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Divorce applications at 10 year high

Statistics for April to June 2022 show there were 33,234 divorce applications, the highest number of applications in a decade.

“We are pleased that this crucial ‘no-fault’ divorce legislation is now in force and being used, so that separating couples can divorce as amicably as possible,” said Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce

“Separating couples don’t have to prove a fault-based fact against their ex-partner, or spend years still married to obtain a divorce, exacerbating tensions.”

Under the new legislation, separating couples can now file a joint application for divorce.

Figures show that 78% of the applications were from sole applicants and 22% were from joint applicants, including those for the dissolution of civil partnership.

Significant backlogs

The family law courts, however, are still facing significant backlogs, delays and issues with judicial capacity.

There were 69,343 new cases in April to June, up 2% on the same quarter in 2021. There were increases in matrimonial (22%) and domestic violence (5%) cases.

Stephanie Boyce added: “We have continually voiced our concern about the backlogs in the family courts. Delays can cause significant harm and uncertainty for the parties involved.”

“The impact on timeliness also continues to be felt, particularly in child arrangement orders. It took on average 46 weeks for private law cases to be closed in April to June 2022, up six weeks in the same period in 2021, creating a new record high.

“The time to decree nisi (the time at which a marriage will end) under the old divorce law, increased by more than 11 weeks over the last year.

“HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has previously estimated that it may take three years to return to pre-pandemic levels, which is very worrying, particularly for cases that concern children and family matters.”

The removal of legal aid in family law cases in 2013 as part of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), has had an impact on many private law cases.

Litigants in person

In April to June 2022, the number of cases where neither party had legal representation was 39%, increasing by 25 percentage points since January to March 2013 and up 1 percentage point from the same period in 2021.

“Most litigants in person (LiPs) – parties without representation – have no choice but to represent themselves through often highly stressful legal proceedings,” said I. Stephanie Boyce.

“In most cases, LiPs require more time and support from the court, which is likely to slow down the system and increase overall costs. Re-instating legal aid for early advice and representation would make a cost-effective contribution to resolving the backlogs in the family courts.

“Restoring early legal advice for family law cases would also mean fewer cases would go to court. LiPs tend to mean cases take a lot longer, so having representation for those who do end up in court would also reduce the backlogs.

“The family courts are under immense pressure, and people with private law cases are experiencing unprecedented and unacceptable delays.”