family.

DO NOT CONTINUE TO SUFFER IN SILENCE – WE ARE ALL WAITING TO LISTEN AND HELP.