Top judge suggests moving simple divorce cases out of the courtroom

20 February 2015

The result could be that childless couples who consent to divorce could in future obtain their decree by a simple visit to the registrar.

Judge Munby describes the current system as 'essentially bureaucratic and administrative' requiring judges to go through a 'ritual of considering whether the grounds for divorce are made out'.  Whilst it may be argued that judges' time can be better employed on more complicated cases, there is concern that couples will be tempted to bring their marriage to a speedy end without fully considering their legal position.  Critics also suggest that such a reform would make divorce too easy and trivialise the institution of marriage, however Judge Munby says 'The reality is that we have had divorce by consent for 30 years'.

Judge Munby further stated that he wishes to address the 'injustice' suffered by cohabiting couples, who are not entitled to the same financial relief as their married counterparts, when they separate.  By way of example, he cited the scenario of a woman in a relationship with a wealthy partner who had refused to marry her.  Although she may have sacrificed her career to bring up children, if the relationship ended she would not be entitled to any financial provision from her ex-partner. 

Whilst judges have long since recognised the inequity suffered by unmarried couples in this situation, governments have failed to act, despite calls for change from the Law Commission.  Many will be hopeful that in a society where couples increasingly choose to live together without marrying, Judge Munby's latest thrust will finally effect a real change in the law.  

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