The UK Family Law Market Trends Report 2021 is the seventh edition of an annual report and provides an overview of the UK family law market.
After steady growth in 2019, the sector struggled in the first half of 2020 as the pandemic took hold but recovered a little in the second half of the year. Market value growth in 2020 was 2.2% compared to over 5% in 2019.
There are better prospects for 2021 and beyond. It is only a few months before no-fault divorces become a reality and there may be some holding back on a split until these arrive. Financial problems caused by the pandemic may also be holding back some divorces. However, work in other areas is likely to drive growth, in particular Children Act work, domestic violence work, and international family law cases. Between 2020 to 2024, the market is expected to grow by an average of 4.2% per year in value terms.
Matrimonial cases (primarily divorce) are by far the largest group of cases in the family law courts - 44% of cases started - followed by Children Act cases both public and private (28% of cases started).
Divorce petitions filed in 2020 decreased in England and Wales by 4.2% and financial remedy applications fell by a similar amount - 4.7%.
In 2020, there were increases in Children Act cases and a significant increase in domestic violence cases following a large increase in 2019. Domestic violence cases started increased by 21% in 2020 following an increase of 19% In 2019.
Mediation starts increased to 7,562 in 2019/20 from 6,535 a year earlier but, in the first six months of 2020/21, numbers have decreased again. In March 2021, the MoJ introduced a voucher scheme for mediation whereby a contribution of £500 will be given to couples in qualifying mediation sessions.
The latest survey was undertaken in January/February 2021 so gives a good picture of the performance of practitioners since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. Clearly, the pandemic has had an effect with the lowest percentage of firms since the survey began generating volume and revenue growth in their family law business: in the latest survey, only half of all firms surveyed (50%) increased work volumes in the last year (compared to 63% in both 2019 and 2018).
Despite the problems of the last 12 months, a clear majority of firms involved in the family law market are optimistic about the prospects for the coming year according to the survey: 62% are predicting increased work volumes in the next 12 months although this is down on 70% in 2019. Only 8% are expecting to face decreased work volumes (5% in 2019).
- Market overview
- Family law developments in 2020/21
- Some family law practitioners struggled in 2020 but optimism looking ahead
- Over 5,000 law firms working in family law
MARKET DEVELOPMENTS AND DRIVERS
- Marriage and co-habitation trends
- Number of divorces increases to highest level for five years in 2019
- Legal aid changes have meant a decline in work and funding
- Mediation starts increasing after a number of years of decline
- High numbers of LIPs in adoption, private law, and domestic abuse cases
- No-fault divorce - almost here
- Voucher scheme introduced to help with mediation costs
- Domestic Abuse Bill in its final stages
- Cross-border divorces after Brexit
- Proposals for increased family court fees in line with inflation
- COVID-19 - the impact on family courts
- Digital versus paper divorces - statistics stopped for now
- Mixed sex civil partnerships in Scotland from 2021
- Encouragement for arbitration in Haley v Haley decision
THE KEY PLAYERS
- Solicitors - London firms
- Solicitors - Rest of the UK
- Online divorce
MARKET SIZE AND TRENDS
- Limited market growth in 2020
- Divorce cases generate the greatest volume of work in the Family Court
- Divorce petitions filed decrease in 2020
- Financial remedy applications also decrease in 2020
- Private Children Act cases continue to increase
- Volume of domestic violence work increased again in 2020
- Adoption cases are declining.
- A market worth over £2 billion by 2024
- Family law practitioner survey - optimism from most