Firms To Watch: Family

Stowe Family Law LLP has expanded in the North in recent years and now has offices in Newcastle and Durham; former Ward Hadaway partner Sarah Crilly joined in Newcastle in summer 2022.

Family in North

David Gray Solicitors LLP

The strong bench of specialised family experts at David Gray Solicitors LLP in Newcastle are known as practitioners who go way above and beyond for their clients’.  The practice is notably diverse, ranging from mainstream offerings such as divorce and child arrangements to adoption and arbitration. Is well equipped to solve issues via mediation and collaborative practice, works closely with support services and relevant professionals and can also draw on the services of a family transitions consultant within the firm. Lucy Mead leads the team, and is ‘extremely professional, objective and a strong court advocate’. Mary Shaw contributes strength in mediation and collaborative practice while Elspeth Thomson is an expert on children law, handling adoption cases and child arrangement cases.

Practice head(s):

Lucy Mead

Other key lawyers:

Mary Shaw; Elspeth Thomson; Lesley Monkhouse


‘The team has incredibly strong and brave leadership. During times when you are dealing with extremely high levels of stress, they go way above and beyond for their clients.’

‘Very reactive, very open minded, listened to us and our needs, and proactively made relevant suggestions and anticipated what could come next. Felt very well supported and in competent hands.’

‘Added bonus is the KIT follow up afterwards, very nice touch. Warm personal feeling, we could relate to Elspeth very well. She spoke to us in layman’s terms.’

‘I found the whole team to be very professional and caring. On line payments of bills was easy to access.’

‘Every individual I have worked with has provided me a service that is of excellent quality.’

‘Lucy Mead – extremely professional, objective and a strong court advocate. Lesley Monkhouse – very experienced solicitor who is calm, reassuring but straight-talking Elspeth Thompson. – thorough with a sensible approach.’

‘Elspeth Thomson keeps a clear head and retains her unflappable and impeccably professional standards, whatever the job throws at her.’

‘Client care is exceptional. Lucy Mead leads by example as the Head of the Department. Mary Shaw is brilliant. Calm and reassuring with fantastic people skills and a clear understanding of the law.’

Major Family Law

Boutique firm Major Family Law is described as a ‘go-to firm in the region’, covering all aspects of family law, including high value financial issues surrounding relationship breakdowns and complex private children’s work. Managing director Joanne Major stands out for her ‘integrity, strategic rigour, legal prowess and enterprise’. Key practitioner Anna Hunter’s practice includes complex children work such as cases involving allegation of abuse, while senior associate Sam Carter also regularly handles child arrangements. All lawyers mentioned are based in Newcastle, while in addition the firm has expanded its regional presence with a second office in Carlisle.

Practice head(s):

Joanne Major

Other key lawyers:

Lucinda Connell; Anna Hunter; Calvin Walker; Jonathan Dunkley; Sam Carter; Sahil Aggarwal


‘Over recent years, many boutique family law practices have been established. When Major Family Law (MFL) was created by Joanne Major from a standing start 13 years ago, niche family law firms were still in their infancy. MFL paved the way for a new type of legal practice across the UK.’

‘This firm and its managing director are extremely innovative. I have had the pleasure of working with them on a new innovation due to launch shortly which has the power to transform the legal market nationally. This is a forward-thinking firm that is not afraid of taking risks that benefit all people in need of their services.’

‘Joanne Major, the firm’s managing director is an outstanding lawyer, colleague and mentor. A trailblazer when it comes to innovation in the legal sector, her creativity in developing new initiatives within the family law arena is unmatched. Joanne outshines all of the other partners I have had the privilege to work with on account of her integrity, strategic rigour, legal prowess and enterprise.’

‘This large team of family and divorce is known as the go-to firm in the region. I am a business owner and entrepreneur and have frequently heard about this firm and its talented lawyers for many years, thereby making it a natural choice when I needed help. The vanguard of the firm, Joanne Major is an influential, innovative woman who has developed her very own, unique brand of family law.’

‘I cannot recommend this practice highly enough, they were extremely professional throughout the whole process. Everything was explained well, and in a way which was easy to understand. All communication was well managed, queries were answered quickly and efficiently and they made everything as painless as possible. The billing was very clear and very reasonable.’

‘First class treatment of such difficult issues with such compassion and morality. Understanding on all fronts with a sense of truly caring.’

‘Jonathan Dunkley was outstanding. His advise was second to none and after many years of bad advice and people using my situation for financial gain it was appreciated beyond words.’

