Emma Hillier, in our leading Family law team, discusses the ongoing national pilot scheme run by the Court Service, designed to provide an easier and online way to apply for a financial remedy Consent Order.
Following our attendance at the Resolution National Conference in Manchester in April, our Family team has joined a national pilot scheme run by the Court Service, with the aim of providing a simplified and digital method of applying for a financial remedy Consent Order via an online portal. Our experience of the scheme to date has been very positive. The scheme offers a much quicker turnaround for Consent Orders, which highlights the difficulties within the court service when dealing with matters “on paper”.
Despite being set up four years ago in an effort to “streamline” the divorce and financial remedy process for parties and their lawyers, the eleven divorce centres within England and Wales have struggled to deliver. Delays are significant and as a result, parties can often be waiting months to receive approval of even the simplest of Consent Orders. Chasing the court is a source of frustration, as a number of the divorce centres operate a centralised call centre who are clearly dealing with a huge number of calls. It is not uncommon to be on hold for over half an hour, when attempting to speak to someone.
On 24 April, we submitted a Consent Order to the divorce centre in Bury St Edmunds for approval by a Judge. When we chased some eleven weeks later, the court staff informed us that the Order had still not been approved. We were told that, despite the Order having been physically passed to a Judge on 26 May, the backlog was such that we would be waiting a further six weeks to receive confirmation as to whether the Order has been approved. We eventually received the approved Order on 31 July, some fourteen weeks after submission. Conversely, thanks to the online portal, another Consent Order, submitted to the court on 4 June 2019, was approved, sealed and available for us to download on 17 June, not even two weeks later. At the current time, our experience is that Consent Orders are being considered, approved and are available for download within four to six weeks of submission.
We are working with the HMCTS Divorce Project to test the service and provide feedback where possible to assist them moving forward, before the scheme is opened up and released more widely. The Pilot scheme is now closed to new applicants. We are pleased to be able to offer the scheme to clients on cases which meet the criteria.
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This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.