Surge in custody cases could lead to collapse of family courts

The family court system is at risk of collapse due to a surge in the number of warring parents representing themselves in child custody cases because of legal aid cuts, this comes as a warning from Family Lawyers.

New figures show that there was a jump of 27% last month in the number of children caught up in legal battles between separating or divorcing parents, currently nearly twice the level seen two years ago.

Cafcass, the agency who looks after children’s interests in the family courts, says it received 5,061 new cases involving family splits in England in May.  This is the highest they have ever seen in one single month.

This has piled a new pressure on the agency that is already stretched by the dramatic rise in the number of children being taken into care in the wake of the Baby P scandal four years ago.

The rise in people representing themselves in court follows the removal of legal aid for couples in most divorce cases.

The legal aid cuts came into force on the 1st April 2013. It is estimated that 200,000 people a year that would have been able to get legal aid in divorce and child contact cases will no longer qualify.

There was a steady increase in cases in the months leading up to the legal aid cuts as divorcing couples tried to register before the deadline. But, the increase since the cuts is far more marked.

There are reports from lawyers that there is a significant rise in the number of people turning up to court to file applications and planning to represent themselves.

Samantha Lee, family lawyer and head of family mediation at Swain & Co Family Mediation Service, says, “The aim of the cuts was to reduce the cost of the legal aid bill overall, but the Government has invested in family mediation, where legal aid is available.”

“It is essential that those facing divorce and separation, even if they know they cannot get legal aid for divorce, look at the options available to them by speaking to a solicitor or contacting family mediation services.”

Samantha adds that the delays the courts may experience through rising number of people representing themselves could see situations where desperate parents may try to take matters into their own hands.

The increase in demand may also be a sign of things to come and increase the risk that child contact cases could become more acrimonious.

Samantha comments, “Legal aid may be available for those facing separation and divorce through family mediation, which aims to help you reach amicable agreements through discussion with the best interests of the entire family at the core.”

To read more about what family mediation is, see our dedicated site www.whatisfamilymediation.com .

Alternatively, call Samantha Lee on 02392 474040 for more information.