2017 In The Family Courts: Is Change On The Way?

Date: January 23rd, 2017 - Written by: Brookman Solicitors



The family courts are under pressure. Figures from the Ministry of Justice for the period April to June 2016 showed an increase of 10 per cent in the number of family cases compared to the same period the year before. Unsurprisingly the time it takes for courts to finalise financial remedy claims is rising steadily.

There is a growing consensus for some kind of reform of the way we manage the system. This should give hope to our clients and others going through the trauma of divorce. The changes – when they come – should reduce the stress and uncertainty that all too frequently dominate the legal process.

What Might Change Look Like?

In a speech last year the president of the Family Division Sir James Munby outlined a radical view of how the family courts may operate in future. He spoke of an entirely digitised and paperless court – and hoped this could be achieved within four years. Such a transformation was necessary, he argued, for us to escape from a court system that is “moored in the world of the late Charles Dickens”.

His proposals included:

  • Issuing proceedings online. Divorce applicants would complete a questionnaire instead of an application form that would capture all relevant information.
  • Conducting some proceedings entirely online, including the final hearing. He envisaged the judge interacting electronically with the parties and their legal representatives.
  • A dramatic revision of what he termed the ‘thicket’ of court forms

Ultimately, individuals going through divorce may begin to experience less of the stressful bureaucracy associated with filing for divorce. Increased use of technology should also reduce the number of occasions when parties are obliged to attend court.

Online Divorce Proceedings

Perhaps the central plank of Sir James’s proposals is the paperless divorce. But the pace of change is proving slow. Despite the president’s suggestion that online divorce could be in place by early 2017 it seems to have fallen well behind schedule. Reports last week suggest that, while the Court Service has started to consider how it can build an online system only a small pilot scheme is due to begin shortly.

No-fault divorce? A side-effect of online petitions?

These delays are bad news not just for those seeking a more streamlined divorce service. They are bad news too for proponents of no-fault divorce. They believe the financial and efficiency savings resulting from online divorce could be enough to persuade the government to finally introduce no-fault divorce legislation.

Industry body Resolution has argued that removing fault from an online service will make the system easier to operate because there will be no need for judicial assessment of evidence (where fault is alleged).

Welcoming Change

At present the reality is that up to four copies of the divorce petition need to be physically lodged at court for the process to even begin.

While we normally take care of paperwork for clients, anything that

reduces unnecessary bureaucracy would be a welcome development for all involved. Administrative burdens like this can lengthen an already stressful process. But equally they distract from dealing with the central issues in your divorce, including financial investigations and questions about children. And this distraction comes at a crucial stage for you and your family.

For advice on your divorce please call us on + 44 (0)20 7430 8470 or contact us online.