The last six months have seen the implementation of some of the biggest changes in the organisation of family law courts in recent decades. This series of wide ranging reforms have been introduced in an attempt to provide judicial continuity, and to simplify and speed up the process by attempting to settling disputes before court proceedings, so freeing up court time for those cases that can’t be resolved more amicably. What might this mean for you?
First of all, you will no longer file your application for divorce with your local family court. In the near future there will be a central administrative base for your area – which for divorce cases for the whole of the Sheffield region, will be Doncaster, as revealed this week – and all documents will be filed and held in the same place; your case will be managed and allocated to a ‘hearing court’ from here.
The ‘hearing court’ will be where your case will be heard. It might not be where your local family court used to be; but will be the designated family law court for your area. If you need to go to court, you will get information about the place you need to attend.
The other main difference is the introduction of compulsory mediation information and assessment sessions (MIAMs) for separating couples, to see whether your case is suitable for mediation. Mediation gives you the opportunity to resolve issues such as monetary disputes and bringing up children, before the case gets to court. As the petitioner (the person applying for the divorce) can’t force the other party to attend, it is only the petitioner who must go to a session before proceedings begin – although clearly there can be little progress made unless both parties agree to meet. At Andrew Isaacs Solicitors we are able to offer mediation for all kinds of dispute, including differences arising from divorce issues.
Do these changes mean that you will have less of a wait if you do need to go to court? This is the intention… however, the Law Society have said that the court time gained by these new systems is being cancelled out by the extra time it takes in those cases where parties don’t have legal representation but are having to present their own case. The number of ‘litigants in person’ (as these are known) continues to rise rapidly following the withdrawal of legal aid for family law cases. The latest figures indicate that 52% of all parties in child-related cases are now representing themselves, so the time it takes for your case to get to court may not decrease at all – it may take even longer, despite the reforms.
Only time will tell whether these wide-ranging reforms will make a difference. If your differences can be resolved through mediation, the outcome is often more agreeable to both parties and can be arranged more quickly than court proceedings. But whether you attend mediation sessions, or whether you still need to go through the court process, to be sure of getting all the advice and information that you need for a divorce, and what your rights and responsibilities are, we would still recommend that you employ the legal services of a solicitor. There is no substitute for an expert when your life is turned upside down by the trauma of a failed relationship and the problems that you have to face.
At Andrew Isaacs Solicitors, you can be sure of high quality and up-to date legal advice and information on any aspect of your divorce – contact us for further information.