Today, CAFCASS (The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) confirmed receipt of 4,267 new private law referrals for the month of June, representing a 29% increase on the figures for the same month last year. Last month’s report confirmed that 5,038 cases were referred in May 2013, which was the highest amount on record. These figures show that, after a slight lull in 2011 (after the introduction of compulsory Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) in 2010), private law children applications are on the increase.
It is possible that the recent flood of new applications has come about as a result of the recent withdrawal of public funding (also known as legal aid) for most family cases. This is because many of those faced with a particular family issue cannot afford legal advice and they therefore take their case straight to Court.
An increase in court applications, together with a rise in the number of litigants in person, could have a catastrophic effect on the Courts in England and Wales, many of which are already struggling to deal with a significant caseload. Following the Family Justice Review, plans are already afoot for a major overhaul of the Family Court system, and it seems that the changes will be needed now more than ever.
For anyone considering making an application in respect of your children (with or without legal representation), you should bear in mind the following:
- Consider whether your issues can be resolved without attending Court, either by direct discussions with the other party or with the help of a mediator or your solicitor (for further information about alternatives to litigation, click HERE);
- If you have no option but to make an application to Court, make sure you prepare fully before doing so and make your application in good time;
- If you need the Court’s help with a discrete or interim issue (for example imminent contact or you want to take your child on holiday or regarding schooling), you should prepare a statement for the Court setting out all relevant information which might help the Judge make a decision;
- As a result of the high volume of cases the Court has to deal with, there is often some delay between the issuing of your application and your first hearing (and many more months before a final decision can be made). You might therefore want to consider asking the Court to make a decision at that first hearing on an interim or summary basis, based on the information available on that day.
With the school summer holidays fast approaching, separating and divorced parents are advised to consider and discuss arrangements for the children as early as possible so that, if there are any outstanding issues, a mediator or the Court can be asked to help.