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Amount of time taken for “paper-based” divorce jumps to over 15 months

A paper-based divorce application took 66.5 weeks on average to complete* in the first quarter of 2020, up from an average of 59.6 weeks in 2019 says Boodle Hatfield, the leading private wealth law firm. 

The law firm says the speed of divorce cases outside of the new online application system are expected to slow even further as the “lockdown” began to bite harder in the second quarter of the year, hampering the activity of the Family Courts.

The average time taken for a divorce via digital application, at just 20.9 weeks, is now just a third of the time taken for a traditional paper application. Recent Government statistics show that around 40% of divorces were made through the digital system.

Boodle Hatfield says that it is disappointing that the shift of workload to the digital system has not yet freed up more resources to shorten the time taken to complete “paper” based divorces. 

Online filing systems should mean both judges and lawyers have more time to focus on contested or otherwise more complex work in this sensitive area of law. 

Emily Brand, Partner at Boodle Hatfield, says: “The online divorce process seems to be working well and this is being used as a trigger to close some regional centres in Stoke, Bradford and Nottingham.” 

“It’s a shame that more of the money saved from closing these regional centres is not being reinvested in the court system in general and in particular in training more specialised judges or providing more support for those already struggling under their heavy workload.”

“Contested Children Act and money proceedings can be highly acrimonious and stressful and the parties involved suffer most both emotionally and financially when there are delays – which is increasingly being seen due to the volume of work in this area.”

“The legal profession is also very concerned at how the lockdown is further slowing complex cases involving family arrangements, with courts operating at a reduced capacity due to social distancing requirements and staff having to work from home.”

Emily Brand adds that the Government also risks slowing divorces unnecessarily by including a new standard 20-week wait time in the ‘no-fault divorce’ bill, expected to come into force in 2021. 

Under the new law, individuals will be forced to wait a minimum of 20 weeks from filing an initial divorce petition before applying for a Decree Nisi – the first divorce order.

Emily Brand says: “For the average divorce, outside of the digital route, to take more than 15 months is staggering.”

“Given that the no-fault divorce bill is not yet law, it would be great if the Government acted to remove this unnecessary barrier to a swift divorce and made what is a very stressful process easier for everyone.”

* Average time taken from initial divorce application to grant of Decree Absolute. Source: HM Court and Tribunals Service

 This article was first published in eprivateclient and Family Law on 24th August 2020.

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