Should divorce be kept separate from financial battles?

President of the High Court’s Family Division, Sir James Munby, has proposed that the process of obtaining a divorce should be kept separate from determining financial settlements. His suggestion is aimed at reducing the pressure within the family courts, stating that the majority of a judge’s time is taken up trying to determine financial remedies for couples.  Munby has therefore suggested separating the complex legal battles between couples who are fighting over assets of their marriage, from the ‘largely administrative and bureaucratic’ divorce proceedings. Munby’s argument is supported by the fact that there is limited judicial involvement in the divorce aspect with the minority of divorces resulting in money claims, whereas there can be heavy involvement by the judge when sorting out the financial matters.

Munby has been influenced by proceedings in Europe, where divorce is an administrative process as opposed to a legal one, which is based on the principle that the courts are not involved at the start of a marriage so why should it be needed at the end.

Under the current regime, you must get divorced before a financial settlement can be achieved, and these two aspects must be dealt with together. In his proposal, Munby urges that the two ‘are started and pursued by completely separate processes, albeit, of course, that the timeline for ancillary relief is determined by the progress of divorce’.

Munby’s reforms will go beyond the use of online divorce, whereby couples can sort out the dissolution of their marriage remotely, and will include new administrative provisions, new forms for financial claims and even specialised courts.

Although these reforms have been suggested, Munby has been realistic and stated ‘it would be unwise to assume speedy process’ as the ‘lamentable history of procrastination suggests’.

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