In Focus – The Rt. Hon Sir James Munby, President Of The Family Division

New divorce processing centres introduced across the UK

Sir James MunbyOver 100 divorce processing services in local family courts will be closed this year and replaced with regional divorce processing centres before the end of this year.

All divorce petitions from London and the South East will be sent to a regional centre in Bury St Edmunds from October and those from the South West will go to Southampton from April. There will be other regional centres in Nottingham and Stoke for the Midlands, Doncaster, Durham and Bradford for the Northeast, Liverpool for the Northwest and Wrexham, Neath and Newport for Wales.

The vast majority of divorces will be handled at the regional centres with only the more complicated ones returning to local family courts for a hearing.

Most divorces are very straightforward and are already granted by courts without either party having to attend a hearing. The change will mean that the paperwork will be handled at one of the regional centres instead of at the divorce petitioner’s local family court.

The “petitioner” is the person applying for the divorce. The petition is the application form used.

The first most people heard about the Ministry of Justice’s plans to cut divorce services was in a blog last year from Judge James Munby, President of the Family Division. He wrote in his “View from the President’s Chamber” that the process of divorce was being “decoupled” from the adjudication of disputes about family finance.

Divorcing couples may eventually get two different case numbers – one for their divorce and a separate one for those that need it for their financial affairs. This would allow Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Services to “streamline” the divorce processing. He wrote “ultimately it may be that the process could be centralised into a single national centre.”

He did not say centralisation would make divorces easier, quicker or cheaper to obtain but wrote instead that the changes would make more efficient use of resources and cut administration costs.

He elaborated on this in Rapisarda v Colladon (Irregular Divorces) [2014]EWFC35, a judgment about fraudulent divorce petitions. The court had to decide in the case about what to do with 180 divorces which had been granted – despite all fraudulently claiming to emanate from one address in Maidenhead. The divorces had all been given decree nisis or decree absolutes without anyone noticing because they had been granted by 137 different courts.

Judge Munby told the court that the danger of that type of fraud going unnoticed because it was “spread thinly” through a large number of courts would soon be “drastically curtailed” because most of the courts would be closing to divorce petitions.

The location of the divorce processing centres and the time frame for their opening came to light from the Ministry of Justice’s response to a freedom of information request from a firm of solicitors based in Berkshire this month.

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