Growing numbers of adults are opting to do nothing about family law problems to avoid the stress of going to court without a lawyer.
A report from Citizens Advice – Standing alone: going to the family court without a lawyer – found that seven in 10 people would ‘think twice’ about taking a case to court by themselves.
More than half of the Citizens Advice network said they had seen an increase in the number of people choosing not to resolve their family problems since legal aid cuts were introduced in 2013.
The report said that distrust of lawyers, exacerbated by stories in the media about ‘fat cat’ lawyers who overcharge and under-deliver, also put them off.
Where people went to court themselves, seven in 10 advisers said that the experience of being a litigant-in-person exacerbated existing mental health issues and caused people’s physical health to suffer.
Almost half (47%) of advisers reported that it also put extra pressure on people’s relationships with their employers and 71% said it adversely affected relationships with family friends.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: ‘For people representing themselves in the family courts, whether in a divorce case or to keep the legal right to see their children, the workload to prepare can be unmanageable. In extreme cases people are quitting their job so they have the time to do research before going to court.
‘The stress of making your case against qualified barristers and navigating complex court processes without the right guidance can make existing mental and physical health problems worse. If people representing themselves in court knew where they could get reliable information online or face to face this could help cut down the time they need to prepare.’