Many couples involved in divorce or issues related to children would say very definitely “no”. It can seem as though the “system” is against you. The Courts are not really designed with people in mind; they are rather run by and for lawyers. The individuals whose lives are being decided by the Judges rarely understand the procedure and very often feel that their voice is unheard. If you have a lawyer representing you, then that lawyer speaks for you. You can be sitting in Court wondering what on earth is happening as a Judge makes comments that you might not understand – your Barrister and the other party’s Barrister often talk a strange language and may well be arguing about points of law that you feel are totally irrelevant to your particular concerns.
Cuts to Legal Aid funding and the increasing costs of instructing lawyers means that more and more people are representing themselves in Court as litigants in person. They somehow have to navigate the invisible walls of procedure – who speaks when, what can actually be discussed, what evidence is admissible and in what format.
To take as an example, a couple arguing about when they see their children: if one of them, say the father, is being denied access to his children, it can take months and months before the matter comes to Court and he may well be puzzled as to why there is no sanction imposed against the other party who appears to have ignored previous agreements to make children available. Or, if the matter relates to finances, it can take an equally long time for there to be a Court date when one party is seeking financial payments from the other or the sale of an asset. If experts are required to either value an asset or produce a report about children, it can take weeks for these reports to be produced and, of course, create further delays.
In cases involving children, the Court Welfare Service (CAFCASS) is particularly stretched and will often take at least 12 weeks to produce a very scant report into a couple and their children’s lives. This is of fundamental importance to the parents yet CAFCASS often do not have the time to see both parents properly and to produce an adequate report fully detailing the family’s lives. The Court is then required to make an Order or a decision based on little evidence.
There must be a better way, and if parties are spending thousands of pounds on lawyers and going to Court, then perhaps they should be better served by a system that is able to produce detailed comprehensive reports in a short space of time and have hearings within weeks, rather than the months that is the case in the average County Court. Perhaps there should be an option for parents to jointly instruct an independent expert to both produce a report about their children and a jointly instructed legal expert to make a decision as to what would be the best arrangements in relation to children and/or finances. If they both agreed to be bound by the reports and decisions, then the whole matter could be dealt with far more quickly, which must be to everyone’s advantage.
At the moment I feel that parents and those separating are ill-served by the Family Court.