New research has found that families in Yorkshire and the Humber are more likely to turn to the family courts to settle disputes following a separation. The study exposes a clear north-south divide that is seen to disproportionately affect families from low-income backgrounds.
The study by The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory revealed private law application rates were consistently highest in the Yorkshire and the Humber regions, North East and North West (between 79 and 81 per 10,000 families), and consistently lowest in London (59 per 10,000) and the South East (44 per 10,000).
The majority of private law applications were made by applicants living in the most deprived areas. In 2019/20, 30% of applicants lived in areas in the most deprived quintile; 13% lived in areas in the least deprived quintile.
Commenting on the research, Yorkshire-based family law expert at Langleys Solicitors, Claire Ward, said: “It is truly a shame to see the disproportionate effect of family separations in the Yorkshire and Humber area. The divide can be partly attributed to the common misconception amongst underprivileged families of the options available to them. Alternate dispute resolutions (ADR), especially in the cases where children are involved, are always a much better option for families, allowing them more privacy, flexibility and a faster solution to problems that may arise.
“The problem is ADR is seen as inaccessible and expensive to a large number of families, but legal aid is available for mediation for lower-income families. There is just not enough awareness raised for alternate routes to court. Although there is a requirement to attempt mediation before issuing a court application, it is normally offered during a period of heightened emotion, where negotiations with their partner may seem like an impossible task.
“A way that authorities could begin to close the divide would be to perhaps consider weighting resources proportionately to these regional findings, helping families explore other options available to them before they reach the courts. For example, mediation may be a more suitable option that means cases are dealt with in a shorter space of time, and with less impact on children caught in the middle of disputes.
“Additionally, to help combat this problem, there should be another point at which during family proceedings ADR should be offered, when emotions are not running as high. Offering the families support on a more regular basis would mitigate the effects that long legal proceedings can have on both the parents and their children. As a result of this lack of extra support, there are likely to be more people dealing with these applications in a court without a lawyer specialising in that specific area, further disadvantaging them, as there is a higher risk of their needs being misrepresented.”
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