The president of the family division has provided further details of new specialist courts being piloted to deal with the financial aspect of divorce proceedings - an area he has dubbed 'the Cinderella of family justice'.
In December Sir James Munby set out a blueprint for the financial remedies courts, which are part of wider efforts to separate divorce administratively from its financial consequences. The courts will initially be piloted in London, the West Midlands and south-east Wales. Further pilots will follow after Easter, starting with the rest of the Midland circuit, the north-eastern circuit and parts of the south-eastern circuit. Next week Munby will present the family procedure rule committee with a revised draft form to be used for all types of financial remedy applications.
In his latest View from the President's Chambers, Munby acknowledges concerns 'expressed by many' over removing a question in the petition relating to financial claims. Munby now proposes retaining the question.
The latest development was welcomed by family specialist Tony Roe, principal of Reading firm Tony Roe Solicitors. He said: 'I was concerned that, were financial claims to be removed from the petition entirely, parties, particularly litigants in person, needed to be aware of the implications that there may have been by leaving financial aspects unresolved, without a consent order dismissing potential claims.'
Munby proposes adding a corresponding question in the 'acknowledgement of service' question. Roe said: 'It is to be hoped that answering this question will be tantamount to making an application for a financial order, thus avoiding the "remarriage trap" which is a cause of a good number of negligence cases.' (Following a divorce, the Matrimonial Causes Act ensures that, should either party remarry without dealing with their financial claims, that party will not be entitled to apply for a financial provision order or property adjustment order in their favour against their former spouse.)
The basic concept of the specialist courts builds on the family court and Court of Protection models. Each circuit will typically have two regional hubs, headed by a lead judge expert in financial remedy work. Hearings will be conducted at the regional hubs and some financial remedies hearing centres within the hub area.
Munby says he will shortly announce initial appointments for the FCR hub judges.
The specialist courts have been widely welcomed by family practitioners. Fiona Apthorpe, head of family law at national firm Geldards, said: 'Unhappily, at present, some complex financial remedy cases can be decided by judges who have little experience of family law and who are not specialists in this field. We are increasingly seeing more parties representing themselves in court proceedings and it is important that these very complex and often emotionally draining cases are dealt with by specialist family practitioners at all levels.'