The increased number of Litigants in person (LIPs) has attracted a strong response from family lawyers in this year's Grant Thornton matrimonial survey. In addition to the 23% listing LIPs as an issue, a further 14% list the lack of legal aid for most family cases as a key issue (37% in total).
Some respondents feel that the removal of Legal Aid, whether or not it has resulted in more Litigants In Person (LIPs), reduces the ability to access justice for many individuals.
Lawyers have also expressed concern that family law in general is being ‘dumbed down’ to make way for more LIPs, whilst others reflect that they have experienced problems dealing with/helping LIPs and have seen judges becoming frustrated as a result.
It is a feeling shared by Nick Andrews, Partner at Grant Thornton UK LLP, who adds, "The introduction of the single Family Court in April 2014 is a revolutionary change, yet there is concern among respondents to the survey that the court system is not fit for purpose to support LIPs. It's too early to say whether the introduction of the Family Court will have improved this sentiment.
"The issues surrounding LIPs have also been linked to a number of other themes in this survey. Respondents see forms of alternative dispute resolution for matrimonial disputes other than attending court as linked to the levels of LIPs and they may become more popular if courts are increasingly clogged with LIPs."
Calls for legislative change for cohabiting couples
Protection for cohabiting couples continues to rank highly in the areas where lawyers would like to see legislative change, with 24% of lawyers selecting that as their top area for change. Desire for protection for cohabiting couples does not equate to providing the same rights as for married couples for the majority of our respondents. 59% of lawyers said that cohabitants should not have the same rights (43% saying no, and a further 16% saying no subject to certain conditions).
However, an increasing number of respondents said that cohabitants should be on an equal footing with married couples, with 19% agreeing with this, up from 8% last year.
The economic recovery is expected to fuel divorce rates
A majority of 68% expected to see an increase in the number of divorces with economic recovery, with a further 17% being undecided. Only 14% did not expect to see a change. What was particularly interesting, given the economic recovery, is that the number of people recording financial/money worries as a reason for the split has increased to 9% from 6% in the prior year.
We asked whether lawyers expected to see a change in the types of people petitioning for divorce as a result of economic recovery. 50% of respondents stated that financially dependent spouses would be more likely to petition now there was a better prospect of receiving a reasonable settlement, although our analysis of asset values suggests that any significant improvement in prospects may be some time in the future.