‘Major Family Law stands out head and shoulders above any other matrimonial finance firms in Newcastle and the North East. They are quite simply the ‘go-to’ firm in the region, having outstanding strength in depth and some superb individual practitioners.’

Silk Family Law

A practice with a ‘national reputation’, the boutique Silk Family Law advises on all areas of family law, regularly handling complex family issues with an international aspect. The practice includes financial matters, pre-and post-nuptial agreements and various children’s issues ranging from residence and contact to abduction. In-house barrister Ian Kennerley  plays a key role in complex financial matters while Kim Fellowes is known as a ‘leader in her field’ alongside Margaret Simpson, ‘an exceptional lawyer’ who draws on deep experience in the field. Wayne Lynn ’s expertise includes financial issues surrounding separations, cohabitation agreements as well as pre-and post-nuptial arrangements.

Other key lawyers:

Ian Kennerley; Kim Fellowes; Margaret Simpson; Wayne Lynn; Eleanor Lowes; Kate Machin


‘Margaret Simpson provides exceptional advice, with a particular emphasis on her attention to detail.’

‘The team provided me with clear, efficient, well informed legal council. They worked to strict deadlines and kept me abreast of any developments in real time. The Silk team worked closely with each other throughout my very long divorce and I felt confident knowing they were behind me.’

‘Silk have a very personable touch, they very quickly tune in to the clients needs, are very understanding, knowledgeable and respectful.’


Burnetts supports clients in disputes concerning children and with financial aspects of divorces, the latter forming a key area of focus. Of note is the team’s work in matters where one or both parties run their own business and its expertise in pension assets. Simon Mortimer in Carlisle leads the practice, his specialisms include farming cases and cases involving substantial assets. Clients feel they are ‘in safe hands’ with Carlisle-based associate Emma Armstrong while associate Vikki Porthouse in Cockermouth leaves ‘no stone unturned’.

Practice head(s):

Simon Mortimer

Other key lawyers:

Emma Armstrong; Vikki Porthouse


‘First impressions are important. The offices are smart, modern and clean. Reception staff were warm, friendly and efficient. I was never kept waiting beyond the appointed time. The relevant partner greeted me and escorted me to the meeting room. Bills were issued regularly on the last day of the month with full supporting details. Virtual meetings were efficiently arranged during the pandemic and there was a general air of quiet efficiency about the office. It just felt as though everything was under control and the staff worked as a team.’

‘The head of the family division was fully supportive and understanding of the issues involved. He was easy to understand and never talked down to me. He was clearly in control of his brief and dealt fairly and firmly with his opposite number. When we needed to appoint a barrister he explained the merits of each potential chamber. In court he was most impressive and against all the odds we achieved a very satisfactory result. As a chartered accountant in private practice I was often asked to recommend a solicitor but I never had full confidence in doing so until I was introduced to Burnetts.’

‘The practice were incredibly helpful during a difficult time. They were honest about their costs and even supported me to seek a firm that provided legal aid work, however I didn’t want to, I felt that Burnetts had the best interest of myself and my child at the forefront of everything they did.’

Hay & Kilner

The Hay & Kilner practice in Wallsend offers expertise not only in financial provision cases involving various complex assets but also in difficult matters involving children. Nicola Matthews leads the practice, as a qualified collaborative family lawyer she can resolve disputes via negotiations, litigation and collaborative processes. Christian Butler’s broad practice includes arrangements for children as well as financial remedy matters. Senior associate Kerry Kelso has expertise in public and private family law, handling difficult cases involving domestic abuse or neglect.

Practice head(s):

Nicola Matthews

Other key lawyers:

Christian Butler; Kerry Kelso

Work highlights

    Sintons LLP

    The ‘knowledgeable and respected’ team at Sintons LLP in Newcastle offers a broad practice, ranging from high-net-worth financial remedy matters over pre-nuptial agreements to complex, multijurisdictional child arrangements. Louise Masters leads the practice, having been promoted to partner in April 2021. A ‘highly skilled’ practitioner, Masters is a trained collaborative lawyer as well as an adept litigator and advocate. Consultant Elizabeth Gallagher offers deep experience and expertise that is ‘second to none’. Steven Freeman retired in April 2021.

    Practice head(s):

    Louise Masters

    Other key lawyers:

    Elizabeth Gallagher; Sophie Dodd


    ‘The family law team have provided extremely sound advice over 5 and a half years. A complicated divorce hacase has concluded with a result that is better than I hoped for.’

    ‘Louise Masters has been exceptionally competent and always been kind & caring.’

    ‘Elizabeth Gallagher was my solicitor and I found her to be kind, supportive, and understanding. She was always available when I wanted to speak to her and listened to my concerns. She responded quickly to my requests and had a very professional approach. Her expertise in the subject was second to none.’

