Divorce Financial Settlements

On Wednesday 6TH March, the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, announced the Spring Budget, which many expect is likely to be the last fiscal event before 2024’s general election. As part of the budget, Hunt made a commitment of £170 million to the UK’s justice system in an attempt to make it ‘fit for the modern era’, with £55 million of this total to be allocated to the Family Courts. However, this will ultimately mean that the Ministry of Justice’s expenditure will fall next year by about half a billion pounds.

Details from the Treasury’s ‘red book’ published on the same day confirm that while the Ministry of Justice’s current operational budget for 2023-24 is £10.5 billion, the coming year has only been allocated £10 billion which is 4.8% less than the previous (Note: this still tops funding for 2022-23 which came to only £9.3 billion). However, the department’s capital budget will increase from £1.5 billion to £1.8 billion.

No Win No Fee Commercial DisputeOne of the primary aims with this new budget for the Family Courts, according to Hunt, is to offer ‘online targeted guidance and earlier legal advice, shortening wait times and supporting families through non-court dispute resolution’. Hunt referenced this is his speech when stating that, “too many legal cases, particularly in family law, should never go to court and it would cost us less if they didn’t. So we will spend £170 million to fund non-court resolution, reduce reoffending, and digitise the court process”. This initiative also apparently feeds into new policies announced by The Ministry of Justice in January of this year, which confirm the planned launch of a ‘legal advice pilot’ geared towards separating couples and designed to help them understand what impact separating could have in order to speed up a resolution.

Included within the £55 million in question is also a £12 million investment in expanding the scope of Legal Aid so that it encompasses early legal advice in private family law proceedings for parties considering an application to the court for child arrangements. The remaining sum of the overall £170 million going to the justice sector is then being distributed to rehabilitative activities in prisons (£100m) and to ‘introduce digital solutions, reducing administrative burdens in the courts’ (£15m). However, many within the legal profession have expressed marked discontent at these figures in the face of ongoing operational struggles within the sector.

The Law Society’s president, Nick Emmerson, commented on the budget by saying that, “The UK government has once again failed to address the crisis facing our justice system. Small amounts of money to the family court system for early advice are welcome, but it shows the government isn’t facing up to the challenges plaguing the justice system”. Bar chair Sam Townend KC also expressed his frustration by stating that the money is ‘a drop in the ocean in terms of what the justice sector really needs to get back to working order after years of underinvestment’. He added further:

“Court buildings are crumbling, solicitors and barristers are burned out, and victims and defendants are left in the backlogs…On the day that the senior presiding judge rightly announced a push to hear the 181 rape cases that have been delayed for over two years, it is vital that the system is properly funded so that public confidence in justice can be restored.”

While the announcement of any investment in the legal sector from the UK government is certainly to be welcomed, it evidently remains toRomain Dancre Doplsdelx E Unsplash Scaled be seen whether this relatively limited provision for the coming year will have any notable or significant positive impact. The importance of people being able to gain access to legal advice and guidance urgently in times of crisis cannot be understated, and, as such, we at Grayfords understand how essential the service we provide is. Our expert solicitors have a wealth of experience in divorces, financial arrangements, child arrangements, and other family law matters and can help you to fight for your best interests if you are facing a legal family dispute. Don’t hesitate to book your free consultation today to find out more.

Neil Graham, a Partner at Grayfords, comments as follows:  “Any funding for the Ministry of Justice and the family courts in particular is always welcome especially if it assists the heroic efforts of Judges and the Court staff to allocate the appropriate amount of time and Court resources available to cases. Some disputes and cases can only be resolved at a hearing but some may also be capable of being resolved through alternative means outside Court proceedings such as mediation, arbitration or negotiation.  It is always worth considering any of these alternative processes if it means a dispute can still be resolved fairly but more quickly and without the need to incur significant legal costs for the parties.”

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