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Grant Thornton Matrimonial Survey reveals key issues for family lawyers in 2017

The latest research from leading business and financial adviser Grant Thornton UK LLP shows that in 2017 the top issue cited by family law professionals for the fifth year running was the increased number of litigants in person (LIPs) as a result of a lack of public funding.

Continuing with 2016’s theme of general dissatisfaction with the family court system, the second and third top issues cited were the overburdening of family courts and delays resulting from court closures and the courts not being fit for purpose.

Nick Andrews, Head of Disputes at Grant Thornton UK LLP, commented: “With our results showing a continued dissatisfaction with the family court system, it will be interesting to see whether the proposed Financial Remedies Courts will have any impact on this. At the start of this month it was announced that in 2018 they will be piloted across London, the West Midlands and southeast Wales and we look forward to exploring the potential impact of these  Courts in our future surveys.”

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 (24%). However, a paper published by the House of Commons in April 2017 indicated that any proposals for legislative change around this would need to be considered as part of a wider consideration of reforms in the family justice system, not in isolation.

The second most common response (23%) was for protection for cohabiting couples. This year saw the first reading of the Cohabitation Rights Bill (July 2017) to offer cohabitants and their children ‘certain protections’, whilst also giving cohabitants the option to opt-out of such provisions.

Nick Andrews added: “The Cohabitation Rights Bill will be seen by many as a step in the right direction to ensure that cohabitants and their children have certain protections. However, with the Government wishing to review the family justice system as a whole and the combined impact of the Brexit timetable and a hung parliament it will be interesting to monitor the pace of the Bill’s progress.”

Divorce statistics:

In line with last year’s survey, it was again found that the most common reason for marriage breakdown is growing apart or falling out of love (25%), followed by extra-marital affair (21%) and unreasonable or controlling behaviour (20%).

The majority of those surveyed (71%) said that most divorces are from marriages lasting between 11-20 years with the average age again being 40-49 (69%). There was also a notable increase in the 50-59 category (20%, compared to 15% in 2016 and 2015).

Nick Andrews commented: “With 2017 being a year plagued in uncertainty as a result of Brexit, it is interesting to find that this is not reflected in this year’s survey. It was found that 66% believe that Brexit will have limited impact on their cases and only 12% said that divorces could be delayed until the post Brexit position is clearer. It will be interesting to see if this view continues as we move closer towards leaving the EU.”