Jo Edwards, Partner and Head of Family at Forsters LLP, commented:
“The latest Family Court quarterly statistics (for the period April to June 2018) show some worrying trends becoming embedded. Although courts modernisation, and the move to online divorce and increasing digitisation, are welcome, the reality is that the pace of change is too rapid and the effect of the swathes of court closures, coupled with the huge rise in the number of applications year on year and the continued growth in the number of unrepresented litigants, mean that the family courts are buckling under the weight of pressure.
Of particular note are the following –
A 7% rise in the number of new cases started in the family court year on year.
This was driven by an 18% rise in matrimonial cases starting – there were 32,230 divorce petitions made in Q2 2018, the highest figure for 5 years (and bucking the trend of yesterday’s ONS statistics showing a 4.9% decrease in the number of divorces in 2017, year on year. Petitions made in Q2 2018 will likely become divorces late in 2018 and early in 2019, so it will be interesting to see if the number of divorces creeps back up).
There was a continued creeping up of how long divorce is taking - for those granted decree nisi, the average time from the date of petition was 28.1 weeks, whilst the average time from petition to decree absolute was 54.4 weeks, the highest figures so far respectively for the periods covered by the bulletin.
There is clear evidence of cases taking longer – public law (care) cases continue to take longer to disposal (it has gone up by 2 weeks year on year, to 29 weeks, despite the 26 week rule introduced in 2014). The average time for financial remedy and divorce cases being disposed of was also up, 6 weeks and 5 weeks respectively, and private law children cases up 3 weeks.
There were continuing increases in the number of litigants in person in the system – 38% of cases now see both parties unrepresented, an increase of 21% since the legal aid cuts; and the proportion of cases where both parties had legal representation is now only 19%, down 16% since the legal aid cuts.