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Over-the-counter divorces? They’re not such a bad thing!

In the latest bid to shake up divorce law, thousands of cases are set to be removed from the courts with the introduction of new divorce centres across England and Wales. But is the initiative ultimately an attack on marriage? Or should it be applauded? Keystone’s Zoe Bloom shares her views.

This article was written for and first featured in Divorce Magazine

From August, the vast majority of divorces processed in both England and Wales will be taken out of the courts and dealt with in one of eleven regional centres located across both countries. Admin staff, rather than judges, will deal with all paperwork, with the aim of producing faster and cheaper solutions to marriage breakdown.

The accepted reasons for filing for divorce in an English court will remain exactly as they are: unreasonable behaviour, adultery, desertion, 5 years’ separation, or (agreeing) couples having lived apart for a minimum of two years. However, it is the way in which the administrative side of things is handled that will change dramatically. Instead of senior judges being forced to spend time dealing with paperwork, a number of capable yet more junior staff will be dedicated to this part of the process.

While the likes of Ann Widdecombe have condemned the move, suggesting that “it makes a nonsense of marriage” [1] and that it makes divorce as easy as “discarding an old carrier bag”[2], others claim that the idea is merely a consequence of the changing needs of today’s client.

When I first meet with people considering a divorce it is obvious that they have already spent years considering the right path for them personally and their children. It is a huge decision to contact me to discuss their future. It then takes, on average, three months before instructions are formalised. By that time, all clients want to achieve is the divorce and separation in terms of finances and arrangements for children. Having taken the time to make the decision, the delays which are imposed by negotiations and the court are an endless source of frustration. Anything which seeks to streamline the process and which takes that frustration away from people, who are already in a difficult position, must be welcomed and given the chance to succeed.

The evidence from those of us dealing with divorce every day is that nobody enters it lightly. These process changes do not alter the grounds for divorce, and there will still be a level of skill, experience and training required to process the papers. If they work, the changes can only help clients going through an already difficult time, and release court and judge time, to deal with the more complicated issues resultant from separation.

[1] Harry Wallop, ‘Why Quickie Divorces Are a Good Idea’ (The Telegraph 23 June 2105) accessed 23 June 2015.

[2] ibid.

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This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.

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