Children facing delays and uncertainty in family courts

Children are having to wait almost a year to find out who they will be living with long term, according to the latest family court data.*

Private children’s law cases – where families apply for child arrangements such as where a child will live or who they will spend time with – are taking on average 47 weeks to conclude between January to March 2023, up almost four weeks on the same period in 2022.

This continues the upward trend seen since the middle of 2016, where the number of new cases overtook the number of closed cases.

There were 13,936 new private law applications during this period, similar to the equivalent quarter in 2022. 20,575 individual children were involved in these applications.

Law Society of England and Wales president Lubna Shuja said: “We have long voiced our concern about the delays in the family courts, which will have a detrimental impact on families seeking justice.

“Delays in cases are exacerbating the uncertainty facing families. This must be addressed before the family court system collapses.

“These delays are preventing parents from being able to see their children and could mean children are left without the stability they need to thrive.

“Restoring early legal advice for family cases would mean fewer cases would go to court. Instead, solicitors could assist negotiated settlements, refer clients to mediation and better manage client expectations.”

On lack of legal representation, Lubna Shuja concluded: “It is no surprise that parties are still fighting their cases without legal representation. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) saw large areas of legal aid cut overnight.**

“In January to March 2023, the number of cases where neither party had representation was 40%, an increase of 300% since the same period in 2013.

“Parties without representation require more time and support from the court, which is likely to slow down the system even more and increase overall costs.

“Early legal advice would mean families have the support they need and would also make a cost-effective contribution to resolving the backlogs in the family courts.”

Notes to editors

 * Family Court Statistics Quarterly: January to March 2023

** Until 1 April 2013 legal aid was available for almost all areas of law, except for specified exceptions. Areas removed from scope included most welfare benefit issues, most employment law, private family law (divorce, custody battles), most clinical negligence cases, non-asylum immigration law, some debt and housing cases.

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