Court fees due to increase in family proceedings in April 2024

As of April 2024, the family court fees will be increasing. Having remained the same since 2021, the rationale behind this increase, as stated by the Ministry of Justice, is to ensure that the courts continue to receive an adequate stream of income by ensuring that fees keep pace with increased costs to HMCTS, while at the same time ensuring that access to courts is not impeded and also minimising the cost to the taxpayer as much as possible.

Whilst the government asserts that the fee increase is necessary and provides assurance that access to justice will not be impeded, there is concern that the increase in fees will increase the challenge of accessing justice and act as a deterrent to commencing proceedings.

The government has proposed to launch a more generous Help with Fees scheme to provide greater levels of financial assistance to those most in need, which must not be overlooked.

In this article I will summarise the upcoming increases in court fees for 2024.


The court fees that will be increasing in Private Family Proceedings include:

Applications to initiate divorce and financial remedy proceedings

  • Form A Notice of intention to proceed with an application for a financial order other than by consent will increase from £275 to £303

A notice of intention to proceed with an application for a financial order to which Family Procedure Rules (FPR) 2010, SI 2010/2955, 9.4(a) applies, or an application for a financial order to which FPR 2010, SI 2010/2995, 9.4(b) applies (other than an application for a consent order).

Whilst the government did initial intend on increasing the divorce petition fee to £652, after careful consideration of the consultation responses and further analysis of the of the costs underpinning the fees, they have now decided against this.

Several respondents raised concerns about the impact of raising the divorce fee on access to justice, particularly on women as they are more likely to apply for a divorce than men but tend to face more difficulties when navigating the justice system and are statistically more likely to be on lower incomes given the gender pay gap.

Some respondents also argued that the fee is already too high, and couples may feel obliged to stay in unhappy or abusive relationships simply because they may not be able to afford the fee.

Some respondents also opposed the increase, suggesting that the current fee is already too high and disproportionate to the underlying service cost. They highlighted the fact that the administrative process has been simplified through the introduction of the digitised service and no-fault divorce, which means that there is no longer a requirement to apportion blame on one party and minimising unjustifiable contestations


Applications within proceedings

Description Costs Before April 2024 Costs After April 2024 Increase
Application in existing proceedings without notice or by consent, except where separately listed £53 £58 £5
Application in existing proceedings on notice, except where separately listed £167 £184 £17


  • An application in existing proceedings without notice or by consent, except where separately listed will increase from £53 to £58
  • An application in existing proceedings on notice, except where separately listed, will increase from £167 to £184


 Children Act Proceedings

  • The court fee will increase from £232 to £255.

This includes applications in the following proceedings:

  • Section 8 Children Act 1989 – Child Arrangements, Specific Issue and Prohibited Steps Orders
  • Schedule 1 Financial provision for a child
  • Special Guardianship
  • Parental Responsibility
  • Change of a child’s surname or removal from the jurisdiction while a child arrangements order is in force under s 13 Children Act 1989
  • Appointment of a Guardian

A full list of the proposed Family Court fee increases, can be found in the consultation papers here. If you would like any advice or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Family Mediation Week – Something to Celebrate

I attended a wedding a while ago where the atmosphere was tense rather than joyful because the bride’s parents had divorced ten years previously and animosity between them was still apparent from the seating plan.

Marriage, as an institution, has been steadily declining since the 1970s and the UK divorce rate is estimated at 42%. Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type year on year. Whatever the relationship, a bad feeling lingers after an adversarial separation which continues to spoil the atmosphere of family gatherings in future years.

So what can a separating couple do to make sure they attend their children’s celebrations without ruining the happy day?


Mediation is the obvious dispute resolution option.

It is a civilised way of resolving separation and relationship issues, such as the timing of divorce, grounds for a divorce, parenting arrangements and finance. It has nothing to do with reconciliation or counselling. A trained mediator meets with a couple and helps them identify the areas of disagreement and explore the areas for settlement. The process is confidential and both parties are encouraged to take independent legal advice. Ultimately, they take control of their own separation.

A good example is a mediation I conducted recently with Susanna and Alan. They had accepted that their marriage was over but were still living in the same house and wanted to reach an agreement about their children.
Alan had a new relationship and this was upsetting for Susanna. She was also worried about how it would affect the children.
In mediation, it was possible to agree a parenting schedule so that Alan was spending frequent time with the children. He agreed that the children should not be brought into contact with his girlfriend until after he had separated from Susanna. The couple then went on to agree that the family home should be sold but Susanna would receive a greater proportion of the proceeds to reflect the fact that Alan had more pension provision. Both Alan and Susanna had independent legal advice, but their legal fees were kept in check as most of the hard work was done in the mediation process. An agreement was reached without them having to go through slow, expensive and emotionally traumatic legal proceedings.


Mediation is a flexible process.

It is equally valuable for married and cohabiting couples and those ending civil partnerships. It is usually a three-way process (either face-to-face or by Zoom) where the couple discuss their separation and outstanding issues with their chosen mediator. However, in high conflict situations a couple may choose to be in different rooms (or Zoom rooms) with a mediator moving between them (known as shuttle mediation). It is also possible to attend mediation with legal advisors (known as hybrid mediation).

The author of this post is Kim Beatson who was  one of the first solicitors in the country to qualify as a mediator. She was the first person to win the prestigious Family Law Dispute Resolution Practitioner of the Year (2011). She is a Band 1 mediator in Chambers & Partners where she is described as “An outstanding mediator who has a huge amount of emotional intelligence”. For information about her mediation service please contact her at 020 7940 4011.

Mediation Information & Assessment Meetings Explained

Mediation Awareness Week takes place from 22-26 January 2024 and Anthony Gold is offering free mediation information meetings (MIAMS) across the week.  For more information please contact either Michelle Howarth at or Jordan Ridley at or by telephone at 020 7940 4060.

