Splitting The Assets

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2016020320160206 (R4)

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.