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Drop in divorce petitions as ‘no-fault’ era edges closer

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(1 April 2022)

The number of people seeking a divorce went down towards the end of last year, according to latest family court statistics, as practitioners predict a temporary surge in petitions once ‘no-fault’ reforms come into force next week.

Figures published by the Ministry of Justice yesterday show 22,683 divorce petitions were made between October and December last year – down 26% from the same period in 2020. Annually, petitions were down 5% from 2020.

However, numbers could surge once a new digital service accommodating ‘no-fault’ provisions under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act is introduced on 6 April.

The ministry’s bulletin cites the drop in new divorce cases to the forthcoming reforms. ‘People wishing to divorce will no longer be required to specify grounds for divorce, including being separated for several years, and it may be considered beneficial to wait until that is possible rather than start proceedings before then,’ the bulletin states.

Whether the number of divorce petitions will increase under the new regime was discussed at a family law webinar hosted by co-parenting support service Our Family Wizard last month.

Solicitor Jo O’Sullivan, a member of the Law Society’s family law committee, said some people have been holding off for the changes. ‘We might see a blip upwards. But I don’t think more people will want to be divorced and go through all of that just for this reason. It’s such a big decision to make.’ she said.

Family law barrister Camini Kumar said she knew a few people who have been holding off and predicted ‘inevitable teething problems’ when the new service begins.

Emma Nash, a family solicitor at Fletcher Day, said the ‘blip’ may not be immediate. ‘People might wait a little bit to see how the system works and get feedback on those teething problems. I agree, I think there will be a blip, but I’m not sure it will be immediate. I think we’ll see a lot in the coming months.’

Solicitor David Hodson, also a Law Society committee member, said the reforms will ‘undoubtedly’ help to alleviate the family court backlog. ‘I’ve seen the forms. The court service have done a marvellous job in simplifying some of the questions that we had to answer before, into effectively a question and answer process. It really is far, far better.’

Couples wanting to divorce will now have to wait until Wednesday unless their application is urgent – HM Courts & Tribunals Service switched off the old service at 4pm yesterday.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said Chancery Lane will be monitoring closely to see if there is a spike in the number of cases in future statistical reports and feed this data back to members.

(Courtesy: The Law Scoiety Gazette)