What is a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting?

The initial meeting during the mediation process is called a Mediation Information & Assessment Meeting, commonly referred to as a MIAM or a first meeting. The primary aim of a MIAM is to provide essential information and to have a discussion separately and confidentially with each participant before the mediation process commences.  It is not a mediation session.

A MIAM session is confidential. Anything discussed in a MIAM with a participant will not be shared with the other participant, nor will it be disclosed to the court if court proceedings are issued later.  Exemptions will apply on the point of confidentiality if there is a real risk of harm or abuse or unlawful activity.

Only information that has been agreed to be shared with the other participant will be disclosed.

Who must attend a MIAM?

Intended court proceedings:

The compulsory requirement to attend a MIAM applies to any individual who intends to issue proceedings for a relevant family court application. The requirement to attend applies to both the intended applicant (the individual who commences court proceedings) and to the intended respondent (the individual who has to respond to the issued court application).

The intended applicant should provide contact details of the intended respondent to the mediator so that the mediator can discuss the purpose of a MIAM with the respondent.

Intended settlement out of court:

Even if the participants in mediation intend to settle their dispute out of court via the mediation process, both participants must attend a MIAM separately with the agreed mediator before the mediation process commences.  This will allow an assessment to take place as to whether mediation is suitable.

What to expect during a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting

The mediator should provide you with sufficient time and attention so that you can:

  1. discuss your situation,
  2. understand what mediation is,
  3. how mediation works,
  4. what options are available to you, and
  5. for the mediator to properly assess whether mediation is suitable.

The purpose of attending a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting is to essentially explore whether mediation or any other form of family dispute resolution is suitable for you and your circumstances.  This could include collaborative practice, solicitor negotiation or arbitration.

By attending a MIAM session, you are not signing up for the actual mediation process.  This is only done, once each participant and the mediator have signed the Agreement to Mediate form after the MIAM sessions.

At the end of the MIAM session, the mediator will inform you if mediation is deemed suitable or not.  You will also be provided with an opportunity to consider whether you wish to proceed with the mediation process or consider an alternative form of dispute resolution.

You might also be provided with information specific to your circumstances which could include information on the effects of separation for children, debt management, counselling, accommodation, benefits and other personal professional support services.

Must you mediate and attend a MIAM?

There will be cases where it is deemed that mediation is not suitable or appropriate.  This is usually in cases where there is domestic abuse although domestic abuse should not in itself be a bar to mediation.

This is so, provided the appropriate safeguards and structures are put into place including the use of shuttle mediation.  However, your ability to negotiate freely should not be hindered in any form.  If it is, mediation is not appropriate.

Other exemptions also exist and the mediator should discuss if any of these apply to you during the MIAM.

How long is a MIAM?

A MIAM usually lasts for around 45 minutes to an hour in duration.

How much does it cost to attend a MIAM?

If you are entitled to legal aid, then the MIAM and mediation sessions will be free.  If you are not eligible for legal aid, then there will be a charge for the MIAM session.

What happens after the first MIAM?

If each participant and the mediator agree that mediation is appropriate, then the first joint mediation session will be arranged.

Please note, that all information received by the mediator during the mediation process will be shared with each participant, although the information will remain confidential outside of the mediation process.

You can, and are often encouraged, to take legal advice from a solicitor whilst the mediation process is underway.

If court proceedings are to be issued, only mediators accredited by the Family Mediation Council (accredited mediators) can sign the relevant court form to confirm that you have attended a MIAM.

Can Mediation Information Assessment Meetings be done remotely?

MIAMs can be conducted remotely and certainly have been during the pandemic. However, subject to restrictions, you should consider whether a MIAM should take place on a remote basis or whether an in-person assessment would be more beneficial for a proper assessment of suitability.

Hybrid Mediation and Financial Neutrals

Mediation is probably the most effective, quickest, cheapest and most satisfying way of resolving issues relating to the breakdown of a relationship. Hybrid mediation, a form of family mediation is an innovative, progressive combination of family and civil models of mediation.

What does Hybrid mediation involve?

One more of the following:-

  • The mediator can bring other family professionals and experts into the process with the agreement of the parties, to help deal with complex and difficult situations such as accountants, valuers, independent financial advisers, psychiatrists, independent social workers.
  • The mediator can bring in the parties’ lawyers to help advise and support in complex and difficult cases.
  • Engaging in shuttle mediation where the mediator spends time with each party on their own enabling the opportunity of exploring issues and settlement proposals in greater detail.
  • The party’s lawyers join in part of the process, which is suited to high conflict or complex cases, as it facilitates the inclusion of lawyers directly into the process to advise and guide. With the support of their lawyers, the parties are helped to focus on the issues, explore the options and formulate proposals for settlement.
  • Mediation and dispute resolution can be face-to-face, or online via video conference and so there is no geographical barrier.

