Following the extensive changes to the family justice system at the end of April, the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, is proposing a further radical tranche of changes.
At a recent press conference Sir James mooted plans for judge-free divorces. This proposal appears to stem from criticism about the way the court system is going to deal with increasing numbers of litigants in person as a result of the Legal Aid cuts and the resulting delays. He stated: “The way one squares the circle between the increasing number of cases, the increasing time the cases take if there are litigants in person … and the availability of infinite resources is in principle simple and, I believe, achievable.”
Sir James suggested that a judge-free system would make divorces a purely administrative process, allowing them to be dealt with by a Registrar of Births, Marriages and Divorces. His caveat was that such a process would be suitable only where there is consent and no children.
Parties have been able to divorce by consent for over 30 years; however, there is an argument for saying that this will make obtaining a divorce much easier than is currently the case. Parties who believe that divorcing by consent will be straight-forward under any new regime might be right in principle; however, unless specialist legal advice is sought, financial claims against one another will remain open (unless dismissed by a court Order, or until their respective remarriages).
Arguably, the majority of divorces are already akin to a purely administrative process. It is debatable, therefore, whether such reforms would have any impact on the system and, even in the event of a Registrar, court involvement is unlikely to be unavoidable in some form or another.
Watch this space . . .
Partner and Head of Family and Divorce
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