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The Times highlights plans for ‘over-the-counter’ divorce

Could divorce become an over-the-counter process in which unhappy couples end their relationship with a rubber-stamped form? That was the prospect raised in yesterday’s edition of The Times.

In a new article, journalist Frances Gibb explores plans by Family Division President Sir James Munby to introduce administration centres which would handle most divorce cases in England. It is a vision of the future in which most divorcing couples bypass the courts altogether, one in which the vast majority of divorce cases flow uncontested through a bureaucratic process no more complex or fraught than applying for a passport or renewing your TV licence.

The proposal would affect divorces in which neither party disputes the proceedings or makes claims over money or children. It follows the President’s call back in April for registrars to handle divorce. A new working group established by Sir James to examine  the idea was due to hold its first meeting today.

Frances Gibb rang  to ask my views on the idea. On the face of things, handling divorce in an administrative manner is a simple acknowledgement of the reality that most cases are relatively straightforward  – unless there are significant assets involved – and uncontested. As fellow blogger John Bolch has rightly noted, once one party has started the ball rolling, there is little the other can do to stop it. All they can do is try to ensure they receive a fair settlement.

But even if most divorces are rumble through the courts in uncomplicated fashion, I still believe that the courts are the right venue for the end of a marriage. The involvement of a judge is an acknowledgement of the solemnity and seriousness of such unions. Getting married is a not a casual undertaking and ending such a contract should be an equally weighty process I believe. The consequences of a rash decision or poorly though through move could be with you for the rest of your life – and your children’s lives as well.

And of course, not every couple completes the divorce process, remember Some, given time to consider their true feelings, reconcile before the decree absolute is issued.

Read the full Times article here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Sham marriages shoot up - Marilyn Stowe Blog says:

    […] do I think? I wonder how such figures dovetail with the plans for ‘over the counter’ divorce we highlighted yesterday? If divorce becomes a rubber-stamping administrative exercise, what is to […]

  2. Rory Miln says:

    I agree that divorce should remain a function of the court, but I would go further.

    At present a divorcing spouse does not know they are divorced until some time after the decree nisi has been made absolute – a couple of days at best, sometimes longer. They have to wait until the court has sent them their decree absolute certificate in the post. If there is a solicitor involved, the delay can be even greater.

    This is absurd, and detracts from the importance of the event. Nobody gets married but walks around for a few days unaware of their new status. “You’ve been divorced since last Thursday” is not something that anybody should have to be told.

    There are two ways in which the system could be reformed. The court could list each case to be considered on a specified date at a specified time, even if it was the petitioner applying and the exercise was essentially an administrative one. A party could then attend at court in person if they wanted. Alternatively, once the decree had been made absolute the court could telephone or email each party (say by close of business that day) to let them know that they were now divorced.

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