Better support needed for separating families as court backlogs reach unacceptable levels

Excello family lawyer Swati Somaiya, based in the East Midlands, is supporting Good Divorce Week (28 Nov – 2 Dec), an annual awareness campaign run by Resolution, an organisation that represents over 6500 family professionals, which helps people find a better way to divorce.

Divorces are on the increase again with the most recent statistics showing 113,000 divorces in 2021 – up nearly 10% on the previous year – and the impact on wait times is stark. On average it now takes 52 weeks to conclude divorce proceedings.

In addition, official figures show that while private children cases were down by 7% during the last year, they are taking on average six weeks longer to reach a conclusion. And estimates suggest it takes nearly two years to resolve financial matters.

That leaves many families in limbo for over a year. That has a knock-on effect on children’s schooling and family finances.

Resolution surveyed its members on the current court backlogs and found:

  • 20% said court delays caused clients to rely on benefits
  • 34% said they’d referred a client to a counsellor or therapist to help them cope with the stress of ongoing court delays
  • 90% said court backlogs were causing additional and unnecessary stress and pressure for clients

Swati Somaiya said: “Backlogs are wreaking havoc on local families in the East Midlands. Even couples who want to separate amicably are having their patience and their continued relationship tested to breaking point by long delays. When it comes to sorting out children arrangements and finances after divorce, the situation is even bleaker.

“Children are waiting nearly a year for the courts to determine which parent they live with, what school they go to, how much time they spend with the other parent – putting the whole family’s life on hold. This is simply unacceptable and another reason why getting early professional advice is so important for families.

“We are proud to be offering 30-minute free advice sessions during Good Divorce Week so families get the benefit of early professional advice.”

Juliet Harvey, national chair of Resolution, said: “Under resourcing the family courts system is a false economy inflicting unnecessary pressure on the public purse and unconscionable stress on families at an already stressful time in their lives. A study of the impact of funding legal advice in Scotland found that, every £1 spent by government on legal aid in family cases saw a return of around £5 elsewhere.

“If the government were to focus more on encouraging early advice for separating couples and including information about all out of court options it could ease the pressure on family courts. Resolution members like Excello Law are doing their best to help families achieve better outcomes and find long-lasting resolutions.”

Notes:

  1. Resolution is a membership association of 6,500 family justice professionals promoting a non-confrontational approach to resolving family issues and campaigning for a fairer family justice system.
  2. Resolution members commit to a Code of Practice that promotes a constructive approach to family issues and considers the needs of the whole family, in particular the best interests of children.

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