The well publicised demand for family lawyers after the lockdown last time has simply accelerated a problem that existed some years ago, according to family lawyers.
Reports indicate that separation enquiries, among others, have exploded as relationships have buckled under lockdown pressures.
As firms have moved away from providing family law services, combined with a reduction in the numbers taking on junior lawyers and legal aid difficulties, the so-called ‘supply line’ of family lawyers has been under siege.
Auckland-based family lawyer Selina Trigg wrote on LinkedIn that the recent publicity of a shortage of family lawyers in Nelson was a situation that existed in many areas of the country, with family lawyers stretched and demand for them increasing.
“Capacity has also been adversely effected by the complexity of the cases that present themselves to us. Clients and their families are coming to us with ever increasing complex legal, social, economic and familial dynamics,” she said.
But lawyers handling these issues need to be aware of the toll it can take on their own wellbeing.
“Family lawyers also have a responsibility to limit their caseloads out of consideration for their own mental and emotional wellbeing and to ensure they are able to commit the time required to provide a quality service to their clients.
“Much needed innovation by NZ family lawyers could help to create more capacity but that is little help to the client looking today for the urgent protection of the Court for them and their children.”
Christchurch family court lawyer Tania Cook, who represents children in child custody lawsuits, said the whole family court system was clogged.
“Most family court lawyers I speak to are trying to do their best, because children are involved, to make sure we’re trying to process the work as quickly and as effectively and as child-focused as we can. But sometimes that’s not quick enough for some people,” she said.
Similar reports come from well known family lawyer Jeremy Sutton, who reportedly has a 25 per cent increase in business since April, due to the lockdown.
He said that increase was on par with other family lawyers he knew.
The economic pressures of Covid-19 had intensified existing problems for some couples, while the pandemic had helped others realise life was short and that they were not happy in their relationship, he said.
He said the lockdown was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
‘Sometimes it’s different parenting styles, if they can see what their partner is like as a parent now they’re all just in the house – it’s a very restrictive environment. And perhaps the major thing is people are juggling children, work and their relationship at the same time,” he said.
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