Changes in Family Law – Evolution or Revolution?

Recent years have seen a marked change in both the general law and those legal procedures which govern family law disputes between divorcing or separating couples, whether they relate to financial matters, disputes over their children or other family issues.

There have been so many changes that cataloguing them all in an article would not be practical, but they have followed the government’s dual philosophy that too much money was being expended via legal aid on court cases between unhappy ex-partners, and that the court process itself was complex and time consuming and should, if possible, be avoided completely.

These changes have resulted in a legal landscape very different from the previous one in place even three years ago.

Those in government have congratulated themselves on a “revolution” of fairness the like of which they feel those involved in family law have not seen before. This may be true, but, many have questioned whether the changes are just, in reality, an “evolution”: the natural result of the law being altered to meet public need, whereas others assert politics is the only factor at work. It therefore begs the question, are the revisions fair and are they working?

Primarily these changes fall into three categories, the consequences of the first is undoubtedly profound and far-reaching:

  • In 2013, legal aid for family law work was almost completely abolished leaving most people who sought the assistance of the court to settle family disputes either by paying personally for their lawyer or representing themselves alone in court; the latter being a daunting prospect for many. This was seen by some lawyers as the “thin end of the wedge” heralding change aimed at economic viability at the cost of justice to the masses;
  • It was followed by such compulsory measures as the requirement for all parties to family disputes to attend Mediation (a voluntary non-court resolution process) before they could issue court proceedings;
  • There have been many other changes including a revision of the rules and the terminology in family law cases and it is certainly true some revisions have a clear aim of reducing tensions so as to promote an open dialogue between those involved in family related strife.

At present the jury is out on whether this new legal system meets the needs of the public in terms of time and cost, whilst remaining a fair forum for disputes, but what is clear is that almost all family disputes cannot now be settled with legal aid funding, it being no longer available, and no court action can be instituted without mediation first being undertaken.

The debate will doubtless rage on, but one of the first things we at Leeds Day considered in the light of these changes was the need to adapt and ensure we supported our family law clients where possible by providing an efficient, first class service, aimed at exploring all settlement options thoroughly, economically and amicably, avoiding costly court proceedings, if possible, whilst striving to safeguard our clients’ interests.  We are fully equipped to meet the challenges of the changing landscape of family law as not only are we able to assist clients in arm’s length negotiations and, where appropriate, court proceedings, but we also offer both family mediation and collaborative family law, both of which have the specific aim of seeking to avoid court proceedings.

Overall our focus is always on the highest standards of client care.

If you are experiencing family law problems and want to find out what your options are, please contact the family team on 0844 567 2222 or send an email to family@leedsday.co.uk.  Our team of family solicitors are highly experienced in all aspects of family law.  We are also able to offer a full range of dispute resolution options including mediation and collaborative family law details of which can be found on our website: www.leedsday.co.uk/services-for-individuals/family/

By Lee Bailham - Family Solicitor and accredited Family Mediator


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