Frustrations of a Family Law Solicitor: Delays in Family Courts

Frustrations of a Family Law Solicitor: Delays in Family Courts
Frustrations of a Family Law Solicitor: Delays in Family Courts

As a family law solicitor, I encounter various frustrations, from unresponsive counterparts to scheduling challenges with preferred barristers and even clients who don’t heed advice and hinder their own cases. However, the most significant frustration stems from the delays my clients face due to court processes.

Many outside the realm of family law may not realise the severity of this issue. Our court system is grappling with an unprecedented backlog of cases. With public funding dwindling in family law, more inexperienced users of the court system (known as litigants in person) unintentionally strain the system further. HM Courts & Tribunals Service has projected that the family court backlog may not return to pre-COVID levels until 2023. Given the recent national lockdown announcement in England, this prediction may even be optimistic.

Rather than succumbing to frustrations, my focus in 2021 is on taking actionable steps to address these challenges.

Embracing Technology in Family Law

A significant improvement in family law was the HMCTS online system for divorce, which allowed straightforward divorce applications online. Moreover, we now have an online case management system for lawyers, enabling applications and tracking without relying on paper submissions prone to delays or errors. Cases processed through this secure online system are often expedited compared to the traditional paper-based approach. Despite some initial hiccups, this is a commendable step forward.

During the first lockdown, many law firms adapted to remote work, and courts transitioned to reduced operations, accelerating the use of remote video and telephone hearings in family law cases. For many clients, this shift has been preferable, eliminating travel to unfamiliar courtrooms and reducing time investment and associated stress on hearing days.

My pledge for 2021 is to fully embrace existing technology, prepare clients for any type of hearing, and ensure they understand that telephone or video hearings provide equal access to justice in family courts compared to face-to-face hearings. Each case will receive the judge’s full attention and preparedness.

Negotiating Harder

Recent judicial guidance encourages family lawyers to minimise reliance on courts and explore alternative dispute resolution methods. We are urged to ensure clients exhaust all avenues before resorting to court as a last resort. HHJ Wildblood QC’s message from the Bristol Family Court emphasises this point clearly.

My role as a lawyer is to facilitate agreements through tough negotiations, guiding clients towards compromises both parties can accept. Family law cases seldom have “winners.” In financial cases, both parties have legitimate needs, and in child-related matters, the child’s welfare should be the priority.

I encourage anyone entering divorce negotiations to adopt an attitude of openness, honesty, and practicality, considering legal boundaries. I pledge full support to my clients throughout this process.

Considering Arbitration

Arbitration in family law has been available but remains underutilised. In arbitration, parties appoint a private arbitrator to reach a decision with an agreed-upon timetable, providing quicker results than the court system.

Perceived barriers like cost exist, but we must address them directly. While court hearings seem “free,” arbitration costs shared by parties may yield swifter resolutions, avoiding prolonged delays and associated emotional costs.

Moving Forward in Family Law

2020 was a busy year at DLS Solicitors. Unlike many firms, we maintained uninterrupted service during the pandemic due to our innovative work-from-home setup. Despite the challenges within the system, we remain committed to offering exceptional service, addressing client frustrations alongside our own.

Avatar of DLS Solicitors by DLS Solicitors
24th April 2021
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DLS Solicitors

Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

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