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A new divorce petition introduced recently by the Ministry of Justice becomes compulsory from 4 September 2017. The rationale behind the introduction of the new form is the recognition that more people are managing their own divorce proceedings and the new form would make it easier for them to move through the process.

Approximately one third of new divorce proceedings are issued by individuals who do not have a solicitor acting for them. Whilst laudable in its aims, the Ministry of Justice may have unintentionally created further work for court administration staff rather than achieving the aim of reducing the work levels within the Court Service.

The issue hitting the headlines centres on adultery petitions. With the most recently available statistics showing that over twelve thousand adultery petitions were issued in 2015, it has always been possible to name the other man or woman with whom the affair has taken place. However, this has been actively discouraged by family law practitioners as it is unnecessary, it can cause delay and can often add to what may be a high level of acrimony that already exists between the separating couple.

Whilst a note contained in the form states that the other person (co-respondent) does not have to be named it seems likely that people completing the form will give all of the information that they can, including the third party name. The result of this will be that the other spouse and the third party will have to be served with the divorce papers. They will become a “party” to the proceedings and both spouse and third party will have to prepare and send a response to the court. Either one of them may contest the adultery allegation, so we may see an increase in defended divorce cases, which was definitely not the intention of the Ministry of Justice which is looking at ways to reduce cases and increase efficiency.

Family lawyers may find themselves advising new clients who have tried to deal with matters themselves and become embroiled in a legal situation that they need help to resolve. As families become increasingly complex seeking advice at the beginning of the divorce is a good way of avoiding a long and drawn out process that would only add to an already difficult time for all parties.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.