    ‘Good handover when my lawyer was on leave.’

    ‘Personal attention from a lawyer with lots of experience in the field’

    ‘Elizabeth Gallagher is a very experienced and highly competent family lawyer’

    ‘Louise Masters is an extremely capable family lawyer and collaborative lawyer. She is innovative and forward thinking and a good leader.’

    ‘The Family Team has a great breadth of experience in terms of levels of qualification and both dispute resolution and court work.’

    Swinburne Maddison LLP

    The Durham-based practice at Swinburne Maddison LLP covers a range of family law matters from dividing assets in a divorce to making arrangements for children. In addition to representing clients in court proceedings, it stands out with expertise in alternative forms of dispute resolution. Practice head Kath Hill is ‘a level headed source of advice’ as well as an accredited mediator and collaborative lawyer. While Natalia Lalas left the firm in September 2021, associate Catherine Lowther plays a key role, handling public and private childrens matters among others.

    Practice head(s):

    Kath Hill

    Other key lawyers:

    Catherine Lowther


    ‘The team were extremely friendly, kind and welcoming.’

    ‘Kath Hill was exceptionally knowledgeable and helpful, and was very patient as I was working though a very tough time in my life.’

    ‘From the start of my interaction with Swinburne Maddison, I was represented by Kath Hill, a family practice associate dealing with my matter. She was an excellent communicator who kept me up to date promptly with new information and explained the legal aspects of my case clearly and offered timely solutions to problems which arose from the third party’s unwillingness to compromise.’

    Work highlights

    • Representing a wife in connection with the enforcement of a spousal maintenance order following the death of the husband.
    • Acting in connection with complex care proceedings, involving historic allegations of sexual assault, domestic abuse and drug use.
    • Successfully negotiating a divorce settlement involving complicated personal circumstances and a valuable investment portfolio, via the collaborative process, saving both parties significant stress, delay and expense.


    With offices in Carlisle and Wigton, the team at Bendles is a strong presence in the region. Rebecca Tonkin leads the team, focusing on care, adoption, special guardianship and complex private law children cases together with key practitioner Alison Bone. Vivienne Clough handles predominantly divorce and finance cases, newly supported by senior associate Emma McGrath who joined in February 2022.

    Practice head(s):

    Rebecca Tonkin

    Other key lawyers:

    Alison Bone; Vivienne Clough; Emma McGrath


    ‘Only know Viv Clough who is thorough, well prepared, a good analyst and fair and reasonable.’

    ‘Excellent client service. Excellent case preparation. Advice is always available in a timely manner. Sensitive communication given difficult subject matter.’

    ‘Both Alison and Rebecca are always available to provide emergency advice and accept urgent instructions.’

    BHP Law

    Dynamic and forward thinking firm’ BHP Law is active for clients on various aspects of family and childcare matters, from divorces, finances to a high number of care proceedings cases. Heading up that practice is Andrea Hewitson in Tynemouth, drawing on in-depth family law experience and expertise as a qualified resolution and collaborative lawyer. Up-and-comer Amanda Adeola in Darlington is ‘an exceptional lawyer’, representing clients in court and providing ‘practical and pragmatic legal advice‘.

    Practice head(s):

    Andrea Hewitson

    Other key lawyers:

    Amanda Adeola


    ‘This Company was very professional and very approachable at all times.

    ‘Nothing was too much trouble and always a telephone call away.’

    ‘The team are extremely approachable and very client focused. There is always someone available to respond to questions and provide assistance.’

    EMG Solicitors

    The practitioners at EMG Solicitors are described as ‘collaborative, knowledgeable and great legal forces in the local community and further afield’. Practice head Julia Middleton is an accredited resolution specialist, covering all family matters from financial disputes to children law matters such as residence or contact issues. Senior associate Sue McArthur draws on know-how as both a family solicitor and a mediator. The firm has expanded its reach from Durham and Newcastle to a new office in Penrith.

    Practice head(s):

    Julia Middleton

    Other key lawyers:

    Sue McArthur; Gemma Holmes


    ‘The team as a whole have extensive knowledge and are able to support their clients in all aspects of family work. They have added skills such as mediation which is an added advantage. They are well versed in changes to the legal landscape and work in an efficient way to meet the needs of all their clients.’

    ‘Sue McArthur and Julia Middleton are very experienced family lawyers across a breadth of work. They are collaboratively trained and Sue practices as a mediator.’

    ‘This is an elite team of high quality matrimonial specialists in a region where family law generalists is the norm.’

