More than sixty percent of parents contesting arrangements for their children in court are now doing so without a lawyer, according to new research.
The figure came to light in a freedom of information request made by family law mediator Marc Lopatin to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
Before legal aid was withdrawn for most family disputes, the proportion of unrepresented parents who appeared in court stood at 42 per cent in 2012 – 2013.
But this has increased to 62 per cent for the year to 2014. Between April and June 2014, 12,554 parents out of a total of 20,126 in England and Wales went to court without a lawyer to decide issues such as child contact, residency and maintenance payments.
Marc Lopatin said: “This is having a devastating impact on low-income families as well as creating delays for all parents attending court. Ministers should admit they got it wrong. They need to stop seeing lawyers and mediators as an either or. Both professionals working in tandem can keep families out of court and promote the interests of the child.”
The MoJ figures also showed that, out of a total of 17,550 cases concering property and financial needs, 5,410 parties were now without a lawyer – an increase of 30 percent.
Faced with the prospect of being unrepresented, many parents are simply turning their back on the family justice system. In late September, the Ministry of Justice released official figures showing that the number of cases featuring ex-partners going to court over child arrangements or finances fell to 9,291 between April and June 2014. This is a drop of 40 per cent compared to the same period in 2013.
It is highly unlikely that many of these parents are opting for family mediation over going to court.
The trend was already flagged as a serious concern by the chair of the Law Society’s family law committee, Naomi Angell, and the chair of Resolution’s children committee, Simon Bethel. They warned that falling numbers of parents going to court would lead to children being denied access to their parents, seriously undermining the Government’s concept of shared parenting.