The top 5 family law stories of 2022
Family law

The Top 5 Family Law Stories of 2022

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Walker Family Law
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As the year draws to a close it is time to look back at the top happenings in the world of family law over the last twelve months. The top 5 family law stories of 2022

It has certainly been an eventful year. However, apart from one stand-out story, it is not particularly easy to say which stories should make the top 5 family law stories of 2022. The following is therefore a personal list – a list written by someone else may look very different.

In the best traditions of such things, the list is presented in reverse order:

  1. Marriage decline

At number five is the decline in marriage, and what it may mean for family law.

In May the Office for National Statistics published its latest annual figures for the number of marriages that took place in England and Wales, for the year 2019.

The figures showed that marriage rates for opposite-sex couples have now fallen to their lowest level on record since 1862. In 2019, for men, there were 18.6 marriages per 1,000 unmarried men, and for women, there were just 17.2 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women.

Meanwhile, the number of couples choosing to cohabit without getting married is at its highest level ever, representing about one in five couples. Clearly, there is a shift in society away from marriage towards cohabitation.

But unlike a married person a cohabitant has no right to make financial claim against their former partner should the relationship break down. This has led to calls for limited rights to be given to cohabitants, including by the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee.

Unfortunately, the Government has rejected the recommendation, meaning that financially weaker parties will continue to suffer economic hardship upon cohabitation breakdown.

  1. A new approach to resolving children disputes

At number four is a story with a local connection.

A new approach to resolving children disputes between parents is being piloted in courts in Bournemouth and Weymouth in Dorset, and Caernarfon, Mold, Prestatyn and Wrexham in North Wales.

The new approach involves more help for parents to resolve disputes out of court, and a more investigative, problem-solving approach to dealing with disputes that do go to court.

Other aspects of the new approach are giving greater weight to the voice of the child, and reviewing cases some months after rulings are handed down, to ensure that decisions made are working well.

If the pilots are successful the new approach could form the basis for how these cases are dealt with in future, throughout England and Wales.

  1. Abusers barred from cross-examining victims

At number three is a piece of legislation that was actually passed last year, but was not implemented until July this year. On the 21st of July new rules were brought in barring domestic abusers from cross-examining their victims in court.

Very often those accused of domestic abuse are unrepresented when the case goes to court, particularly as legal aid is not available to them. This has meant that they have cross-examined their victims themselves.

This has in turn led to concerns that abusers were using the process as a means of extending their abuse, and that victims were being re-traumatised by their experiences in court.

So the Government introduced very welcome legislation to bar alleged abusers from cross-examining their alleged victims in court.

Instead, the cross-examination will be done by a court-appointed legal professional, to ensure that justice continues to be done fairly for both sides.

  1. Family court delays

At number two we have perhaps the most worrying family law story of 2022: huge delays in the family courts.

The delays applied both to public law children cases involving social services (mostly care proceedings) and private law disputes between parents, where social services weren’t involved.

As to public law cases, what is hopefully the peak delay was reached in the first quarter of the year, when cases were taking an average of 49 weeks. And it must be remembered that there is a statutory time limit of 26 weeks for such cases. In that quarter only 17% of cases were completed within that limit.

As to private law cases, things weren’t much better. Figures from HM Courts & Tribunals Service revealed that in August the average time for such cases to be dealt with was 43 weeks.

Initiatives are under way to reduce these delays, and one must hope that in 2023 the news will be better.

  1. No-fault divorce

And lastly at number one the biggest family law story of 2022 must surely be the long-awaited introduction of no-fault divorce.

In the biggest change to divorce law in England and Wales for fifty years, in April the old fault-based divorce system (unless the parties had been separated for two years) was finally swept away, and replaced by a modern system that does away with the need for one spouse to blame the other for the breakdown of the marriage.

All that is required now to get a divorce is a statement by one or both of the parties that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

The big hope is that this change will reduce animosity between divorcing couples, thereby making it more likely that they will be able to resolve issues relating to children and finances by agreement.

And no-fault divorce has proved popular. Statistics showed that there were more than 12,000 divorce applications in April, compared to some 6,000 digital divorce applications under the old system in April 2021.

Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors and are recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England. For expert advice, please contact the team.