30 September 2020

Matthew Brunsdon-Tully quoted in New Law Journal on family court cases amid COVID-19

Family Partner, Matthew Brunsdon-Tully’s comments have been published in the New Law Journal article ‘COVID-19 – Impact on Family Cases’.

Matthew comments on the Family Court statistics for April – June 2020, which highlight a spike in the number of domestic violence applications submitted to the court during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and an inevitable drop in the number of financial cases before the courts as litigants pressed the pause button or looked to other forms of dispute resolution for solutions.

The full article was first published in New Law Journal and can be found here.

The Family Court has dealt with a record number of domestic abuse cases during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, while care proceedings for children lasted an extra three weeks on average and fewer children were adopted, official records show
According to the Family Court Statistics Quarterly for April to June 2020, the number of domestic violence remedy order applications increased by 24% compared to the same quarter last year, while the number of orders made rose by 17%.

The average time for a care or supervision case to reach first disposal was 36 weeks―ten more than the 26-week limit introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014, and an increase of three weeks on the previous year’s average. Only a third of cases met the time limit.

Children waiting to be adopted have also been badly affected by the pandemic. The number of adoption cases started in the courts dropped by 24%. There were 798 adoption applications during the quarter, down 35% on the previous year. The number of adoption orders issued decreased by 52% to 584.

Matthew Brunsdon-Tully, Partner at Forsters said: ‘The Family Court statistics for April – June 2020, in effect covering the period of national lockdown due to COVID-19, are extremely illuminating. In particular, domestic violence applications are up by nearly a quarter, despite the court system being more difficult to access.

‘Whilst it is depressing, albeit unsurprising, that the lockdown obviously created the conditions for abusive partners to inflict terror on their victim spouses at home, it is also heartening that the Family Court appears to have been sufficiently agile to issue the influx of applications. It is also striking that financial remedy cases in the Family Court are down by nearly one third. Again, this is unsurprising.

‘The court has adjourned, and encouraged litigants to adjourn, financial applications given the pressing need to focus resources on the vulnerable. It is also extremely difficult to value, let alone agree how to divide, financial resources in the midst of a global pandemic. However, the reduction is likely to be short lived and the pressure on the system, as these cases move through over the next few quarters (or, in the event of a second lockdown, in 2021) is likely to be overwhelming. What better advert, for other forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation and arbitration, which take cases out of the court system and enable people to resolve their disputes more cost effectively?’

Joanna Farrands, partner at Moore Barlow, said: ‘While the decrease in new family law cases is no doubt due to COVID-19 and lockdown, it will also be reflective of the move to try and resolve more matters outside of the court system with an increase in arbitration and private financial dispute resolution hearings.

‘The move to alternative dispute resolution solutions has been fast-tracked by COVID-19 and the reduction in capacity of the courts. In addition, as most court hearings are now by telephone, this often produces a less than satisfactory experience and outcome for the clients.

‘The increase in domestic violence is a sad reflection of couples being locked down together in difficult circumstances; we have seen a significant upturn in these cases in practice.’

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