The Covid-19 impact on family law


With Brexit’s end of EU transition period looming alongside the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the only certainty we have currently is that we all will continue to face challenges and setbacks throughout the coming months. 

The pandemic has also brought about numerous socio and economic changes to family life which we’re seeing come through an average 25% uptick in new family law-focused legal matters during September compared to January, based on our Quilldex analysis.

The escalating curve of family law

Quilldex statistics are based on new matter openings from an anonymised sample of Quill practice management software users. Its data make for comforting reading in family law from a legal marketplace post-lockdown recovery perspective. To pinpoint a few headline figures, using the first day of January as a baseline, activity in April and May dipped to an average 64% and 77% respectively. From June onwards, activity has rebounded to a somewhat modest 91% level in June, continuing to rise to the highest points in August and September, recording 115% and 125% in their respective months.

Widespread court closures, a post-lockdown backlog, financial uncertainty and the emotional pressures of isolation, exacerbated by illness or poor mental health, are seen as the likely causes of this upsurge in family law.

Lessons from the past

January is typically the most popular time of year for starting divorce proceedings, with 7th January being dubbed ‘divorce day’ in the UK within legal circles. According to HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), there were 455 online divorce applications submitted between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day in 2019/20.

Family lawyers correctly anticipated that with families spend lengthy periods of time together due to Covid, there would be similar spikes in the lockdown months particularly but carrying on throughout 2020.

Correspondingly, in its weekly operational management information up to August 2020, HMCTS reports the pre-Covid baseline at 3,937 receipts of divorces, public and family law cases. This peaked at 4,728 or 120% in July. In comparison to Quilldex’s 25% rise by September, it’s predicted this figure will increase further still in HMCTS’s September results, when they become available.

Historical Office for National Statistics data further supports Quilldex’s findings. Recession is another factor that tends to increase divorce rates. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and with Brexit’s deadline imminent, a long-drawn-out recession is pretty much guaranteed. Based on the past, then, these economic factors will present themselves in divorce statistics over the months ahead too.

So, while courts resume operations and family lawyers get ever busier, the backlog, current workload and further expected increases in activity combine to continue this upward trend well into the foreseeable future.

Day-to-day functioning of family lawyers

In the meantime, law firms are still largely running with dispersed workforces. The modern solicitor’s workstation is any combination of a desk in the spare bedroom, dining room table, breakfast bar, lounge settee, wherever.

Having the right technology at every employee’s fingertips has become absolutely essential to maintain as close-to-normal operations as possible. Cloud-hosted software and mobile apps have become the norm for the majority.

Where family specialists are concerned, there are other now-essential systems to make the unmanageable manageable; these being electronic legal forms covering the full spectrum of family matters, e-signature and document sharing functionality for better remote client collaboration, and bundling tools to streamline court pack production, for example.

In sum, our daily routines are disrupted and we’re living in extreme circumstances. For family lawyers, the impact is twofold – difficulties in the way they work and a heavier caseload. And there’s no end in sight as yet. But if there’s one thing we’ve learnt about the law in 2020, it’s unwavering resilience to overcome the odds.

At Quill, we’re always on hand to help in any way we can to help speed up the lives of family lawyers. Our solutions are proven to streamline businesses. That’s exactly what law firms need to navigate the uncharted waters of 2020 and beyond.