A week ago there was an announcement from HM Courts & Tribunals Service regarding changes to the way divorces are to be administered. There has been some confusion by court users over exactly how divorce/civil partnership petitions will be administered by the Courts, the media claimed that “couples can now get divorced in just 48 hours” (Daily Star and Manchester Evening News), while the Coventry Telegraph claimed that couples can now divorce in “24 hours” (this particular article has more holes in it than a sieve – “Couples from across the United Kingdom will be able to get divorced in as little as 24 hours from now on. British couples will be able to attend a regional ‘divorce centre’ to work on their marriage under a new court shake-up.” Please note that the changes will only apply to England & Wales, and not Scotland or Northern Ireland).
Can I really get divorced in 48 hours?
No – you can’t. The intention is all uncontested petitions will be prepared and made ready by a legal adviser for initial Decree Nisi consideration – this is the ONLY change in the processing of divorce applications. A Judge will still have to consider Decree Nisi applications as it is at this stage that a petition will be accepted or sent back for any required amendments. It is a common and incorrect assumption that the initial petition has been accepted by the Courts simply because it is then served on the Respondent.
A petitioner will still have to wait a minimum of 6 weeks and one after the granting of the Decree Nisi before they have the earliest opportunity to apply for the Decree Absolute.
Can we just turn up together at the Court and sign something to get divorced?
No – the legal process for dissolving a marriage remains unchanged. You will still need to write a statement of case in Part 6 of the D8 (petition), and rely on one of the following: Adultery, Unreasonable Behaviour, 2 years separation with consent, 5 years separation or desertion (which is very rarely used). Obtaining a divorce isn’t as “easy as applying for a TV licence, despite what the Daily Mail claim.
But we are in agreement – surely if two people make a decision they no longer want to be married, they don’t need to involve the Courts?
Divorce is a legal process (or at least, for the time being), and the process must be followed. Being in agreement is good, it will mean less conflict and hostility and an easier road to resolution over the finances and children; but it doesn’t alter the legal process of ending a marriage.
Can I still go to my local court to submit my petition?
There are now designated “Divorce Centres” where applications must be sent.
North East: there will be centres at Durham, Doncaster, Harrogate* and Bradford -fully operation from November 2014
North West: there will be one centre at Liverpool – fully operation from February 2015
Wales: there will be centres at Neath, Newport and Wrexham- fully operation from January 2015
Midlands: there will be centres at Nottingham and Stoke – fully operation from February to April 2015
South West: there will be one centre at Southampton – fully operational from February to April 2015
London and South East: there will be one centre at Bury St Edmunds – fully operation from April to October 2015
*Work from Harrogate will transfer to Bradford in due course.
All divorce petitions and financial remedy applications should be sent by post to the appropriate regional centre rather than your local court, with the exception of urgent applications that require immediate issue –they are still submitted to your local court.
Some centres will operate a counter or drop-box facilities (but not all centres):
North East: There is a counter service at Bradford, Harrogate and Durham. At Doncaster a counter service will be in operation for urgent pre-booked appointments only.
North West: The Liverpool divorce centre does not have counter service, but a drop box facility is available.
Wales: Neath, Newport and Wrexham all have counter services in operation.
Midlands: A counter service will be in operation at the Divorce Centres in Nottingham and Stoke for urgent applications only.
South West: No counter service is available at Southampton. Applications can be posted in the post box outside the building, which is emptied twice a day.
London and South East: A counter service is available at Bury St Edmunds.
Using the counter or drop-box facility won’t gain you any kind of advantage in the processing of your application, or the way it is processed by the legal advisers.
Will a Legal Adviser consider our Consent Order instead of a Judge?
No – there are NO circumstances where a legal adviser will consider consent orders – they don’t have any power in this regard, all Consent Orders will still require a Judge to consider and seal.
What about civil partnership dissolutions?
Eventually, civil partnership dissolutions applications will also be sent to the appropriate regional centre, but currently, there is no timeframe for this.