New research from leading business and financial adviser Grant Thornton UK LLP shows that in 2016 the joint top issues cited by family law professionals were the increase in litigants in person (LIPs) arising from a lack of public funding and the overburdening of family courts and delays resulting from court closures.
As in previous years, the third most common issue was a lack of legal aid for most family law cases. These three areas, which are all a result of a lack of funding, remain major issues for family law professionals. This is the fifth year running that an increased number of LIPs arising from a lack of public funding was found to be the key issue.
Respondents to the survey were also questioned on the three key areas in which they would like to see a change in legislation. In line with previous years, the top answer was the introduction of no fault divorces, on which family lawyers lobbied Parliament last week.
The survey found that the reform to pensions legislation introduced in April 2015 has had some interesting effects. Of those surveyed, 49% said that pensions have become more important in reaching financial settlement. The research also found that 72% of survey respondents have seen pensions being treated as more liquid assets in cases where one or more parties were over 55 years of age. 15% of survey respondents found pensions being treated as deferred income assets regardless of age.
Nick Andrews, Head of Disputes at Grant Thornton UK LLP, commented: "It is evident from our survey that the expectations following the reform to pensions legislation have not been entirely borne out by the experience of family law professionals this year. Given the complexity of pensions and the frequency of changes, it is important that couples continue to seek specialist advice as soon as possible when deciding how to share their pension pots as part of a financial settlement, and ensure they understand what this may mean for them in the future."
This year's survey found that growing apart or falling out of love remained the most common reason cited for marriage breakdown (25%), followed by extra-marital affair (22%) and unreasonable or controlling behaviour (17%).
The majority of those surveyed (63%) said they had not seen an increase in the average age of people getting divorced, which remained at 40-49, whilst the most common marriage length ending was found to be 11-20 years (73%).
Nick Andrews added: "2016 has been a turbulent year and uncertainty has remained a common theme throughout. The family law market is no different, with almost a quarter of those surveyed saying they believe the Brexit vote may lead to people delaying divorce. There are already signs that the potential legal impact of Brexit is being considered, with the government having opted in to European Commission proposals in relation to cross-border family proceedings. Only time will tell if there will be any unforeseen impacts of leaving the EU and how many of these changes will affect family law."