Curtis Dunkley (Student)
Legal aid is rarely available for family law cases, meaning that most people now have to represent themselves in Court. Solicitor’s argue that significant changes are required to the way these cases are dealt with, so that mental health can be prioritised in the family courts Lawyers are urging for more focus to be on Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) like mediation, to help parents and children avoid the stress of court.
Family lawyers at Irwin Mitchell (a leading national firm) say that these changes are essential to ensure that the experience has a positive effect rather than a detrimental one on the wellbeing and mental health of anyone who requires the assistance of the family court.
The former CEO of Cafcass Anthony Douglas was quoted in an interim report on the Child Arrangement Programme (CAP) as saying “court has become the default option for too many unhappy separators”. This suggests that mediation is not being used effectively.
Since the withdrawal of legal aid, the amount of litigants-in-person has risen substantially: during the 2017/18 financial year the number of parties in private law cases with private representation was 36%, compared to the 2012/13 financial year where the number was 58%. Legal experts say this has increased the pressure on the courts, the professionals and, most importantly all the parties involved.
The Rt Hon. Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, recently urged all those who work in the family courts to concentrate on wellbeing with other professionals pointing out that the current system is unsustainable.
Irwin Mitchell say that the overall focus should be the mental health and wellbeing of people going through the process.
Experts argue that the best approach to move forwards is to consider solutions that resolve matters outside of court, whether it is mediation, arbitration, conciliation, or another route. This would help ease the stress of the process for the parties involved and most importantly, the children.
At the Staffordshire University Legal Advice Clinic (SULAC), students offer free legal advice on family matters and a number of other issues to members of the public. SULAC is currently open and offers appointments at Stoke and Stafford. For more information, or to book an appointment please contact: SULAC@staffs.ac.uk or call 01782 294800