Divorce and its financial consequences are to be administratively separated in a move that is expected to save family solicitors weeks of delay.
Financial proceedings will be 'administratively de-linked' from divorce proceedings across courts nationally on 19 June following a successful pilot, family division president Sir James Munby and HM Courts & Tribunals Service deputy chief executive Kevin Sadler said, in a letter published today.
The administrative de-linking was piloted at the south west regional divorce centre in Southampton last month.
Munby and Sadler said that the pilot achieved its aim of introducing a more streamlined process, reducing by up to two weeks the delays experienced by court users as files are transferred between courts.
Days before the pilot began, Munby and Sadler told family division liaison judges that the centralisation of divorce and dissolution proceedings into 11 specialist divorce centres in 2015 had 'shone a spotlight on the way in which related financial applications are dealt with and it is clear that this process can and should be improved'.
Currently, if a contested financial application is made, the whole proceedings are transferred to a local court. The pilot administratively de-linked financial proceedings from divorce so that the main divorce proceedings remained in the specialist centre; staff and judiciary at the local hearing centres worked independently on the contested financial proceedings. Consent applications remained at the divorce centres.
A separate financial remedy file, with the same case number as the divorce proceedings, was created at the local hearing centre. HMCTS staff ensured the dates on any decree nisi or decree absolute were highlighted on the file.
Family solicitor and family law arbitrator Tony Roe, principal of Reading firm Tony Roe Solicitors, told the Gazette he welcomed a 'more effective and speedy approach' to resolving financial proceedings.
Munby, in his latest View from the President's Chambers, said the time had come for a 'complete de-linking' of divorce and money, started and pursued by separate processes. However, he acknowledged the timeline for ancillary relief would be determined by the progress of the divorce.
Indicating that the pilot was progressing well, Munby also called for a 'formal, legal de-linking'.
However, Roe warned: 'On a wider note, whilst the president noted in his [latest update] that only a minority of divorce cases give rise to a money claim, it is important for parties, particularly litigants in person, to be aware of the implications that there may be by leaving financial aspects unresolved, without a consent order dismissing potential claims.'
Roe cited the Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Wyatt v Vince, which allowed a former wife to proceed with her financial remedy application several years after divorce.
Family law group Resolution also welcomed today's news. 'Any steps that reduce delay and make the administration of family proceedings more efficient must be encouraged. This is just one example of how quite simple changes can make a difference in practice,' it said.
The latest development does not affect the substantive law relating to divorce or financial remedy proceedings, Resolution added.