Family law

What the latest numbers tell us about the state of the family justice system

Posted by
James Harbottle
Read more

What the latest statistics tell us about the state of the family justice system

Ian Walker Director/Solicitor/Mediator /Arbitrator Law Society Children Panel and Mediation Accredited
Ian Walker Director/Solicitor/Mediator /Arbitrator Law Society Children Panel and Mediation Accredited

Every three months the Ministry of Justice publishes the latest statistics for the family justice system, comprising statistics for the Family Court and statistics relating to legal aid and mediation.

The latest quarterly statistics have just been published. What do they tell us about the present state of the family justice system?

High take-up for new divorce system

The first thing they tell us is that there has been a high take-up for the new, no-fault, divorce system, which was introduced on the 6th of April.

The statistics tell us that since that date there were 33,234 divorce applications (including applications for civil partnership dissolution). There were 33,566 applications altogether made under both old and new laws, an increase of 22% from the same quarter in 2021, and the highest number of applications in a decade.

Whilst some may be alarmed at this increase, it was entirely expected, due to many couples waiting for the new law before issuing divorce proceedings, so that they could divorce without having to blame their spouse for the marriage breakdown.

A feature of the new divorce system is that, for the first time, it is possible for a couple to make a joint application for a divorce. The statistics give us a breakdown of how many applications were made solely and how many jointly. Of the 33,234 applications, 78% were made by sole applicants, and 22% by joint applicants.

Children cases taking longer

family justice system

Due to a change in the way that data is managed the statistics do not give any information about the time that public law children proceedings (i.e. proceedings involving social services) are taking. This is unfortunate – the previous quarter’s statistics indicated that the average time for such cases to reach first disposal was 49 weeks, which was the highest average since 2012.

It would be very interesting to know whether there has been any change to this figure (it should be remembered that care cases are supposed to be completed within 26 weeks).

As to private law children proceedings (i.e. cases concerning disputes between parents over arrangements for their children), the news is not good.

In April to June 2022, it took on average 46 weeks for these cases to reach a final order, i.e. case closure. This was up 6 weeks from the same period in 2021, and the highest value since 2014, continuing the upward trend seen since the middle of 2016.

Fewer financial remedy cases

There were 9,239 financial remedy applications made in April to June 2022, which was down 31% from the same period in 2021. 71% of these applications were uncontested, and 29% were contested.

Meanwhile, 8,253 financial remedy cases were dealt with by the courts, which was down 26% from the same period in 2021.

Obviously, the fact that there were more new cases than cases dealt with is a worrying sign that the courts’ caseload is increasing.

More domestic abuse applicationsDomestic abuse

The courts were also busier with regard to applications for protection from domestic abuse.

In April to June 2022, there were 7,791 such applications. This was up by 6% on the same quarter in 2021, requesting a total of 8,911 orders. Most of the orders applied for were non-molestation orders (84%), compared to occupation orders (16%).

There were 9,232 domestic violence orders made in April to June 2022, which was down 3% from the same period last year.

Fewer mediation starts

Finally we come to mediation, and here again the news is not encouraging.

The figures concern Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’), which are initial meetings between one or both parties and a mediator to see if the case is suitable for mediation, and actual mediation starts, where the couple have agreed to go to mediation.

Mediation uptake was greatly affected by the abolition of legal aid for most family law matters in 2013, which resulted in a huge decrease in its use, due primarily to the fact that, without legal aid, couples were not referred to mediation by their lawyers.

The statistics show that in the latest quarter, MIAMs decreased by 16% compared to April to June 2021, and currently stand at just a third of the level that they were at prior to the abolition of legal aid.

Meanwhile, family mediation starts decreased by 19% (and total outcomes decreased by 20%, of which 62% were successful agreements), and are now sitting at around half of pre-2013 levels.