Divorce Centres… One Year On

Posted on June 24, 2016

On Tuesday 21 June 2016, Jefferies’ Karen Dovaston, Senior Solicitor, chaired a seminar at The Law Society in Chancery Lane. The seminar intended to reflect on the Bury St Edmunds Designated Divorce Centre on the first anniversary of its launch. Bury St Edmunds (BSE) covers the London and south East region; making it arguably the largest area geographically and in terms of assets and asset values. There were a number of legal professionals on the panel including Her Honour Judge Lynn Roberts, the Judge who was overseeing BSE at its inception; she still keeps an eye and visits regularly. Also present was John Miller from HMCTS (HM Courts & Tribunals Service) who was the unlucky soul given the task of getting BSE up and running.

So, what did we learn about the Bury St Edmunds (BSE) Centre?

  • BSE processes about 40% of all the divorce work across England and Wales which is between 40,000 to 45,000 divorce petitions per year. They are on track to process around 43,000 this year.
  • There are 67 court staff at BSE including 7 staff dedicated only to answering the telephone enquiry line who could be deployed in other ways if the phones calls dropped back.
  • BSE receives around 1,200 items of post per day, including 250 to 300 petitions and in addition, about 150 emails per day. That is a lot of post to get through.
  • BSE receives approximately 700 telephone calls A DAY!
  • BSE has to return unprocessed around 38% of divorce petitions it receives because of errors in the paperwork or things that are missing. They do not want to. It is not their aim to be difficult. They genuinely want to be able to process the papers and do a good job but there are some things that are so basic, they have to be corrected at the outset.
  • HMCTS recognise that they struggle to cope with ‘spikes’ of increased work. HMCTS model the staffing requirements against the likely level of influx of work. If that influx suddenly increases, then HMCTS cannot respond quickly enough. A recent influx of work to BSE from other areas caused a spike that correlated to requiring 20 extra staff at the court office; staff that were not there and so everything slows down.

So, what is our advice if you are getting divorce?

Well, we would advise that you are fully happy with your chosen Solicitor given the magnitude of getting divorced. You should ensure that your solicitor is organised, driven by client care, thorough and conscientious when creating or compliling the necessary documents. You need to be confident that your solicitor is competent at even the basics.

At Jefferies we pride ourselves for our competence but also on client care and case management; we have recently been recognised by Lexecl for this.

Some of the most common errors from solicitors that we have seen include:

  • Not enclosing the fee or fee remission form
  • Not enclosing the statement of reconciliation.
  • Not having an address for service on the petition.
  • Not sending in the original marriage certificate and sending only photocopy. You have to have the original and if you cannot produce it, you have to file your undertaking form to do so when you lodge the petition and then lodge the marriage certificate when you promised to do so. If you haven’t got the marriage certificate and you are unlikely to get it (Egypt, I am looking at you), make an application for permission to issue without it, explaining why you haven’t got it in a statement in support.
  • If the marriage certificate was issued abroad, not getting a certified translation in English.
  • Not completing the statement in support of the petition carefully i.e. missing some of the boxes or not producing an exhibit when there is one. Festina Lente, people.

We also looked at the difficulties for litigants in person (LiP). Again one of the issues that arose when discussing LiPs was that they may not conduct the matter to the highest standard and thus doing themselves a disservice during an already stressful time. A LiP will not be able to necessarily access as much information as a qualified solicitor; they are unable to source legal advice which means that they may not have the strongest argument when petitioning for divorce. It can be not only emotionally draining, but it can also potentially become very expensive and a drawn out process for LiPs.  A solicitor is able to represent your best interests and often get the result you want quicker.

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