Like many other aspects of everyday life, the family courts have been badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic and divorcing couples may find they must endure a significant wait if their case needs to go to court. However, as a way of hopefully reducing ongoing delays, the government has launched a £1 million voucher scheme for mediation services in England and Wales.
While family lawyers and divorce solicitors are largely in favour of alternative dispute options for separating couples in order to reduce the stress and, at present, adversarial nature of divorce cases, it is hoped that this incentive plan does not cause some parties to agree terms which are not in their best interests, particularly those with reduced income or reduced means of seeking income following a divorce.
The importance of seeking early family law legal advice and, where possible, settling non-contentiously – for example, via alternative dispute resolution such as mediation – has been brought to the fore by the latest estimates from HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) which show that it is likely to take around three years for courts to return to pre-Covid caseload levels.
Inevitably, this means that there is a significant backlog, and The Family Justice Board acknowledged as much when it indicated that it both needs to tackle “immediate pressures” and to initiate the process of implementing longer-term reform.
The first working Monday of the New Year has, through the experience of divorce lawyers, come to be known as “divorce day”. This is because, typically, Christmas and New Year tends to bring struggling relationships to an inevitable and irreversible breaking point.
However, divorce day 2021 was always likely to be different to recent years because the lockdowns and associated pressures of 2020 had already resulted in many failing marriages to have ended.
Brexit’s likely impact on the popularity of England’s family court system for cross-border and international divorce cases has reportedly led to a surge in such applications and the resulting divorce cases being heard in the run-up to the Brexit transition.
The end of the year will bring an end to the UK’s participation in a long-standing EU agreement under which cross-border divorce rulings made in one EU state are automatically recognised in another; an agreement which has seen London earn the reputation as the so-called “divorce capital of the world”.
A recent High Court divorce financial settlement case, OG v AG  EWFC 52, was notable in a number of ways that may prove instructive to family lawyers and their divorce clients in similar cases in the future. Some of the most enlightening points considered by Mostyn J, Francis J and Cohen J in their commentary on the divorce financial settlement case include the following: