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You may have cringed as much as I did recently at the latest efforts of the rarefied celebs atop Mount Hollywood to further disassociate themselves from us mere mortals to whom a divorce is what it says on the can, and ‘uncoupling’ a self-indulgent euphemism. It may come as a surprise therefore to know that some of our own at the High Court are advocating the jettison of divorce from the courts themselves, the suggestion being that this shall instead be an admin process undertaken by Registry offices. Just think – the registrar that gave you permission for that charming first kiss may be one and the same that decrees it was a bad idea. What delicious symmetry!

The notion that the courts want to off-load this task to another agency is quite understandable against the current chaos and backlogs that prevail, where judges and court staff are thin on the ground and litigants in person abound following the termination of Legal Aid – so much for justice in our brave new world. Oscar Wilde was right on the money when he declaimed, ‘there is nothing worse than injustice, except justice with no sword in her hand’.

Whatever happens to the divorce process itself however, there is no doubt  that the ensuing financial settlement disputes shall remain within the ambit of the court despite the best efforts of the state to cause as much delay to them as possible in the form of compulsory mediation in all cases from 22nd April.  What if you cannot get divorced at all?   I refer not to the current court fee of £410 to issue a divorce petition, but rather to those who co-habit rather than entering into marriage or civil partnership.  Many still don’t realise that there is not, nor ever has been such a thing as a ‘common-law’ marriage. It follows that if you are neither registered as a spouse nor a civil partner that there is absolutely no legal provision for you that allows you to make financial claims against your ex. At best, there is a chance of a claim under property/trust law, possibly a financial claim for a child under theChildren Act, but nothing as of right in the family court.

This particular situation has been out of kilter with modern life for many years and reform of the law long overdue. Sir James Munby the President of the High court, who is advocating the removal of divorce from the court’s function is also pushing hard for new legislation in this area. If only he could persuade those in power to also return a little access to and performance of justice in our courts too…that Gwyneth would be more than Sliding Doors.

Nicola Fraser, Senior Associate Solicitor with our Family & Matrimonial team