What happens when couples going through a divorce, having to sort out child support, the future of the matrimonial home, or even pension splitting upon divorce, have no access to a family lawyer? I have talked before about what may happen when legal aid is withdrawn from family law.
My gut instinct tells me, and any other family lawyer you ask, that the withdrawal of legal aid will lead to more people trying to sort it out themselves – the DIY divorce route – or representing themselves in court (as litigants in person). The court system is already struggling with budget cuts and is ill-equipped to deal with an upsurge in self-reppers.
Gut instinct is fine but it’s always helpful to see some objective evidence and I therefore read, with keen interest, the results of a study sponsored by Simpson Millar Solicitors which can be found here. The stand out headline is that 65% of women and 53% of men in Leeds and Manchester would try to get by on their own in a divorce situation.
I am very troubled by this stat. God knows how two spouses, both unrepresented, can sort out complex issues around the kitchen table. I can just imagine the conversations where words like ‘clean break’ will be bandied around without any understanding of the long-term consequences for both spouses and their children should they actually end up with a clean break.
The challenge for the legal profession is how to preserve access to justice and mitigate some of the worst effects of family breakdown: like the provision of expert legal advice. Some of us in the legal profession still give a damn about this even though it’s clear the Government doesn’t. The majority of the retail operators about to move into the legal market (estimated value £25 billion) have not come from a background or training that still sees ‘the law’ and the profession of lawyer as offering society something more valuable than a ‘commodity’. These retailers will cherry pick the best bits and won’t give a second thought for Kevin and Tracy sitting around the kitchen table in Manchester and Leeds.