Family law reform: the impact on clients

Family law reform: the impact on clients

Family analysis: Grant Howell, partner in the family law team at Charles Russell, discusses how the recent reforms have affected his practice.

What are your views on the quantity and pace of recent reforms?

It has been a lot to take on in a short time. That in itself is not a problem. Given the nature of the system, the key issue is whether the reforms make the system better both in principle and in practice.

What are your experiences from the front line?

The court system continues to struggle to deliver the efficient service clients are entitled to expect. This is in no way a criticism of those who are involved in trying to make it work. On the contrary, they are having to contend with what appear to be ever-reducing resources and an influx of litigants without the benefit of legal representation. However, waiting weeks for a decree absolute when it used to be days, or months for a financial consent order when it used to be weeks merely serves to underline the problems that are occurring.

Against this background, the need for reform is clear. It can though, for example, be difficult to predict the approach an individual judge will take as all are in new territory under the reforms to an extent. Personally, greater certainty which all had to follow would be preferred. However, I can appreciate the advantage of discretion and have seen with interest the experience in civil litigation where there has recently been a softening of the approach on costs under Mitchell due to suggested injustices where too strict a regime was applied to make deadlines real (Mitchell v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2013] EWCA Civ 1537, [2014] 2 All ER 430). There is a happy medium which needs to be found, difficult as that is to do.

Practitioners are well aware there have been significant changes but may not fully recognise how wide-ranging they are when it comes to the details of running a case. There is no alternative but to 'go back to basics' and look up the procedure until it becomes second nature over time.

How successful have the reforms been in achieving their objective?

It's too early to say. For example, attempts to shorten the timetable for financial remedy applications await full implementation of the new children process to free up the necessary time. Also, ac

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