    Mincoffs Solicitors LLP

    Having joined the firm’s partner ranks in July 2021, Emily Cannell in Newcastle leads Mincoffs Solicitors LLP’ family law team which covers matters from pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements to all aspects of relationship breakdowns. Cannell is described as ‘personable, attentive and extremely talented’, able to act collaboratively in joint settlement discussions as well as handling contentious and litigious cases involving court representation. Consultant Lyn Rutherford plays a supporting role, as does solicitor Rachel Smith.

    Practice head(s):

    Emily Cannell

    Other key lawyers:

    Lyn Rutherford; Rachel Smith


    ‘Very professional, with a great reputation. Came very highly recommend.’

    ‘Emily is unique in her field. Personable, attentive and extremely talented at what she does. I have full trust in her and her ability.’

    ‘Led by Emily Cannell I believe they go from strength to strength. They are well-prepared and manage their client’s expectations better than many.’

    Ward Hadaway LLP

    The Newcastle-based team at Ward Hadaway LLP is able to act for family clients across a variety of matters. Jonathan Flower leads on the children and safeguarding side, working with associate Louise Cannell-Mirza, while the matrimonial side of the practice has been strengthened with new hire Gemma Iceton from St James Square Law Firm in January 2022; she works alongside associate Hollie Morgan.

    Practice head(s):

    Jonathan Flower

    Other key lawyers:

    Louise Cannell-Mirza; Hollie Morgan; Gemma Iceton


    ‘I have repeatedly instructed the Family Law team to represent the children I work with as a result of their excellent practice. The team consistently provides a good quality service including legal advice, advocacy and ensuring I have everything I need to fulfill my role. I have always found the team to be a joy to work with.’

    ‘Ward Hadaway LLP are unique due to the quality of service they have provided to me and the children I work with. In my experience they are highly proficient in family law and the standard of legal advice is excellent. The child’s welfare is always at the core of any work/legal advice provided.’

    ‘I find the staff members extremely motivated, enthusiastic, experienced, knowledgeable, and extremely focused and forensic in approach. The organisation of case work I feel is second to none.’

    ‘They are all very personable and down to earth, yet professional (as you’d expect) which is refreshing. The team keep me well informed of proceedings. They are attentive to my engagement and go to great lengths to ensure proceedings are on track and that I am fully informed at every step on progress. When decisions need to be made at key junctures, the team ensure that they take the time to explain in detail the possible options and likely outcomes or ramifications as a result. Can’t praise the ladies enough!’

    ‘The team bring the efficiency and resources of a large commercial firm into public law children work.’

    ‘Louise Cannell-Mirza is a diligent and capable solicitor who works tirelessly for her clients.’

    Browell Smith & Co Solicitors Ltd

    Victoria Lant in Annitsford heads up the family law practice at Browell Smith & Co Solicitors Ltd, her expertise includes children matters, such as complex children act proceedings, domestic abuse and finance matters. Ashington-based Heather Armstrong is a key member of the team, which has been strengthened with the addition of solicitor Sarah Tweedie from David Auld & Co Solicitors in February 2022.

    Practice head(s):

    Victoria Lant

    Other key lawyers:

    Heather Armstrong; Sarah Tweedie

    Tilly Bailey & Irvine

    The private family law team at Tilly Bailey & Irvine, based across Durham, Tees Valley and North Yorkshire, handles matrimonial finance and private law children matters for clients in the region and beyond. ‘Stand out individual’ Wendy Beacom leads the practice, drawing on many years of experience. Associate Shamin Ali regularly handles financial remedy applications both for and against. Stephanie McAulay, dual-qualified as a chartered legal executive, joined from Clark Willis in December 2021.

    Practice head(s):

    Wendy Beacom

    Other key lawyers:

    Shamin Ali; Stephanie McAulay


    ‘Very experienced and well founded team’

    ‘This entire team works in such a unique harmony amongst all personnel that it inspires immediate confidence that you are in safe hands.’

    ‘In respect of all the Solicitors that have instructed me, I have found them pleasant, professional and supportive. If there is a need for you speak with them, regardless of how busy they are, they will make time to answer your query either by phone or email. Important points of a case are always signposted in the brief as they should be, as well as any issues or queries for advice. This has been invaluable in assisting me in preparation to identify the key points in the case. Most importantly, they listen and are thankful for when warnings or advice are offered, which demonstrates the level of professional respect one can expect from this practice. I would say all of these traits can be found in Shamin Ali, her Briefs have always been thorough and incredibly detailed, which is of particular assistance in finance cases.’