Divorce reform and statistics: The last week in family law

The Lord Chancellor David Gauke has admitted that the
passing of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which will introduce a
system of no-fault divorce, is likely to lead to a spike in new divorce cases.
The admission came as the Bill was having its second reading in the House of
Commons. However, Mr Gauke said that the divorce rate will level off again
after the initial spike. Speaking in the debate he said: “there will be people
who are currently waiting for two or five years for a divorce, and that divorce
will be brought forward, so the likelihood is that there will be an increase
because of that waiting list. However, the international evidence suggests that
once that initial spike has been dealt with, in a steady state the divorce rate
is unlikely to increase; it is likely to remain much the same.” The second
reading was unopposed, and the Bill is expected to complete its Commons
committee stage this week, before moving on to its report stage.

The Department for Work and Pensions has published its
latest statistics relating to the child support maintenance system. The
statistics showed that 82% of parents who contacted the Child Maintenance
Options information and support service between August and October 2018 had a
child support arrangement in place by March/April 2019. They also showed that as
at March 2019 689,100 children were covered by Child Maintenance Service
(‘CMS’) arrangements, 442,900 through ‘Direct Pay’ arrangements (where the CMS
calculates the amount of maintenance to be paid and parents arrange the
payments between themselves), and 246,200 through the ‘Collect & Pay’
service (whereby the Service collects and manages the payments between the
parents). 67% of parents due to pay child maintenance through the Collect &
Pay service paid some maintenance in the quarter ending March 2019, up from 60%
one year earlier.

The Ministry of Justice has published its latest Family
Court Statistics, for the quarter January to March 2019. Amongst the main
points were that 66,340 new cases started in that quarter, up 5% on January to
March 2018, due to a 6% rise in matrimonial cases (44% of all case starts,
mainly divorce proceedings), and an increase in domestic violence (15%) and
private law children (12%) cases. The statistics also showed that the average
time for a divorce from petition to Decree Nisi was 33 weeks, and to Decree
Absolute was a record 59 weeks, up 6 and 8 weeks respectively compared to the
equivalent quarter in 2018. The Ministry said that these represent the highest
figures so far for the periods covered by this bulletin, and is a result of
divorce centres processing a backlog of older cases. As to legal representation
in private law cases, the proportion of case disposals where neither the
applicant nor respondent had legal representation was 38%, an increase of 24
percentage points since January to March 2013, just before legal aid was removed
for most private law family matters, and up 2 percentage points from January to
March 2018. Correspondingly, the proportion of cases where both parties had
legal representation dropped from 41% in January to March 2013 to 19% in
January to March 2019, 1 percentage point lower than the same period in 2018.

And finally, the Ministry of Justice has also published
statistics, together with the Legal Aid Agency, for legal aid, for the quarter
January to March 2019. These showed that in that quarter legal aid granted in
family cases amounted to £147 million, an increase of 11% compared to the same
period in 2018. Expenditure on public law cases was £124 million, up 13%,
expenditure on private law cases was £23 million, up 5%, and expenditure on
mediation was £1 million, up 4%. The number of applications for legal aid
supported by evidence of domestic violence or child abuse that were granted
increased by 17% compared to the same period of the previous year. In family
mediation, Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’) increased by
9% compared to the previous year, and currently stand at just over a third of
the level they were at before legal aid was removed. Mediation starts increased
by 10%, although outcomes increased by 1%, and are now sitting at around half
of the level they were at before legal aid was removed.