You may well have seen over the last couple of days reports in the newspapers on plans to open specialist family courts to deal with the ‘super-wealthy’ battling over their finances following relationship breakdown. These headlines and contents of articles have been somewhat misleading.
It is true that the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, did circulate a statement last Friday to say that, as of February next year, there will be a pilot of a specialist court dealing solely with finances following the breakdown of a marriage. The pilot is scheduled for London, West Midlands and South-East Wales.
If you have not had any experience of battling over money in a family court you may wonder why this is being proposed. If you have, you will, I am sure, be aware of the necessity. Such cases require an expert in the field and both myself and my colleagues have regularly experienced cases being adjourned prior to – or even on the very day of – a hearing because there was no ‘available Judge’ to hear the matter. Such cases can take anywhere between 12 to 18 months to resolve.
The new money court will be referred to as the Financial Remedy Court (FRC). ‘Financial remedy’ is the term used by professionals for the process in which the Court determines the division of finances following the breakdown of a marriage. This was formerly referred to as ‘ancillary relief’.
Only specialist Judges will sit in the FRC, all experts in this specific area of law. You may wonder whether this has not always been the case, but sadly it has not. Sometimes we may find a Judge who has a background in civil and not family law dealing with important hearings.
Some newspapers have, as mentioned, claimed that these Courts will only be used for the ‘super-wealthy’. Despite research, I have seen absolutely no evidence that this is actually being proposed and I am unsure where this idea has come from.
Earlier this year we saw the de-linking of divorce from finance cases and this is a continuation of the same trend, with the main aim of speeding up the whole process. Sadly, I have not experienced any additional speed in divorce proceedings to date and have yet to be convinced specialist courts will really achieve this. We will have to wait and see.
I had a conversation on Twitter about this subject earlier in the week. Stowe Family Law Senior Partner Julian Hawkhead quite rightly raised the possibility of specialist judges in other fields of law. But even within family law, financial remedies are just one area, so do we not need specialist courts for each of the others too? Why just finances? What do you think?
Yes there are plans for a separate Court to hear financial #divorce cases but there was no mention of this being for only the super wealthy. Do @Telegraph know something we don’t? #familylaw #newspaper https://t.co/2gGnHX72Of
— SJL Family Lawyer (@SarahJLenihan) December 5, 2017
Sarah Jane Lenihan is a Senior Solicitor in the Stowe Family Law London office. Sarah Jane undertook her studies at the College of Law in London where she received a commendation and began her career in Kent where she was accredited by the Law Society for her work in family law.
She advises on all areas of family law (divorce/dissolution, cohabitation, domestic violence, children) and has worked with a broad spectrum of clients both nationally and internationally.
As a member of Resolution, an organisation of family lawyers committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes, she will always explore all the potential options with clients who are facing relationship breakdown . In the event litigation is necessary, Sarah Jane works closely with experts in the field to obtain the best possible outcome for the client.
Image by Howard Lake via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence