Changes to divorce legislation
There has recently been a significant change in the way divorces take place. Previously it was district judges who would consider divorce proceedings but now, the task of considering most uncontested decree nisi applications will fall to legal advisors.
Legal advisors will undertake this new responsibility in 11 divorce centres across England and Wales, which have been created by HM Courts and Tribunals Service.
The change comes as a result of the Family Justice Review, which led to the creation of the single Family Court. Rather than having separate geographical areas like the county courts it replaced, the Family Court is a single jurisdiction for all of England and Wales.
Once the Family Court was established, the Crime and Courts Act 2013 bestowed legal advisors with the power to consider decree nisi applications as well as directions for trial. This led HM Courts and Tribunals Service to agree, along with the Ministry of Justice and the President of the Family Division, to allow uncontested divorce applications to be considered by legal advisors within the new divorce centres.
Following the recent changes to legal aid, more separating parents have been standing unrepresented in court. The new system may help to lessen the burden of a lack of legal representation in a large number of cases.
The changes mean that most straightforward, routine divorces will be dealt with by legal advisors. The idea is to make the process more efficient and reduce the amount of time spent in the legal system.. Additionally, it’s hoped the change will mean services are improved and the likelihood of fraud is reduced.
The 11 divorce centres are all part of the Family Court and are found throughout England and Wales. In Wales, they’re in Neath, Newport and Wrexham. For those in the Midlands, there are centres in Nottingham and Stoke, while those in the North West will use the Liverpool centre. The North East is serviced by centres in Durham, Harrogate, Bradford and Doncaster. Finally, London and the South have centres in Bury-St-Edmunds and Southampton. Some of the centres are already active while a few are still waiting to open.
Despite the new centres and legal advisors’ new powers, the actual process of applying for a divorce isn’t set to change. If a divorce petition is uncontested, it will be prepared by a legal advisor, while more complex divorces will be dealt with by on-site district judges.
Applications to dissolve civil partnerships will also eventually be dealt with by the same centres, although the timeframe for this particular change has not yet been decided. Applications for divorce made under the Children Act will be made to the family judge who presides over the area where the children live.
These changes may ultimately help speed up the process of applying for divorce. Enlisting the support of legal advisors to plough through the everyday divorce applications and leaving district judges to focus on the trickier cases could save both time and money, and even allow the divorce process to become a little less stressful.