When it comes to resolving family matters in Scotland, whether it concerns marriage, divorce, cohabitation, separation or children, there are a number of top law firms well equipped to mediate and resolve issues. Complications relating to families can naturally become fraught ones, so it helps having an experienced solicitor handling your case who is well versed in Scots law. 

With new legislation concerning domestic abuse recently passing, along with firms fighting for the rights of the underrepresented including grandparents, an experienced team is key to helping resolve family issues.

Discover some of the key players in Scottish family law below. 

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Brodies

New legislation to protect domestic abuse sufferers

On 1 February, the Scottish Parliament passed the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill in a bid to protect sufferers of both physical and emotional abuse. When the Bill becomes law, it will be a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment, for a person to behave in an abusive way towards a partner or ex-partner. This offence will be aggravated if a child is involved.

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Lisa Girdwood, Brodies

A person will commit an offence if:

• a reasonable person considers that the course of behaviour would be likely to cause their partner or ex-partner to suffer physical or psychological harm; and

• they intended, by the course of behaviour, to cause their partner or ex-partner to suffer physical or psychological harm or that they were reckless in their course of behaviour, therefore causing physical or psychological harm.

This means it is not necessary for a partner or ex-partner to prove they have suffered harm, merely that there was reckless conduct which caused harm – or an intention to cause it.

Who is a partner or ex-partner?

Spouses, civil partners and cohabitants, as well as people in intimate personal relationships who do not live together.

What constitutes abusive behaviour?

Behaviour which is:

• violent, threatening or intimidating;

• making a partner or ex-partner dependent or subordinate;

• isolating a partner or ex-partner;

• controlling, regulating or monitoring a partner or ex-partner’s day-to-day activities;

• depriving a partner or ex-partner of, or restricting, their freedom; and

• frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing a partner or ex-partner.

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Kirsty McGuinness, Brodies

What about the impact on children?

Where there is domestic abuse, children are often involved, whether it is by witnessing abuse or by the abuser involving the child in their actions. The Bill – quite rightly – recognises the impact of domestic abuse upon children and provides that any domestic abuse offence is aggravated when the abusive behaviour is committed towards a partner or ex-partner in a way which involves a child.

The impact of emotional abuse can be devastating for victims, but it has, until now, been difficult to prosecute so it is positive that there is now a potential remedy. We have looked after many clients who have experienced both physical and emotional abuse and even at this early stage, we have provided advice on the new Bill, in appropriate circumstances.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, one of Brodies’ family law solicitors can advise on the protection available for you and your children.

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WRIGHT, JOHNSTON & MACKENZIE LLP

When they work, all families are wonderful.

Sadly, sometimes families don’t work, leading to separation and divorce which can affect your life profoundly. Your work, your home, your assets and your business can all be impacted. And that’s before any welfare issues surrounding your children are brought in. Protecting your interests and those of your children are paramount.

Using the most appropriate methods – it could be collaboration, mediation or court action – we help you deal with the complex issues surrounding your family. We’ll work with you to identify solutions to resolve issues and protect your own interests.

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“Tom Quail exudes confidence and gravitas and is someone you want to listen to."

Our team, led by Tom Quail, can help you with:

• separation and divorce

• cohabitation

• pre and post marriage arrangements and financial settlements

• arrangements for the care of children, such as contact, parental rights, access, custody and residence, adoption.

Our expertise ensures that you know you’ll be in safe hands at a very emotional time for you and your family.

With our acknowledged specialism in family businesses and business families, we have a particular insight on the effects family break up can have on a business. We partner with the Family Business team to mitigate any collateral damage from relationship breakdowns.

For a confidential discussion about your family or personal law issues, please call 0141 248 3434 or

e-mail: enquiries@wjm.co.uk

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TOM QUAIL

Accredited by the Law Society of Scotland, Tom Quail heads the Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP Family Law team. He specialises in Mediation and Collaborative Law and is fully trained and qualified in both. Tom helps families with separation, including civil partnerships and divorce. He works with couples to manage the legal side of their relationship, including pre- and post-nuptial & co-habitation agreements. Where children are involved, he helps with issues around custody, residence and access. Mitigating the effects of divorce or separation on owner-managed businesses is one of Tom’s particular specialisms.

Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP

302 St Vincent Street, Glasgow G2 5RZ

0141 248 3434    wjm.co.uk           @WrightJohnston

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Caritas Legal

Almost all of our clients hold the view that they have worked very hard to buy their home and that their intention has always been to pass their property on to their children upon their death. Unfortunately if either or both parents require residential care the Local Authority have a right to insist that the property is sold to meet the cost of private care.

We receive many calls from adult children whose parents have been deemed to require residential care questioning the Local Authority’s right to force a sale of the property. Unfortunately, at crisis point there is very little that can be done, however planning in advance offers far more options and opportunities to safeguard the family home and ensure that your care costs do not eat up the proceeds of the sale of your home.

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It does not matter that your Will says that your children are to inherit your house. You can only gift assets which you own on your death, therefore if your property has been sold to fund care it is likely that your children’s inheritance will have been significantly depleted.

Principal Solicitor, Lorna Brown has first-hand experience of this situation as her mum was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 52 and required residential care aged 54. As an only child her mum expected to pass on her property to Lorna, however in reality her house was sold to pay for care and Lorna received less than one tenth of the sale proceeds.

