Rather than highlighting any unusual quirks that the Judiciary might have committed and passing them off as April Fool’s Day facts today I’m sticking to something much safer.
Consider this. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 is now in law and ready to introduce no-fault divorces later this year. Does this mean divorces will be ‘easier’? Or more commonplace?
Well, steps to make the process more manageable have already started. The implementation of digital signatures in the divorce process during Covid-19 lockdown restrictions was only following practice in commercial transactions that had been in place for several years.
H M Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) led the introduction of the Financial Remedy online service last summer with the aim of saving not only time, but also legal fees for divorcing clients.
HMCTS says “We understand that resolving finances after separating is one of the most challenging aspects of a couple’s divorce.” According to its figures, there were over 28,000 consent order applications for financial remedy orders in 2019. Any streamlining of the process is to be applauded.
A consent order set outs the agreement a divorcing couple has reached for their finances. As Gov.UK explains it is submitted to the Court for review and will be made legally binding once the Decree Absolute has been granted. Pensions are included within the provisions of the order, with a pension sharing annex setting out the specific details of the scheme and the split agreed where appropriate.
Ultimately the Court will decide how the financial assets (including pensions) are split as well as any ongoing income provision if the parties are unable to reach agreement and provide a consent order to the court for approval.
Where an individual has appointed a solicitor progress can be tracked by online notifications meaning lawyers do not have to repeatedly contact the Courts to chase. Typically, online submissions are processed and returned within a week. However, Individuals who choose to represent themselves will still have to submit a paper-based consent order.
The Family Courts are still clogged with a backlog of cases – many relating to arrangements for children – in spite of the welcome introduction of online tracking and ‘innovations’ like the introduction of digital signatures.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will certainly make the divorce less painful. It will almost certainly result in a rise of the number of cases in 2021/22, in my opinion. But for all the online guidance and simplification and streamlining of procedure, should such a life event be managed without professional help?
Would you contemplate carrying out a surgical procedure on yourself with the help of a few friends and an online set of instructions?
Don’t be an April Fool.
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The above is accurate as at 31 March 2021. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.
The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case by case basis.