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MOJ plan to centralise divorce proceedings lacks clarity

Date:24 NOV 2014
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Solicitor & family law arbitrator, Tony Roe, Principal of Berkshire firm, Tony Roe Solicitors, says that there is a marked lack of clarity from the Ministry of Justice about the final number and identity of courts likely to be processing divorces in England and Wales by the end of next year.

Mr Roe submitted a Freedom of information request to the MoJ, following the President of the Family Division’s recent judgment in Rapsidara v Colladon. That case concerned 180 petitions of Italian nationals issued in 137 different courts in England and Wales.179 of the 180 divorcing couples had falsely claimed that one of them lived at an address in Maidenhead. Munby P indicated that, within a year, there will be fewer than 20 courts in which divorces can be processed.

As well as asking for details in relation to courts local to his firm on the South Eastern Circuit, Mr Roe asked for a likely final list of all the courts that will remain able to process divorce petitions following the implementation of any decision concerning this matter.

The MoJ reply stated that when choosing a 'Single Point of Entry', the divorce centre does not have to be the Designated Family Centre (DFC) and 'operationally it may make sense that a separate venue is chosen to ease workforce pressures ... or because divorce work has already been centralised within an area.'

Mr Roe said, 'The MoJ has told us that the decisions on which courts/offices will process divorce petitions have already been made by each HMCTS region with the exception of the South East, London and South West where decisions are due to be made by the end of November. Despite our request, the MoJ omitted to tell us what the outcome of the decisions already made were.'

Mr Roe said that some interesting information was revealed. The MoJ stated, 'In the South East region the proposal is that Bury St Edmunds will be the point of entry for divorce petitions. In the South West region the proposal is Southampton. This means that divorce petitions will be processed at those courts/centres unless they require a hearing. Those cases which require a hearing will be transferred to the most suitable local Family Court hearing venue and this is likely to include the courts you listed.'  

Implementation of changes to which courts process divorce petitions will be phased depending on the HMCTS region, says the MoJ. It says that the current dates for each region are:

London / SE – October 2015
Midlands – January 2015
North East – November 2014
North West – November 2014
South West – April 2015
Wales – January 2015
The full FOI request and reply can be found here.
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