Splitting the Assets
Documentary. A glimpse behind closed doors into the often bewildering and emotionally fraught court process for couples to reach a financial settlement following divorce.
A glimpse behind closed doors of the Family Courts, where divorcing couples are forced to struggle without the help of lawyers through the complex and emotionally fraught court process of dividing their financial assets. Anita Anand is joined by a panel of experts to explore the issues.
The Family Court financial remedy hearings are a battlefield on which couples fight over the division of property, pension rights and other financial assets. Cases involving unrepresented 'litigants in person' can culminate in the divorcing couple having to cross examine each other under oath before a judge.
Legal aid cuts have resulted in growing numbers forced to go through these often baffling proceedings without lawyers. Former high court judge and Chairman of the Marriage Foundation Sir Paul Coleridge is highly critical of the system, both for the stress it inflicts upon litigants and the unrealistic workload it place on the judiciary.
McKenzie Friend Nicola Matheson-Durrant complains that the Family Courts system is too under-resourced to provide litigants in person with the advice and support they urgently need.
Though the head of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has called for increased transparency in the Family Courts, financial remedy cases continue to go almost entirely unreported by the media. Legal academic Marc Mason says that the disappearance of lawyers in a growing number of cases has itself removed a layer of scrutiny.
Family law barrister Lucy Reed says it is important judges and lawyers are continually reminded of the emotional toll of the financial settlement process so that they don't become desensitised to litigants' stress.
Producers: Josie LeGrice and Matt Willis
An Above The Title production for BBC Radio 4.
Information and Support
Ministry of Justice
Advice on getting a divorve
Personal Support Unit (PSU)
A charity which has offices in the bigger city family courts and is run by trained volunteers. They do not give legal advice, but can help to navigate the system.
Wikivorce is a fast growing and active web community providing free access to information, support and advice for people following the breakdown of a serious relationship.
A website listing numerous pro bono legal clinics.
The Bar Pro Bono Unit
A charity which helps to find pro bono (free) legal assistance from volunteer barristers.
Litigants who do not have the help of a lawyer can take a friend into the court with them to help with paperwork and give moral support. They are not allowed to address the Judge or any other parties unless given ‘leave to speak’ by the Judge.
It is possible to buy the services of a McKenzie Friend. They are currently unregulated, so have no obligation to act in your best interests, so beware. However, many are trained paralegals or have extensive experience.
You must complete a McKenzie Friend form and present it to the Court Clerk before you go into your hearing.
There are many online groups that help people to make contact with and meet others going through similar
Advice on getting a divorce or ending a civil partnership without the help of a lawyer.