Family Law

cupped hands holding a paperchain of a male and female child holding the hands of a adult male and female

Family Law Solicitors Middlesbrough

With a team of nine highly experienced lawyers, some holding panel accreditation for the area of law in which they specialise, Watson Woodhouse boast one of the most powerful team of family law solicitors in Middlesbrough.

Rosemary Alderson
Head of Family department

We undertake both publicly and privately funded work in a variety of areas, from adoption and divorce, to care proceedings and domestic violence.

Our team are available to see you at either our Middlesbrough town centre office, or at our branches in Berwick Hills, Stockton-on-Tees and Darlington. Simply click on the area of family law in which you are interested to find out more about the services we offer.

For additional information regarding publicly funded legal services you can also visit The Legal Aid Agency’s website at


Ray Porter
Social Services & Adoption Specialist

Legal Aid

Over recent years the scope of legal aid has been curtailed and so child contact cases generally do not qualify for public funding. We are committed to offering our services at a competitive price.

Phone Watson Woodhouse now to book an initial no obligation consultation.

If you are thinking of adopting a child, Watson Woodhouse can provide you with the legal advice you need to ensure that the adoption process runs smoothly.

Whatever your reasons for adoption, whether you are starting a new family or adopting a partners children from a previous relationship, our expert legal advisers can help. We understand that this is an important time in your family’s life, and we can provide you with sympathetic and professional legal advice to ensure that you can concentrate on enjoying the important aspects of family life.

To make an appointment with one of our specialist legal team, ring us on 01642 247656 or use the contact form above.

With a team of highly experienced lawyers, some holding Children Panel Accreditation, our family department can help you.

Our first consideration and priority is the welfare of your children. Our team is highly experienced in advising and assisting in all aspects of children act work covering:

  • Contact Orders;
  • Residence Orders;
  • Parental Responsibility Orders;
  • Prohibited Steps Orders;
  • Specific Issue Orders.

The separation or the breakdown of a relationship can be a difficult time, particularly if children are involved. We can give you the advice you need to ensure the physical and emotional needs of your children are met. We will deal with your case professionally and expeditiously to avoid any unnecessary delay being caused for your children.

We appreciate that every child has different needs and our advice will be personally tailored to the facts of your case.

What happens if we cannot agree who the children should live with?

We can assist you in seeking to agree the arrangements for your children, and where appropriate, refer you to Mediation. If you cannot agree the Court can be involved and decide. This is the last option. Whenever arrangements for the children are being considered, the focus should be what is best for the child(ren), and this is the guiding principle in the Children Act.

What is Parental Responsibility, and do I have it?

There is no legal definition of Parental Responsibility. It is the responsibility to make welfare decisions for a child in relation to matters including his/her education, health, religion, where they should live etc.

If you are the child's mother then you automatically have Parental Responsibility. If you are the child's father and were married to the child's mother when the child was born, or if you are named as the child's father on the birth certificate (for children born after 1.12.03), then you also have Parental Responsibility.

Can I acquire Parental Responsibility for my child?

If you are not married, the father can acquire Parental Responsibility by:

  • Jointly registering the birth of the child with the mother (for children born after 1st December 2003)
  • Entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
  • Obtaining a parental responsibility order, made by a Court.
We have reached an agreement about contact; do we need a Court Order to be drafted in the same terms to protect us if we later disagree?

It is always preferable to reach an agreement regarding arrangements for the children in order to avoid conflict, which can cause unnecessary stress for both yourself and the children. There is no need for this agreement to be written down, as it is hoped that you will continue to agree the arrangements wherever possible, and make adjustments in line with the changing needs of the children.

It is only necessary to obtain a Court Order to reflect the arrangements for the children if there has been a dispute about this, resulting in Court proceedings being started by either parent. The Court Order would be legally binding and enforceable should either parent later fail to comply with its terms. Court should always be a last resort in matters concerning children.

If you are an adult and wish to change your name you can do it in one of four ways.

Option 1 - Just call yourself something else!

The law of England and Wales does not require adults to follow any procedure in order to change their names. You can call yourself whatever you want, as long as you are not doing it in order to defraud anyone. There is nothing wrong with doing this, from a legal point of view, but it does cause some practical difficulties. You may find that organisations are unwilling to accept that your name has changed without some evidence in writing.

Option 2 - Change Your Marital Status

Your marriage certificate, civil partnership certificate, decree absolute or dissolution of civil partnership certificate will usually be accepted as evidence that your name has changed. Organisations may ask to see the document alongside your birth certificate. You are not obliged to change your name when your marital status changes and can continue to use your original name if you wish.

