Court closures and litigants in person were the biggest issues concerning family lawyers in 2016.
This finding emerged from an annual survey of British family lawyers conducted by financial advice firm Grant Thornton UK. Sixteen per cent of lawyers said the increase of litigants in person due to a lack of public funding was their biggest worry this year. This was also the top concern listed in the 2015, 2014 and 2013 surveys.
However, this year the same number of family lawyers – 16 per cent – said the overburdening of the family courts as a result of multiple court closures was their biggest concern this year. In February, the government announced plans to close as many as 86 courts throughout the country. That process has already started and in October, the Law Society claimed it could seriously limit some people’s access to justice.
The lack of available legal aid in the majority of family law cases came third in the list of top concerns, with ten per cent of lawyers insisting that it was the most pressing.
Participants were also asked what new legislation they would like to see enacted in order to improve family law. The most popular choice was the introduction of no fault divorce, with 27 per cent of lawyers behind it. Legal protection for cohabiting couples was next, with 22 per cent. Support for both has increased by two per cent since last year’s survey was taken.
A quarter of those surveyed said the most common reason their clients gave for seeking a divorce was that they had grown apart or fallen out of love. Meanwhile, 22 per cent cited infidelity and 17 per cent said “unreasonable or controlling behaviour” was to blame.
The Matrimonial Survey 2016 also included questions about the impact of Brexit. Family lawyers were asked if the economic uncertainty which followed the UK’s vote to leave the European Union would cause people to delay their divorce. Just over a quarter – 26 per cent – did not believe that would happen while 24 per cent thought it would. The remaining 50 per cent, however, insisted it was still too soon to tell.
Nick Andrews is Head of Disputes at Grant Thornton UK. He said that 2016 had been “a turbulent year and uncertainty has remained a common theme throughout”.
“Only time will tell if there will be any unforeseen impacts of leaving the EU and how many of these changes will affect family law.”