username

password

Harcourt ChambersDNA Legal1 Garden CourtFamily Law Week Email Subscriptionimage of 4 Paper Buildings logoCoram ChambersGarden Courtsite by Zehuti

Changes to Divorce Process: An Update

Court Users’ meeting on Wednesday 24 June at Central Family Court

Members of the judiciary and senior civil servants gave an update on changes to the divorce process at a meeting at Chancery Lane on 18 June, organised by the Law Society's Family Section.

The panel, chaired by Mena Ruparel, consultant solicitor, Shedden Family Law, managing director, Law CPD Solutions Ltd comprised:

His Honour Judge Martin O'Dwyer, head of the Financial Remedies Unit. Chair of London Region Resolution also made contributions to the discussion.

Family law solicitor and arbitrator, Tony Roe, who made a series of FoI requests of the HMCTS, and whose research broke the news that Bury St Edmunds would be the single divorce centre for the London & the South East said:

"The HMCTS document, Changes to the divorce process in England & Wales: Q & A is extremely useful and is required reading for all family law practitioners.

"We now know a little more detail of the timing of transfer of the rest of divorce work to Bury St Edmunds. Work in my local area, the Thames Valley, including Oxford, Reading, Milton Keynes & Slough, will be transferred from the week commencing 29 June.

"In the Thames Valley, HMCTS says that, from 29 June all divorce petitions and financial remedy applications should be sent by post to the divorce centre, Bury St Edmunds, with the exception of urgent applications that require issue at the counter. Local courts in the Thames Valley will continue to process applications issued prior to 29 June.

"HMCTS adds that the Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre is the point of entry once work is transferred there, as much has been already, for London and the South East.  If a hearing is required this can be listed at a local hearing centre and court users will have the opportunity to indicate where the hearing should take place, for example, at the same court as any Children Act application, more locally to where the parties reside, or at a more central location when the parties live in completely different areas. The petition is likely to be amended by the end of September with a box added to indicate the petitioner's preference of court if a hearing is necessary.

"HMCTS says that the new hub at Bury St Edmunds will eventually deal with just over 40% of work in England & Wales and accepts that this will be ambitious.

"Transfer of work from London was planned for June but is not likely to occur until the week commencing 20 July. The intention is that the Central Family Court will concentrate on local and complex matters. I understand that the criteria for complexity are being finalised imminently and will be made available soon."

The Law Society is running a further seminar on the centralisation of divorce courts, in Manchester. Details are here.

A Court Users' meeting will take place at the Central Family Court at 17.00 on Wednesday 24 June.

Below is set out the handout provided to attendees at the event by HMCTS.
 
London and South East Divorce Centre – Information

Overview

Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre, will issue broadly 40,000 divorce petitions per year. The guiding principle is that only cases that require a hearing will be transferred to the parties' preferred court.

Our aim is for all work to be processed on the day of receipt or within 48 hours at the latest. This is a challenging ideal but is achievable once the Centre is fully staffed and operational. We therefore anticipate achieving this service level from October 2015.

Legal Advisers will work at the Centre and will be responsible for deciding if petitions should be listed for pronouncement or for giving directions on the way forward if they consider that pronouncement is not appropriate at that time. District Judges will give directions in contested cases and will consider consented financial remedy applications. District Judges are also currently responsible for considering service related applications (i.e. applications for bailiff service, deemed service or to dispense with service).

Divorce
The Centre will issue all divorce petitions with the exception of urgent matters, which can still be issued from local courts. Most undefended divorce work will be retained at the Centre. Any defended proceedings or undefended cases requiring a hearing will be transferred to the parties' preferred court. Cases where parties wish to attend pronouncement to dispute costs or to attend for any other reason will be transferred to their preferred court for pronouncement.

Urgent Petitions
Provision has been made for the current divorce courts to issue urgent petitions, and national guidance is being developed that will define "urgent" work. Obvious examples are section 37 related cases and those cases where it is imperative that jurisdiction is established speedily (i.e. divorce race). There will be other matters that parties consider to be urgent, and the Family Procedure Rules Committee are considering amendments to the Petition application form so that urgency (and a preferred location for any hearings) can be expressed in writing. Local courts will continue to process work that Applicants consider to be urgent in the meantime.

Financial Remedy Applications
Consent Applications
District Judges sitting at the Divorce Centre will review all consented financial remedy applications. They will approve many applications (possibly subject to clarification of the agreement) and will transfer any that they consider require further consideration by judges at courts local to the parties or applications that they consider require an attendance.

Contested Cases
The Divorce Centre will issue applications, serve documents and fix directions appointments at the Applicant's preferred court.

The Central Family Court
Provision is being made for complex financial matters to be issued directly with the Central Family Court, where special arrangements are being put in place, meaning that parties will have the option of issuing appropriate cases directly with the court, subject to certifying complexity.

Movement of Work to the Divorce Centre
Work is being transferred from the 45 divorce courts in London and the South East to the Divorce Centre on a phased basis. By October 2015 all undefended Divorce work, with the exception of urgent matters will be processed through the Divorce Centre.

As of 25 May, the work of 28 South East courts has transferred to the Divorce Centre, these courts are:

Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire

Cambridgeshire & Essex

Kent

Norfolk & Suffolk

Surrey & Sussex

Bedford

Hertford

Luton

Cambridge

Chelmsford

Colchester

Peterborough

Southend

Canterbury

Dartford

Maidstone

Medway

Thanet

Tunbridge Wells

Bury

Ipswich

Kings Lynn

Norwich

Brighton

Chichester

Eastbourne

Guildford

Hastings

Horsham

Reigate

Staines

Watford

Worthing


Communications are being issued to parties broadly two-weeks prior to work transferring. This notice period is designed to avoid spikes in workload i.e. to ensure a smooth flow of work into the Divorce Centre. We currently anticipate that the Divorce Centre will start to process work from the London courts from July.

Issues Arising
Errors in Petitions
. The movement of work from courts to Divorce Centres has highlighted significant issues with errors in the completion of applications for divorce petitions; nationally, broadly 40% of petitions have to be returned for correction. Adoption of the attached checklist is being considered, practitioners may find it helpful to use it as a guide in the meantime.

Cases Issued in County Courts. The Divorce Centre is receiving process in cases that were issued before work from courts transferred. Practitioners should send any process and correspondence to the court that issued the petition in the first instance.

Divorce Centre Contact Information

Address:

Royal Mail
 
Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre 
2nd Floor, Triton House 
St Andrew's Street North 
Bury St Edmunds
Suffolk
IP33 1TR

Document Exchange
Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre
DX 97640 Bury St Edmunds

email: divorceunitbse@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk

Telephone: 0344 892 4000