Senior Judge Wants Divorce System Changes

One of England’s most senior judges has advocated removing the responsibility for divorce from judges, and instead allowing them to be dealt with a “registrar of births, deaths, marriages and divorces”.

The head of the Family Court, Sir James Munby, is calling for the government to consider separating completely the issue of the actual divorce from the matter of financial relief. Child disputes have already been separated from the divorce process.

Munby is of the opinion that when both parties want to divorce and there are no children involved, the process of getting divorced should be purely administrative, and dealt with by a Registrar. This already happens in many countries and Munby wants the UK to think about a similar system.

Critics of any change feel that by taking divorce out of the hands of the court will make divorce easier, and will as a consequence undermine the concept of marriage. Munby rejected this, stating that here in the UK we have had “divorce for consent” for at least 30 years.

Munby stated that the current divorce system was “bureaucratic and administrative” and that judges go through the same process every time when considering whether the grounds for divorce are clear. Defended divorces are extremely uncommon in the UK. Changing the process will simplify divorce and should be seen as the continuation of a divorce reform process which was started in the 1900s.

Sir James Munby is worried about the unfairness of the current system when it comes to cohabiting couples. He said that it was unfair that separating cohabiting couples have not rights to financial support. Financial relief for divorcing partners has been set in law since the 1970s. Despite the uneven playing field and the Law Commission calling for change, so far no action has been taken.

The essence of the problem is that women who have been in a long term cohabiting relationship and whose partners have refused to get married, and who have made career or other sacrifices for their family are entitled to nothing, whereas women whose circumstances are identical but have married are entitled to claim support through the courts.

Sir James is also encouraging more divorcing couples to take up the offer of family mediation. He suggests that the poor level of take-up in mediation should have been foreseen by the government and that mediation is facing a crisis. He feels that the public has not been convinced about the benefits of family mediation, and hopes that once details about how the system works and now mediation can be made available, the take-up rates will increase.

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