The number of litigants in person, people who represent themselves in family court proceedings, has soared in recent years.
This is primarily due to a cut in legal aid which has meant that people wanting access to family solicitors have had to fund their legal advice themselves, except in very limited circumstances, such as care proceedings.
The House of Commons Justice Committee has been told that litigants in person present a number of difficult issues for the legal profession. One of the major issues is they are unlikely to get a fair hearing in the family courts.
Despite the upfront costs, professional legal advice is therefore essential and, in the long term, it is usually the best option financially.
What are the Difficulties for Litigants in Person?
The House of Commons Justice Committee recently heard evidence from a number of highly respected legal practitioners such as Susan Jacklin QC, chair of the Family Law Bar Association, on the issue of litigants in person in the family courts. It was made clear to the Committee that no matter how much help is given to a litigant in person this does not replace the benefits of professional advice from a lawyer.
There are two primary reasons for this. Firstly, cases are often delayed or lengthened as litigants in person are not aware of procedures or timetables. Secondly, if one party has legal representation and the opponent does not, this can severely disadvantage the unrepresented party.
The Government has previously argued that mediation is a better, less direct method of dispute resolution than litigation but not all cases are suitable for mediation. The experience required to determine the suitability of a case for mediation simply provides even greater reason why legal advice is essential at the outset of any family case.
Family Law Cases are often Complex and Life Changing
The importance of obtaining proper, professional legal advice and assistance cannot be underestimated. Family cases are often complex, emotional affairs which can take a huge personal toll on the parties.
One of the roles of a family lawyer is to focus the case on the facts and legal issues to reach a cost effective, legally acceptable solution. It is important to remember that the issues that seem important to the parties may not hold the same, if any weight, in legal proceedings.
Further, the personal nature of the family means that the outcome can affect an individual more than any other legal proceedings, with the possible exception of criminal law cases. For example, a separated parent may lose residence of the children to the other party, or, in financial cases, a share of the finances to which they are entitled to, if they do receive correct advice.
Family Lawyers Offer More than Simply Legal Advice
An experienced family lawyer can identify the multitude of issues at an early stage and focus the parties and the court on the factors relevant to the legal case at hand.
Family lawyers can also help deal with the outcome of the case, such as helping to arrange contact with children when appropriate, and taking necessary measures when an order is not complied with. This reduces the strain on the parties in the long term.
Sometimes, out of court settlements may be the best approach and lawyers can advise on these options and when to use them.
This firm prides itself on providing professional and caring family law advice to its clients. Several of our family lawyers are members of Resolution, which means we have signed up to a professional Code of Practice for the non-confrontational, effective resolution of family related disputes.