Divorce by numbers
The Ministry of Justice has just announced that it intends to reform divorce law / procedure “very soon” to make the whole process much more simple. Apparently, in Australia and New Zealand, divorce becomes final after one month. In Finland and Sweden, divorce becomes final after two steps are taken. In England and Wales, the Petitioner is asked to reflect and confirm that a divorce is still what they really, really want on three occasions.
Why does the Ministry of Justice want to simplify divorce? Because of the administrative burden on the Court. The Court is flooded with people doing DIY divorces. Procedures that lawyers have had no difficulty in following since 1973 are considered too much for the man/woman in the street. What this could mean is that not only will divorce become much more simple, but that it will be a lot quicker. The speed (or lack of) of the divorce process has been a concern ever since the re-organisation of the Courts several years ago which resulted in the establishment of a number of administrative centres responsible for issuing divorce proceedings for a huge geographical area. As night follows day, as soon as this was introduced, a log jam occurred meaning that what used to take four months now takes nine, or sometimes even longer. Why? Many of the career civil servants who dealt with the divorce process have moved on following the introduction of these changes. The sheer volume of divorce petitions flooding into the divorce centres simply overwhelmed the staff that remained.
On the one hand, many institutions which promote the stability of family life are keen to ensure that divorce is not available on demand like a takeaway Big Mac.
Men/women in the street, simply want their divorce to be straightforward, relatively quick and not shrouded in jargon. On 9 April 2019 it was announced that the Government will introduce legislation to end the “blame game”. There will still be the two stage process (Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute); a minimum time frame of six months from petition to Decree Absolute. So, when will the blame game end? The Government has to introduce the legislation; it has to be approved by MPs. Will the religious lobbies try and block this? Will other interest groups concerned to preserve the sanctity of marriage seek to extend the time frame for a divorce to complete from six months to say twelve months to give the couple more time to pause the thought? Will the forms be even more simplified? Will the Court fee go down or go up?
We went down a similar road in 1996. At the last minute, the much publicised change never came; this time I suspect it will, but in what format will remain to be seen.
Of course at the moment the only bills that our passing through Parliament quickly have Brexit in the title, so finding time for this bill to get through may be a little tricky.