The advantages of hybrid mediation

  • Hybrid mediation can be particularly effective when there are certain safeguarding issues and where one party does not feel comfortable being in the same room or same Zoom screen as the other. Also, where there is an imbalance of power between the parties to the mediation or another reason why either person finds it hard to have a voice. Screening and safeguarding remains extremely important.
  • It enables each person to explore options with the mediator in greater detail without feeling they have over-committed.
  • It enables other professionals to use their skills, knowledge and solutions which makes the whole process better informed and more likely to achieve workable, fair settlements.
  • Hybrid mediation can be undertaken before any court proceedings are considered, but also if a parties find themselves already in the court process but want to achieve a settlement outside, away from the stress, delays and costs of litigation.
  • Hybrid mediation is far quicker than the court process and if preparation is undertaken beforehand can take place over the course of a day, or series of pre-booked sessions where parties can choose to have their lawyers present in the process avoiding delays between meetings whilst they take advice, and the lawyers can draw up the consent order straightaway once the proposals are agreed.
  • More cost-effective: being actively involved in the process means parties do not have to repeatedly update their lawyers with the progress of the discussions; it reduces correspondence and the risk of misunderstandings or disagreements between the solicitors.
  • It reduces conflict. Separate meetings mean heavily emotional joint meetings can be avoided thereby enabling parties to focus on the issues and outcomes in a calmer and more rational way.
  • Parties are empowered and supported. Hybrid mediation provides a safe and supported environment for people who might not otherwise be willing to mediate.
  • Increases certainty of outcome. As lawyers can be more directly involved in the process and are on hand to advise with the full knowledge of the issues and direction of discussions, there is less risk that parties may change their minds as can happen when advice is sought by parties in between meetings. The parties choose to what extent their lawyers are involved, less or more.
  • Confidential and private. A major advantage of mediation is that it is private and confidential. So, no one else can access the documents or hear what is being discussed. This is unlike court proceedings, where even in family cases, the press can have access and transparency rules may involve details of the history and issues being made public through national or local press or via social media.

Who are hybrid mediators?

Hybrid mediators are either dual qualified family and civil mediators, or those who have undertaken specialist training with Resolution to enable them to utilise both family and civil mediation techniques and procedures. The training enables a hybrid mediator to be more flexible and innovative with the parties.

What type of cases are suitable for hybrid mediation?

Hybrid mediation can deal with issues between a separating couple relating to finance, children or, indeed, both.  In relation to finances, issues such as the level of maintenance, how assets are distributed on separation, longer term support for the children and how pension assets are treated can all be dealt with within a hybrid mediation setting and often with the benefit of other expert input.

In relation to children’s issues, hybrid mediation can help couples decide where the children will live and how much time they will spend with each of the parents, but also issues such as internal and international relocation or schooling.

How long does Hybrid Mediation take?

Mediations often involve three to five sessions and such sessions normally last one to two hours each.  However, if sessions are properly prepared for and information and document­ation is to hand then it can be possible to set aside a whole day for a mediation to take place, with a view to achieving a settlement at the end of that day.

Going to court should be a last resort to resolve most family disputes. The pandemic has exacerbated the significant delays in the adjudication of many family cases. The courts have made clear that all parties, legal advisers and the judiciary should continue to have express regard to all forms of non-court dispute resolution.

Confidential one to one meetings – what are the benefits?

A party can discuss things with the mediator in a way they might not feel comfortable doing if the other person were also present. The parties can explore options with the mediator without commitment or raising expectations. The exact things that are kept confidential are specific to each party and situation, and normally include the reasoning behind options for settlement or the people’s hopes and concerns. There are things the mediator cannot keep confidential such as financial information (e.g. the existence of an asset), or matters relating to the safeguarding of children.

Financial Neutrals

Separating couples considering divorce are often surprised to learn they have process options other than going to court. In mediation and collaborative options couples find real value in working with a team of professionals including their lawyers, mental health professionals and financial professionals. Financial neutrals are often used successfully in hybrid mediation.

What is a Financial Neutral?

Family finances are an important issue in most divorces. The change from one home to two homes may result in doubling family financial obligations. A financial neutral, who is a member of the mediation and dispute resolution process that assists the parties in gathering, organising, and analysing their financial information to assist in developing creative financial solutions that may not be available in litigation.

If instructed to do so one of the services that a financial neutral can provide is considering the existence of marital assets and sources of income. When a party has a concern about what assets exist or are owned by their spouse, the financial neutral can be asked, with the agreement of the other to conduct an investigation. This can allay concerns and provide certainty.

The financial neutral also educates both parties regarding their financial profile which can be especially helpful to couples in making decisions regarding the division of marital property and future support. In addition, the financial neutral will assist the parties in creating a budget for their future.

What does a Financial Neutral do?

  • Meets individually with each party to begin the information gathering process
  • Assists the parties in organising their financial information
  • Assesses the party’s current budget and projects their future budgets as will be post separation.
  • Educates the parties regarding their family finances.
  • Explains the nature of each investment. Spend more time with one party ensuring they are up to speed with understanding the finances and possibilities.
  • Assists in the division of marital assets and debts
  • Generates options for the division of retirement assets and pensions
  • Values any individually owned or jointly owned businesses
  • Provides tax advice and projections
  • Projects maintenance and child support needs over time
  • Analyse the tax benefits or detriment of decisions and consider alternative ways of achieving outcome that reduce tax to the overall benefit of both.
  • Plans for the funding of educational expenses for children.
  • Any other financial planning needs raised by the parties during the process

Advantages of using a financial neutral

They will have tried and tested software that is able to predict the best predictions of financial outcomes for now, 5- and 10-years’ time and into retirement. The software is interactive and can show different predicted outcomes at the click of a few keys.

Using a financial neutral in the process should eliminate the need for each party hiring their own expert and avoids the ‘battle of the experts’ which plays out in many divorces and greatly increases cost. The financial neutral’s role preserves family resources so that the parties’ assets can be better utilised for the evolving family.

Taking the appropriate advice is essential, because financial matters will form a part of your negotiations; regardless of the divorce or separation process that is selected.

Other Neutrals

Other neutrals include :-

  • Coaches and therapists to assist in people who are suffering emotionally and mentally from the process.
  • Communication experts to help provide understanding as to the effect of conflict upon children but also strategies to ensure communication is effective and safe going forward.
  • Accountant and other tax experts.
  • Valuers of properties, companies and other assets.
  • Pension experts and valuers.
  • Independent social workers who can assist in obtaining children’s views and offering advice as to the best arrangement there can be for children.