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In Scotland anyone with assets exceeding £16,500 must pay for their own care. It is therefore important to take specialist legal advice in order to mitigate exposure to care fees. When advice is sought early it increases the number of solutions available, however there are always solutions, so speak to us about paying for care, asset protection, Wills, Powers of Attorney and more. We are an award winning, specialist legal firm based in Fife with a passion for future planning.

For more information visit www.caritaslegal.co.uk

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Turcan Connell

Separation and divorce can be a challenging and upsetting time for all involved and children in particular can feel powerless and torn between their parents. It can be difficult for people to remember that although they are no longer a couple they are still parents, but this lack of awareness can make life even harder for children.

“Separation is not only an upsetting and challenging time for adults – it can also be an extremely distressing time for children,” says Senior Associate and Solicitor Advocate with Turcan Connell Solicitors. “Children too often find themselves piggy in the middle of warring parents who may be so entrenched in their views as to how best to care for the child that they forget or at least seriously underestimate the impact upon the child of their conduct.”

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Lindsey Ogilvie, Turcan Connell

Lawyers are required to deal with the concept of a child being “resident” with one parent and have “contact” with the other.

Whilst neither gives the parent in question greater legal control, these terms can create an imbalance where the “resident” parent may mistakenly assume that they are able to dictate to the other. In Scotland, married parents, and couples who are not married but where the father is named on the birth certificate – in births post May 4, 2006 – have parental rights and responsibilities equal to one another. The main aim for professionals helping a parent through separation is to encourage the parents to agree the practical and financial arrangements in relation to their children rather than going to court.

Usually parents who can agree their own arrangements are more likely to follow them.

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Noel Ferry, Turcan Connell

The earlier parents can put such arrangements in place the better in terms of laying a good foundation for amicable communication between them going forward it’s important for separating parents to recognise that whilst they may be ready for their relationship to come to an end, it’s most likely that their children are not similarly prepared. Parents should remember that their separation is not an isolated event in a child’s life and further challenges can be avoided if a child doesn’t feel under pressure to choose between one parent or the other and should be told that it is OK to miss their mum when at their dad’s house, and vice versa. Parents should look to the future and ask themselves how they want their child’s graduation or wedding to be.

If such agreement is simply not possible then that matter can be resolved in court, which will have the welfare of the child concerned as its first consideration and will not make an order unless it considers that it is absolutely necessary.

Depending on the age and maturity of the child, the child’s views may be recorded and taken into account by the court in reaching its decision.

Visit www.turcanconnell.com to find out more.

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Grandparents Apart UK

We have been fighting for almost 20 years for changes to laws in relation to families, firstly in Westminster and later in Scotland when this became a devolved matter, but in particular how the legal system actually works in practice for families.

We do encourage grandparents to find a solution to any fall out or disagreement using mediation or perhaps another family member or friend to act as go-between. We explain that everyone must be open to compromise and consideration, with the child at the centre of any discussion or agreement and that adult behaviour may need to change to allow a positive outcome for the child.

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There is a major anomaly in family law in relation to grandparents. If a parent dies before the grandparent, then any child has a legal right to a share of the grandparent’s estate, but the child has no right of contact in life. Is that just or justice?

Some solicitors will tell grandparents they do have rights, but they do not have legal rights as grandparents. They can however have a legal right if they have been ‘significantly involved’ in the child’s life, but so can a neighbour, teacher or friend.

Only trained and experienced practitioners should be dealing with child and family cases at every stage and on every occasion. Mental health issues should also be examined as part of the picture. There should be criteria set which gauges whether a parent is being intentionally obstructive and why. It should always be considered how the child is being affected as this has short and long term effects.

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There is highly publicised Woman’s Aid to support and help abused women and rightly so, but very little for abused men; and there are many who are too often afraid to speak out.  This can be due to a fear of being ridiculed, or believed, or just because they are afraid to leave their children in the care of an abusive mother. Abused Men In Scotland (AMIS) exists to help abused men.

No preconceived prejudices should exist in family courts.  Equality should mean exactly that and until we get that right in our legal system children will always suffer.

Visit www.grandparentsapart.co.uk to find out more.

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Thomson Family Law

Thomson Family Law are a family-run firm based in Glasgow, with an office in Coatbridge. Servicing the whole of Scotland, from the Highlands and Islands to the Scottish Borders, they seek to offer clients a high quality and affordable legal service.

With services including the full range of family law options – from divorce and separation, child contact, custody issues and Children’s Panel hearings – they can help clients with a number of issues. They also offer a comprehensive Wills and Executry service, as well as expertise in a range of civil disputes services including Power of Attorney, Guardianships, Interdict, and complex Professional Negligence and Medical Negligence cases.

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Thompson Family Law Solicitors are registered with the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) to provide Legal Aid. The majority of cases which concern a matter of Scottish Law can be dealt with by way of Legal Aid funding, with a limited number of exceptions.

With roughly 75 per cent of Scottish adults qualifying financially for civil legal aid, the majority of clients will be eligible for some form of Legal Aid funding. Civil Law and Family Law cases can be funded by Civil Legal Advice and Assistance or Civil Legal Aid. Whilst Child Law cases can be funded by Children’s Legal Advice and Assistance or Children’s Legal Aid.

Offering a free assessment to determine whether or not you qualify for Legal Aid, get in touch to find out more.

Call 0141 413 9477 to enquire about Thompson Family Law services or visit www.tfamlaw.co.uk