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Impending changes to the divorce process

The way divorce petitions are processed is changing, following a consultation by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS).

There will now be designated divorce centres which will be the only points of entry across the single family court for the issuing of divorce petitions and financial remedy applications.

All divorce petitions will be sent by post to one of the centres unless there is an urgent reason to seek to issue at the counter. The application process will remain unchanged but all uncontested petitions will be prepared and made ready for initial decree nisi consideration by a legal adviser based at the centre. Legal advisers now have the statutory power to consider decree nisi applications and directions for trial across the family court but they cannot deal with financial remedy cases.

Whilst the applications will be sent to the centres, the hearings can take place elsewhere. Where a financial remedy application will need a hearing, the application will include a request as to where the hearing should take place, for example, at a court more convenient to the parties. A committee is currently considering whether to amend the current divorce petition to include this request.

It is also expected that the majority of uncontested financial remedy applications (agreed consent orders) will be handled by Judges at the divorce centres.

The provisional list of divorce centres and when they will become live are listed below, but this is subject to review:-

North East Durham, Bradford (and Harrogate), Doncaster November 2014
Wales Neath & Port Talbot, Newport (Gwent), Wrexham January 2015
North West Liverpool February 2015
Midlands Nottingham, Stoke-on-Trent February 2015
Southwest Southampton April 2015
London and South East Bury St Edmunds October 2015

It is however intended that the Central Family Court will still remain a point of entry for financial remedy cases and emergency or urgent divorce petitions. Also, petitions issued at a centre from outside the catchment area will be accepted if a suitable reason is provided.

At present, the above does not apply to civil partnership dissolution applications except in the North East where these applications should be sent to the divorce centres. It is anticipated that the other areas of the country will follow suit over time.

It is also important to note that there are no changes to the current points of entry for public and private law children applications and urgent applications.

The rationale for these changes is to minimise the points of entry for these applications to reduce processing delays and efficiency – time will tell whether this proves to be the case.

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