It may seem that adding another layer of professional fees can simply increase the costs of separation unnecessarily. A neutral will only be brought in where there is a clear need and benefit and all parties agree. Usually, however, such expert neutrals have shown time and time again that they assist the process to reach conclusions more quickly and fairly.

How do I Arrange Hybrid Mediation?

If you have a solicitor, they can help you find a mediator trained in the hybrid model, or you can self-refer. The resolution website has a list of mediators including those trained in the hybrid model. The mediator will talk you through the steps to getting the process started.

What are the Costs Involved in Hybrid Mediation?

Hybrid mediation is very cost effective. The costs of the mediator in hybrid mediation are generally met equally by the participants but can be in whatever proportions they decide. Each party will be responsible for their own lawyer’s costs. The lawyers’ direct involvement in the process reduces the need for people to liaise with their lawyers between meetings. It reduces the need for inter-solicitor correspondence. Outcome documents can be produced immediately.

David Emmerson

Partner Anthony Gold. Accredited and hybrid trained family mediator.  Collaborative practitioner. Deputy District Judge specialising in complex financial remedy and children cases. Solicitor Advocate.

  • ‘Entirely sensitive to the fact that in family law, the relationships often have to continue when the lawyers leave’ – Legal 500
  • Clients say: “He is a lovely man (incredibly kind and supportive) and very well respected as a lawyer. He is one of the leading lights of Resolution, an organisation committed to handling family break up in as conciliatory was as possible – but he has real steel about him also, so I would totally trust him to protect a client’s interests if the going got rough.”
  • Legal 500 says the ‘skilled’ David Emmerson ‘puts clients at ease’. He ‘is an experienced problem solver: calm and reassuring. He gets to the issues quickly whilst holding the client’s confidence. He is a skilled mediator who is able to combine his extensive legal knowledge with the empathy and impartiality needed to mediate complex cases’.
  • Anthony Gold has a number of family accredited mediators and 3 hybrid trained mediators

Family Mediation Week takes place from 16 January 2023 and Anthony Gold is offering free mediation information meetings (MIAMS) for the whole of January.  For more information please contact either Michelle Howarth at or Jordan Ridley at or by telephone on 020 7940 4000.

Get Free 20 minutes of initial advice

As an introduction to our service, we offer free 20 minutes of initial advice on all aspects of Family Law including:

  • Divorce
  • Finance
  • Pre-nuptial Agreements
  • Post-nuptial Agreements
  • Cohabitation Agreements
  • Property Ownership Agreements/Deeds of Trust
  • Child Arrangements/Parenting Agreements
  • Child Abduction
  • Surrogacy/Parental Orders

Shared Care and Relocation

If one parent wishes to relocate with their child, either abroad or to another part of the country, they must obtain the consent of the other parent or permission of the court (assuming they both have parental responsibility for the child). If the other parent does not consent to the proposed relocation, the parent wishing to relocate must make an application to the court to decide the issue and this is often an extremely finely balanced exercise. Under Family Law, the outcome of relocation cases is also binary; either the parent will be permitted to relocate by the family court or they will not and the outcome will have a significant effect on both parents as well as the child.

Applications for relocation

When considering a relocation application or seeking permission to relocate with a child, the family court must have regard for the welfare checklist. This will include consideration of the motivations of both parents, the impact on either parent of the application being granted or refused and whether the application to relocate has been well researched and investigated.

In a relocation case, the amount of time that the child is currently spending with each parent is relevant. The court will want to know more about parental responsibility. Specifically, how the parent wishing to relocate will promote the child’s relationship with the other parent, and what the spending time arrangements would look like following a relocation. The child’s best interest is at the core of the decision-making process.

Also Read: Child Abduction: Getting Your Child Back After Ex-Partner Took Them To Another Country

Shared care for equality in parenting

There has been an increase in shared care arrangements over recent years, as the law moves towards greater equality in parenting. There is no legal definition of ‘shared care’, however for the purpose of this blog, it is being used to describe certain child arrangements which involve the child spending a roughly equal amount of time with each parent.

Relocation will, in most family law cases, mean that the child is no longer able to spend the same amount of time with the left-behind parent. Therefore, the effect of relocation where the child has been spending a similar amount of time with each parent is even more marked and will have a significant impact on both the nature and quantity of time that the child will spend with the other parent. For this reason, it is likely that child relocation applications will be more difficult in circumstances where a shared care arrangement is in place. Further, as a part of a child arrangements order, parents may be deterred from making such applications – which are often costly and time-consuming – if the prospects of success are lower.

Also Read: Parental Responsibility for Fathers

How does the family court decide

However, it is important to note that different criteria do not apply in shared care cases. In Re L (a child) (internal relocation: shared residence order) [2009] EWCA Civ 20 the Court of Appeal emphasised that the fact of a shared residence order will be an important factor, but it is not a trump card preventing relocation. In each case what the court has to do is to examine the underlying factual matrix, and decide in all the circumstances of the case whether or not it is in the child’s interest to relocate with the parent who wishes to move.

Also Read: Compensation for Neglecting Child Support

Victoria Rylatt is a Senior Associate Solicitor at Anthony Gold. She specialises in the Family and relationships department, based in our South London offices at London Bridge.

Victoria practices in all areas of private family law, including divorce, dissolution, financial and children arrangements. Contact her on .

What are gamete donor rights in relation to their biological children?

What rights do donors have, and what applications can be made under the Children Act 1989?

For some, it is necessary to use egg or sperm donors in order to conceive a child. This might be because the couple are same-sex, the person is single or due to infertility issues. The English law states that children conceived in this way are entitled to receive non-identifying information about their biological donor from the age of 16 and identifying information when they reach the age of 18. It is worth noting that privacy is treated differently outside of the UK and the donor may be able to remain anonymous. Of course, this may or may not be something the child wishes to pursue.

