Sir James Munby has suggested that divorce should be taken out of Judges’ hands.
The President of the Family Division made the comments at a Judicial Office Press Conference on the 29th April while discussing the administration of divorce.
During the press conference Munby discussed the possibility of moving towards a system in which judges no longer make the decision to grant a divorce. Instead, the process could be handled by a ‘registrar of births, deaths, marriages and divorces’.
Other jurisdictions have already removed judges from the process of deciding divorce by consent. Munby suggested that a similar system should be brought in in England and Wales because the uncontested divorce is ‘essentially a bureaucratic administrative process’.
It was argued that these changes would mean freeing up judges’ time, allowing them to concentrate on important matters such as cases involving vulnerable families and children.
Munby pointed out that the new system would only be suitable where divorce is not contested and does not involve children. He also suggested that adjudication on financial relief following divorce should be separated from the divorce process, just as child arrangements have been separated from divorce.
Critics asked if these changes could make it easier for couples to divorce and might therefore undermine the institution of marriage. Munby rejected this notion, stating that ‘The reality is we have had divorce by consent for 30 years.’
‘It would make divorce no easier than it is at present. The reality is that we have and have had for quite some time in this country divorce by consent in the sense that if both parties wish there will be a divorce if they’re able to establish the grounds for divorce which is very easy to establish.’ He said.
Munby went on to discuss the much debated issue of cohabitation rights, saying that he was keen to tackle the ‘injustice’ faced by cohabiting couples when they separate.
He said the unfairness of their having no legal right to the financial relief that married partners would be entitled to has been recognised by judges since 1973 and that progress in the area has been disappointingly slow.
Despite a call for change by the Law Commission, he said, ‘thus far nothing has happened’.