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18 June 2013

Lawyers warn that family courts risk 'collapse' as surge in child residence cases follows legal aid cuts

The family court system is in danger of “collapsing in on itself” after a surge in the number of warring parents turning up in person to launch child residence cases because of legal aid cuts, leading lawyers are warning in an article in The Telegraph.

New figures show the number of children caught up in legal battles between separating or divorcing parents jumped by 27 per cent last month and is currently running at almost twice the level seen two years ago.

CAFCASS, the agency which looks after children's interests in the family courts, said that it received 5,061 new cases involving family splits in England in May, by far the highest ever seen in a single month.

It has piled new pressure on the agency, which has been already severely stretched by a separate dramatic rise in the number of children being taken into care in the wake of the Baby P scandal four years ago.

The surge in demand for it to be involved in so-called “private law” cases follows the removal of legal aid for couples in most divorce cases.

Under changes which came into effect on April 1 this year, an estimated 200,000 people a year who would have been able to get legal aid in divorce and child contact cases no longer qualify.

The months leading up to the change saw a steady rise in cases as couples attempted register before the deadline. But the increase since the cuts has been far more marked.

Lawyers have reported seeing a dramatic rise in people simply turning up court to file applications and planning to represent themselves.

Meanwhile mediation services – something the Government has been keen to promote to prevent domestic disputes being dragged through the courts – have reported a drop in demand, apparently because fewer people have been to see solicitors who would be able refer them.

Read the rest of the article here.