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January Could See Spike In Divorces As Legal Aid Cuts Due To Take Hold

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Cuts to Legal Aid for family law cases will place added pressures on couples separating and divorcing this year, warns Vanessa Fox, head of the family law team at hlw Keeble Hawson and Chair of South Yorkshire Resolution.

ArgumentJanuary is when many couples with marriage difficulties choose to make a fresh start, with many family lawyers reporting it is their busiest month of the year.

The intensity and pressure of the festive period, together with couples with children delaying difficult decisions until after Christmas, regularly leads to a rise in divorce figures at this time of year.

This year, however, the numbers are expected to be skewed by the imminent cuts to Legal Aid. With public funding no longer available for many family cases from April this year, Resolution’s members are concerned that those who would previously have qualified for Legal Aid may end up falling through the cracks after April.

Vanessa Fox says: “It’s a worrying time. In a survey of Resolution’s members, most Legal Aid practitioners believed less than a quarter of their cases would continue to be eligible for public funding after April this year. This may help the Government cut spending, but there’s a bigger social cost in the long run.”

The lack of access to legal advice could see an increase in drawn-out courtroom battles; increased acrimony; and, most worryingly, a detrimental impact on children. Resolution is an organisation of family law practitioners who are committed to helping separating couples resolve their disputes with the minimum of conflict, encouraging them to put any children’s needs first.

Vanessa Fox continues: “Resolution members - particularly those taking on Legal Aid cases – certainly don’t see busy periods as a cause for celebration. Indeed, any rise we see this year could be the tip of the iceberg, as we could see just as many people next year who are not able to access advice that helps support them through their separation.

Vanessa encourages those facing separation and divorce to speak with a Resolution member about their options, regardless of whether they currently qualify for Legal Aid.

“Divorce and separation will always be a painful time, but it doesn’t need to be the bitter fight you often see in the media, taking years to settle and costing the couple huge sums of money. There are affordable and effective ways that you both can reach an agreement, ensuring any children’s best interests are put first and that the courtroom is avoided wherever possible.

“Resolution recently published a guide to these options, called Separating Together, and I would urge anyone who is facing separation or divorce to read this before going any further.

“Many of our members will offer a free or fixed-price initial meeting to talk through your options, so even if you will no longer qualify for Legal Aid, it’s well worth talking to a Resolution member about a way forward that works for you, as it could end up saving you money.”

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