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The Budget, family law and grandparents!

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The new Coalition Government's first budget has now come and gone, and no doubt deliberations will go on for months to come as to whether the measures outlined will have the effect they intended in reducing the country's debt, or make a difficult situation for the country even worse and compound already rising unemployment.
What is clear is that the country as a whole will have a little less in it's pocket than it did before and that no one will be able to escape contributing a little more in taxes.
What does this have to do with Family Law? Quite a lot really.
When families face hardship and stress increases, the "cracks" can start to appear and unfortunately despite best intentions and efforts of couples, separation can follow with all the implications this has for already stretched family finances and most importantly the children of such relationships, who all too often suffer the most. The current financial situation facing the country may not help matters and generally speaking when times are tough relationship separations increase.
The consequences of such stresses, bearing in mind the financial climate were recognised in November 2009 by the previous Governments Health Secretary Andy Burnham MP, who announced proposals, recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) that from April 2010 that marriage guidance and counselling would be offered to separating couples by the NHS.
Although it seems that the country will have to wait until a full Government spending review in October, it seems that most Government Departments are facing stated potential cuts of 25% or more. It will be interesting if Mr Burnham's proposals will avoid the chop.
Another department facing large cuts is The Ministry of Justice, which now has responsibility for administering "Legal Aid". An approximate national Legal Aid budget of £2 Billion makes up a tiny proportion of the total Government spending of some £687 Billion in 2010 -2011. However, that hasn't in the past and is unlikely in the future, to mean it is protected when inevitable cuts come.
Therefore, just at a time when people are at there most vulnerable, it is likely that they are going to find it increasingly difficult to find a lawyer who is able to offer them important legal advice about their situation with the assistance of Legal Aid, with a diminishing number of firms being able to offer this valuable resource.
This has not stopped the new Government putting forward proposals which will no doubt place a further burden upon the Legal Aid budget and Family Justice system as a whole, with recent suggestions by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg that Grandparents in particular may be afforded new "rights" in respect to their Grandchildren.
There is no doubt that when families separate this all too often affects relationships between children and their grandparents, in the same way that children may spend less time with a parent with whom they no longer live, but it is going to be a difficult balance for any proposals not to afford Grandparents new "rights", when those same "rights" are may not already be afforded to the Parents and those with Parental Responsibility of the children themselves.
The proposals seem to ignore the fact that Grandparents already can and regularly do seek legal advice, with or without the assistance of Legal Aid, in respect to their Grandchildren, with a successful Grandmother in the Supreme Court case of B (A Child) [2009] UKSC 5 being a very recent and obvious example.
Fortunately, Stephensons Solicitors LLP remain fully committed to Legal Aid which is a important public resource, where other firms are reducing or leaving Legal Aid work altogether, and therefore are able to provide a range of  funding options, including Legal Aid to all individuals requiring legal advice in respect to family or other matters, regardless of their income.
By family solicitor, Chris Fairhurst