What is family law?

Navigating family politics can be challenging at the best of times. When familial relationships break down, resolving disputes can become increasingly complex—particularly when money or children are involved. At this point, many families seek help from a legal professional who specialises in family law. A family law solicitor helps families negotiate and resolve issues or disputes fairly and as amicably as possible.

In this article, we will explore the different areas of family law to answer the question, “What is family law?”

What exactly is family law?

Family law is a very broad area of law that focuses on family relationships. The three main areas of family law are matrimonial, finance, and child. Some family law solicitors specialise in just one of these areas, whilst others cover all family law matters.

Dealing with a family law issue can be extremely upsetting and disruptive for the family involved. That is why, in family law, there is an emphasis on resolving disputes through negotiation and mediation, with court proceedings only considered a last resort.

Several important pieces of legislation govern family law UK; these include:

  • Matrimonial Causes Act 1973
  • Children Act 1989
  • Civil Partnership Act 2004
  • Family Law Act 1996
  • Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008

Some key areas of family law include marriage and civil partnerships, divorce and separation, child law, domestic violence and abuse, property and financial matters, cohabitation, and grandparents’ rights. We’ll explore some of these areas in more detail later in this article.

How is family law different from other areas of law?

Because family law deals specifically with familial relationships, it requires a more personal and sensitive approach than other areas of law like corporate law or criminal law.

Family law solicitors help families resolve highly emotional and personal issues, which requires a high level of empathy and sensitivity. Family law cases can have a huge impact on the people involved on a personal level, particularly when children are involved, so they must be handled with the utmost care. There are unique legal standards that govern family law, including the “best interests of the child” principle. This standard requires the best interests of any children involved in a case always to take precedence in decision-making.

When it comes to family law, there is also an emphasis on resolving issues as amicably as possible without going to court. The stress and expense of going to court can put considerable strain on families, so family law concentrates on trying to resolve issues through negotiation and mediation services.

What does family law cover in the UK?

In the UK, law firms that practice family law usually offer a wide range of services to provide legal advice and support for various family matters. They can assist with a wide variety of issues from divorce to child arrangements and everything in between.

So, to answer the question, “What is family law UK?” Let’s examine some of the different areas that family law covers.

Divorce and separation

Family law solicitors can help married couples whose relationships have irretrievably broken down to navigate divorce or judicial separation. In 2020, the Divorce, Dissolution, and Separation Act introduced “no-fault divorces”, which eliminates the need to attribute blame. Instead, either party can file for a divorce, or both parties can apply jointly.

A family law solicitor can help married couples file for a divorce, resolve disputes, divide assets fairly, and negotiate financial and child arrangements.

Alternatively, family law solicitors can help couples apply for a judicial separation if they do not wish to get a divorce for personal or religious reasons. A judicial separation allows the parties to live separately and the Family Court to make financial orders between them. However, it means the marriage has not legally ended, and neither party can marry again until they’ve obtained a divorce.

Marriage and civil partnerships

Marriage and civil partnerships are legal contracts between two individuals. Before entering into a marriage or civil partnership, it’s sensible to discuss what would happen if your relationship were to break down in the future. Planning ahead can provide both parties with peace of mind and financial security.

A family law solicitor can help couples draw up a prenuptial or pre-cohabitation agreement to protect each party’s assets and agree on how assets will be split if their relationship breaks down. These agreements can be used to protect all sorts of assets, including property, savings, inheritance, trust funds, premium bonds, stocks and shares, pension pots, and more.

Family law solicitors can also help dissolve civil partnerships. The process for dissolving a civil partnership is very similar to that of divorce.

Domestic violence and abuse

Family law firms provide invaluable, and sometimes life-saving, support to victims of domestic violence and abuse. Domestic abuse can cover everything from physical violence and emotional abuse to controlling or coercive behaviour, financial control, and gaslighting. Family law solicitors help individuals take legal action against their abuser and obtain injunctions to protect them against further abuse.

Child law

Family law also covers many different aspects of child law, including child arrangements, parental responsibility, child maintenance, adoption and surrogacy, child protection and safeguarding, and more. Family law uses “the best interests of the child” principle to ensure that all decisions regarding children put the child’s welfare first.

When a couple separates, disagreements sometimes occur over where children will live and how they will spend time with each parent. Family law can help resolve child arrangement disputes using negotiation or a Child Arrangement Order.

A family law solicitor can also help parents apply for parental responsibility if they don’t already have it. Parental responsibility gives a person the legal right to make major decisions regarding the child’s education, health, religion, or name change.

Change of name

Today, more people than ever change their names or their children’s names due to life events like divorce, adoption, marriage, or civil partnership.

A family law solicitor can advise you on the process for changing your or your child’s name according to your circumstances. They can also help you complete the required documents and draft the change of name deed.


Marriage is less important than it once was, and more people than ever now choose to cohabit without getting married or entering a civil partnership. Unfortunately, common law marriage is a myth, and cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples. In fact, they have very few legal rights, which can make the division of assets extremely complicated when cohabiting couples separate.

Drawing up a cohabitation agreement can help protect both parties if their relationship breaks down in the future. Cohabitation agreements are legally binding agreements that can be used to gain clarity over various issues relating to both the couple’s lives together and what would happen if their relationship ended. Common areas covered in a cohabitation agreement include how bills and debts will be covered, each party’s stake in any shared property, child arrangements if their relationship ends, and the division of assets if their relationship ends. A family law solicitor can also help with resolving cohabitation disputes when there is no cohabitation agreement.

Grandparents’ rights

Grandparents often play an important role in a child’s life. Sometimes, after a divorce, separation, or family conflict, grandparents can find themselves cut out of a child’s life. Losing contact can be upsetting and detrimental to both the grandparent and the child. Although grandparents do not have automatic rights to child access, the Family Court recognises the invaluable role they can play in a child’s life and will try to reunite them if they believe it is in the child’s best interests to maintain contact.

A family law solicitor can help grandparents and other relatives ask permission to apply for a court order and, if granted, a child arrangement order. A child arrangement order then sets out how frequently the grandparent can see the child and under what circumstances.

Mark Reynolds Solicitors Family Law

If you need help resolving a family law matter, contact Mark Reynolds Solicitors’ team of specialist family law solicitors.

We are one of the leading law firms in the North West, providing family law services to clients throughout Liverpool, Warrington, Leigh, Runcorn, Manchester, and the surrounding areas.

We offer cost-effective legal advice and services on a no-win, no-fee basis. Contact us today on 0800 002 9577 or fill out the contact form on the right to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.