A donor is generally involved in the fertility process as an altruistic act and is not seeking to be a parent in the traditional sense. However, is this always the case? What if a donor becomes curious about their offspring and changes their mind? In this article I will look at the case of MacDougall v The Children (by their Children’s Guardian) in order to extract useful guidance for practitioners.

What did the case involve?

This case involved the applicant, James MacDougall, in three linked contested cases. The applicant applied for parental responsibility and child arrangements orders for contact with 4 children with 3 different mothers conceived using his donor sperm. Mr MacDougall would not have been named on the birth certificates as he would not have been classed as the legal father. He therefore had to make an application to the Court to be involved in the children’s lives.

Mr MacDougall had a condition known as “Fragile X Syndrome” which he deliberately withheld when making the private sperm donation, as it had prevented him from being a sperm donor at a clinic. This is an incurable hereditary condition that can lead to developmental issues and low IQ. Mr MacDougall himself was described as a complex character with learning difficulties and being on the autistic spectrum. In fact, Mr MacDougall fathered 15 children in total without disclosing his condition to the mothers.

Background of MacDougall v The Children

Mr MacDougall advertised himself as a sperm donor on social media for lesbian couples. SW and EG were looking to conceive and found Mr MacDougall’s profile and contacted him. The parties entered into a written agreement that outlined that Mr MacDougall would have no rights in respect of any child born. The agreement did mention that he had Fragile X Syndrome but this was not explained to SW and EG in any detail. The document was apparently written in an overly legalistic manner and was difficult to understand. SW had problems reading and admitted she did not review the whole document.

Child R was born to SW in October 2018. Notwithstanding the agreement, SW asked if Mr MacDougall would like to meet the baby, which he did. He then saw R initially once a month, then once a week with the child staying overnight at his parent’s home. The relationship between SW and EG subsequently broke down and SW moved on with JC. Mr MacDougall had a lot of contact with R during the pandemic as he started living with SW. However, SW asked him to leave due to concerns about his behaviour. ln around June 2020 there was a serious altercation between SW and Mr MacDougall where he forced his way into the property. This tussle resulted in bruising to SW’s neck and back and to JC’s leg and hands. This was witnessed by R and other children. Contact with R was ceased after this incident.

SW later had a second child, P, using Mr MacDougall’s sperm, but with her new partner JC. This time there was no written agreement but SW said it was agreed that Mr MacDougall would have no contact with the child. Mr MacDougall never met P as they were presumably born after the June incident.

EG separately asked Mr MacDougall to be a sperm donor to her child. EG asked for a written agreement to state that he would have no contact with any child but Mr MacDougall was evasive and made excuses about signing a document. EG had difficulties conceiving with another donor and longed for a child so went ahead without the agreement. N was born in January 2021 and Mr MacDougall had no contact with that child.

In summary, three children were born following Mr MacDougall’s sperm donation to the separated couple and he had only had contact with one, yet made applications in respect of all three.

Mr MacDougall also donated sperm to KE resulting in child B. KE and Mr MacDougall commenced a relationship which broke down when KE had cause to apply for a non-molestation order against him. The circumstances of Mr MacDougall’s relationship with the child were therefore slightly different to when he was purely a donor to SW and EG. This case is being considered separately by the Court, due to the allegations and involvement of the local authority, and it will not be looked at in any detail in this article.

The Court’s Determination

In considering Mr MacDougall’s application for Parental Responsibility (PR), the Court considered the following criteria:

  1. The commitment shown by Mr MacDougall to the particular child;
  2. The attachment between MacDougall and the particular child; and
  3. The motivation behind the application.

The guidance is that the agreement at the time of conception is not determinative in relation to PR but could provide context when evaluating the above criteria. It can be seen that SW ignored the agreement in relation to R for reasons the Court assumed were financial (it later emerging she had received c£7,000 from Mr MacDougall). In considering whether to confer PR to a donor the following factors are relevant:

  1. Degree of involvement with child’s early life;
  2. Physical ability to care for the child;
  3. Desire to care for the child; and
  4. Support for the existing parent/mother.

Mr MacDougall was unable to set out clear reasons for seeking child arrangements orders and parental responsibility in respect of the children, which was a concern for the Court. It was not understood what his motivation was other than wanting them to know he was their father. This casted doubt over what he would do if parental responsibility was bestowed upon him and whether it would be mis-used. Mr MacDougall wanted to make decisions in the children’s lives “as the mothers do” but did not seem to appreciate the impact this would have on the families involved and how disruptive this might be. This lack of insight was of concern to the Judge and he questioned whether Mr MacDougall simply wished to control the two mothers.

The children had no attachment to Mr MacDougall by the time of the application and therefore the Judge had to seriously consider how he could exercise Parental Responsibility meaningfully to their benefit. Mr MacDougall’s lack of empathy, inability to exercise self-control in the Court and the deception in not revealing his hereditary condition also worked against him. The effect of him having contact with the children on the mothers, who vehemently opposed it, was also given due weight.

The applications were refused in respect of R, P and N. In relation to R, Mr MacDougall had a reasonably positive relationship but it did not outweigh the risk of harm in the Court allowing contact. The case was much more straightforward in relation to P and N as they had never met Mr MacDougall and he played no role in their life.

It is worth noting that the Court felt that even letterbox contact was too much of a risk and refused to allow it. A 3-year barring order preventing Mr MacDougall making applications was also put in place as he had indicated to the children’s guardian he would carry on applying until he secured the orders he wanted. This would clearly not be in the children’s best interests and the Court were proactive in preventing any further vexatious litigation.

