Divorce centres: what are they all about?

Posted on April 2, 2015

We have had a lot of major changes in the area of Family Law in recent years, and at a very fast pace. The changes are not done yet. Next on the list – divorce and financial cases.

Prior to January 2015, if you wanted to be divorced, you started off the process by sending a divorce petition to your local Family Court, which used to be called just the County Court. You could apply for a divorce at most former County Courts.

Then, came a very curious event and pushed forward the planned changes at rather a more rapid pace. In September 2014, the President of the Family Division (the most senior family law judge) set aside or invalidated 179 divorce petitions, half of which had a decree absolute, when it came to light that there had been ‘conspiracy to pervert the course of justice on an almost industrial scale’. The divorce petitions had been issued from Italy across 137 courts in England and Wales, all using the same addresses and grounds for divorce in the divorce petitions. They were able to get away with it for so long, said the judge, because they could send the divorce petitions into any one of a number of county courts so no one court had the full picture.

Fast forward to 2015 and all that is changing. Soon, if you want to start divorce proceedings, you will no longer be able to pop along to your local county court. The petition can only be sent to a Designated Divorce Centre. If you do happen to send it in to your local court, they will not process it but, I would assume, either send it on to Designated Divorce Centre or send it back to you for you to do that.

It was only after a solicitor pressed the Ministry of Justice for a reply that all of this came to light [1]. So, what’s the plan?

Well, all a bit ‘last minute’ but depending on when you live:

  • Midlands –you can send to Nottingham and Stoke

  • North East –you can send to Doncaster, Durham or Bradford

  • Wales –you can send to Neath, Newport and Wrexham

  • Northwest –you send to Liverpool (and yes, Manchester solicitors send divorce petitions to the footballing rival that is Liverpool) [2].

  • South West – not quite decided yet but likely to be Southampton.

  • South East AND London – the one that affects us – is going to be…… drum roll please…. BURY ST EDMUNDS [3]. Which is a bit of a surprise to be honest. No separate Designated Divorce Centre for London. Rather a big region all to one court in north Suffolk.

So Bury St Edmunds is going to deal with all the divorce petitions from Norfolk, Suffolk, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Thames Valley and Greater London. There are rather a lot of people living in those areas. I really hope it can work and of course, every solicitor will be doing all they can to help it work but I will admit to being rather worried about whether one court can cope with all that area.

Still, we have a bit of time yet. Norfolk, Suffolk, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Surrey, Sussex and Kent are likely to be told to send to Bury St Edmunds by the end of April 2015. London should follow by the middle of June 2015 (assuming, I would have thought, all has gone well) and so we just wait to hear about when Essex is to send to Bury St Edmunds.

The plan also includes setting out what will happen if divorces are opposed, if there is a financial dispute or if there needs to be a hearing at a court, which needs to be near one or other or both of the spouses, rather than in a very pleasant corner of Suffolk.

Watch this space!

If you have any divorce-related queries, please contact us on divorce@jefferieslaw.co.uk.

Speak to an expert today

Share article