This April marked the very first anniversary of the family law changes to the family justice system and it was classed as the start of a cultural revolution. There are still a large number of family break-ups making the news which leads to questions surrounding whether the changes have had any real affect at all?
There were several family law changes that were put in place such as the single family court, new child arrangement orders which have been put in place to replace the previous ‘residence and ‘contact’ labels, compulsory mediation session for all those couples potentially heading for divorce as well as the 26 week deadline for public law care cases.
However, with a year gone, there are family lawyers that believe that the family law changes are some of the largest made for a generations and in order to achieve a positive outcome there are still many hurdles to jump.
There are many statistics in place that show how important it is to ensure that the process is correct with over 118,000 divorces a year with just under 50% of those involving children under the age of 16 and the breakdown in family relationships costing the UK around £49 billion per year.
The amount of change is having a detrimental impact on family practices and the current figures suggest that the change is not all for the better. Between the months of October and December 2014 the amount of private law cases that were started had dropped by 11% when compared to the same quarter in 2013.
In terms of remedy applications there were 10,464 which are 10% lower than the previous year whilst there were 9,997 financial remedy disposals which is a drop of 7% in comparison to 2013 which is the lowest number of disposals in one quarter since 2009.
In those instances where both parties had representation there was a decrease of 42% during the same quarter of 2013 and 64% compared with 2012.
However, the courts are still facing a crisis as the judiciary is completely full but it isn’t helped by the fact that a number of services have been reduced. It has now become difficult for practitioners to use them which means that they are now considering alternatives such as mediation and collaborative law.
The clients are now more demanding and cultured which means that their needs are more difficult to meet. The approach that the courts are now taking with regards to the new child arrangement orders are a good step forward with the starting point being equality between parents.
In some practices the teams that would cover family law have become smaller and there have been redundancies but many practices now have to work more resourcefully. They are now unbundling services and putting new fee structures in place as well as different dispute resolutions.
This article was written by Kerry Smith, Head of Family Law at K J Smith Solicitors