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Law firm set to speed up divorce process

Legal Question Time with Gardner Leader

Law firm set to speed up divorce process

Nicola Weeks, an Associate in the Family Team

When people come to see us they are understandably anxious as to how long the process might take to formalise a separation from their spouse or civil partner.

Often when couples have made the decision to separate, they would like the formalities associated with that decision to be dealt with as quickly as possible to minimise the impact on them and any children of the family.

Because of the increasing delays within the standard court process, I now have to say to clients that the divorce process can take between 10 to 12 months to complete and to obtain their Decree Absolute, which means that they are no longer married.

This is on the basis that matters are straightforward and agreed between them.

If matters take longer to be agreed, then this timeframe could be much longer.

In many situations, this timeframe is extended through no fault of the parties themselves, but due to delays with the court processing their paperwork and sending this back to us.

Understandably this causes further frustration to couples at an already difficult time.

Our family team have recently been selected to take part in a nationwide pilot scheme introduced by the courts to trial the use of online procedures.

The two pilot schemes are part of the Government’s £1bn programme to transform the court system, which includes moving the divorce application process and the Financial Order process online to make divorcing much faster and more cost efficient.

Our team is only one of a small number of law firms nationwide chosen to take part in the new schemes.

Under the first pilot scheme we are participating in, we can now submit divorce papers digitally to a dedicated judge for consideration online.

This avoids the need to post documents to court and wait for the paperwork to be processed and for a decision to be made.

This is expected to cut the timeframe for divorce considerably.

The second pilot scheme which we have been selected for is the Financial Remedy Consent order pilot, which allows us to upload applications for agreed financial orders electronically, also to a specifically assigned judge.

A lot of people do not realise that completing the divorce process, and obtaining the Decree Absolute, does not deal with financial matters.

If a couple reach an agreement informally between them, this also does not resolve their financial positions.

All financial arrangements should be recorded within a financial consent order to ensure that the agreement is legally binding and that couple’s financial claims are concluded in order to provide them with protection in the future.

Without a financial consent order in place, either party is at risk of financial proceedings at a later stage.

This is the case, even if the divorce proceedings have concluded some time ago.

Any future proceedings could also potentially relate to assets received after a couple’s separation, such as an inheritance or even lottery winnings.

It is therefore very important to ensure financial matters are resolved through a financial consent order within the divorce proceedings.

Under the new pilot scheme, the application for the agreed financial order can be submitted electronically, meaning a great reduction in the time taken to hear back from the courts.

Instead of having to wait between four to five months to receive a decision back from the court, the orders are being considered by the courts, on average, within 14 days.

This means couples do not have the agonising wait to find out that their financial agreement has been approved and that they have protection moving forwards.

This is particularly important in situations where the timeframe for a transaction, such as a lump sum payment or the sale of a property, is dependant upon the approval of the order.

It allows couples to move forward with their lives, knowing that they have financial security, much quicker.

By Nicola Weeks: Associate – Family Team
Gardner Leader – Newbury office
T: (01635) 508186

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