Family law market developments

Posted on: December 29, 2011

We are all aware at the pace of change within the family law market and appreciate the need to keep up to date with all the latest statistics and developments. Here’s some of the items I have picked up recently:

Divorce increasing again

The number of couples divorcing has increased for the first time in almost a decade. There’s a 5% increase in marital breakdowns to almost 114,000 last year. One in 10 couples will never reach their silver anniversary and one in 12 marriages from 2005 is over. Government statisticians linked the number of divorces to the 2008 banking crisis and the sharp recession that followed it – saying that the pattern was following the one seen in the aftermath of the early Nineties recession. Divorces last year were highest amongst men and women aged 40 to 44.

Silver separation

Marketing Week magazine had a major feature on the over-60s rising divorce rate in December which they call “silver separators”. ONS figures show over 13,700 over-60s were granted a divorce in 2009, up 4% in two years. Apparently, the segment is cash rich, already collecting a pension and looking for new experiences providing an opportunity for dating sites, travel agents, cruise operators, home decorators and cosmetic surgeons. They also use social media. Women are most likely to initiate the divorce once the children have “flown the nest”. Schillings law firm indicated that the segment was also being targeted for pre-nuptial agreements particularly important for “start over dads” who go on to have a second family.

Over 65s added £40bn to the UK economy in 2010 according to charity WVRS. Last year, the Family Planning Association, the sexual health charity, launched what it claimed was the first ever awareness campaign aimed specifically at over-50s divorcees.

Impact of one parent families

One in three couples separate before their child reaches five years of age compared with one in 11 married couples. A child growing up in a one parent family is 75% more likely to fail at school, 70% more likely to become a drug addict, 50% more likely to have an alcohol problem and 35% more likely to be unemployed as an adult. Children of married parents are far less likely to suffer serious abuse or mental health problems, abuse alcohol or drugs or become delinquent.

Co-Operative Legal Services enters family market

In November, there were also reports that the Co-Op has hired three senior family lawyers as directors as part of the preparations to become an ABS (Alternative Business Structure). From June 2012 it will focus largely on serving low income customers who are not eligible for Legal Aid. They plan to have fixed prices for everything. The SRA indicates that it is in discussion with 50 businesses on ABS which cannot grant licences until it has its own in January 2012.

Mills & Reeve “family friendly fees”

Early in November, The Lawyer magazine ran an article about Mills & Reeve providing fixed-price family services. This includes stages fees for divorce litigation that could be calculated up front to offer clients certainty over long term costs. The firm is also introducing online instruction forms so clients will have access to their files wherever they are. It is also piloting the use of a family psychiatrist for clients – although I would point one of my clients in the West End (Seddons) has been working with The Priory to provide integrated psychology services for some time and other firms have been offering similar services for a while. A final point in the article was that the Legal Ombudsman’s Office indicates that one in every five complaints in the past year related to costs.

Family issues affecting retention of barristers

At the beginning of December, I spotted an article in the Evening Standard reporting that a senior figure at the Bar Standards Board was “annoyed” that there wasn’t a Bar nursery near Temple to help barristers combine work and family. The Bar Council is concerned about the relatively low number of women reaching the highest levels of the legal profession (despite women accounting for more than half of those entering the profession) and one reason is the difficulty of retaining women once they have children. I would have thought that the idea commuting into Central London with a baby or small child would be a deterrent rather than an incentive to return to work.

I’m bracing myself for the onslaught of lawyer campaigns focused on “National Divorce Day” – the post Christmas peak that occurs on 4th January.

 

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