Record delays for Family Court as system struggles to cope

The latest statistics provided by the Ministry of Justice make grim reading for Family Court users, showing record delays at every stage of the…

 

The latest statistics provided by the Ministry of Justice make grim reading for Family Court users, showing record delays at every stage of the divorce process, with the average divorce now taking in more than a year to complete.

The figures show that, as at the end of September 2018, it took an average of 58 weeks from the date of the court issuing a petition to the decree absolute being pronounced, compared to 50 weeks at the same point in 2017.

Matthew Taylor, solicitor in the Liverpool office of Weightmans’ top-ranked Family team, commented:

"These figures confirm what the vast majority of family lawyers have long-suspected, in that the Family Court is struggling to cope as a result of the cuts that the Court service has been subjected to.

"The statistics demonstrate that as the number of new divorce cases continue to rise but staffing numbers do not, there will inevitably be increased delays. The instigation of the government’s online divorce application portal, while a welcome development, will count for naught if the system is not properly resourced.

"The lack of legal aid for the majority of Family Court matters means that increasing numbers of people are having to navigate a complex system without specialist legal advice, which can lead to understandable errors and, in  turn, further delays.

"These delays are not confined to the divorce process but spread to wider Family Court matters, as can be seen by the worrying increase in the time take to complete care cases for children at risk of harm. Only 52% of such cases are now being disposed of within the 26-week statutory target – a decrease of 7% compared to the previous year.

"Although figures are not currently available for delays in financial proceedings, anecdotally we are certainly seeing increased delays for hearings being listed and orders being approved. There appears little chance of the situation improving at present, with the current focus of the judiciary resting on increasing the use of Private FDRs – where litigants have their settlement hearing not within the court but instead before a specialist family lawyer, usually in their office or chambers, which of course carries an additional fee. This is something that is clearly out of reach financially for the vast majority of court users and it is hard to see how this will stem the tide of increasing court work."

For more information, contact Matthew.Taylor@weightmans.com

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