Value of family law market hits £2bn

Divorce: Most leading firms now offer ‘one lawyer, one couple’

The annual value of the family law market hit £2bn for the first time last year, as it rose by 4.5%, researchers have found.

They said that virtually all the leading family law brands now offered clients a ‘one lawyer, one couple’ option – which could reduce the amount of family work but boost related legal services.

IRN Legal said that while the number of divorces filed decreased in 2023 from the previous year, when no-fault divorce was introduced, increased demand for advice on financial issues helped fuel the rise in market value.

While most categories of family law cases saw declines in cases starts last year, financial remedy cases starts went up by over 13%.

In the UK Family Law Market Trends Report 2024, IRN said it expected the value of the market to increase by 4.5% this year and then keep growing at a similar rate over the next three years.

Although mandatory mediation was scrapped in January this year, changes to Family Procedure Rules, which came into effect this week, aimed to encourage alternative dispute resolution (ADR).

Another reason for ADR to grow was the state of the family courts, “still struggling from delays and backlogs”.

The report said the mean average time from the date of petition to decree nisi/conditional order rose to 42 weeks last year, up four weeks from 2022. The mean average time from petition to decree absolute/final order was two weeks longer 69 weeks.

A further reason to avoid the courts was greater transparency, with the Family Court reporting pilot being extended this year to 16 courts across the country. Judges in the courts involved make transparency orders which set out what can and cannot be reported.

Researchers commented: “More moves to ADR are likely to require additional training and CPD for solicitors and barristers used to a more adversarial approach.”

Other areas where demand is expected to increase include pre-nuptial agreements, ‘one lawyer, one couple’ services, and other forms of advice such as co-parenting, counselling and wellbeing services.

“From a small base a year ago, virtually all the leading family law brands now offer a ‘one lawyer, one couple’ option.

“While this, along with ADR increases, may impact on the overall revenue coming into the market as matters are dealt with more quickly and with fewer resources, the ‘one lawyer, one couple’ approach means twice as many potential clients of related services that a law firm could offer, for example will writing or redrafting a will, conveyancing advice, wealth management advice.”

Meanwhile, the total number of family law firms in England and Wales is continuing its decline, by almost a thousand from over 5,700 in 2018 to fewer than 4,800 in 2024.

“Some of the larger consumer law firms and a few specialist family law brands are taking a greater share of the market through M&A and office network expansion.

“At the top end of the market are some large international law firms working on legal issues for high net-worth individuals and cross-border matters, and this part of the market continues to show healthy growth.”

IRN said that, after “years of debate”, it was expecting “some positive movements” on improved legal rights for cohabitating couples.

While the number of marriages registered in the UK remained more or less the same from 2016 to 2022, when it was 12.65m, the number of cohabitating households grew steadily over the period, from 3.18m to 3.69m.

Although the Cohabitation Rights Bill, introduced into Parliament in 2019, has stalled, the Labour Party was committed to cohabitation reform, the report said.

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