Home / The Rix & Kay Blog / Delays in Family Courts: Impact on Children and Families
Rebecca Jones

Partner - West Kent (Hadlow)

18th September 2023

Delays in Family Courts: Impact on Children and Families

Family breakdowns are never easy, especially when delays in family courts slow the process of getting the legalities in order. Parents often hope for an amicable resolution, but sometimes, disagreements are so profound that the courts must step in to make decisions about where the children will live. Unfortunately, a concerning backlog of cases in England and Wales is leaving tens of thousands of children in limbo after their parents’ separation.

Long waits for young lives

Data from Cafcass reveals a distressing truth: children involved in private family law cases may wait an average of 47 weeks for a final decision on their living arrangements. This delay exceeds the recommended government target of 26 weeks, and leaves families in limbo for almost a year.

The situation is even more dire in some areas. In a quarter of regions, family proceedings in private law cases take double the recommended time, with the longest delays recorded in east London and Norwich, where waiting times reached a staggering 60 weeks during the first three months of this year.

Why is there a family court crisis?

Several factors contribute to the crisis in the family court system:

Pandemic and backlogs

Delays began escalating in 2016, and have been exacerbated by the pandemic. While family courts adapted to video-style hearings during the pandemic, a significant backlog remained.

Societal issues

Complex problems such as mental health issues, substance and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, and poverty often lead to family court cases. Societal changes, including economic challenges following the pandemic, have further complicated these issues.

Cuts to support funding

Resources and funding for family support services have dwindled. Services for domestic abuse victims and mental health support are struggling to meet demand, making it difficult for families to access essential help.

Legal Aid

The absence of adequate legal representation contributes to delays. Legal aid is only available for specific cases, leaving many parents without financial support for legal representation, which can increase the amount of court time that is needed to resolve cases.

How family court delays are impacting children and families

The Children Act emphasises that a child’s welfare should be the primary consideration in family court cases. Delays in private law proceedings can prejudice a child’s welfare by causing prolonged uncertainty.

Quick resolutions are crucial, especially when determining a child’s place of residence, as they provide stability and prevent prolonged anxiety. In cases involving allegations of domestic abuse, delays can heighten the anxiety of individuals providing evidence about their suffering.

Plans to tackle the family court crisis

The courts recognise the need to better address the needs of children and parents involved in family disputes. Some supportive measures include:

  • Mediation First: Except in emergencies or cases involving domestic abuse, parents are typically required to attempt mediation before court proceedings.
  • Pilot Programs: Initiatives in North Wales and Dorset aim to engage separated parents in conflict to resolve disputes through a holistic, multi-agency approach, outside of court.
  • Restoring Early Legal Advice: The Law Society advocates for the government to restore early legal advice support in family law cases to help parents understand their rights and options.

Emotional support matters

Seeking emotional support to help families get through the stress of a separation and ensuring that they are emotionally ready to deal with the issues arising out of a separation can also be crucial to reaching an agreement. Such support can be accessed through counselling or therapy.

As legal professionals, we are committed to helping our clients navigate these challenging times and advocate for timely and just resolutions for their families. It’s crucial to understand that not all cases are suitable for mediation or negotiation through solicitors. When parents hold vastly different views on what arrangements are in the children’s best interests, the court is often the only path to resolution. More must therefore be done to increase court capacity for these cases and ensure the well-being of children and families remains a top priority.

To learn more about how our Family Law team can assist you, we invite you to contact us and schedule an initial consultation. This confidential meeting, which can be conducted in person, over the phone, or through a virtual meeting, will allow our experienced solicitors to gain a comprehensive understanding of your specific needs. We are here to provide the trusted guidance and representation you need during this challenging time.

Contact us

We’re here to support you through all of your family law needs. If you need guidance through the family court system, reach out to Rebecca Jones, a Partner on our Family Law team, via e. RebeccaJones@rixandkay.co.uk, or t. 01732 440856