I appeared on the Victoria Derbyshire programme this morning on BBC 5 Live.
This was following a report following the end of Legal Aid in many cases over one year ago and the fact that more people are now representing themselves before the court.
My own view on this is that a lot of people are going through a separation or a divorce are actually capable of agreeing matters; and they often do.
Court is a last resort and there are other options available to separating couples whether that be through mediation, collaborative law, arbitration – which in their own ways facilitate communication.
What I said on BBC 5 Live is that the common denominator in a lot of these cases before the court is a lack of communication between the warring couples.
Yes, there can be advantages in representing yourself: you can make the points which are important to you and a Judge will be keen to make sure that a litigant in person feels that they have a fair hearing. Equally, family law cases can be emotionally charged and there will be a whole raft of feelings whether to do with anger, upset and so on which can cloud someone’s judgment.
A party representing themselves will often show symptoms of stress and as a result will be suspicious of lawyers and the legal system. Do not get me wrong, lawyers can also be suspicious of litigants in person and that does not make for a happy mix.
Although rare, I sometimes come across a habitual litigant who persistently issues applications before the court which for the party with legal representation there is a concern because the case suddenly becomes a lot more expensive and time consuming.
That said, in my experience most people want to reach a solution and actually move forward with their lives.
In considering whether or not to instruct a solicitor, always consider the costs and risks as against the benefits. Also ask the question whether or not it is proportionate in terms of time and money to pursue a certain course of action. This is easier to gauge where there are cases involving matrimonial finances and it is more difficult where the welfare of a child is concerned.
A lot of solicitors will offer a free initial consultation or moving forward you could look at a way of working with a lawyer to assist you from time to time; and, for example, on a fixed fee basis. At least that may give a party some steer in the right direction whether that is looking at the procedural rules and in terms of preparing the case or, importantly as well, in the actual substance and the options available to reach a resolution. It is also important that there is a level playing field, particularly if the other party is legally represented.