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Grant Thornton Matrimonial Survey 2013: the continued rise of the litigant in person

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.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Paul says:

    A knowledge of case law is rarely required in first instance cases over children. The basic presumption is that a very minimal amount of child contact will be ordered. The challenge to the applicant, usually non-resident father, is nearly always one of fighting to increase the amount of contact he has and for the respondent, aka parent-with-care mother, to slow or defeat the applicant’s aim.

    A court always has a tendency to defer decisions to the next hearing and so cases can rumble on without final resolution, a state which suits the respondent, resident mother more than the non-resident, applicant father. The judges say they will now speed all this up and achieve fairer resolution of cases but we will see. The basic Children Act law itself has not changed. The general ambience is still very much one of putting the interests of separated mothers first, above those of her children and her ex-partner’s, despite what the law ostensibly says about the welfare of the child coming first.

    It is perfectly feasible for parents to run their own cases with a bare knowledge of court procedures. The hearings are private and informal, though still daunting for many. Litigants can take a McKenzie Friend with them into court for quiet advice if they cannot afford a solicitor.

    When solicitors reduce their charges or offer fixed fee services, they will attract more business.

  2. Andrew says:

    The real horror show to come is men accused of c.v. and refused legal aid cross-examining their wives or partners in person. And they will have to be allowed to. And the very fact of it happening will be ghastly to the woman however careful he tries to be and however much the judge tries to keep control.

    But that’s what happens when you deliberately unlevel the playing field. At least until the declaration of incompatibility.

  3. Stitchedup says:

    “The real horror show to come is men accused of c.v. and refused legal aid cross-examining their wives or partners in person. And they will have to be allowed to. And the very fact of it happening will be ghastly to the woman however careful he tries to be and however much the judge tries to keep control.”

    Sounds like you’ve already made your mind up Andrew, a bit like the judge in my case. Accusations against men appear to be taken as guilty until proven innocent. The cross examination of the woman should not be seen as a problem in a truly unbiased court.

  4. Andrew says:

    No, Stitchedup, quite the contrary, I agree with you. But amateur cross-examination in a fraught relationship is never going to help matters, and it is grossly unfair that one side is and the other is not allowed legal aid.

  5. Paul says:

    It is unfair and there is an arguable case for allowing a person limited legal aid to defend himself against criminal allegations of assault.

    This is one of the fundamental problems in family law. People make allegations of a criminal nature and the courts seek to verify these allegations using civil standards of proof. The father fights his case in the pro-mother, protective environment that is family law where it’s a piece of cake to make mud stick as all the elements of a fair trial are missing for the man standing accused. There needs to be some close quarter analysis of sample family law cases around DV to gain a better understanding of what happens and how bad findings and injustice to either party can be minimised. I’m massively jaundiced from my own experience where the only violence that occurred was hers (which didn’t bother me incidentally as long as the police and courts understood that) but where the accusations in court came from her – all on free legal aid – and successfully deployed to create a series of hurdles to frustrate my application.

    That does colour your views, I can tell you. Also, note the judges’s own unease over the unspoken scandal that is the ‘without notice’ non-molestation order. Read between the lines of Mr Justice Cobb’s reform proposals and make your own mind up as to whether they themselves think too, that they’ve been unjustifiably dishing them out like Smarties. Having once been on the receiving end of one of these tactical, balance sheet type non-mols myself, I know how angry they can make a father. That anger becomes deep-rooted in difficult cases but is 100% justified and rational nonetheless. Injustice creates anger.

  6. Andrew says:

    I ask myself what MoJ will do when the declaration of incompatibility (or the finding against them in Strasbourg) happens.

    Extend legal aid to the party said to have committed it?

    Or withdraw it from the party making the allegation?

    Any bets, anybody?

  7. george says:

    That has always been the biggest hurdle to injustice is the ex parte hearing with false allegations of domestic violence. It creates a grave situation where the mother gets such an advantage before the father even comes to court. After such an event all following hearings can be drawn out before a resolution of the allegations can be made. And, if they happen to be proved false, the child or children not having seen the father for so many months will only be re-introduced slowly, for a limited amount of time in perhaps a contact centre.

  8. Stitchedup says:

    George, ex-parte hearings with false allegations of DV are rife. The full hearing is usually a farce, the judge has already made his/her decision and the respondent is trying to convince them they were wrong.

    Judges routinely issue non-mols becasue they believe it is the safe option, They justify this by claiming the non-mol doesn’t stop a person, usually the man, form doing something they shouldn’t be doing anyway (like talking to your partner of 20 years!!??!!), and it doesn’t affect the respindent as long as they don’t break it. Complete and utter B.S., the respondent is put in an incredibky precarious position, completely at the mercy of the applicant who can have the respondent convicted and possibly imprisoned just for talking.

    Proving allegations were false is difficult to say the least. No proof is needed to get the order so what do you have to disprove, often it’s just one word against the other.

    A “resport abuse” advert was on television last night, I didn’t realise what it ws initially, thought perhaps it was an ad for some perfume. As far as I can make out the man is being portrayed as abusive because he made a comment about what the woman was wearing. What next, if the mrs asks you if her bum looks big and you say yes you’re abusive, you say no you’re lieing or in denial which is also classed as abuse.

  9. Tristan says:

    Not another of those appalling NSPCC ads was it? I think it was last Christmas they ran an “All I want for Christmas is for daddy to stop hitting me” campaign despite their own research telling them that mothers were the more likely abusers. Of course there’s less money in it for them if they stick to the truth.

  10. Stitchedup says:

    Tirstan – I thought it was by the MoJ but could be wrong.

    last night there was a different domestic abuse add by the Welsh Government on ITV Wales. Usually scenario, woman in hospital bed, battered and bruised, with drips etc.

    I wonder when we’ll see one of a man or child being abused by the woman??

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear All
      You may not watch Corrie but they did a very good story line about a male victim of abuse, mental and physical.

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