Option 3 - Statutory Declaration

A statutory declaration is a specially worded document which is sworn as a declaration in front of a solicitor or a magistrate. If you are thinking of using this method of changing your name you should find out whether the organisations you are seeking to convince of your name change, will accept a statutory declaration as evidence. If this method is acceptable then please call and see us today. It is a straightforward process and we will be happy to help you.

Option 4 - Deed Poll

This method uses a formal deed. The deed has to be signed in the presence of two witnesses. The witnesses have to give their names, addresses and occupations. You can simply use the deed poll as evidence of your change of name. If you wish to go further to prove the change of name, you can enrol the deed poll in Central Office of the Supreme Court. A fee is payable to the court.


If you wish to change the name of a child, depending on the circumstance the procedure could be more complicated. At Watson Woodhouse Solicitors we have many years experience in dealing with matters such as these. If you are thinking of changing a child’s name we would recommend that you contact us today for further information.

I want to change my name, can I do this?

Yes, anyone over the age of 18 can change their name as and when they want. You may wish to do this by way of a Change of name Deed. This is a formal document that evidences your change of name and can be used to support your passport application, changes to your driving licence and other formal documents. It is a very simple procedure.

I want to change the name of my children, can I do this?

Yes you can, however, you must obtain the consent of all parties who have Parental Responsibility for the child/children. If they do not consent, then you would need to obtain a Specific Issue Order from the Courts granting you permission to change the child/children's name.

In 2005, the UK gave same sex couples the right to enter into a legally recognised partnership, effectively recognising gay marriage.

Civil Partners have similar rights to married couples in relation to capital gains tax and inheritance tax, wills and inheritance law, pensions, insurance, housing and immigration.

There are some differences between civil partnerships and marriage, for example, in the areas of pension rights and immigration. The Civil Partnership Act also introduced changes, particularly in terms of tax and benefits, which apply to cohabiting same sex couples who decide not to opt for a civil partnership.

Similar to marriage, a Civil Partnership can only be ended by dissolution, by order of the court. The court has the same powers, as in the case of a divorce, to make orders in relation to financial matters and children. No application for dissolution can be made within the first year after registration.

If you are considering entering into a civil partnership – or you are in a civil partnership which you want to dissolve - our legal experts can give you the best advice on how to proceed and advise you on how the choices you make at this time could affect your legal and financial situation.

To make an appointment with one of our specialist legal team, ring us on 01642 247656 or use the contact form above.

What is a 'common law' marriage?

There is no such thing as a common law marriage. People who live together but are not married, irrespective of the length of relationship, are known as 'cohabitees' and the law that applies to married couples does not apply to 'cohabitees'. The Law Commission have made recommendations to change the law relating to cohabitees, but these have not yet been made law.

My partner has left me and is refusing to pay anything towards the mortgage and loans, what can I do?

This depends as to whether the mortgage/loans are held in joint names or held in either your sole name, or your ex partner's sole name. If the mortgage or loan was taken out in your joint names then you are both liable to make the payments, however there is no legal mechanism to rquire your ex partner to contribute towards the payments. If it is in your name then you will be liable for that debt and vice versa. If it is in your partner's name he/she will be liable. You may need to consider reaching a financial settlement with your ex partner in order to divide your assets, and we can advise and assist you with this.

If you have not been married, your ex-partner is not liable to pay maintenance for you, but, if you have children, is liable to pay child support maintenance in accordance with national calculation that is currently governed by the Child Support Agency.

Our house is held in joint names, am I entitled to half of the equity?

Even if the legal title to your house is held in joint names, it is not necessarily the case that the equity will be divided equally, although this is usually the case. We would need to consider certain documents held at the district land registry in order to provide accurate advice about this.

I have separated from my partner; can I make any financial claims against him/her?

Unlike divorcing couples, if you never married to your partner you cannot make any claims in the family courts against their pension or income. You may however have a valid claim in relation to the family home, even if it is not held in your joint names. You would need to establish that you have a beneficial interest in the property.

If you have been subjected to any form of domestic violence or feel that you are at risk of being subjected to violence, are experiencing abuse by a partner or ex partner, please seek help. You do not have to put up with it.

Although domestic violence is vastly under reported, research estimates it accounts for 16% of all violent crime and will affect 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in their lifetime. Domestic abuse may be verbal, physical or emotional, from a spouse, someone you have been in a relationship with or family member. We can advise you on the best course of action to take to protect you.

Everyone has the right to live without fear for their safety. The law is there to protect you and we can offer advice and help you to get the necessary protection.

To make an appointment with one of our specialist legal team, ring us on 01642 247656 or use the contact form above.

