The stigma of relationship breakdown

Relationships|July 1st 2014

From Monday anyone using the Child Maintenance Service must pay a fee for the privilege. This is just the latest example of the government penalising those whose relationship has broken down by making it more expensive for them to resolve the issues that arise following the breakdown. Those issues of course include such important things as arrangements for any children and money.

Other recent examples of this penny-pinching government policy include higher court fees and the withdrawal of legal aid for most private law family matters.

Of course, the ones hardest hit by these policies are the poorest and most vulnerable in our so-called ‘caring society’. If you are on a low income or are a single parent, then you will have to make do with less child maintenance, no legal representation and a second-rate legal system. But it is not just the poor and vulnerable. The effect of these policies will be felt by all but the very well off.

What has happened here is that those whose relationships have broken down have been made the new pariahs in society. They are costing the honest taxpayer money, and we must make an example of anyone who does that.

Of course, there are those who support the government. I’ve come across their argument many times. They say: “Why should the taxpayer foot the bill for family disputes?”

Most of those who put forward that argument must, I suspect, have never been in the unfortunate position of relationship breakdown, and they seem to think that anyone who is in that position is only there through their own fault. So, the reasoning seems to go, if it’s their fault, they should pay for it.

Of course, as any family lawyer will be able to confirm, no one wants to be in a relationship breakdown. Along with bereavement it is one of the worst situations a person can find themselves in. Whereas society used to help those in the unfortunate situation of relationship breakdown by ensuring that they have legal help and recourse to appropriate remedies, now we seem to be turning our collective backs on them.

Another argument put forward by the supporters of government policy is that people whose relationship has broken down should sort out subsequent arrangements themselves, without recourse to courts or public bodies. Well, yes, but unfortunately that is a rather naive argument. In the real world, many people who separate find it extremely hard to communicate reasonably with their former partners, and dealing sensibly with someone who is refusing to cooperate at all is obviously an impossibility.

I know that economically times are hard, but this is about compassion for those in need. I thought that that was a feature of our society, but now it seems that money is everything.

All of which makes it particularly ironic when I read on Sunday that the Ministry of Justice has wasted a staggering £56 million of taxpayers’ money on an obsolete IT project. Perhaps the government could find the savings it seeks by putting its own house in order, rather than by imposing its warped morals on the rest of us.

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  1. Andrew says:

    If a future government restores legal aid in family cases it must be on the basis that if one party is assisted so is the other. There is no level playing field where one party is paying up front and the other is not – it is the very case which Article 6 was intended to exclude.

    • Marilyn Stowe says:

      Dear Andrew
      My view is if one party can afford representation, the other must be assisted. That provides a level playing field.

      • Luke says:

        Hmmm… in my opinion this doesn’t work Marilyn unless you are a multi-millionaire.
        What actually happens is that somebody of moderate means doesn’t get Legal Aid, so effectively the person on Legal Aid is spending nothing can keep this person in court haemorrhaging their hard earned savings. that is not a level playing field.
        What actually happens ? The person of moderate means has to basically concede everything just to get out of court – it’s a joke and is why Legal Aid doesn’t work in such cases – the costs are simply waaaay too high.
        This is what is happening to one of my female relatives – she is not even attempting to get a just decision – she is just giving in on everything so that her lawyer and barrister don’t keep on putting in more and more invoices. What she will gain will be less than they are charging her and the other party knows this so just keeps dragging it out until she folds…
        Of course giving both sides Legal Aid is no solution – the costs got out of hand when one side got it and the public will just not put up with such costs.

      • Andrew says:

        Only if one can afford it without even noticing what it is costing – a privilege reserved for the seriously rich and the legally aided!

  2. Pete says:

    ” That provides a level playing field.” ? Is that the level playing field where a woman can empty her bank accounts , leave things off the E-form, lie in court and get away with it. She can then claim back half of what I had spent on solicitors fees while clicking her fingers and having the CSA snapping at my heels,
    “Other recent examples of this penny-pinching government policy include higher court fees and the withdrawal of legal aid for most private law family matters” Isn’t it funny John how you never consider lowering you fees, We are already paying too much for a biased system.

  3. Skeptic says:

    As the others have recognised, the only way you could guard against abuse of legal aid in family law is if both parties are aided, irrespective of means. Anything less is discriminatory, and I thought that would have been obvious.

    Before legal aid could be reintroduced though, the assumption of shared parenting and shared child benefit would need to be introduced. If you really claim to care about a level playing field, that is.

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