Family lawyers have warned that cuts in legal aid have led to many parents losing faith in the system with some starting to take the law into their own hands.
Figures released by CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) have shown a drop in the number of private family law cases.
There were 2,928 new cases in July 2014, which was a 36% fall from the same month the previous year.
Legal aid cuts for most private family law cases began in April 2013. There is still public funding available for mediation. However, figures from the Ministry of Justice show the number of cases referred to mediation have plummeted.
Simon Bethel, chair of Resolution’s children committee, and Naomi Angell, chair of the Law Society’s family law committee, believe the downturn is due to the cut in legal aid for private family cases.
Mr Bethel said: “Rather than receiving expert help to try and secure working shared care arrangements for their children, they (parents) are giving up.
“This drop in court applications could mean that there are more separated families where children are needlessly missing out on a relationship with one of their parents, which has long-term repercussions for the child and for their family.”
Ms Angell believes that many people are not aware that legal aid is still available to them. She says they feel forced to either give up on their children or to abduct them.
She said: “We were always worried that the cuts would mean that out of desperation people would take things into their own hands.
“I am absolutely certain that children are being denied access to their parents – which seriously undermines the concept of shared parenting being introduced by the Children and Families Bill.”
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