Implications of MacDougall v The Children

The cost of fertility treatment can be significant and it might be tempting to take short cuts. However, this case highlights the risks of using private sperm donors that have not been properly screened and vetted by a clinic. Due diligence is an essential part of the donor process and is the reason why the Judge took the unusual step of naming Mr MacDougall in the press. There was no trust that Mr MacDougall would stop advertising his sperm and publishing his name was to provide a warning to others wishing to use his services.

This case also emphasises the risks of initiating contact with a donor after the birth. This can open the door to a relationship that was never intended and the possibility of significant litigation if a conflict arises between the parents regarding the development of that relationship and gamete donor rights. It is clear that choosing the right route to parenthood is therefore essential to avoid the wrong candidate, as this could end up costing the parents a lot more than money.

Financial Remedies: Hard vs Soft Loans

An issue which commonly arises within financial remedy proceedings is whether money advanced by a family member is a gift or a loan and, if it is a loan, whether it is to be treated as a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ liability. If it is considered a soft loan, the amount may be left out of the court’s calculation of the parties’ liabilities and therefore the net effect of the final outcome. There is no statutory definition of a soft loan, however case law provides extremely helpful guidance.

In the recent case of P v Q (Financial Remedies) [2022] EWFC B9, HHJ Hess provided extremely useful guidance. Firstly, in terms of the distinction between gifts and loans, HHJ Hess stated that, as a matter of general principle, for an advance of money to be a gift there must be evidence of an intention to give. If it is determined that the advance was a loan, the court must determine whether it is to be treated as a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ loan.

How does the court decide if it is a Hard or soft loan?

Having considered a number of authorities on the issue, HHJ Hess derived the following principles which should be applied when a court is considering whether a liability is a hard or soft obligation:

(a) Once a judge has decided that a contractually binding obligation by a party to the marriage towards a third party exists, the court may properly wish to go on to consider whether the obligation is in the category of a hard obligation or loan, in which case it should appear on the judges’ computation table, or it is in the category of a soft obligation or loan, in which case the judge may decide as an exercise of discretion to leave it out of the computation table.

(b) There is not in the authorities any hard or fast test as to when an obligation or loan will fall into one category or another, and the cases reveal a wide variety of circumstances which cause a particular obligation or loan to fall on one side or other of the line.

(c) A common feature of these cases is that the analysis targets whether or not it is likely in reality that the obligation will be enforced.

(d) Features which have fallen for consideration to take the case on one side of the line or another include the following and I make it clear that this is not intended to be an exhaustive list.

(e) Factors which on their own or in combination point the judge towards the conclusion that an obligation is in the category of a hard obligation include:

  1. the fact that it is an obligation to a finance company
  2. that the terms of the obligation have the feel of a normal commercial arrangement
  3. that the obligation arises out of a written agreement; (4) that there is a written demand for payment, a threat of litigation or actual litigation or actual or consequent intervention in the financial remedies proceedings
  4. that there has not been a delay in enforcing the obligation; and
  5. that the amount of money is such that it would be less likely for a creditor to be likely to waive the obligation either wholly or partly.

(f) Factors which may on their own or in combination point the judge towards the conclusion that an obligation is in the category of soft include:

  1. it is an obligation to a friend or family member with whom the debtor remains on good terms and who is unlikely to want the debtor to suffer hardship
  2. the obligation arose informally and the terms of the obligation do not have the feel of a normal commercial arrangement
  3. there has been no written demand for payment despite the due date having passed
  4. there has been a delay in enforcing the obligation; or
  5. the amount of money is such that it would be more likely for the creditor to be likely to waive the obligation either wholly or partly, albeit that the amount of money involved is not necessarily decisive, and there are examples in the authorities of large amounts of money being treated as being soft obligations.

(g) It may be that there are some factors in a particular case which fall on one side of the line and other factors which fall on the other side of the line, and it is for the judge to determine, looking at all of these factors, and maybe other matters, what the appropriate determinations to make in a particular case in the promotion of a fair outcome.


The assessment of whether a loan is hard or soft is therefore a discretionary exercise and will turn on the facts of each case, having applied the above principles.

If you require assistance in respect of financial arrangements on divorce or have any queries regarding the treatment of loans within financial remedy proceedings, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Victoria Brown is a Senior Associate Solicitor in the Family team, who practices in all areas of private family law, including divorce, dissolution, financial and children arrangements. If you would like to discuss these issues please contact her at or on 020 7940 4060.

Separated Parents’ Guide to Traveling with Children: Legal FAQs

Summer is a popular time of year for travelling abroad, to spend the school holidays with friends and family living elsewhere in the world or simply to escape the office and the unpredictable British weather! However, for separated parents wanting to travel with their children, there is more to think about than which flight to book and what to pack, so it is very important that you start making plans early.

Jump to the relevant question in your case:

  1. Do you have the consent of all persons with parental responsibility?
  2. Do you have a court order/ child arrangements giving you permission to travel?
  3. Is the consent/court order conditional?
  4. What are the legal requirements of the country you are travelling to?
  5. What are the covid-19 travel restrictions in place for the country you are travelling to/returning to?


You will need the consent of all persons with parental responsibility unless you have a court order giving you permission (see below).

Parental responsibility means having all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.

Mothers automatically have parental responsibility. Fathers automatically have parental responsibility if they were married to the mother at the time of the birth or (for children born after 1 December 2003) they are registered on the birth certificate. Fathers can also acquire parental responsibility by way of a parental responsibility agreement, or court order.

If you are not the only one with parental responsibility and you travel abroad with a child without the other’s consent then this constitutes child abduction and is a criminal offence, (unless this is to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland). So it is important to ensure you have their consent before you travel.


Do you have a court order/ child arrangements giving you permission to travel?

If you do not have the consent of all persons with parental responsibility then you will need to apply for a court order giving you permission to travel, if you do not already have an order in place.

