A Decree Absolute for Regional Divorce Centres: Divorce centres are being shut down

February 25, 2020

2 min read

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What's going on here?

The government has announced the closure of regional divorce centres which have been heavily criticised by senior judges for being ineffective.

What does this mean?

Regional divorce centres opened in 2015 but have been riddled with delays and are seen to be inefficient by judges. Their future was thrown into question last year when the government announced it wanted to phase out and replace these centres with an online system supported by a service centre in Stoke-on-Trent. The phasing out of these centres is part of the government’s wider £1bn modernisation programme with divorce petitions being transferred online.

What's the big picture effect?

This move comes at a time of growing pressures on the family court system. Recently, in The Sunday Times, the president of the family division for England and Wales, Sir Andrew McFarlane, called for law firms to provide £1.5m in charity. The money will be used to provide lawyers to those who self-represent in court in order to prevent them from “clogging up” the system by using precious time. Elsewhere, in extreme cases, errors caused by this pressure have led to divorces being finalised without any application, as well as fathers being alienated from children due to delays in access requests being granted. The hope is that changes will relieve this pressure and prevent future errors. However, the latest changes were only implemented in 2015, so it seems nothing short of a complete overhaul would fix a system that is already struggling. Furthermore, the move does not solve self-representation in court.

As ever one of the reasons for this change is work shifting online, with 40% of new work issued online and being processed at a service centre. The hope is that most future works will be virtual with a small “legacy” team dealing with contested applications and nullity applications as well as judicial separations which do not have digital journeys. The benefit of a digitised world is that more people will have access to the justice system and automation removes any possible human errors. Conversely, the move to completely digitise the system could also prevent those without sufficient internet capabilities solving their legal needs. While this will not solve all of the problems facing family courts, it may give them the precious time needed to meaningfully engage with other issues.

Report written by Michael Johnson

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