Family law cases rise to record levels as court backlog prevents timely resolutions

The number of new family law cases increased significantly in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, new figures have revealed.

The research, published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), underlines the significant impact Covid-19 has had on families.

The report shows that there were an estimated 66,357 new family law cases in April to June 2021 – up 14 per cent compared to the same period in 2020.

This includes 26,301 new divorce petitions, up seven per cent compared to last year. The average time from petition to decree nisi also increased from 24 to 25 weeks, while time from petition to decree absolute was 50 weeks, up four weeks compared with the same period.

But despite a widely reported surge in domestic violence in 2020, the latest data shows that domestic abuse-related cases fell by six per cent.

While encouraging, the Law Society for England and Wales suggests that a decrease in family court capacity could be the driver behind this.

“Our concerns about the significant backlogs in the family court pre-date the pandemic. However, the existing problems have been compounded in the last 18 months,” said Law Society of England and Wales President Stephanie Boyce.

“The impact on timelines also continues to be felt, particularly in delays to care proceedings. Delays can themselves cause significant harm as well as uncertainty for the parties involved.”

She added: “From the outset, we’ve said the UK government must maximise existing court capacity, boosting it through Nightingale courts to allow more in-person hearings to take place safely.”

Commenting on the figures, the ONS said: “It may be some time until improvements are seen in various timelines measures, as outstanding cases are dealt with.

“Nightingale courts continue to be used to provide additional venues to help cope with demand and help the court system to run as effectively and safely as possible during the coronavirus outbreak.”

According to HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), it could take “up to three years” to return to pre-pandemic levels.

For help and advice with family and relationship matters, please get in touch with Alison Green, Head of our Family and Relationship Team at Mackrell.Solicitors on +44 (0) 20 7240 0521 or at alison.green@mackrell.com

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Alison Green
Alison joined Mackrell.Solicitors in 1989 and qualified as a solicitor in 1991, becoming a partner in the firm in 2010. Her expertise covers matrimonial work, including divorce and the associated financial and children issues; pre and post-nuptial agreements; co-habitation disputes; civil partnership agreements and the breakdown of civil partnerships.