I have often said that use of the phrase “quickie divorce”, particularly in conjunction with celebrity splits, is misleading. There is no fast track. What I think the media are referring to are cases that are not contested so everything runs smoothly. In fact divorce takes the same amount of time for everyone (celebrities included) – roughly three to four months because certain time periods need to be observed. Or at least that was the case.
What we are seeing now is that divorce and other family law cases are taking longer, with the process regularly stretched out to six months. The reason is not lawyers trying to squeeze more money out of clients by stringing things out as some cynics might think. The reality is divorce lawyers are paid for delivering a service. Whether that takes three months or six months, we don’t charge more.
The reason divorce seems to be taking longer is that staff cuts at a local level and centralised call centres mean the Courts can no longer cope with the paperwork required in divorce cases. The majority of Courts still refuse to accept electronically sent documents (email), everything has to be signed and processed at a snail’s pace. The experience of our lawyers on the ground is that the remaining Court staff is buckling under the pressure and a call centre is of no use at all when the local Court claims to have ‘lost’ your client’s paperwork!
Why is nothing happening to address this? Because no one is complaining about it! It is almost accepted by the public that dealing with solicitors and courts takes ages, but it need not be like that. We need firms – and clients if they are willing – to write to the Ministry of Justice about this to get something done. Many law firms and the courts are simply not customer focused. In every other sector, offering the best service to customers has been at the forefront of thinking (if not delivery) for some years. The courts are not used to being challenged about their level of service. The reality is that until we start voicing concerns that things are going backwards, nothing will be done because the court service will think no one is bothered by the slipping timescales.
The only way to get things speeded up at all in any (small) way is to dispatch someone to court with papers and wait for them to be dealt with. This is far from “quickie”, is labour intensive and flies in the face of our technologically advancing business world.