Family courts suffer from an unprecedented increase in cases
You may have seen an article in the Guardian that family courts are ‘running up a down escalator’ due to an increase in cases, particularly in respect of disputes between parents over their children.
Why is that becoming the case?
Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division, says that some parents ‘need to be persuaded not to bring claims to court in order to reduce the pressure on the court system’. It is thought that one of the reasons for the influx in court cases is an unprecedented increase in ‘litigants in person’ (people representing themselves).
Figures are showing that last year, there were 53,164 new private law cases lodged involving 123,334 children. It shouldn’t be overlooked that applications to court should always be a last resort. People who are representing themselves often have not sought legal advice as to their options and may think that an application to court is their only option. There may be disagreements between parents in deciding, amongst other things, how a child’s time should be spent between parents, who a child should live with, which school they should attend, whether they should be able to go on holiday abroad with the other parent and court may seem like that only option to resolve that dispute. That is not the case.
It is important that both parents obtain independent legal advice from a family lawyer in the event that they are separating and there are disputes over their children. This is because, first and foremost, a family lawyer will always encourage alternative ways to resolve disputes before court applications are made and arrangements for a child can be agreed directly through the solicitors acting on behalf of each parent. If an agreement cannot be reached, then an application to court may become necessary. As family lawyers, we understand the importance of children spending proper time with both parents if appropriate, agreeing fair arrangements for children and how emotionally challenging it is if a parent is being prevented from spending time with their child by the other parent. That doesn’t however mean that court should be the first option, as this can increase animosity between parents, cost and delay.
There of course cases where urgent applications to court are unavoidable, for example, in child abduction cases, if a child was at risk of harm or there is some other degree of exceptional urgency which requires urgent court intervention and in those cases a family lawyer will advise of the appropriate steps to take.
With the school holidays coming up, it can be a difficult time for separated parents, in deciding things such as;
How a child’s time should be divided in the summer holidays between the parents;
Which school should the child attend in the new school year or upcoming school years;
Whether the other parent should take the child or children abroad and for how long.
If you are facing those difficulties, then rather than choose not to take legal advice and make an application to court straight away, you should seek advice from a family solicitor who can guide you as to your options and attempt to help you reach a resolution with the other parent without going to court. At Maguire Family Law, we can help you to achieve that, but in the event that a court application is unavoidable, we will represent your interests as best we can throughout.