Couples facing delays of 59 weeks to get a divorce through the courts

Separated couples are facing a record wait to get divorced as a result of regional divorce centres trying to process a backlog of older cases, it has been revealed.

Quarterly statistics covering January to March 2019, published by the Ministry of Justice today, show that the average time from petition to decree absolute is 59 weeks. The average time from petition to decree nisi is 33 weeks – up six weeks from last year. The ministry says the figures ‘represent the highest figures so far for the periods covered by this bulletin, and is a result of divorce centres processing a backlog of older cases’.

Cyrus Mansouri, head of family law at Mansouri & Son Solicitors, said ‘the figures were shocking & disappointing but not surprising to those working in the family justice system. The Ministry of Justice introduced the new regional court system to solve the previous backlog, but what has been created is significantly worse than the system we had before.’

It is shocking that divorcing couples, including those who have no real dispute between them except that they want a divorce, are facing delays of six months simply to reach the decree nisi stage. This is made all the more frustrating because financial orders cannot be submitted to the court until this stage’.

A question mark hangs over the future of the 11 regional divorce centres, which have been heavily criticised by senior family judges.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division, told practitioners this year that the centres ‘have not worked well’. Days later his predecessor, Sir James Munby, said in a family court judgment that the centres had become ‘bywords for delay and inefficiency, essentially because HMCTS has been unable or unwilling to furnish them with adequate numbers of staff and judges’.

Last month McFarlane revealed that the centres were being phased out and replaced by an online system based in the new national Civil and Family Service Centre at Stoke on Trent.