Divorce by Desertion Up By One-Third After Legal Aid Withdrawal 

Published on 09 October, 2017 | Back to News/Press

James Brown

The decision to withdraw Legal Aid is being blamed for a dramatic increase in couples divorcing on the grounds of desertion.

Research by one of the country’s leading family law firms has established that although the number of divorces in England and Wales dropped by 14 per cent over the last five years, 34 per cent more spouses argued that they had been abandoned by their partners during the same period.

James Brown, the Managing Partner of Hall Brown Family Law, suggested that the analysis of official figures was another indication of the impact of the decision to limit public funding for all but a small proportion of divorces.

He added that the absence of guidance to separating spouses choosing to represent themselves meant that divorce was also becoming more stressful because of the time taken to conclude the process.

“The findings are startling, given that desertion has long been regarded as a little-used reason for divorce.

“Whilst the actual numbers of couples arguing abandonment are less than one per cent of all divorces, the fact that there has been so striking an increase begs the question as to the reason for such a pattern.

“I don’t believe that there have necessarily been more spouses suddenly and permanently exiting marriages.

“This trend would, however, appear to coincide with the withdrawal of Legal Aid, something which the Ministry of Justice itself acknowledges has resulted in a rise in the number of couples either opting to or being obliged to represent themselves.

“Official statistics also make clear that more so-called Litigants in Person means divorces are taking longer to conclude. Even a relatively straightforward divorce, guided by lawyers who are familiar with the process, can be stressful for the couple involved.

“Despite the fact that courts are doing their best to accommodate and support those representing themselves, I fear that the delays which obviously are occurring will only add to the tension.”

Mr Brown described how the Hall Brown study involved the detailed consideration of the latest figures produced by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Office for National Statistics (ONS).

They revealed that in 2015, that 717 divorce petitions were filed on the basis of desertion. Even though the number appears small in comparison to the main grounds for divorce, it reverses the continual decline from 1985, when more than 1,900 spouses successfully argued that they had been abandoned.

New figures published by the MoJ this month [September 2017] illustrated that 36 per cent of private law cases between April and June this year involved no formal legal representation – up 19 per cent on the same period in 2013.

The Ministry has also conceded that cases with Litigants in Person were taking longer to conclude than those in which one or both parties were represented.

Mr Brown, whose firm handled almost 300 divorces in the last year, pointed out that further data released by the MoJ in April demonstrated that 40 per cent of divorce petitions were rejected because they had been completed incorrectly – another complication, he argued, of the rise in Litigants in Person.

Even though, the MoJ had introduced a new and simpler divorce form in August, he said it had only created fresh problems with the likelihood of more individuals being cited in adultery proceedings.

“Leaving aside the emotion involved, divorce can sometimes appear to be a tricky administrative process, even for experienced lawyers.

“I feel that there should be more support for those spouses acting on their own, in order to tackle the issues which we have tracked.”

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