What is Domestic Abuse?

Domestic abuse includes not only physical violence, but also psychological abuse which can be in the form of threats of physical or sexual violence, harassment either in person or by text message, phone, or via the internet, and can also include controlling behaviour on the part of your partner.

Domestic abuse can affect anyone regardless of their marital status, gender, religion, race, or age. Domestic abuse can also be very damaging to any children who are involved either directly or by witnessing the suffering of a family member. Whatever its nature, abuse is unacceptable and it should be stopped.

I am suffering from Domestic Abuse, what can I do?

The Court has a range of powers to make Court Orders known as Non Molestation Orders to prohibit the other person from using or threatening violence, or intimidating, harassing or pestering you. Such Orders can be made without the other person being informed until after the Order has been made. In certain circumstances you may be able to obtain Legal Aid to make such an application.

Can the Court make any Orders requiring my partner to leave the family home?

The court can make an Occupation Order which serves to limit and define the occupation of your home. For example, it can prohibit the other person from coming into your bedroom, or it can exclude the other person from the home altogether, even if he or she is the legal owner of that home.

Other than obtaining legal advice, is there anything else that I can do?

Yes, there are many organisations that can offer practical and emotional support for you. We are able to refer you to such organisations where appropriate.

It is reported that 42% of grandparents lose contact with their grandchildren when parents separate. There are many situations single parent families rely on grandparents to help with care. It is acknowledged by the court that grandparents have an important role to play in the upbringing of children. However, the Children Act 1989 does not single out grandparents for particular rights or recognition simply by virtue of being grandparents. That said, this does not prevent a grandparent from applying to the court to see their grandchildren or for their grandchildren to live with them.

Do I have to go to court to see my grandchildren?

It is only if an agreement cannot be reached about contact that consideration would be given to an application to the court.

If an agreement can be reached through negotiation and / or mediation then there is not requirement to attend at court.

Do I have a right to see my grandchildren?

There is no single provision within the Children Act 1989 providing such a right. However, every child has a right to grow up knowing their family and significant adults in their life, including both maternal and paternal grandparents. The court do acknowledge the important role grandparents play in the lives of children.

Can I acquire Parental Responsibility for my child?

If you are not married, the father can acquire Parental Responsibility by:

  • Jointly registering the birth of the child with the mother (for children born after 1st December 2003)
  • Entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
  • Obtaining a parental responsibility order, made by a Court.
Can I apply to the court to see my grandchildren?

Whereas a parent can apply to the court for contact to see their child, in most cases grandparents require leave of the court before making their application for contact. This is permission of the court. Leave of the court is not required where the grandparent has a residence order, a special guardianship order, or the child has lived with them for three years.

In deciding whether leave should be granted, the court consider the following factors:

  • the nature of the application;
  • the applicants connection with the child;
  • any risk the proposed application might disrupt the child's life
  • a broad assessment of the case.

Even if leave is granted, this does not mean the actual application for contact will be granted. Whether the application is granted is on the basis of what is in the best interests of the child. The court consider many applications for contact with grandparents and grant contact orders to ensure that relationship does continue in the best interest of the child.

Can I apply to the court for my grandchildren to live with me?

A residence order determines where a child should live. As with a contact application, leave of the court is required (as above). In recent years the court have shown an increasing tendency to make residence orders in favour of grandparents.

My grandchildren are living with me, how do I obtain Parental Responsibility?

As a grandparent it is not possible to make a freestanding application for Parental Responsibility for a grandchild, even if they are living with their grandparent.

A grandparent can obtain parental responsibility by virtue of a residence order. A residence order automatically provides parental responsibility, which will remain in place for the duration of the residence order.

The end of a marriage is a traumatic time - and can often involve children. It can be even more difficult when there are disagreements over what will happen to the children, or how to divide money and property. Our divorce solicitors are sympathetic to your requirements.

People have to deal with heightened emotions as well as the stress of managing their everyday lives and dealing with joint matters with their former spouse which can include contact with children and financial settlements. We are proud to have one of the most highly trained team of divorce solicitors in Middlesbrough and will endeavour to reach the settlement you desire.

A Divorce is the formal end of a marriage and it requires specific steps to be taken correctly to be achieved. The civil partnership alternative to divorce is known as dissolution and follows the same procedure. Get the paperwork wrong and you could fail to obtain a divorce or dissolution. Even worse, you could find yourself having to pay any costs incurred by your ex. This is why it pays to use a divorce solicitor.

When facing divorce or separation, you need sensitive and professional legal advice to help you make the best decisions for yourself and your family on the best way forward.

To make an appointment with one of the leading divorce solicitors in Middlesbrough, ring us on 01642 247656 or use the contact form above.

