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The impact of the recession on Family Law

A recent study by the accountancy firm Grant Thornton has suggested that couples whose marriage has broken down are delaying raising divorce proceedings. 49% of the solicitors who were contacted as part of the survey, links to which are provided below, said that the number of divorces had decreased over the course of the previous year and that that drop was attributable to the recession.
With families generally seeing their disposable income fall and the reduced availability of Legal Aid being well-publicised, it perhaps should come as no surprise that this is the case. That couples are taking a pragmatic view and not seeking to raise divorce proceedings at the first opportunity is something which is to be welcomed in many cases. However it is clearly undesirable if financial constraints mean that parties feel that they cannot leave an unhappy relationship.
Much of the information about family law in the press relates to litigation and it is true that litigation can be expensive both financially and emotionally. That is by no means the only way in which a solicitor can assist parties in resolving the issues which can arise when a marriage breaks down. Indeed it tends to be used as a last resort. The majority of couples resolve issues arising as a result of their separation by agreement. Solicitors are well placed to discuss the different ways in which that agreement can be reached . The alternatives which are open to couples include:-

Agreeing a solution themselves with very little legal intervention. In these cases, the solicitor’s involvement is often restricted to advising the client on an implementation-only basis. This involves some initial advice being given to the client in relation to what their legal position is and then the solicitor committing  what has been agreed between the couple to writing for their client;

Mediation, where parties discuss matters without their solicitors being present and with an independent 3rd party who will attempt to assist them in coming to an agreement on the best way to resolve the issues which are in dispute between them;

Collaborative Practice, where parties can have their legal advisors present during a series of organized meetings geared towards finding a needs-based resolution to the issues which are in dispute between them. These meetings look at the issues which are in dispute between the parties in a manner which takes into account the interests of all of the parties involved. This will include, for example, the children of the marriage. The result of collaborative practice may therefore be different from the decision which a Sheriff or Judge would reach on the issues between the parties. However the reason for this is that, by taking a broader range of interests and factors into account, the collaborative process can allow for a more satisfactory resolution for all of the parties affected by the breakdown of the relationship; and

Arbitration, where parties have the chance to present their arguments on the issues which are in dispute between them to a legally qualified person who takes on the role that a judge would perform, but has far more options available to him or her as to what they can order the parties to do once they have heard their arguments.

Traditional Negotiation between solicitors, who will exchange letters setting out their clients’ respective positions in an effort to negotiate a settlement without the need for the matter to be brought before a court.

These alternative options offer a far more flexible approach than a court is permitted to take when attempting to resolve disputes on the breakdown of a marriage. Furthermore, they can often help to do so far more quickly and cost-effectively than a lengthy court case.
Grant Thornton Study
Article in Manchester Evening News