Further information about plans to centralise divorce case processing
It’s been known for a while that plans are progress to centralise the processing of divorce applications but little was known about how it would actually work until recently.
For ordinary cases of divorce (i.e. uncontested and non-urgent matters) and applications for financial remedies these processing centres will be the only point of entry into the Courts and Tribunals system. Entry points for Children Act matters are to remain as they are now – with applications being made at a large number of local courts across England and Wales.
One case sparked the drive for centralisation: hundreds of Italian couples were granted divorces at over 100 courts across England and Wales, all claiming to live at a small number of addresses in Berkshire. The scam allowed couples to divorce much sooner than the equivalent Italian rules. The drive to centralise the processing of applications seeks to avoid anything like this occurring in the future as it is hoped that any fraudulent ‘bulk’ applications will be spotted quickly.
You can read the full judgment in the case here: Rapisarda v Colladon  EWFC 1406 (08 May 2014).
When hearings are required
Where hearings are needed in either type of case, divorce or financial, the matter will be passed from the divorce processing centre to a local court. If the parties do not reside in the same area then a central location will be chosen.
Another major change is that rather than a District Judge being required to consider a Decree Nisi application, legal advisers will be empowered to consider directions for trial and DN applications. They will deal with a greater amount of routine work, the aim being to clear the diaries of District Judges so they can focus on more complex parts of the process. The increase in legal adviser involvement also aims to reduce delays in processing cases. They will be supervised by District Judges and will not deal with financial remedy applications, uncontested divorce only. The divorce petition is expected to see changes to allow parties to indicate where they would like any hearing to take place.
Go Live plans
A number of centres are already in operation with the centre for London and the South East, located in Bury St Edmunds, planned to be operational from November 2015. The dates at which new cases should be sent to the processing centre instead of local courts will vary from court to court within each region. District Judges will be present at each regional processing centre.