The Dickensian Aspect of Family Law

“Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated, that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least; but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes, without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises. Innumerable children have been born into the cause; innumerable young people have married into it; innumerable old people have died out of it. Scores of persons have deliriously found themselves made parties in Jarndyce and Jarndyce, without knowing how or why; whole families have inherited legendary hatreds with the suit. The little plaintiff or defendant, who was promised a new rocking-horse when Jarndyce and Jarndyce should be settled, has grown up, possessed himself of a real horse, and trotted away into the other world. Fair wards of court have faded into mothers and grandmothers; … but Jarndyce and Jarndyce still drags its dreary length before the Court, perennially hopeless.”

The above is an excerpt from “Bleak House,” Charles Dickens’ gloriously epic indictment of the English Courts of Chancery system in the early 19th century. At the epicentre of the tale is Richard Jarndyce, a young man who has unexpectedly discovered that he may be the heir to the bountiful deceased estate of a relative he never knew existed. With no end to his case in sight, and with the fees for his rapacious lawyers increasing at an alarming rate, Jarndyce becomes consumed with uncertainty and anxiety about the lawsuit. Jarndyce’s stress arises out of his inability to control the outcome or even the process of the case that has deeply important consequences for him.

We see shades of Jarndyce and Jarndyce in the family courts system. If separating couples are unable to work out a division of property or their kids’ future living arrangements between themselves, then it will probably take around a year from the day an application is filed in court until the final hearing is reached, and that’s assuming that neither party has decided to embark upon interim skirmishes about the valuation of property or how the kids will spend their time in the lead up to the trial.

Once the final hearing is over, the Judge will usually reserve their judgment. All that is left to do is wait. For a month.  Or three months.  Or maybe six months. Perhaps even a year or more. This isn’t a criticism of the Judges of the family courts system. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the family law courts being amongst the busiest courts in the country.

But there is another way. It’s called collaborative law. Collaborative law is about cooperation between separating parties, not confrontation. The parties’ work together with lawyers, financial advisers, psychologists and other qualified professionals to reach a property settlement or a parenting arrangement for their children that both parties agree is for the best.

We practice and specialise in collaborative law because we honestly believe it’s a better choice than litigation for most separating couples. If you want to find out more about collaborative law, visit

And if you find yourself with a spare few weeks, you should have a crack at reading Bleak House. Its only 1090 pages.

Sam Cummings


By |2017-12-19T14:47:54+00:00June 26th, 2014|

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