Major changes in the family law market but market growth expected in 2022
25 May 2022
The UK Family Law Market Trends Report 2022 is the eighth edition of an annual report from IRN Research and provides an overview of the UK family law market. The report comes at a time of major changes in the sector including the arrival of no-fault divorces, new legislation for domestic abuse cases, more encouragement for mediation, and a strong growth in online divorce applications.
Estimated revenue in the family law market increased by 4.1% in 2021 driven primarily by a strong increase in financial remedy matters needing legal advice and growth in advice for high net worth individuals plus international cases. Court backlogs were a problem pre-Covid and were exacerbated during the pandemic but these backlogs began to be addressed in 2021 and this led to an increase in family court cases completed in 2021 compared to 2020. However, new cases started declined.
One of the possible benefits of the court backlogs could be a move to more disputes settled by mediation and arbitration without the need for a court appearance. The number of professional mediators has been increasing in recent years and a new public funding initiative using vouchers to encourage more mediation was launched in 2021. Mediation starts increased in 2020/21.
The family law sector is a fragmented one and the majority of law firms are medium sized and small general practice firms. At the top end of the market are some large international law firms working on legal issues for high net worth individuals and cross border matters, a selection of large UK firms with some focusing on volume family work and others offering services relating to more complex cases. There are a growing number of specialist family law firms.
Some recent statistics for England and Wales are:
Matrimonial cases (primarily divorce) are by far the largest group of cases in the family law courts – 41% of cases started – but cases started declined in 2021 by 4.5%. Divorce petitions filed in 2021 decreased for the third year running.
Over three-quarters of all divorce petitions were filed digitally compared to only 11% in 2019, the first year of data following the launch of the MoJ’s online divorce portal.
Financial remedy applications increased significantly, by 21.6% on the previous year.
In 2021, there were decreases in Children Act and adoption cases and domestic violence case numbers were similar to 2020.
IRN Research is expecting higher value growth in the market in 2022 compared to 2021 although the arrival of no-fault divorces adds some uncertainty to the market: will this lead to more DIY divorces or will it enable more advisors to develop services that can deal with both parties together? Even if the divorce process becomes easier, it is still likely that there will be a demand for advice on financial settlements and child arrangements. International family law cases are also on the increase.
Continued court backlogs and the possibility of more transparency in court proceedings are likely to encourage more individuals to turn to arbitration and mediation.
The UK Family Law Market Report 2022 is available directly from IRN Research, priced at £200. The report can be ordered on our Reports page or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org