The Grant Thornton Matrimonial Survey 2013 has just been published, with a range of findings. The survey canvassed the opinions of a cross-section of the UK’s leading family lawyers, based on their work in the 2012 calendar year.
You can read the Grant Thornton Matrimonial Survey 2013. For family lawyers, the standout statistic is likely to be the continued rise of the litigant in person, following the Government’s cuts to the family law legal aid budget. Respondents to this year’s survey said that the increase in litigants in person due to a lack of public funding was the leading issue, with 24% of responses. This is a change from 2012, when the leading issue was the economic downturn.
This finding will, I suspect, come as little surprise to family lawyers. Here on the Marilyn Stowe Family Law & Divorce Blog, my readership has ballooned over the past 18 months – and I believe this is due in no small part to the increased need by people who aren’t trained lawyers to understand family law and divorce. Many of them are litigants in person, either because they no longer qualify for legal aid or because they believe they cannot afford professional legal advice.
As I have written previously, the rise in the numbers of litigants in person presents a challenge for the courts, because they can slow cases down and the courts are already overstretched. Despite their popular image as walking repositories of legal wisdom, judges do not know everything and rely, to a greater extent than you may think, on the barristers and solicitors before them to point out the relevant case law.
Most litigants are quite unable to do the same and so judges have to find the applicable law themselves, which can take time. Some cases are further slowed down by the need to explain developments and procedures to baffled litigants in person.
The Grant Thornton study also shows that, for the first time since 2011, none of the leading family lawyers surveyed reported that the average value of family assets in a case amounted to less than £250,000. I suspect the divorcing couples who fall into this category are preferring to represent themselves or opt for “DIY” divorces, to try and save costs. In my experience, however, this can prove to be a false economy.
On another note, I see that more respondents than ever have cited “growing apart” as the most common reason for a marriage breakdown. This coincides with 38% of respondents stating that they had seen an increase in the ages of divorcing couples. At Stowe Family Law we have found that for older groups, the stigma of divorce has more or less gone. People have greater longevity, financial security and often view retirement as a new beginning, rather than an end. Sometimes people suffer from boredom with their spouse… and decide that they don’t want to spend another 20 years with them after all.