Ministry of Justice (MoJ) publishes Family Court statistics for April-June 2022
The statistics revealed an exponential rise in divorce petitions between April and June 2022 following the introduction of the new no-fault legislation in April of this year.
In this period, there were 33,234 applications made under the new law – 78% from sole applicants, 22% from joint applicants. There were 33,566 applications altogether made under both old and new laws.
This represents an increase of 22% from the same quarter in 2021 and represents the highest number of applications in a decade.
“A rise in petitions being filed is a clear indicator of the effects that no-fault divorce law has had on people across the country,” said Joanna Farrands, partner and divorce lawyer at Moore Barlow. She continued:
“Before its long-awaited introduction in the Spring, couples were delaying taking action to divorce in favour of the new, less acrimonious process – allowing them to focus on who and what matters the most. It’s clear from today’s figures that we’re starting to see the fruits of this seismic change to family law take centre stage, with more people seeking an amicable way forward from their marriage.
With the cost of living crisis continuing to bite, favouring a more amicable and harmonious approach to divorce process. Traditionally, we see a spike in divorce cases as we head into the latter stages of the year as people reassess their lifestyle and priorities after the summer holiday period. However, with the influx of cases already appearing since April, it’s already shaping up to be quite the divorce season.”
The time taken for divorce proceedings has also risen. Under the old divorce law, the mean average time from the date of petition to decree nisi was 36 weeks, up 12 weeks from the same period in 2021. The mean average time from petition to decree absolute was 56 weeks, up 7 weeks from the equivalent quarter in 2021.
The MoJ said these increases have been impacted by resourcing issues which have led to backlogs. “We have continually voiced our concern about the backlogs in the family courts. Delays can cause significant harm and uncertainty for the parties involved,” said Law Society President I. Stephanie Boyce. She added:
“HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has previously estimated that it may take three years to return to pre-pandemic levels, which is very worrying, particularly for cases that concern children and family matters.”
Also commenting on this was Katie O’Callaghan, Partner in Boodle Hatfield’s Family team:
“The family court system has been cut off from the funding it so desperately needs for too long. In spite of the myriad of challenges it has faced, the system adjusted as best it could during the pandemic. Having said this, it is abundantly clear that budgets need to be increased and more judges need to brought in to deal with the growing backlog of cases. The restitution of legal aid would also go a considerable way in helping cases get resolved in a more timely fashion. Those who can are resorting to private methods of resolving disputes in order to avoid waiting months or even years for finality. Regrettably, this is not an option for everyone.”
As to the time taken under the new legislation, the MoJ said they “will not be commenting on timeliness for ‘new divorce’ cases until there are substantial numbers of conditional/final orders made”.
Divorce is also becoming increasingly digital. There were 32,972 petitions made during April to June 2022. This was 98% of the total, up from 72% in the same period of 2021. The average time to decree nisi for April to June 2022 was 18 weeks, and 29 weeks from petition to decree absolute.
There were 9,239 financial remedy applications made in April to June 2022, down 31% from the same period in 2021, while there were 8,253 financial remedy disposals events, down 26%. During this period, 71% of applications were uncontested and 29% were contested.
In April to June 2022, there were 7,791 domestic violence remedy applications, up by 6% on the same quarter in 2021 requesting a total of 8,911 orders.
Most of the orders applied for were non-molestation orders (84%) compared to occupation orders (16%); these proportions have remained relatively consistent in recent years. Applications for non-molestation and occupation orders in April to June 2022 were both up, by 6% and 15% respectively, compared to the same period in 2021.
There were 9,232 domestic violence orders made in April to June 2022, down 3% from the same period last year. 95% were non-molestation orders and 5% were occupation orders, with non-molestation orders down by 2% and occupation orders down by 11% compared to the equivalent quarter in 2021.
During April to June 2022, there were 980 adoption applications made, down 8% from the equivalent quarter in 2021. Over the same period, the number of adoption orders issued also decreased by 15% to 986.
During April to June 2022, 55% of all adoption orders were issued to mixed-sex couples, 21% to sole applicants, 18% to same-sex couples and 6% to step-parents.
There were 4,099 public law cases starting in April to June 2022, similar to the equivalent quarter in 2021. Cases disposed were down 15% to 3,531.
There were 6,750 individual children involved in new public law applications in April to June 2022, down 3% on the same quarter in the previous year, while the number of applications made decreased by 4%.
The number of private law cases started decreased by 7% (to 13,002) in April to June 2022 compared to the equivalent quarter in 2021. The number of applications made decreased by 7% over the same period.
The number of private law cases disposed of during April to June 2022 was down 12% on the equivalent quarter in 2021, with the number of disposals down by 16%.
In April to June 2022, it took on average 46 weeks for private law cases to reach a final order, i.e. case closure, up 6 weeks from the same period in 2021 and the highest value in the MoJ’s series. This continues the upward trend seen since the middle of 2016, where the number of new cases overtook the number of disposals.
Forced Marriage Protection Orders
Overall, there is a long-term upward trend from their introduction in November 2008 until the end of 2019.
In April to June 2022, there were 66 applications, of which 70% of applications were for people aged 17 and under. Over the same period, there were 84 orders made, down 5% since the same period from the previous year.
Female Genital Mutilation Protection Orders
As with FMPOs, the number of applications and orders made for female genital mutilation protection orders (FGMPOs) is very small, with only 10 applications and 13 orders made respectively in April to June 2022. In total, there have been 539 applications and 764 orders made up to end of June 2022, since their introduction in July 2015.
In general, cases where either both parties or the respondent only had legal representation took longer to be disposed of than those cases where only the applicant was represented or where both parties were without legal representation.
The proportion of disposals where neither the applicant nor respondent had legal representation was 39%, increasing by 25% since January to March 2013, and up 1% from April to June 2021.
Correspondingly, the proportion of cases where both parties had legal representation went from 41% in January to March 2013 to 19% in April to June 2022, down 2% compared to the same period in 2021.
I. Stephanie Boyce concluded:
“In most cases, LiPs require more time and support from the court, which is likely to slow down the system and increase overall costs. Re-instating legal aid for early advice and representation would make a cost-effective contribution to resolving the backlogs in the family courts.
Restoring early legal advice for family law cases would also mean fewer cases would go to court. LiPs tend to mean cases take a lot longer, so having representation for those who do end up in court would also reduce the backlogs.”
To access the full set of data and tables/graphs, click here.