Since lockdown in March 2020, lawyers dealing with family law have had to adapt to an ever-changing set of guidance and procedures. Previously the Court has dealt with applications and proceedings the old fashioned way by using paper and post and for clients to attend in person at Court hearings. The delays felt by our clients have been significant with agreed Consent Orders taking anything up to 6 months or longer to be approved by a Judge.
We have all had to adapt in these difficult times and the Court is no different. We have been catapulted into applying online for divorce, consent orders and some Children Act proceedings. This has of course been a learning experience for us all with a few hiccups and technical glitches. However, we are now starting to see the difference in the delays that we were experiencing.
Divorce proceedings can now be issued online and this process is working much faster. However, if both parties are represented this has faced problems in that the Respondent’s solicitors cannot deal with the proceedings online. This is changing and hopefully soon all parties will be able to complete proceedings online with the assistance of their solicitor by the end of this year.
Where parties have agreed their finances and entered into a Consent Order from 24th August 2020, all new orders must be submitted using the online portal. This portal allows solicitors to manage the case online and upload any additional information required by the Judge. This process has been completing within around 4 weeks and so is substantially quicker for clients and their solicitor.
Hearings are still being heard remotely in many cases which means parties dial in to a telephone or video call with the Court. On the whole these are working well and lawyers and Judges have adapted well to this change. In cases where it is necessary hearings can be heard in Court. There is unfortunately still a long wait to receive a hearing date in many private proceedings (non urgent matters) which we expect will continue well into next year. Many hearings have had to be adjourned this year and therefore the Court will be playing catch up for some time.