A dramatic rise in the number of people representing themselves in court is one of the key findings from the latest Matrimonial Survey.
The survey, which canvasses the opinions of family law experts in the UK, suggests that 24% of solicitors believed that the leading issue in family law during the last year was litigant in person (somebody who is not represented by a solicitor or barrister in court).
The reason for this increase in the litigant in person is being linked to the lack of public funding. Government cuts have seen family law legal aid reduced, and as a result many people are now forced to represent themselves because they are unable to afford professional legal assistance.
This presents a number of difficulties to the court system, chiefly that it slows down the proceedings. It also places additional pressure on judges who often don't have the necessary knowledge to dictate hearings. Instead, they rely upon solicitors and barristers to advise them of relevant laws in order to come to a correct decision promptly. Without these legal advisors, the entire process becomes slowed.
Accountancy organisation Grant Thornton is responsible for the publication of The Matrimonial Survey, and this year marks its milestone tenth edition. The statistics are gathered annually, based on the opinions of 85 of the top UK family law solicitors, and the report aims to highlight the biggest issues in family law.
The 2012 edition marked the economic downturn and availability of assets as being the biggest issue faced by the sector. While this year's results show some change in the leading problems, the economy still seems to be an underlying factor in many of the latest findings.
Other than the issues of litigant in person, 18% of those surveyed said that the removal of family law legal aid in many cases was a leading problem, while 17% suggested that courts were not fit for purpose.
Other areas studied by the survey include divorce and cohabitation. It drew attention to high-profile divorce cases and examined how the economy affects the number of divorces that go through the courts. It also looked at how many of these cases disclose concealed assets as opposed to non-disclosure of information.
Cohabitation, as previously covered in many of our blog articles, is another area of increasing importance. Cohabitating couples often receive a lack of protection compared to married couples, as the same laws don't always apply to both groups.
According to this year's survey, almost two thirds (62%) of the family law experts surveyed feel that cohabitating couples should be given equal rights to married partners; 21% are in favour of a change in legislation that would give more protection to cohabitating couples.
The findings also suggest that further change is needed in the area of cohabitation; 57% of the survey respondents believe cohabitation laws to be no clearer than they were a decade ago.
The Matrimonial Survey 2013 can be viewed in its entirety at the Grant Thornton website.
K J Smith Solicitors are available for free 45 minute consultations on family law matters. If you have such an issue, get in touch by calling 01491 630000 (Henley-on-Thames), 0118 418 1000 (Reading), or 020 7070 0330 (Central London).