Unprecedented Delays In The Family Courts – Alternative Routes To Resolving Family Disputes
The government has been urged to address the unprecedented backlog in the family courts.
According to data from HM Courts & Tribunal Service, the number of open private law cases in the family courts reached 85,706 in August. The average time for such cases to complete was 43 weeks.
The Law Society president has urged the government to: ‘ensure, so far as possible, that there are sufficient fee-paid and full-time judges to deal with existing and new caseloads.’
Over the last decade, the government has been making continual changes to the law and procedure for family proceedings in order to push disputes out of the courts. Since LASPO 2021, legal aid for family cases have been extremely limited leading many people to privately fund their matters or try to avoid the involvement of solicitors altogether. However, early legal advice of your position and rights, both in relation to finances and children, is actually key to avoiding lengthy disputes in the long-run.
There are many options available to help people solve their disputes, which do not involve the courts. Mediation is the most popular of these options, in which a trained professional facilitates a discussion between parties to assist them in reaching an agreement. The Family Mediation Council (FMC) voucher scheme was introduced by the government in March 2021, providing families with a £500 voucher to contribute towards the cost of mediation.
The MoJ have reported that the scheme has been successful in helping 65% of participants reach a whole or partial agreement. However, mediation is not always appropriate for every case, nor is it always possible for parties to reach agreements even at the end of their mediation sessions. Even though the focus should always be on encouraging clients to solve their matters in a more amicable, constructive way, the courts still play a vital role when these methods do not achieve the desired result.
The introduction of no-fault divorce through the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, which came into force in April 2022, also demonstrates a continued commitment to resolving matters away from the court. By reducing the necessary conflict that ‘blame’ brought to the divorce process, it is hoped that this new law will encourage more amicable agreements between separating parties and even allow people to make joint applications for divorce based on a mutual understanding of their relationship breakdown.
After an initial spike in divorce applications, caused by a number of couples waiting to make their applications under the new law, we are now seeing a slow decrease. Divorce applications were down by 2% in January to March 2022 compared to the same period in the previous year. Despite this, we are unlikely to see a real reduction in court applications as a result of this change any time soon.
This week marks Resolution’s Good Divorce Week 2022 (28th November – 2nd December), which aims to highlight the crisis in the family courts and raise awareness of all the different ways families can resolve their disputes away from Court – where it is safe and appropriate to do so – and how family practitioners can guide families through that process.
The Resolution National Chair acknowledged that not only would government-funded early legal advice lead to fewer cases having to go to court, but would also ‘ensure that those cases that need to be resolved by Court can be dealt with in a timely manner.’
We are yet to see how the government will address these unprecedented delays. One thing is clear – the current state of the family courts only leads to additional and unnecessary stress for people who are already going through a difficult period in their lives.
Our experienced Family Mediators, provide professional and friendly mediation, tailored to your specific circumstances. For a confidential discussion, get in touch with us today on 0808 271 9413 or request a call back online at your convenience.