There is not a day that goes by when someone does not ask the question of me as a divorce lawyer. “What is the impact of the recession on divorcing couples or cohabitees”. The answer is, that despite belief that the recession would cause people to stay together it has in fact had the opposite effect.
It would seem that lack of money has been the deciding factor or the straw that has broken the camel back where couples have been considering divorce. Accordingly there has been a significant increase in the number of divorcing couples over the last two years to the extent that the Head of the Family Division expressed his despair at the avalanche of broken marriages.
Because of the virtual eradication of legal aid (legal funding) many couples have decided to act in person without legal help. This has not only led to chaos within the Court system, but also to some clients instructing lawyers at the last moment before Final Hearings, in panic, having failed to properly prepare their cases. This has led to difficulties for the parties and in some cases hearings having to be adjourned over with further costs.
It is imperative that those who are embarking on divorce or relationship breakdown should take legal advice so that they at least know and understand the process and the parameters for a settlement. For some going through the divorce process, mediation will help to negotiate a settlement, however for some mediation is not the panacea for everything and has led to a sense of frustration and duplication of costs.
Mediation can only work if both parties make full and proper disclosure and are both willing to cooperate in the process. It is ironic that since the Court introduced an obligatory form of mediation before financial proceedings can be issued, that the number of people going to mediation has fallen. As a mediator I believe mediation has its place but only when the parties have received full disclosure and legal advice.
Some men use the recession as an excuse to try to obtain more favourable settlements. The courts will recognise those who have a genuine drop in profits and those who are simply “trying it on”. As a result forensic accountants are being used ever more, to flush out those who are telling the truth and those who are conveniently exaggerating their financial position. The Courts do not think kindly towards people who misrepresent the position in these times.
It is imperative in times of recession that cases are prepared properly with directions being followed so that there is no waste of judicial time or client?s money. It is for this reason that the Courts have in the last few weeks, issued directives to all lawyers of how to prepare the cases properly to avoid greater upset and frustration.
It is also imperative at a time of recession that expectations of settlements are realistic. If finance is not there, lifestyles will have to be changed accordingly. Reality must be applied when one household has to be divided into two.