On 18 April 2021 CAFCASS, the Family Court’s social workers, published their latest monthly statistics which have revealed a shocking increase in new private law cases in England & Wales. In total, CAFCASS received 4,659 new private law cases in March 2021 which was a 38% (or 1,282 cases) more than the same month last year.
From a review of the statistics from 2016 to the present day, what is clear is that this represents the highest number of new applications in any month for the past five years. The question on many people’s minds will be why that is.
Here at Maguire Family Law we have seen the effect that the pandemic has had in the Family Court and in relation to family law generally over the last year. Not only has the pandemic affected how separated parents are able to spend time with the children, it has affected the usual child arrangements in relation to children home schooling, parents working from home and other issues in relation to the need to isolate as a result of contracting Covid19 symptoms. As we start to emerge from the latest lockdown many parents are now facing the situation where they would like the arrangements they have to continue or alternatively would like to return to the situation as it was before the first lockdown just over one year ago.
Another potential reason for the large increase in cases being referred to the court could be due to the increasing backlogs in relation to the pressure that the court is currently under. Many cases are facing delays due to an under resourced and overworked court system which often leaves parents in the difficult position of having months to wait for their case to progress. In many situation this leaves parents filing applications with the court in order to have the safety net should communications with the ex-partner breakdown. For example, some parties may be engaging in mediation to try and resolve disputes concerning children whilst at the same time filing an application with the court to ensure that if mediation breaks down they will have an active case and a forum for their dispute to be resolved without having to wait months before reaching their first hearing.
What we have also seen over the last six months is that the court has had to develop systems to hear remote cases and take applications through their online process. This may have had the result of it becoming easier for parents to file applications concerning their children which could also have led to an increase in cases being filed and thereafter referred to CAFCASS.
But what does this all mean?
As family law solicitors we deal with parents who are engaged in disputes with their ex-partners in regards to their children on a daily basis. One thing we believe which could be leading to an increase in cases being referred to court is that people’s prejudices or worries etc about their case being referred to court are being alleviated, we hope, by proper legal advice that the court system, whilst not perfect, does in fact work and provides a useful method of resolving disputes between parents.
At Maguire Family Law we strive to provide practical advice to all parents who cannot reach an agreement with their ex-partner in regards to the time spent with their children and from the outset we provide detailed advice setting out the court procedure and what they can expect along the way. On many occasions clients comment that they were not aware that the process is often quite formulaic and in many cases, once a first hearing is reached, can be resolved relatively smoothly. Of course that is not the situation for all cases as each one is different in some way, but we do believe that by clearly explaining the process from the outset often reduces the fear, stress and anxiety that parties may have about referring their case to court in order to reach a resolution.
Is the Family Court therefore less scary than it may have once been? With the advice we provide clients on a daily basis we certainly hope so.