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Substantial reforms of the process for dealing with the finances of a marriage are on their way

30 January 2018 Written by Catherine Dow Category: Family Law
On 23 January 2018, Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division,   set out his vision of what needs to be done to deal with  finances following a marriage breakdown. Sir James has said  he considers the present system is the  ‘Cinderella of family justice’ and says his ‘core ambition is to improve significantly both the ‘application of procedural justice and the delivery of substantive justice’. In terms of procedure, he considers there should be appointed a group of specialist judges to a ‘Financial Remedies Court’ (FRC) where early allocation of a case to the right judge at the right level at the right place will ensure maximum efficiency. The vision for the FRC will cover all types of financial remedy cases currently dealt with in the Family Court or Family Division. There are to be a number of regional hubs with a lead judge for each hub area and this must be a judge with real experience/expertise in financial remedy work. In addition, there will be a national lead judge (Mostyn J) and a deputy (HHJ Hess). Hearings will be conducted at the regional hub and also at a number of Financial Remedies Hearing Centres (FRHC’s) within the hub area and only ‘ticketed’ judges will sit in the FRC and all District Judges and Circuit judges currently in post who do this work will be ‘grandfathered’ in. The FRC will function quite separately from the Regional Divorce Centres and applications for ancillary relief (finances) will be issued at the FRC hub, not at the Regional Divorce Centre. The FRC is to be piloted in three areas, starting in February or March 2018: London, the West Midlands and South-East Wales. Further pilots will follow after Easter 2018. On 6th February 2018 The family Procedure Rule Committee will be presented with a paper prepared by Mostyn J and HHJ Hess which is expected to deal with proposed substantial amendments to the current Family Procedure Rules and the current Form A, ( the application form used when making applications for finances within divorce proceedings), as well as the current Form E, ( the document completed by a divorcing Husband and Wife, which sets out the details of each of the parties financial resources - assets and liabilities). A very important and significant aspect of the reforms proposed is the introduction of ‘standard forms of order’. The ambition of Sir James Munby is that standardised orders should be available to everyone electronically and at the press of a button. This, it is thought, will obviate the need for drafts from barristers and solicitors scribbled out in corridors at court and should greatly reduce the time judges and court staff spend approving and completing orders. The President goes on to say that a body of standardised and judicially approved forms of order will go a long way to assisting judges and others – mediators for example – faced with increasing numbers of litigants in person, who cannot be expected to draft their own orders. The President recognises that his project is critically dependent upon the availability of modern, up-to-date IT in the courts, but expresses the view that ‘the steady implementation of the ongoing court modernisation programme gives real cause for optimism that we will fairly soon be seeing real changes in our IT as the digital court of the future becomes a reality.’

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