Family lawyers sound alarm on separating parents

Topics: Family and children,Legal aid and access to justice

  • Print
  • Share
  • Comments (9)
  • Save

Related images

  • Family outline

Separating parents are giving up on the courts and may take the law into their own hands in trying to see their children, family lawyers have warned.

This follows publication of new figures showing a sharp drop in the number of private family law cases.


CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) statistics show there were 2,928 new private law cases in July – a 36% fall on the same month last year.

Between April 2013 and March 2014, the number of new cases rose 2% on the previous financial year to 46,414. New cases for the first six months were 15% higher than the same period in the previous year, with demand in April, May June, July and August at record levels.

However, since October demand has slowed with lower figures recorded than in the previous financial year.

The trend has been declared deeply worrying by the chair of the Law Society’s family law committee, Naomi Angell, and the chair of Resolution’s children committee, Simon Bethel.

They attributed the fall to parents giving up on the court system as a result of the legal aid cuts introduced in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

The act removed legal aid for most private family law cases from April 2013.

Bethel doubted the drop was due to cases being diverted to mediation, for which public funding remains available, as figures from the Ministry of Justice show the number of cases referred to mediation have plummeted.

Despite the huge rise in parties representing themselves, he said the figures suggest parents are not finding their way through the ‘maze’ of options regarding their children when they separate.

‘Rather than receiving expert help to try and secure working shared care arrangements for their children, they are giving up,’ he said.

Bethel said: ‘This drop in court applications could mean that there are more separated families where children are needlessly missing out on a relationship with one of their parents, which has long-term repercussions for the child and for their family.’

Angell said parents are not turning to mediation as they do not realise legal aid remains available to fund it. In addition, she said the pathway to mediation – through initial advice given by solicitors – has been ‘torn away’.

 She warned that the lack of access to legal advice and to the courts may mean that while in many cases parents simply give up, in others they may abduct their children.

‘We were always worried that the cuts would mean that out of desperation people would take things into their own hands,’ said Angell.

‘I am absolutely certain that children are being denied access to their parents – which seriously undermines the concept of shared parenting being introduced by the Children and Families Bill,’ she added.

Readers' comments (9)

  • "Shred parenting"?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Is it not possible that parents are simply reaching agreement without the need for expensive and drawn out Court proceedings? Or is that too naive and positive?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • ...or maybe less people are separating/wanting divorce this year than last...

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • From the calls that I get and quote a price for legal assistance, the parents who desperately need skilled assistance for the sake of the children are still very much there, but now, the message that they cannot afford any help has got through. I say, do you realise there is no legal aid any more, they say how much would it cost, I say - £250 to open a file, between £1,000 to £6,000 to go through court. After they start breathing again, I tell the they can do it themselves and they go quiet and give up. The above comments are obviously made by people who have not been on the sharp end of the acute and chronic pain in all this.

    The state removes children permanently in care proceedings with all that grief and anguish, now (mainly mothers) can just refuse to cooperate and there you go... a father has his children removed permanently, to the child's detriment and there is nothing he can do... tragic

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I agree with the article. I have numerous phone calls a day and when I tell them that legal aid is not available the potential clients get very frustrated and often I am left with the feeling that a disaster is just around the corner. I fear for abductions and with lack of legal aid some very broken families indeed.

    There are also issues of safety and welfare where alcohol and drugs are involved, but again without the benefit of legal aid kids are not adequately protected

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Carol if you are charging £250 to open a file, frankly you need to rethink your charging structure. There is no reason why solicitors cannot offer cheaper advice to start and go from there on a pay as you go basis. Although the legal aid cuts are outrageous and will lead to disadvantaged children being prejudiced against in the system, lawyers do need to apply a bit of thought as to how they can soften the blow.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Anonymous at 10.04 - this is not unreasonable, opening a file is not just taking a file out of the stationery cupboard, it is all the red tape and administrative hoops that have to be jumped through to ensure every wretched box is ticked to ensure all the right "outcomes" have been met, the ID gathered, the client care letter, the attendance notes, the letters about rights to cancel, advice about legal aid etc etc etc and on and on. If we could simply give the client a bit of advice then it would cost a fraction of that.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • So if you are a father your options are:

    1. Spend a fortune privately on a plodding system run by plodding jobsworth solicitors and not see your children
    2. Have the taxpayer spend a fortune privately on a plodding system run by plodding jobsworth solicitors and not see your children
    3. Not see your children


    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • OR - Anonymous at 01:45 you get a decent family lawyer who will not plod at all and provided you are not abusive and will actually take advice on what you need to do as a father denied access to his children end up achieving that aim - for the benefit of the CHILD - as all of this should be child focussed not warring parent focused. You just need the right Solicitor!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

  • Print
  • Share
  • Comments (9)
  • Save


Sign up for email news alerts

Daily Update. Keep abreast of the latest developments that affect the profession


SELLING? MERGING? VALUING? Acquiring? Free information from 01494 483728. or

SOLICITORS FIRM WANTED Sole Practitioner looking to retire or looking for business succession options. Please contact 07919 348734.

Browse the magazine

Current Issue

The Gazette offers you up-to-the-minute national and international news, opinion, features, in-depth articles plus a jobs and appointments section.

Please click the link below for a digital edition