Changes to the divorce process in England and Wales: Q&A

Changes to the divorce process in England and Wales: Q&A

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has taken the decision to create 11 divorce centres within England and Wales, with the vast majority of uncontested decree nisi applications being considered by Legal Advisers (rather than district judges) at those centres. HMCTS has provided a series of Q&A on the changes including:

What is the reason for the change?

Following the Family Justice Review the single Family Court was created, which is a single jurisdiction without the previous geographical boundaries of county courts. Subsequently the Crime and Courts Act 2013 enabled legal advisers to consider decree nisi applications and directions for trial across the family court. In light of these changes HM Courts & Tribunals Service agreed plans with the Ministry of Justice and with the President of the Family Division for uncontested decree nisi applications to be considered by legal advisers at designated divorce centre locations in England and Wales. Legal advisers will therefore deal with the majority of routine decree nisi applications, which will free up judicial time for other work, and reduce processing delays and inconsistency. The divorce centres will be centres of expertise that will improve services, release efficiencies of scale and minimise the possibility of fraud.

Where are the locations of the 11 divorce centres?

There will be centres within each Region as follows:

  • North East: there will be centres at Durham, Doncaster, Harrogate* and Bradford
  • North West: there will be one centre at Liverpool
  • Wales: there will be centres at Neath, Newport and Wrexham
  • Midlands: there will be centres at Nottingham and Stoke
  • South West: there will be one centre at Southampton
  • London and South East: there will be one centre at Bury St Edmunds

* Work from Harrogate will transfer to Bradford in due course

When will the centres be in operation?

Some divorce centres are already fully or partly live. The transfer of divorce work is being phased in to the centres, and the current plan is that each of the divorce centres will be fully operational as follows:

  • North East: November 2014
  • North West: February 2015
  • Wales: January 2015
  • Midlands: February to April 2015
  • South West: February to April 2015
  • London and South East: April to October 2015

The full Q&A together with contact details for any queries or comments can be accessed here: Divorce Q&A, with a annex here: List of Divorce and Financial Remedy Hearing centres.

Geraldine Morris is a solicitor and Head of LexisPSL Family.

Twitter: @GeraldineMorris

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About the author:

Geraldine is Head of LexisPSL Family. She was admitted as a solicitor in 1992 and was in practice for 15 years, most recently as a partner and head of the family team at Hart Brown, a large Surrey firm.

Geraldine writes for Butterworths Family Law Service and is a past editor of the Resolution Review. She has been published in the New Law Journal, the Law Society Gazette and the District Judges’ Bulletin as well as in the national press including the Times and the Telegraph.

When in practice she was a member of the Law Society Family and Children Panels, and an accredited Resolution Specialist with a focus on advanced financial provision and pensions. A past Resolution regional secretary and press officer, Geraldine also contributed chapters to the Resolution publications, International Aspects of Family Law (3rd Edition 2009) and The Modern Family (2012).