According to the Court Service, around 80% of cases presently in the family courts of England and Wales involve at least one of the parties acting as an unrepresented litigant in person.
Since 2013, when public funding for almost all family court cases was stopped, numbers have been steadily rising. The reasons are simple; many people decide to represent themselves in an attempt to avoid expensive legal bills. Although this is understandable and well intentioned, any short terms savings may be lost by having to pay more in the long run.
Family courts in the time of COVID-19
The true impact of COVID-19 and lockdown on the family court system will not be fully realised for perhaps years to come. However, what is certain is that the family courts have never been busier due to the pressures of Covid on working practices, staffing levels, working from home and management of remote hearings. The inevitable consequence of this is that legal proceedings are subject to delays and litigants in person who find themselves within a congested court system are particularly exposed to the risks that such delays can cause.
It is now thought that around 40% of all separating parties bring issues about their children’s care to the family court for determination rather than resolving those issues between themselves. Similarly, there continues to be an increase in applications to the financial remedies court. In a recent report, Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice, said that, in 2020, “more sitting days have taken place on family cases than in any previous year, despite the lockdown”.
With this in mind, for anyone considering going it alone and acting in person in family proceedings, it is worthwhile to first think about your possible options before making a court application. There are many cases where individuals who have acted in person seek legal representation at the eleventh hour, often due the complex nature of the legal process. Those clients can find their case preparation suffers as a consequence and any cost savings are minimal.
Consider your options
When it comes to a family law case, be it divorce proceedings, financial arrangements or a children dispute, it is not necessarily a straightforward choice between acting in person free of charge or instructing a solicitor and incurring significant costs. It is advisable to consult with a specialist family law solicitor at the early stages of the dispute to explore the possibility of resolving the issues constructively and amicably, often without having to rely on court proceedings at all. A specialist solicitor can also advise you of the different process options, including Family Mediation or Collaborative Family Law, which can help couples reach an agreement at a fraction of the cost of court proceedings. We are also experienced at working with providers of legal costs funding and can guide you in connection with any funding applications you decide to make.
At Shoosmiths, our family team is available to provide you with guidance regarding the alternatives to court proceedings and the available options to help you find the most cost effective way of resolving your problem. Even in those cases where court proceedings are inevitable or indeed necessary, legal representation can often shield the client from some of the emotional burden associated with court proceedings and guide them through the process. For more information regarding those options, you can read the Shoosmiths insight article below:
The basics: funding options for divorce (shoosmiths.co.uk)
To discuss how Shoosmiths might be able to help you with problems regarding any private family law matters please feel free to get in touch with our family team on 03700 86 8300.