You can apply for the following orders: –

  • A child arrangements order stating that the child lives with you. This will enable you to take the child abroad for up to 28 days without consent, unless there is a separate order that prohibits this (known as a prohibited steps order). However, where it has been made clear that someone with parental responsibility objects to you going abroad with the child, it is best practice to apply for a specific issue order even if you already have a child arrangements order in place.
  • A specific issue order giving you permission to remove the child from the jurisdiction for a holiday, known as an application for temporary leave to remove.

Both orders can be applied for using the Form C100 and will be decided by the court in the best interests of the child in accordance with the welfare principle and welfare checklist, which takes into account the wishes and feelings of the child, their needs, their age, sex and background, the impact of any change in circumstances, any harm they are likely to suffer and how capable each parent is of meeting their needs. These proceedings can take several months so it is important to know at an early stage whether consent will be forthcoming or if a court application may be necessary.


It is common for consent or permission to be given on certain conditions.

These can include:

  • Providing the other parent with full details of the planned holiday a certain number of days/weeks/months in advance e.g. dates of travel, flight or other travel arrangements, accommodation and contact details, who else will be travelling with you, and the reason for the trip.
  • Only allowing travel to certain countries e.g. countries which are a party to the Hague Convention, where it is easier to secure the return of a child unlawfully removed/retained, or for a certain number of days.
  • Specifying the arrangements for handing over/returning the child’s passport.
  • Making alternative arrangements for the children to spend time with the other parent, if the holiday spans time when the children would otherwise have been with the other parent in accordance with child arrangements previously agreed or ordered.
  • Indirect contact (via Skype, or FaceTime) with the other parent whilst away, for example on days when they would otherwise have spent time with the other parent if at home, or on special occasions such as birthdays.
  • In some cases, providing the other parent with some form of security in the event that you do not return as promised e.g. payment of money into court, or handing over certain documents (e.g. your birth certificate), that will only be returned once you are back in England.

You should consider these things when seeking consent or permission, and ensure you have as much information available as early as possible regarding your proposed trip.


Each country has different requirements for allowing a child to travel abroad without both parents.

For example, if you wish to travel to South Africa or Canada then you will need a signed parental consent affidavit (South Africa) or letter of authorisation (Canada) from the other parent and a court order granting the parent wishing to travel full parental rights and responsibilities and permitting them to take the child on holiday without the other parent.

If you have been able to deal with the child arrangements between you directly to date, and therefore do not already have a court order in place, then this means going to court specifically for an order by consent, which can be frustrating, costly, and time-consuming. So it is important to check the requirements of each country far in advance of your proposed trip.


What are the covid-19 travel restrictions in place for the country you are travelling to/returning to?

You will now also need to check the rules for travelling with children in the country you are travelling to and from, including whether there is a requirement for each child to be vaccinated or whether a negative PCR test is required.

If vaccination is a pre-requisite for travel, and your child is not already vaccinated, then you will need to get the consent of all persons with parental responsibility before vaccinating. If this consent is not forthcoming then you will need to apply for a specific issue order seeking permission for the vaccination to be administered.

Again, this specific issue order can be applied for using the Form C100 and will be decided by the court in the best interests of the child in accordance with the welfare principle and welfare checklist. These proceedings can take several months so it is important to consider this at a very early stage and ensure all necessary orders are sought at the same time, if an application to court is necessary.

Last but not least, don’t forget your passports (and any other necessary documents).

Make sure that you have your passport and your child’s passport before you travel. This might mean arranging a time to collect your child’s passport from the other parent in advance, if it is not already in your possession.

You may also need proof of vaccination, a negative PCR test, and/or a passenger locator form, depending on the location of travel.

It is also advisable to travel with a copy of the child’s birth certificate, particularly if your child has a different surname to you, as well as any documentation evidencing any change in your name e.g. your birth certificate, marriage certificate, decree absolute or change of name deed.

If you are considering travelling abroad with your child, during the summer holidays or any other time of the year, it is important that you consider the need for legal advice at an early stage. If consent is required, but not forthcoming, then you should try to resolve matters in mediation before applying for a court order. This will give you an opportunity to discuss the proposed trip in more detail and hopefully reach an agreement that enables you to travel. However, if time is of the essence or it is clear that no agreement will be reached, then it may be best to issue proceedings straight away.

At Anthony Gold we are experienced in dealing with all aspects of family breakdown, including arrangements for children and the need to seek consent or permission from the court to remove a child from the jurisdiction temporarily, or permanently. If you think you may require legal assistance a member of our family team can advise you in more detail on your options and agree the best course of action for your specific circumstances.

Checklist on Divorce

At Anthony Gold, we know that any divorce is stressful and that there are a number of things to think about. The process of getting a divorce will be just as much practical as technical, especially if there are children. Below is a checklist to consider when going through the separation process.


Divorce checklist



In relation to the finances, some of the tasks will be set out in the court order that is drawn up. For example, how to deal with the ownership of property, bank accounts, investments, pensions and debts. However, there are other important practical points to consider which are included in the following non-exhaustive checklist:

  1. Agree if any maintenance/works needs to be done to a property and agree costs before the spouse moves out (eg. roof or boiler repair)
  2. Check and/or change any beneficiary nominations under your pension
  3. Check and/or change the nomination under any death in service benefit from your spouse to an alternative beneficiary
  4. Close or transfer joint accounts to sole name or open a new bank account if needed
  5. Close any joint credit cards
  6. Check life policies and change the beneficiary if appropriate
  7. Check medical cover for or as a spouse and whether it covers you both after separation and up to decree absolute
  8. Change any key passwords and separate financial paperwork/ID docs
  9. Notify DVLA and car insurer if you are moving
  10. Notify banks/pension providers of new address
  11. Notify vet and insurer if pets relocate address and amend microchip details
  12. Notify GP of change of address
  13. Apply for single person’s council tax
  14. Change utility bills
  15. Check what benefits you may be entitled to
  16. Consider if a change of name is necessary to ID documents
  17. Change locks to a property once ownership transferred
  18. Redirect post
  19. Change your Will or make a Will
  20. Amend or make a new Power of Attorney


