Since legal aid has been withdrawn in April this year there has been a marked increase in the number of applications being made to court in respect of children matters. This had been anticipated by the legal profession and now figures published this week have shown this to be true.

Whenever an application is made to court regarding children matters there is an automatic referral made to CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). CAFCASS are an independent body who safeguard and protect the children in any proceedings and who give advice to the court where necessary.

Their figures, which were published on 10 June, show that over 5000 private law applications were made to court in May 2013 which is the highest number that CAFCASS have ever received. Click here to see the stats. These are applications for matters such as contact and residence which are usually made by parents. The trend has continued and the figures published on 8 July show that the amount of applications made in June 2013 are a 29% increase on the same month the previous year. Overall in the months April to June 2013 CAFCASS have received a huge 13,633 new cases which is a 27% increase on the same period in 2012.

There had been a slight increase in the number of applications in the months leading up to the legal aid cuts but this huge increase was somewhat unexpected. A recent article in the Telegraph reports that it would seem that the increase is due to individuals making their own applications in the hope that it will resolve matters.

Anecdotally lawyers are stating that they are seeing more and more people represent themselves and this is now causing its own problems. With more and more ‘Litigants in Person’ (those who represent themselves at court) in the court system there is an acknowledgement that this is putting pressure and strain on the court staff including the judiciary who are having to almost ‘referee’ matters.

The advantage of being legally represented means that statements can be prepared and drafted, agreements reached and the issues narrowed. However, in such highly charged and emotional proceedings where individuals are representing themselves this just is not possible. The parties will not and cannot negotiate with each other. The Judge has to try and undertake this role whilst remaining impartial and matters which could have easily been resolved drag on unnecessarily. This may mean that a child is not having contact with one of its parents which is not in the best interests of that child.

The Telegraph succinctly sums up the very real impact that this situation is having on not only the court system but on the families and children who are suffering.

One way to try and avoid this horrible situation is by using the services of a mediator. Usually your legal representative would refer you to a mediator to try and resolve issues but this is becoming less frequent simply because people are not accessing a solicitor first, due to costs, and instead are making an application to court immediately. However, you can seek assistance from a mediator without first using a solicitor and this may cost you far less emotionally, in terms of time and financially.

Here at Ramsdens the Head of the Family Department, Helen Thewlis, is a trained mediator who can assist you in reaching agreements regarding your children, or indeed regarding any family matter. Mediation means that you and your ex-partner would both have to agree to using the process and initially you would be seen separately. If it is felt that this process would be suitable for you then a joint session would be arranged.

The mediation process means that you are far more in control of what happens in terms of an outcome and the agreement reached. You can discuss things openly with the other side and try and work out a plan which suits you all and which is in the best interests of you all. This may take a single one hour session which is far preferable than months and months of court proceedings.

If you think this is something that you would like to do then please contact our family department on 01484 821500.