Divorce Centralisation at Local Courts

From 3 November 2014 administration of Divorce Proceedings previously issued in Hull has been centralised to a Humber & South Yorkshire cluster based at a Divorce Centre in Doncaster Magistrates Court.

The Divorce Centre in Doncaster will administer all Divorce Petitions from Hull, Grimsby, Scunthorpe, Doncaster, Barnsley, Rotherham and Sheffield Courts.

No longer will it be possible to go to any of the above local Courts with a Divorce Petition in your hand and ask that it be issued there and then.  Instead your Petition will need to be sent to the Divorce Centre in Doncaster. 

Why should this matter?  After all, in the majority of cases, the Divorce Process is undefended and a paper exercise.

Delay/Convenience 

  • No longer will a Divorce Petition be issued whilst you wait. 
  • If the Respondent fails to file an Acknowledgment, the request for Bailiff service has to be sent to Doncaster before Doncaster send it back to the Bailiffs based at your local Court.
  • If you wish to make representations on divorce costs then you need to travel to Doncaster for the Decree Nisi Hearing.
  • If the Judge has any queries on undefended Petitions or Consent Orders that cannot be answered by correspondence then everyone will need to travel to Doncaster for a Directions Hearing.
  • Any contested Financial Application or defended Divorce Petition has to be sent to Doncaster first before it is transferred out to the local Court.

Will the above prove to create mere irritants or are they unacceptable obstacles? 

There is also the "unspoken" concern - loss of paperwork.

There are numerous times when calls made to a local Court chasing undefended Petitions or Consent Applications elicit the response that the Application has not been received because "it is not on the system".  Invariably a visit to the local Court office with a request to look at the paper file leads to discovery of the missing piece of information/documentation.  In future it will not be so easy to address the issue of misplaced/lost correspondence or documentation.  Very few clients will want to cover the cost of a journey to Doncaster to sort out the problem. 

Fee Exemption

Fee exemption does not appear in the centralisation information issued to all lawyers affected by these changes.  Until 3 November anyone wishing to make an application for fee exemption when issuing a Divorce Petition or making a Court Application attended the local Court office with documentation to verify their financial circumstances.  The Court would carry out an assessment process and confirm whether that person was fee exempt.  The Divorce Petition or Court Application would then be issued without payment of fee.  At the present time it is not known how the Divorce Centre in Doncaster will carry out the fee exemption assessment process. 

It has always been possible to issue Divorce Petitions in any Court in England and Wales irrespective of the Court not being local to either party's place of residence.  This has been a matter of Client choice in the knowledge that the distance could increase costs.  It is no longer a matter of Client choice. 

A constructive spin on these centralisation changes is that it may prompt people to resolve disputes by agreement in advance of any proceedings being issued.  Perhaps therefore it will lead to an increase in cases being referred to mediation or arbitration?

Perhaps there is method in their madness?

For information about resolution of Family Disputes without the need to go to Court please contact a member of the Family Team whose details can be found on the Family page of Rollits' website

Posted on: 12/11/2014

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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