Figures released by the Ministry of Justice have shown a marked increase in the numbers of unrepresented parties ending up in the Family Court since 2012.
Unrepresented parties brought around 25,000 cases in 2012 whereas this figure increased to nearly 35,000 in 2013. Legal Aid cuts implemented in 2013 are thought to be a significant factor in this phenomenon.
As well as the year-on-year figures for child-related cases displaying a marked increase in the numbers of unrepresented parties overall; in relative terms, they made up more than 50 per cent of the child-related cases appearing in the Family Court in the latter part of 2013.
Legal Aid Cuts and Divorce
Since 2013, cuts to legal aid have removed financial assistance for a host of civil claims including many areas of private family law. This means that divorcing couples often feel that they cannot seek professional legal advice due to a lack of personal financial means.
Despite this, the number of divorcing couples heading to court to resolve their differences has not fallen but has increased by around 5 per cent, resulting in significant delays. It has been suggested that the absence of solicitors in the divorce process may have made couples less likely to be informed about the alternatives, leaving them to opt for unnecessarily costly and stressful court proceedings.
Family lawyers are not just experts in family law but they usually have significant experience in alternative dispute resolution techniques such as mediation.
Will the Recent Changes Made by the Children and Families Act 2014 Help?
The Children and Families Act 2014 implemented in April 2014, specifically encourages divorcing couples to focus on the welfare of children by placing time limits on care proceedings and making the use of mediation information meetings compulsory.
Mediation itself is still supported by Legal Aid but the Ministry of Justice figures suggest that mediations fell dramatically year on year between 2012 and 2013.
Any experienced family lawyer will confirm that mediation is far less stressful than a full blown court case as well as being quicker and cheaper. However, there are some cases where it may not be suitable such as high value divorce cases or where there is a significant imbalance of means between the parties.
Divorce is often an incredibly stressful experience for all concerned, not least for any children that are involved. Even parties that feel they cannot afford legal advice should at least attempt to speak to a family solicitor to see what help is available before heading to court unrepresented. This often turns out to be far more cost effective in the long run. For specialist advice please contact Jeetesh Patel via e- mail JPatel@rollingsons.co.uk or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.