How do I get divorced/dissolve my Civil Partnership and how long will it take?

You must file a Divorce Petition/Dissolution Petition with the Court and this will be sent to your spouse who will need to send an Acknowledgement of Service form back to the Court. We can guide you through the process from start to finish. It can take as little as 3 months, but in certain circumstances it may take longer as you may wish to delay applying for the Decree Absolute of Divorce/Final Order. We can advise you when this would be appropriate.

Can I get divorced/dissolve my Civil Partnership on the basis of 'irreconcilable differences'?

No, this is a common misconception. There is only one ground for a divorce, that being irretrievable breakdown. This must be supported by one of five facts:

  • Your spouse has committed adultery (this does not apply to Civil Partnerships)
  • Your spouse has behaved in such a way that you are no longer expected to live together
  • You and your spouse have lived apart for two years and your spouse agrees
  • You and your spouse have lived apart for more than five years
  • Your spouse has deserted you for two years

It is common for people to put "irreconcilable differences" on a petition, this is not sufficient and one of the above needs to be used and further details given.

Can I get a 'quickie divorce'?

You quite often hear the phrase a "quickie divorce". However, the procedure through the Courts cannot be shortened. There is a period between Decree Nisi and application for Decree Absolute of 6 weeks and 1 day and this applies to all divorces irrespective of which fact of divorce you use (see 2 above).

I am the main carer for our children, do I have an automatic right to stay in the family home?

No, although this is an important factor that must be taken into account, there are a number of other factors that must be considered as part of an overall financial settlement. We can help you in achieving an appropriate financial settlement and advising you as to your options.

Do we need to go to Court to resolve a financial split?

No, this can be done by way of negotiations and agreement. We can even refer you to Mediation where an agreement may be reached. Once an agreement has been reached we can prepare a draft Court Order to reflect the agreement which is then submitted to the Court for approval by a Judge. In these circumstances you would not need to attend Court, but the agreement would be legally binding.

If you cannot reach an agreement, then you can make an application to the Court for a Financial Order. We can advise and represent you through such proceedings.

My spouse has left the home and has stopped paying anything towards our monthly outgoings, what can I do?

If you are unable to cover the outgoings yourself, and your spouse is refusing to make any contribution by agreement, then you can make an application to the Court for an Order that he/she makes monthly maintenance payments to you pending your financial separation being finalised.

If you have children, then you could apply to the Child Support Agency for your spouse to pay child maintenance, the amount to be paid would be calculated by the Child Support Agency and is based both on how many children you have, and the amount that your spouse earns each month.

A Prenuptial Agreement (also known as a Prenup, Prenuptial Contract or Premarriage Agreement) is an agreement made by a couple before marriage as to how their property should be split should they divorce.

With the increasing numbers of divorces these days, and given the powers of the court to re-distribute family property, these Prenuptial Contracts have emerged in America and to a lesser extent in England as an option to try to protect the separate property of either or both spouses at the end of their marriage.

Whilst these agreements remain unenforceable under English Law, a contract properly drafted by a Solicitor can be used as evidence in any Court proceedings as to how a couple intended to split their property in the event of a divorce. Consideration should also be given to future enforceability under English law.

If you have particular assets that may have been inherited or hold a particular intangible value you may wish to consider speaking to one of our Solicitors who will be happy to assist you in the drafting of such an agreement.

What is a Pre-nuptial agreement?

A Pre-Nuptial Agreement is an agreement reached before a couple gets married as to how they want any property, pensions, capital assets and income to be divided if their relationship ends.

Are Pre-nuptial agreements enforceable at Court?

At the present time the English Courts do not have to uphold any Pre-Nuptial Agreement. The Court can instead impose its own decision where considered appropriate.

That said, where both parties have had independent legal advice before entering the agreement, and certain other pre-requisites are met, then the Court may be persuaded that the parties should be bound by the terms of the agreement. It is therefore essential to the validity of the agreement that sensible legal advice is obtained before entering into a Pre-nuptial agreement.

Pre-nuptial agreements are very unlikely to be upheld where the couple have gone on to have children but, again, the individual circumstances must be considered.

Do I need a Pre-nuptial agreement?

This is a very personal choice. If you are worried about how your assets would be divided in circumstances where you find yourself being divorced, then you may wish to consider entering into such an agreement.

They can be very helpful for people who are getting married for the second time or have children to a previous relationship and want to ensure that assets are preserved for them after your death.

You would need to obtain advice well in advance of your wedding, although if you are already married, it is not necessarily too late to enter into such an agreement and we can also provide advice in these circumstances.