Published: 10 September 2014
Courts in England and Wales are seeing a marked increase in the length of time couples take to get divorced and this is largely due to in an increase in the number of individuals representing themselves in court.
Since the removal of Legal Aid from family law cases in April last year, the average divorce case now takes 3 weeks longer, when compared to the same period last year.
A finalised dissolution - using legal representation - took an average of 24 weeks in the first three months of this year, compared to an average of 32 weeks where one party or more represents themselves - also known as litigants in person.
According to official figures from the Ministry of Justice, over 50% of all people involved in family law cases are now representing themselves, without representation from a solicitor.
Many judges and legal professionals have been heavily critical of the changes in legislation, as private family law hearings that handle cases such as child law, residency and financial disputes between separating parents are now ineligible for legal aid - leaving children caught in the middle to suffer the consequences.
The only areas of family law that are still eligible for legal aid are those cases of domestic violence or those challenging local authority care orders.
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, told MPs last year that he was aware of the rising numbers of couples with no choice but to represent themselves and that the removal of legal aid has put an enormous amount of pressure on the family courts.
One of the main problems with litigants in person is that they lack the specialised knowledge of the law and they don't have the technical experience in preparing case evidence or filling in the necessary paperwork, causing delays to their own cases but also causing a ripple effect, slowing down the majority of divorce cases set to follow.
The government have tried to counter this by encouraging family mediation sessions to try and resolve issues amicably, in order to reduce the number of couples who end up in court.
A spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice explained, "We have introduced major reforms to reduce delays further and to keep family disputes out of court. Mediation can be quicker, cheaper and less stressful than going through the confrontational experience of going to court."
If your relationship is on the verge of breakdown and you are thinking about separation or divorce then K J Smith Solicitors can help. Our team of family law experts are here to support you and to deliver the best possible outcome. To arrange your free 45 minute consultation, call us today on 01491 630000 (Henley-on-Thames), 020 7070 0330 (Central London), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), 01753 325000 (Windsor) or 01256 584000 (Basingstoke).