Family courts see sharp rise in litigants in person

Family Law|October 14th 2014

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Before legal aid was withdrawn for most family disputes, the proportion of unrepresented parents who appeared in court stood at 42 per cent in 2012 – 2013.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.

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  1. paul apreda says:

    For goodness sake give up + get over it! If the answer is millions of pounds of public money to fund family lawyers is the answer then we’ve asked the wrong question. Do you ever both to respond to these comments – because if not why ask for them? Finally – let me repeat – what is your evidence for claiming that LIPs cause delay? Given that case volume is DOWN 40% how can there be delays? Isn’t this unprecedented incompetence by HMCTS? What were the reasons for delay BEFORE Legal Aid was removed? Maybe you’ll address these points – but frankly I doubt it. On another matter I must complement Marilyn for volunteering to help our Wrexham support group on a pro-bono basis. It is actions like this that hugely improves the reputation of family solicitors. Huge thanks to her personally.

  2. Stitchedup says:

    Well done Marilyn!

  3. Nordic says:

    It’s really funny. When the system is attacked for creating acrimony, the bulk standard defence is that only about 10% of cases end up in final hearings (a defence which does not stand scrutiny). But when that % drops a bit further, it is suddenly a considered a major problem. Of course, people have been turnings their backs on the system for ages because, rather than serve them, it serves families up as canon fodder in the legal industry’s money machine. One strongly suspect that the ndustry’s real concern is that more LIPs mean less fees across all cases (regardless of whether they end up in court – after all, the majority of fees are earned outside the courtroom).

    The answer most certainly is not to waste more of families hard-earned wealth and scarce public funds in legal fees. The answer is real primary and secondary legislation which removes judicial discretion where not needed, such as asset division, and gives clear guidance in other areas limiting the scope for judges to continue to feed the random mess they currently preside over.

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