The Children

You do not have to obtain a Court Order or even draft an agreement in relation to how you will care for your children. Although you may find written agreement helpful. Here is a checklist of practical items you may wish to consider:

  1. Notify childminder/nursery/school of any address change/contact details and status of parents’ relationship and ensure documents are copied to both parents if possible
  2. Notify childminder/nursery/school of who will pick up and drop off the child and when
  3. Purchase new sets of clothes/uniform/shoes/toys/books/medicine so that both homes are equipped if something is forgotten
  4. Agree any medical/health/allergy treatment that may be necessary (eg asthma inhalers) and when that is to be administered
  5. Agree on the GP and dentist to be used
  6. Work out dates/holidays/special occasions with reference to a calendar and who will hold or attend parties
  7. Work out if parents’ evenings/school events are to be attended separately, together or alternately
  8. Agree contact with grandparents and wider family members if they are to provide a caring role
  9. Consider using a parenting app such as “Our Family Wizard” or paper diary if communication is difficult

If you are thinking of separating, you should always take legal advice as to the implications, risks and protections you should put in place. If you would like further information, please contact the family team at Anthony Gold LLP at


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Bird Nesting – Co-parenting Trend or Creative Solution?

Bird Nesting – Co-parenting Trend or Creative Solution?

It might be said that a reliable barometer of trends is when they become storylines in TV soaps or dramas. The ITV thriller “Our House”, adapted from a novel of the same name, starring Martin Compston and Tuppence Middleton included “bird nesting” as part of the plot. The couple were living in a large period property in London with two young children, when the wife discovers her husband “in flagrante” with their neighbour. The parties separate and decide to rent a cheap property, so that they can each take it in turns to care for the children in the family home on rotation. The family home is therefore preserved for the children and reflects what happens in the natural world which this concept takes its name from.

Bird Nesting Agreements

In order to have the best chance of success, the couple would ideally be amicable and on good terms. In the drama, the couple are seen with a third party drawing up a “Bird Nesting Agreement”. This is not something that family lawyers are routinely instructed upon and it is much more likely to come up in mediation due to the bespoke nature of this process. Nesting could also become part of a general co-parenting agreement and possibly a recital to a Court Order under the Children Act. However, it is not something a Court will order against an unwilling participant to facilitate child arrangements.

Ground Rules for Bird Nesting

In terms of a second home for the “off-duty” parent, a purchase may only be possible for reasonably well-off parents. There would also then be the issue of how that property is owned and funded (unless purchased out right) as it may be problematic to enter into another mortgage. It might be possible to make adjustments to an existing property to allow the parties to live separately. The alternative would be to live with in-laws, friends or perhaps in a house share. However, that will invariably be more of a short-term solution.

If property is to be shared, it is sensible for there to be ground rules. For example, agreements are likely to be required on the following:

  • Time spent with the children, including holidays and special occasions
  • Parenting “rules” and what boundaries are appropriate to enforce by both parents with the children to maintain consistency
  • Payment of rent, mortgage and bills
  • Purchase of groceries and the sharing of food in the respective households
  • Cleaning of the properties
  • Maintenance of the properties
  • Gardening of the properties
  • Rules about new partners
  • Changing the linen if one bed is being used in the second property
  • Care of pets (including dog walking)
  • Respecting the privacy of the other

It is easy to see how this kind of approach could succeed for the right couple but equally how it might unravel. This is what happens in “Our House” when the wife discovers the house has been sold from under her, which will not be a risk for most co-owners (absent criminal actions). Even if you are not a co-owner of a property, it is possible to register a Matrimonial Home Rights Notice to protect your position. This will mean you are notified is there is an attempted sale of the property.

It is unlikely to work if there is unresolved conflict or insufficient financial resources. In the end, it will come down to the couple and their willingness to make it work. The concept has been around for some time in the USA and data shows that this is increasing in popularity in Australia, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries. This is likely to be more popular with younger generations as shared care becomes commonplace.

Pros and Cons of bird nesting


  • Preservation of a school catchment area
  • Useful transition period for the family and for the children to get used to their parents being separated
  • Provides stability for children as they can keep the same routine/bedroom/belongings/clothes and means only one set of everything needed
  • Positive for children’s mental health as can keep same friends, school and support system
  • Reduction of commute between homes for children, especially if one parent wishes to move further away
  • No need to pack a bag for the child or for things to be forgotten
  • Preservation of an appreciating asset and avoiding costs of moving/taxes, especially if London based
  • Emphasis on remaining amicable on separation and making it work for all
  • Parents carry more of the emotional burden of divorce than the children
  • Cost effective
  • Buys time and provides breathing space to reflect
  • Suits modern families


  • Difficult for parents to move on and establish a new home/life
  • Inability to achieve financial clean break while assets remain shared
  • Confusing for children and false hope of parental reconciliation
  • Lack of certainty for children and parents
  • Practical difficulties arising from sharing a home
  • Difficulties with moving on with new partners
  • Increased risk of anxiety and depression for the “off-duty” parent living in the more modest property (ie. a one-bedroom flat versus a comfortable family home)
  • Risk of poor mental health for parents
  • Limited freedom for parties and inability to cut ties and communication
  • Not viable in the long term

Bird nesting is a helpful option for separating couples but is only likely to work in the short term as the urge for certainty will be overwhelming for most. If you are thinking of trialling nesting for your family, you should always take legal advice as to the implications, risks and protections you should put in place. If you would like further information, please contact the family team at Anthony Gold LLP at