The Rise in Number of ‘Rowing Parents’ Representing ThemselvesPublished on: 12 August 2019
In 2013 the government implemented plans to remove all legal aid available in respect of family matters; apart from people who have been victims of domestic violence who satisfy the means and merits test, and some funding has been made available for mediation. At that time the legal profession feared the implications of such a measure, particularly on the breakdown of the family, access to justice and the increased pressure this would have on the court system. It was felt that such cuts may be a false economy with more government spending needed in other areas such as on courts, social workers and other professionals who will have to intervene, support and help resolve matters without the assistance of the lawyers who would have previously represented parties.
The BBC has recently reported that six years later, Sir Andrew MacFarlane (President of the Family Division) has reported that there has been a significant rise in judges having to deal directly with ‘rowing parents’. He went on to say that many hearings could be avoided and called for a "public education programme" on how to be a parent after splitting up. One statistic provided in the Law Society Gazette last year reported that as many as 80% of family cases now involve one or more unrepresented parties. Not only do litigants-in-person take up more of the judge’s time, which can cause further pressure upon and delays with the courts, but parties are no longer benefiting from legal advice and support during the court process (which can be highly emotive) and thus might not be putting their best case forward.
Although judges and legal professionals would welcome a government review which may involve making legal aid available to more families in need, it seems unlikely that the previous system will be reintroduced in the near future.
What can you do if you have limited funds available?
In an ideal world everyone would be able to afford representation to ensure their case is properly presented and all salient points are considered by the court. But what can you do if you cannot afford to be represented throughout the entire process?
A little bit of advice and assistance can go a long way. At Lanyon Bowdler we offer fixed fee appointments where we can advise regarding the:
- Court process;
- Applicable law;
- Likeliness of the court making certain directions and orders;
- Preparation of application forms and statements; and
- Representation at certain hearings.
In particular, many clients find a one hour fixed fee appointment at the outset of any proceedings extremely helpful and money well spent.
- Look at all your options at the outset. Court proceedings should be a last resort and suitable mediation should always be explored and you can self-refer without the assistance of a solicitor. If you are of low means it may well be the case that you are entitled to legally aided mediation sessions. Other alternatives to mediation include family therapy and separated parenting programmes.