More children caught in parent rows
The number of children caught in legal rows between parents rose by 14% last year to almost 140,000, new figures show.
A total of 137,480 children were involved in private family law applications in 2009, compared with 120,500 in 2008, the legal information firm Sweet and Maxwell said.
"Financial difficulties may have pushed many relationships to the brink," the firm said, adding that the longer-term rise in the number of children involved in such applications may be a result of social trends affecting the stability of families.
"While the costs involved mean that couples may compromise over their finances rather than going to court, questions about which parent the child lives with, who they spend Christmas or the school holidays with, and how much access each parent has, are highly emotionally charged."
Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said last month that the Government plans to axe legal aid funding for a wide range of disputes, restricting it to cases where life or liberty is at stake.
Funding for private family law cases will be cut in a move that could save £178 million per year, he said.
But exceptions will be made for those cases that involve domestic violence, forced marriage or child abduction, and funding will still be available for mediation as a means to resolve disputes.
Speaking last month, Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said: "We are now actively looking at ways we can make sure everyone who wants to issue family proceedings is aware of mediation and has the opportunity to find out about it and consider it as a way to resolve their disputes."
Mediation "can be quicker, cheaper and provide better outcomes than going to court", he has said.
Resolving a property or finance dispute caused by separation costs about £1,000 on average through mediation, compared with £4,000 through the courts, and takes about 110 days, as opposed to 435 days for non-mediated cases.