Single Family Court
On 22 April 2014, the single Family Court replaced the three tiers of the Court structure (Family Proceedings Court, County Court, High Court).
The Family Court deals with the all family cases, save for cases involving the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court.
As a result of the introduction of the single Family Court, the Family Proceedings Court no longer exists and all family work which is currently being dealt with in the County Court will go through the Family Court.
However, the family jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court is unaffected by the changes.
All family cases, save where reserved for the High Court, are now dealt with in the Family Court and all proceedings and applications must be issued in that court.
For the purposes of the Family Court, England and Wales is divided into geographical areas, judicially led and managed by the designated family judge. All of the locations at which hearings take place are managed and operated as a single Family Court. This means that there is one central location known as the designated family centre (save in London), where the designated family judge will be based. Although there may be one or more other hearing centres at which hearings can also take place.
There are three designated family judges for London and three court locations – central, east and west.
There is a single point of entry, located at the designated family centre, for the issue of process for the entire local single Family Court
Following these changes, the HM Courts and Tribunals Service have been establishing a network of centralised “divorce centres” to handle the divorce petitions and financial remedy applications.
Divorce Centres are being created in order to be the main point of entry for the issue of divorce petitions and financial remedy applications across the single Family Court. The intention of this process is to free up judicial time for more pressing work and to reduce processing delays and inconsistency.
The divorce centres will operate on the basis of a designated catchment area and work is currently in the process of being transferred to the new divorce centres.
The following divorce centres have been proposed:
- North West region – The North West region will have divorce centres in Durham, Bradford, Doncaster and Harrogate.
- Wales region – The Wales region will have divorce centres in Neath, Port Talbot, Newport (Gwent and Wrexham).
- North West region – The North West region will have a divorce centre in Liverpool;
- Midlands region – The midlands region will have divorce centres in Nottingham and Stoke on Trent.
- South West region – The South West region will have a divorce centre in Southampton.
- London and South East region – The London and South East region will have one divorce centres in Bury St Edmunds. Although separate divorce centres were considered for London and South East, a single divorce centre covering both regions was thought to be the most cost effective option.
Processing divorce applications
There will be District Judges and Legal Advisors on site at the divorce centres in order to handle the processing of the applications.
The Application process will remain unchanged, but the legal advisors will deal with the majority of the routine decree nisi applications at the divorce centres.
The District Judges will handle the contested applications, annulments and judicial separation applications.
The Legal Advisors will be supervised by the District Judges.
It is unclear whether the intention is for the processing of divorce applications to be dealt with by the Justices Clerk/Senior Legal Advisor or Assistant Justices/Legal Advisors.
However, in view of the likely volume of divorce applications, it is likely delegation will occur in accordance with the correct rules.
Financial remedy application
The District Judge at the divorce centres will handle the financial remedy applications that do not require a hearing – e.g. those by consent.
Legal advisors will not handle financial remedy cases.
If an application or petition is urgent (e.g. where there is a jurisdiction race or other urgent application), the ability to issue at local hearing venues is unaffected.
The family court venues that have a district judge on site (including the Central Family Court) will continue to accept urgent applications and petition and will retain the facility to issue.
It has been confirmed that this facility is only available for urgent applications which require immediate and appropriate attention.
Location of Hearings
The divorce centres are the points of entry for divorce and financial remedy application and therefore hearing can take place elsewhere (e.g. at the most suitable location for the parties).
Civil Partnership Applications
The applications for the dissolution of a Civil Partnership will be also need to be sent to the divorce centres in due course – however the timetable for this has yet to be confirmed.
Sending applications to divorce centres
When a divorce petition is issued, it will need to be sent to the appropriate divorce centre, unless there is an urgent reason to seek to issue at the counter.
It is possible to attend the divorce centres during counter opening hours in order to issue a petition, but it will go into the ordinary queue unless it is urgent.
It is possible for divorce petitions from other catchments areas to be accepted at other divorce centres, however this is not always guaranteed.
Divorce Lawyers Eastbourne, Hailsham, Polegate and Meads
If you require advice in relation to divorce please contact our Family Department for a free 30 minute appointment to discuss your circumstances and receive preliminary advice from one of our experienced Family Law Solicitors.
Eastbourne: 01323 727321
Hailsham: 01323 841481
Polegate: 01323 487051
Meads: 01323 407577