Stay-at-home mums bear the brunt of Legal Aid reforms

According to new figures, the number of stay-at-home mums who are facing court battles over custody access has leapt by two thirds since legal aid reforms put in place by the coalition came into effect.

Figures released by the Ministry of Justice show that since a decision was made to remove access to legal aid in the majority of family law cases, mothers who work part-time or who stay at home have been hardest hit.

It has been just nine months since changes to Legal Aid came into effect and since then the number of women who are representing themselves in court in child custody and contact cases in England and Wales has risen by more than 10,000. According to data obtained by LawyerSupportedMediation.com under the Freedom of Information Act, 27,017 ‘unrepresented’ women were involved in applications involving their children from April to December 2013; an increase of 16,458 in comparison to same period in 2012.

This rapid rise means that for the first time the number of mothers who are facing contact or custody battles ‘unrepresented’ has overtaken fathers. During the same period, the number of fathers who represented themselves had risen from 17,291 to 22,949. In the past, more women than men tended to qualify for Legal Aid than men because of their lower incomes.

Commenting in an article for The Telegraph, The founder of LawyerSupportedMediation.com, Marc Lopatin, said: “The huge rise in the number of women representing themselves implies a great many cannot afford a divorce lawyer to represent them.

Some will be full-time mums without a wage at all, while others will be working part-time earning a modest income.”

One of Slater and Gordon’s principal lawyers, Sarah Thompson, also commented, saying: “Getting caught up in the court process can be incredibly hard on both parents.

Often people find that decisions go against them because they’ve not been able to refer the judge to the relevant legal points of their case.

They can end up getting emotional and not representing their cause in the best possible way.”

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