Early this month the Law Society published an article on the crisis of the Family Court backlog that’s plaguing the system. The ‘crisis’ in question is the backlog of applications being issued, delays in hearings being listed, and the lack of judicial availability.

The need for Family Court

Whilst the issues that arise at the breakdown of a relationship such as the division of assets, relocation, and child custody can be resolved amicably, this is not always the case for all families. The avenue that the majority turn to is then Court. However, the Court system has shown repeatedly that it is unable to deal with the volume of cases it receives. I have been working in this field for almost a decade and throughout this time I have witnessed a steady decline in the function, quality, and dependency of the family justice system.

The Effects of COVID on Courts

The turning point was undoubtedly the pandemic. The COVID-19 lockdown of 2020 led to an uncertainty in how cases could be adjudicated. Fully remote hearings were listed with Judges, parties, and lawyers participating from their own homes. Connection issues, missing joining links and lack of understanding in technology led to unsuccessful or cancelled hearings. Yet as the lockdown began to lift, remote hearings remained. Courts closed and some Court telephone lines were replaced by an email mailbox only. Those telephone lines that did remain were usually understaffed, with waiting times surpassing an hour to speak with a Court clerk.

The culmination of these events were made worse by the rise in divorce and children applications brought to Court following the lockdown. The number of family court applications is at a record high, the incline coinciding with the lifting of lockdown. Waiting times for hearings are surpassing 6 months. There poses the question, what can families do instead?

Alternative dispute resolution such as mediation, arbitration and negotiation is becoming the favoured alternative. But these methods of resolving can be both more affordable and also quicker than going through the Family Court system. Mediation, for example, provides a structured environment where a neutral third party helps couples reach agreements on various issues, including child custody and financial matters. It encourages open communication and allows the parties involved to retain control over the outcome.

Arbitration as an Alternative

Arbitration, on the other hand, offers a more formal process where an independent arbitrator makes binding decisions based on evidence presented by both parties. While there are costs associated with hiring an arbitrator, it can often be a faster and more efficient option compared to waiting for a Court date.

Negotiation, whether facilitated by solicitors or through collaborative law, empowers couples to work together in finding mutually agreeable solutions. This approach fosters cooperation and reduces the adversarial nature of traditional Court proceedings. This avenue would serve those who are amicably separating, but require the Court assistance in ironing out the details of their separate futures.

Furthermore, these alternative dispute resolution methods can be particularly beneficial for families seeking to maintain amicable relationships, especially when there are children involved. Avoiding protracted Court battles can help shield children from the emotional turmoil that often accompanies such proceedings.

It is crucial, however, for families to approach alternative dispute resolution with a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities. Obtaining legal advice from family lawyer can provide invaluable guidance throughout the process and also ensure that you are not faced with unexpected obstacles in the future. In light of the current challenges within the family court system, it is essential for families to explore these alternatives. By doing so, they not only stand to save time and resources but also pave the way for a more harmonious post-separation coexistence.

How we can help – West London Solicitors

At Hubbard Pegman and Whitney, we understand the difficulties you may face at the breakdown of a relationship, and we believe it is important to seek the right support and advice. As solicitors in West London, we are committed to providing legal support and services to those who are in conflict in a manner that is realistic and efficient. If you are in need of a family lawyer, please get in touch with us today. Currently, we are offering a free initial telephone consultation with our family team for new enquiries. During this call, we will tell you what we can do next to get started. Call now for a friendly chat on 020 8735 9770 or email on info@hpwsolicitors.co.uk

Read more from our blog here:

Court Fees on the Rise – A Worry for Vulnerable Families

Powers of Attorney Act 2023 – Explained Simply


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