Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre crippled with delays
Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre, the country’s biggest regional divorce centre, is taking at least 20 weeks if not longer to deal with some aspects of its cases such as the processing of consent orders.
Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre is the main centre for divorces from the East of England, London and the South East of England. On average it processes over 40.000 cases a year and receives no less than 3,000 emails a day.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service insists the delay is temporary, caused by social distancing measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. However the centre was rife with delays long before Covid-19 due to a lack of staff.
Consent orders are legally binding agreements for dividing assets such as money, property, savings and investments. Often they deal with either the transfer or the sale of the former matrimonial home and there can be critical timescales involved. A 20+ week wait to have such orders considered and sealed may mean that by the time the judge comes to consider the document, the parties’ financial positions may have changed.
A spokesperson for HMCTS said: ‘There have been delays in processing paper divorce applications because we have had to temporarily reduce the number of staff in our offices due to coronavirus. Steps are being taken to speed up applications while our online divorce service continues to process more than 1,000 digital applications each week’
Regional divorce centres opened in 2015 but have been heavily criticised by senior judges for delays and inefficiencies. In recent years some centres round the country have been closed by HM Courts & Tribunals Service as more work is issued online. The current plan for the divorce centre at Bury St Edmunds is that it will eventually become a longer-term ‘legacy site’ dealing with legacy work and a small amount of work that does not have a digital journey, such as judicial separations, contested applications and nullity applications.
The message to anyone involved in a divorce is clear. If the paperwork can be submitted online it should be, if for no other reason than to avoid the delays seen with paper applications.
Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Suffolk.