Coronavirus: 3-Month Delay in Family Law Courts
We know that the pandemic has caused huge delays at the family courts because of the introduction of social distancing and a lack of court staff physically present to hear cases. The impact of this has been a reduction in the number of family cases being heard and disposed of (concluded) by the courts.
The move to have more online video sessions and remote access has been introduced for hearings in England and Wales in the last few months and although this is a positive step, which encourages virtual communication between counsel, multiple parties and witnesses, the burden of introducing the online technological solution and distancing measures are contributory factors in cases and hearings having been delayed.
The Government’s latest family law statistics (Q2 Family Court Statistics), evidence fewer cases being processed by the family courts:
Overall – all types of Family law case
Covid-19 and associated actions have had a substantial impact the number of Family cases being started*.
867 new cases started in Family courts in April to June 2020 down13% on the same quarter in 2019. This is due to a 30% decrease in financial remedy cases, a 24% decrease in adoption, an 18% decrease in matrimonial matters and a 7% decrease in private law case starts.
A significant decreasein most types of family justice has occurred in Q2.
The reductions in new cases being started is linked to Covid-19 measures undertaken by the courts. In other words, the capacity of the courts to progress the number of cases wishing to ‘start’ proceedings has diminished dramatically and there is a bottleneck of cases waiting to be heard.
There has also been delay in the duration to process cases:
The average time for a care or supervision case to reach first disposal was 36 weeks in April to June 2020, up3 weeks from the same quarter in 2019. 34% of cases were disposed of within 26 weeks - down 7% compared to the same period in 2019.
For those granted decree nisi in April to June 2020, the mean average time from the date of petition was 23 weeks, down 11 weeks from the same period in 2019.
The mean average time from petition to decree absolute was 47 weeks, down 11 weeks from the equivalent quarter in 2019 and continues the downward trend from a peak of 59 weeks in January to March 2019.
Emma Piff, Head of Family at Lawson-West Solicitors in Leicester said of the delays:
“Not only are we seeing an increased demand for family cases – there are more family disputes, matrimonial cases and cases of domestic violence which occurred during Lockdown from March 2020 - but we also see a slowing of family cases being progressed through the courts. Divorces in particular have been hit hard with on average 11-week delays.
“From my recent experience, I believe the family court delay is approximately an additional three month wait, on top of the normal time it would take for a case to conclude. All we can do is to advise our clients to expect a greater than normal time to complete their family matter, but depending on the type and complexity of the family case, and the duration of coronavirus social distancing measures as they extend into 2021, I predict the delay could be anywhere between 3 months to a year to progress a case through the court system.”
“Family court delays are
having a negative impact on
people’s mental health.”
“Family disputes are some of the most emotional that lawyers advise on and it is completely detrimental to clients, and especially damaging for their children, to have to wait an extended time for cases to be heard. I’ve seen a growing trend for family clients to want to speed things up, frustrated with the court delays. Clients and lawyers are as frustrated with the family courts as they are with social distancing measures and although the delays are unavoidable in the current climate, family court delays are having a negative impact on people’s mental health.”
Emma Piff, Family Solicitor, Lawson-West Solicitor
See useful links:
The Family Courts – roll-out of family courts with remote access [June 2020]
The Family Courts – remote access explained [March 2020]
Family Court statistics – *April to June 2020 – Government statisticsView all