UPDATE: HM Courts & Tribunals Service confirmed during an industry event that they have received around 3,000 applications for divorce since the new ‘no fault’ law was introduced last Wednesday. But how do these figures compare with applications made under the old law? Looking back to the last family court statistics that were published at the end of March, in Q4 of 2021, there were around 1,890 petitions per week which was a drop from Q3, where that number was around 2,132 per week. Across the year, there were 107,724 divorce petitions filed in 2021, which averages out at about 2,072 a week. In 2020, that number was 111,996, so around 2,154 per week. Based on these figures, it does seem that some people were holding out for the introduction of no fault divorce before taking the plunge. It will be interesting to see how these figures pan out across the whole quarter, and whether this initial flurry slows down and levels out.
Will the annual figures for 2022 see an increase because people wanted to avoid the blame game and start the process off on a more amicable footing? We will have to wait and see.
The latest family court statistics were published recently providing data for both the final quarter of 2021 as well as the figures across the year as a whole, and despite speculation that 2021 would lead to a wave of divorce petitions, this did not materialise. Annually petitions were down 5% in 2021 compared to 2020. With the introduction of no fault divorce on the horizon, it will be interesting to see whether there is a dip in petitions in this first quarter of 2022 to account for people deciding to hold off commencing proceedings so that they can avoid the blame game and start the process off on a more amicable footing.
Across 2021 as a whole, financial remedy applications were up 22% from 2020. This fits with our experience of a nervousness around financial matters in 2020 due to the uncertainty we were all facing. As people adjusted to the new normal through 2021, this nervousness wore off and clients ceased to want to delay dealing with their financial matters indefinitely which is reflected in the statistics.
What is clear from the statistics is that the pandemic is still having a profound effect on the courts ability to deal with matters promptly, and across the year, it took 41 weeks on average for private law children matters to reach a final order, compared with 32 weeks in 2020. While this data is not yet available for financial remedy cases, anecdotally speaking, we are experiencing extreme delays with listing matters and more last minute cancellations than ever. Although the courts are trying hard to find solutions to their capacity issues, increasing numbers of clients are taking their proceedings out of the system and opting for private resolutions in order to avoid these extreme delays.
This commentary by Hannah Gumbrill-Ward has been covered in The Telegraph (£), The Times (£), The Independent, City AM, The Mail Online, Today’s Family Lawyer, Elle magazine, TechRegister, EuroWeekly, and This is Money.