The administrative de-linking of divorce proceedings from financial remedy proceedings

20 / 06 / 2017

As from yesterday (19 June 2017), divorce proceedings across the country are being administratively “delinked” from financial remedy proceedings.

The background to this is that back in 2015, administration changes in the Court system in England and Wales, in relation to the filing and issuing of a divorce petition commenced.

For readers, the terms referred to above mean in this context as follows:

  • A “divorce petition” is the Petitioner’s (the applicant’s) application for a divorce. The application is set out on paper and includes details such as the parties’ names, addresses, dates of birth and other relevant information for the Court, such as the ground for the divorce (e.g. adultery or unreasonable behaviour or other one of the specific grounds that someone can rely on). The divorce petition also sets out what the Petitioner is asking the Court to do, namely (in part), to bring their marriage to the other person to an end.
  • Filing” means the submitting of the legal document to the Court (here, the divorce petition and other relevant documents) which starts the legal process.
  • When the Court “issue” a divorce petition they provide it with a case number and place the Court stamp on the relevant documents and then send out copies of the said documents to the people involved in the case (for example, the Petitioner (referred to above) and the Respondent (the other party to the divorce) or solicitors acting for them).

It had, prior to 2015, been usual for Petitioners to file their divorce petition at the Court most local to them and for the Court to issue it there; however, HM Courts & Tribunal Service (which is responsible for the administration of the criminal, civil and family court tribunals in England and Wales) decided to open 11 divorce centres in England and Wales to cover various areas for people to file their divorce petitions in. For example, the centre situated at Bury St Edmunds covers London and the South East.

It was said that the divorce centres would issue the majority of divorce petitions and would also deal with other stages of the divorce where appropriate. For instance, legal advisers within the divorce centres would be able to deal with many uncontested Decree Nisi applications (which is the penultimate stage of the divorce).

The idea was to release the District Judges’ time for dealing with these types of matters so that they can deal with more complicated matters and to allow for cases to progress quicker through the Court system. It was said that the District Judges would have some involvement still and would supervise the legal advisers and would deal with other matters, such as contested applications. The Judges would also deal with any financial matters.

Urgent applications would still be made at the local Courts (rather than at the divorce centres).

If however after a divorce petition had been issued at one of the divorce centres and Court proceedings were later required in connection with the divorce itself or the related financial matters, then the case would move out of the divorce centre and a hearing will then take place at a local Court, as was the case previously.

It was the entire case that moved out of the divorce centre into a local Court (including the divorce itself, i.e. not just the contested financial remedy proceedings). This resulted in delays for parties and extra administrative work for Court staff.

Further to this, a pilot study was commenced on 2 May 2017 at the South West Regional Divorce centre in Southampton.

The South West Regional Divorce Centre retained the divorce files and the financial Consent Order matters (the latter whereby people have reached an agreement in relation to finances and they are asking the Judge to consider the agreement on paper to see whether it will be approved).

The contested financial matters were then dealt with elsewhere (e.g. not at the divorce centre).

It was explained that “A separate financial remedy file, using the same case number as the divorce proceedings, will be created at the local hearing centre and HMCTS staff will ensure that the dates of any decree nisi or absolute are highlighted on the file. In the main this is the only information from the divorce suit that is required for the financial proceedings to be dealt with. Entry points for users will not change. All applications will continue to be sent to the Regional Divorce Centre that holds the main divorce proceedings before being sent to local centres”

The above pilot was found to be a success – with the delays experienced by Court users reduced by up to two weeks.

This has resulted in the administrative “de-linking” of the divorce proceedings from financial remedy proceedings being “rolled out” across the country.

Hopefully, it will continue to be a success and improve the service for Court users, as well as decrease the administrative burden on the Court staff.