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The overstretched family courts are currently facing huge backlogs, both with listing hearings and administration. Recent research shows that backlog figures have now reached over 110,000 cases.

We understand that separation and divorce can be deeply distressing. There is so much to think about including making arrangements for finances, securing child arrangements, or seeking protection from an abusive or controlling spouse. Some of these issues, unfortunately, might not be capable of being resolved without court intervention.

There are over 85,000 private law family cases in the courts of England and Wales at any one time, which is resulting in an average processing period of approximately 43 weeks.

Despite the best efforts of court staff and the judiciary, understandably, for many families, such significant delays are not only stressful but can leave families in severe financial hardship and emotional turmoil.

The Law Society is urging the Government to ensure that there is sufficient judicial capacity to deal with the backlog and to allow further funding to enable people to obtain legal advice. In turn, it is hoped that this will result in fewer cases reaching court.

Alternatives to court for divorce cases

It is also important for everyone to be aware that there are various other methods available to try and resolve issues when separating. These options include:

Direct negotiations: Often the quickest and most cost-effective solution, it is possible for couples to negotiate a settlement between themselves. This method may not always work or be appropriate for everyone and should only be considered if both parties feel that it is safe to do so.

Negotiations via solicitor correspondence: Negotiating with the other party or their legal representative through a solicitor usually creates an arms-length distance between the separating couple. This can, in the long-run, help with effective communication, providing an often cheaper and quicker alternative to court proceedings.

Family mediation: A mediator is a trained independent third party individual who helps facilitate discussions. Mediators are legally trained but they do not give legal advice or impose a decision. If parties agree to attend mediation sessions, solicitors can continue to assist with legal advice in the background.

Arbitration: This is a form of dispute resolution where a couple jointly agree to appoint a qualified arbitrator (an independent professional third party) to act as an adjudicator  throughout the separation. Arbitration is similar to court proceedings but allows flexibility in timings, choice of arbitrator, and venue. Once the arbitrator makes a decision, it is legally binding.

Collaborative law: This process involves each party appointing their own collaborative lawyer to resolve matters in a collective manner by way of a series of round table meetings. This method also allows flexibility in the arrangements and timings of the appointments.

Please note that this information is for general guidance only and should not substitute professional legal advice. If you have specific concerns, we recommend consulting one of our legal experts.


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