In the latest bid to shake up divorce law, thousands of cases are set to be removed from the courts with the introduction of new divorce centres across England and Wales.
But is the initiative ultimately an attack on marriage? Or should it be applauded? Keystone’s Zoe Bloom shares her views.
As of next month, the vast majority of divorces processed in both England and Wales will be taken out of the courts and dealt with in one of eleven regional centres located across both countries.
Admin staff will deal with all paperwork, rather than judges, with the aim of producing faster and cheaper solutions to marriage breakdown.
The accepted reasons for filing for divorce in an English court will remain exactly as they are – with unreasonable behaviour, adultery, desertion, 5 years separation or (agreeing) couples having lived apart for a minimum of two years.
However, it is the way in which the administrative side of things is handled that will change dramatically. Instead of senior judges being forced to spend time dealing with paperwork, a number of capable yet more junior staff will be dedicated to this part of the process.
Whilst the likes of Ann Widdecombe have condemned the move, suggesting that “it makes a nonsense of marriage”, making a divorce as easy as “discarding an old carrier bag”, others claim that the idea is merely a consequence of the changing needs of today’s client.
When I first meet with people considering a divorce it is obvious that they have already spent years considering the right path for them personally and their children. It is then, a huge decision to contact me to discuss their future.
It then takes, on average, 3 months before instructions are formalised.
By that time, all clients want to achieve is the divorce and separation in terms of finances and arrangements for children. Having taken the time to make the decision, the delays which are imposed by negotiations and the court are an endless source of frustration.
Anything which seeks to streamline the process and which takes that frustration away from people, who are already in a difficult position, must be welcomed and given the chance to succeed.
The evidence from those of us dealing with divorce every day is that nobody enters it lightly.
These process changes do not alter the grounds for divorce and there will still be a level of skill, experience and training required to process the papers.
If they work, the changes can only help clients going through an already difficult time, and release court and judge time, to deal with the more complicated issues resultant from separation.
Zoe is a family lawyer with Keystone Law who specialises in advising mid to high net worth individuals on the financial implications of divorce and separation. She has particular experience in renegotiating financial settlements and challenging previous consent orders, separation agreements and pre or ante nuptial agreements.
As a trained and active collaborative lawyer, Zoe is well-placed to guide clients on the best choice of route to a successful conclusion of their matter, whether this is litigation or settlement.
Zoe is a member of Resolution and has been quoted in the national press in respect of pre-nuptial agreements.
Zoe has a background in private client and tax affairs.