PensionsAug 20 2021

Advisers warned divorcing clients could spend years 'in limbo'

Search sponsored by
Advisers warned divorcing clients could spend years 'in limbo'

Advisers have been warned any clients they have currently divorcing could face years "in limbo" because of Covid-19 delays.

Law firm Irwin Mitchell said ongoing delays could leave families without a resolution for years to come, which is why it was championing ‘friendly’ alternatives which bypass court delays.

Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service has estimated that “even with an increase in the number of sitting days, it may be another three years before the private law backlog returns to the pre-Covid-19 levels”.

At the end of 2020, backlogs in private law had increased by 18 per cent since before the March lockdown. Those cases being heard were being concluded over an average of 29 weeks.

Private disputes involving children settled in court are not expected to recover from backlogs until 2023. 

“While people double-vaccinated no longer have to self-isolate, the damage has already been done,” said Ros Bever, head of family law at Irwin Mitchell.

“The knock-on effect means cases have been waiting for their time in court for months on end, only to have them cancelled at the last minute. 

“Parents and their children have been left waiting months or even years to find out custody arrangements, while some financial cases are in complete limbo.”

He concluded: “We need to think about other solutions if we’re to help our clients to resolve their issues as quickly and smoothly as possible.”

Irwin Mitchell conducted a survey which found more than a third (35 per cent) of divorcees are still not being presented with alternative dispute resolution as an option, despite the fact it could seriously alleviate the UK’s overwhelmed court system.

This could include mediation for divorce or child contact arrangements. The former arrangement is where a couple meets with a trained, neutral mediator to agree on a financial settlement and childcare arrangements.

The latter allows a couple to dictate where and when the non-resident parent will see and have contact with their child, without the need to go to court.

Lisa Conway-Hughes, an adviser at Westminster Management, agreed avoiding the courts was "always ideal".

For her, the focus with clients is always about "getting a really good understanding of what the financial agreement actually means to them for the rest of their life". She continued: "Cash flow modelling is such an important tool and can offer perspective over what you are disagreeing on."

Emma Collins, a partner at law firm Weightmans, said there "has been to steer clients more towards various forms of alternative dispute resolution to take control over the process and reduce delay".

She continued: "For example arbitration – effectively a private court where the clients can choose their ‘judge’ and fix a timetable around their specific case needs and availability rather than uncertain court availability."