Breaking up is never easy
Separating families advice needs and the future of family justice
Whilst strong and stable relationships are at the heart of family life, regrettably many relationships fail. Every year there are over 110,000 divorces in England and Wales. Many more families separate, with divorce accounting for only 20 per cent of relationship breakdowns. Relationship breakdown involves difficult decisions and distressing issues to resolve, and every year 500,000 children and adults are involved in the family justice system. The issues which need resolving range from responsibility for looking after any children and paying the child maintenance, to problems of how assets get divided, property allocated, and finances, including pensions and benefits, adjusted.
Citizens Advice Bureaux give advice and information, and assist in finding the right help to support individuals, couples and families following relationship breakdown. During 2010/11 bureaux in England and Wales helped over 90,000 clients with relationship problems relating to separation, divorce and dissolution, 52,000 clients with problems relating to children with a further 26,000 clients who raised issues concerning child support enquiries from both resident and non-resident parents.
Family problems can be financially and legally complex as well as emotionally charged. People need specialist services beyond information and advice, such as legal help, mediation, relationship counselling or parenting support. Consequently bureaux often need to make referrals to other services. A survey of enquiries to Citizens Advice Bureaux about divorce, separation or dissolution issues during the period October to December 2010 found that a majority of clients with these types of problems (54 per cent) had to be referred to family lawyers as legal advice and support was a primary need.
This report looks at family breakdown issues in context of the Government's Family Justice Review and reforms to family legal aid. By analysing evidence from issues presented to bureaux, this report finds that there is a growing advice gap in relation to family problems. The supply of information and advice to separating couples, especially from legal aid, is declining. Whilst mediation and other services can offer alternatives to legal aid, this report illustrates how legal advice and representation, money advice and good quality general advice on family issues are essential to mitigate the worst effects of family breakdown.