If I asked my mother to close her eyes and think of the word “family” she would more than likely describe to me a married mum and dad, two children, a dog and a house. If I asked my son to do the same, he would no doubt conjure up a picture of divorced parents, one sister, three half sisters, a step mother, two step sisters , a step brother and of course a dog but perhaps no particular house. That is his reality. There is little doubt that the face of the modern family is changing rapidly and family law is altering to keep abreast of this new social phenomena.
Divorce is no longer an unusual occurrence and although it is reported that in 2011 divorces in Scotland fell to their lowest rate for 30 years, there are still on average 11,500 divorces a year. Even with divorce no longer carrying any social stigma, it still has a resounding and frequently troublesome effect on the family unit as both childcare arrangements and finances require to be agreed. It does not therefore come as much of a surprise that our family law department often assist our clients to prepare for “the worst case scenario” by drafting Pre Nuptial Agreements. These agreements can be extremely useful if a marriage were to end and do allow individuals to have some control over their destinies. Although it is harder to make childcare arrangements in advance, financial arrangements certainly can be determined.
Interestingly enough I recently was at a dinner party and out of the ten diners there I was the only one who had only been married once .Because people are remarrying step parents are much more common than they were, even ten years ago. Step parents have no automatic parental rights and responsibilities for their step children although they are expected to “safeguard the child’s health, development and welfare”. A step parent, however, can apply to the court to obtain parental rights and responsibilities or adopt the step child. Again our family law department can help.
Talking of adoption, this area of law has also seen change in recent years. The Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007, in force from 2009, allows unmarried couples, including gay couples to adopt jointly. The Act also introduces “permanence orders”. These orders can be granted by court to secure a child’s long term future with a carer and, although they are a measure short of adoption, they do provide children with more security in relation to their care arrangements. Our firm can guide you through the adoption process if needed.
We have been marching through very difficult economic conditions over the past number of years, and much more now than ever before grandparents are playing an increasingly valued role in the modern family unit. Most mothers return to work after having children and grandparents are stepping up at an unprecedented level to help with child care. Grandparents do not have any automatic parental rights and responsibilities for their grandchildren but can apply to the court to have such rights and responsibilities granted. For such an order to be awarded the court would have to be persuaded it was in the child’s best interests to do so.
At the end of 2005 we saw the introduction of Civil Partnership for same sex couples and in July 2012 the Scottish Government announced that they are to legislate to allow same sex marriage, although religious bodies who consider that contrary to their faith will not be compelled to conduct them. I wonder what picture the word “family” will produce in the mind’s eye of future generations.