Caven blog

Worry over drop in family law cases since the Government’s change to legal aid

CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) figures show a drop in private law cases from July 2013 to July 2014 of 36%.

These cases tend to relate to living and shared time arrangements for children whose parents are separated.

Why are parents turning away from the court?

Short of a near-miraculous improvement in family relationships, there appear to be two possible explanations.

  • It could be due rise in the use of mediation to resolve disputes. Government policy has been to promote the use of mediation for family disputes. Parents are required to go to a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) before making a court application related to childcare

However, Simon Bethel, Chair of Resolution’s Children’s Committee, points out that the figures do not show anywhere near the amount of mediations that would compensate for the decrease in court cases.

  • The other reason for the declining number of court applications could be removal of legal aid for most family law cases in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. This is the view taken by many family lawyers including Bethel and Naomi Angel, Chair of the Law Society’s family committee

Bethel said: “Rather than receiving expert help to try and secure working shared care arrangements for their children, they are giving up”.

A worrying development?

Family lawyers have expressed concern about the drop in cases, and the trend has been described by Bethel and Angell as deeply worrying.
Cynics might suggest that lawyers’ concerns might be motivated in part by self-interest. But there are good reasons to be worried about the drop in court cases.

Given that legal aid is still available for mediation, it is striking that this has not risen in proportion to the decrease in court cases.

This implies that:

  • Most parents are simply not aware that they can get public funding for mediation
  • Most parents might not be capable of navigating the maze of legal options for childcare and coming to a working arrangement without expert help

When parents are in a dispute over the care of their children it is unusual for the balance of power to be equal. One partner could be more manipulative, have greater financial resources, or more control over the children.

In these situations, a fair result that meets the best interest of the children is unlikely to be achieved outside of the court and without legal representation.

Being effectively unable to access justice, some parents might be tempted to, as Nicola Angell put it, “take things into their own hands”.This could mean breaking the law to secure access to their children or even abducting them.

Repercussions for children

It is likely that childcare disputes being dealt with outside of the legal system will result in more cases being resolved inadequately or not at all. Ultimately, the repercussions of this fall on children, who are brought up in unstable environments or without adequate access to both parents.

Is this a situation that’s affecting you at the moment? If you’d like to talk to somebody for some advice on the situation call us on 08001 221 2299 and we’ll be able to help.

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Law Gazette


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