Back to News

Benefits of family law changes undermined by legal aid cuts

The changes, which the Law Society has played a key role in developing, are intended to streamline the way courts deal with divorce and separation and children who are at risk of being taken into care. However, the cuts to legal aid brought in by the Government last year has led to more people representing themselves which is lengthening the process and leading to more delay.
The main changes which came into effect include:

Restrictions on the use of expert evidence
The creation of a single Family Court for England and Wales
A 26-week time limit for completing care and supervision cases
Resident and Contact Orders replaced by a single Child Arrangements Order
A requirement to attend a meeting to find out about mediation in disputes involving children or finance

Law Society president, Nicholas Fluck, said: “The Law Society supports these changes, but the problem for many separating and divorcing couples is getting access to legal advice to help them through the court process, or to find alternatives to court.
“The cuts in legal aid for family law have put people off from seeking advice and support from solicitors who can explain where they stand and what their rights are.”
Legal aid is still available for victims of domestic violence or for family mediation.
Nicholas added, “Mediation can help couples avoid the stresses and strains of court hearings, but it is not suitable in all disputes, particularly those where one party is in a significantly weaker position than the other. In these cases a solicitor is required to protect a client’s interests and be on their side.”
Don Bird, head of Atherton Godfrey’s Family Law department, said: “Everyone in the legal system, including lawyers, judges and social workers, has been working to reduce the delays families faced when pursuing issues through the courts.
“There had been some measure of success until the cuts to legal aid threw up a different raft of problems.
“Lengthy proceedings are not in the best interests of anyone, particularly where children are involved. There needs to be a balance between being thorough and causing delays.”

Get in touch today