Blame over. The future of divorce law

Guest post by Jo Farrands, partner and head of the family team at Moore Barlow

Farrands: 50% increase in cases in last year

The long-awaited arrival of no-fault divorce law in the spring has revolutionised family law as we know it.

Watching clients suffer through a culture of blame and conflict has been par for the course for family lawyers during the divorce process over the last 50 years. An acrimonious procedure with no real winners that often saw children caught up in the crossfire was, sadly, our bread and butter.

No-fault divorce has since transformed the way couples can now separate, reducing conflicts and strengthening a couple’s ability to negotiate a fair settlement – allowing them to focus on who and what matters the most.

Many in the industry were championing its arrival for decades, but few could quite believe the immediate effect it would have on clients and lawyers alike.

The change can be seen in the latest quarterly Ministry of Justice family court statistics, with divorce applications reaching their highest level in a decade. Figures show that there were 33,566 divorce applications between April and June, up 22% on the same period last year and the highest since 2012.

This was due partly to a spike in pent up demand from couples delaying taking action before April and the sheer backlog of cases that the courts are working through post-Covid.

Of course, we should not extrapolate too much from a single quarter’s statistics, and only time will tell if the increase is sustained. At Moore Barlow, we’ve seen a 50% increase in cases over the last 12 months and expect our workload to increase further as we enter the festive and sadly often called ‘divorce season’.

As the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, favouring a more amicable and harmonious approach to divorce can help to save precious time and money.

Blame game over – what next?

Now that some of the sting has been taken out of break-ups, with both parties working together through a joint application rather than against each other to settle the divorce, it seems a natural progression to allow couples to be advised jointly by one lawyer.

The idea of one lawyer being able to act for both clients in a divorce situation has seen increasing support over the last few years and this summer, following considerable effort from Resolution in driving forward this proposition, the ‘one lawyer, two clients’ model was finally approved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Regulatory compliance issues were worked through including how solicitors cannot act if there is an own-interest conflict or a significant risk of one. Current rules prevent solicitors from acting for both sides in a litigation or dispute but acting for both parties is allowed where there is no significant risk of a conflict arising.

We have seen a surge in demand from separating couples seeking a collaborative divorce process – one that reduces time, money and conflict. We have launched a ‘one lawyer’ service of our own, Accord, which also gives clients access to additional therapeutic support to help promote a constructive outcome to the breakdown of the relationship.

Divorce can be a very emotional time. Coming to the table together with one lawyer who has both of their interests at heart can relieve any tension and create an environment where the best outcome can be achieved for all involved.

It also makes the process more affordable and accessible, with couples able to share the cost of one lawyer as opposed to paying for two.

This has been a memorable year for divorce law and those who practice within it. Like me, many have been calling for change and reform to allow us to move with the times and create an environment that best protects our client’s interest.

For once I can say, the future looks rather bright.

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