Lengthy delays and last-minute cancellations are causing huge disruption and emotional anguish for divorcing couples resolving their financial matters via the “broken” court system, according to a family associate at Bristol law firm Shakespeare Martineau.
According to the most recent figures from the Ministry of Justice, there were 119,709 divorce applications in 2022 – up 11% when compared with the previous year. The increase in the number of couples divorce is having a stark impact on waiting times, with it now taking an average of 52 weeks to conclude divorce proceedings, according to Resolution.
Stephanie Kyriacou, family associate solicitor at Shakespeare Martineau, said: “The broken state of our court system has been silently affecting lives for years. Excessively long waiting times and last-minute disruptions are plaguing divorcing couples seeking to resolve their financial matters through the court process, leaving them in limbo.
“The court, quite rightly, prioritises Care and Children Act proceedings. However, that does mean financial cases are often pushed to the back of the queue, leaving divorcing couples waiting for well over 12 months to have their financial matters determined by a judge.
“The repercussions of these delays are profound, leaving many individuals and families in a state of uncertainty and financial instability, heightened by the current cost of living crisis, as they anxiously wait for a final decision on how the assets of their marriage will be divided.
“Moreover, the issue extends beyond the long waiting times; financial remedy hearings are also subject to last-minute cancellations due to a lack of judicial availability. Such a situation is not only disheartening but also leads to significant financial burdens for the affected parties who have already invested substantial sums in legal representation.
“It’s basically a waiting game – there is no shortcut or way to avoid the delays. Urgent reforms to create a more efficient and accessible judicial process are needed, and that onus is on the government.
“It is possible to divorce without resolving financial matters but this is extremely risky as financial claims will then remain ‘live’ between the parties. The last thing you want is your divorced ex-partner returning after they learn you have come into some money and make a financial claim against you in the future.
“In the meantime, we strongly recommend divorcing couples explore alternative methods of dispute resolution. Mediation, arbitration and private financial dispute resolution hearings have proven to be effective alternatives to court that offer quicker, cost-effective and amicable solutions.
“There is a misconception that private financial dispute resolution hearings and arbitration are only for the rich and famous, just as pre- and post-nuptial agreements were once thought of. However, good solicitors should be advising all their clients of these alternative options to court as they could end up saving the parties thousands of pounds in wasted legal fees spent on our broken court system.”