Laws of Eve: Are we finally on the right track with divorce proceedings?
This article is to acknowledge that the 'squeaky wheel' does get oiled. Through this article and through many other media, I have complained bitterly about the slow pace of divorce proceedings through the Supreme Courts since paper divorces were introduced in September 2006.
Now that I have seen some effort being made to address the problem, I am only too willing to acknowledge it. However, let me preface my comments about the changes by saying that I am still waiting to see whether they have the desired effect; but it is still important that they are made known.
The changes that should make matters run more smoothly and quickly include:
- Part 76 of the Civil Procedure Rules - The Matrimonial Proceedings Rules - was amended on September 10, 2015. The following changes are likely to move divorce proceedings along in a more timely manner.
- Paper applications for decree nisi or decree absolute, can now be considered by a single judge or a master. Previously, only judges could consider paper applications. A new master was also appointed specifically to assist in handling divorce petitions.
- All forms required to be filed in divorce proceedings have been amended and the prescribed forms are included in The Gazette No. 49. The objective is to ensure that if the standardised forms are followed, the errors that tend to delay divorce proceedings can be avoided.
More substantial changes are included in The Gazette
- The ages of children who are relevant to divorce proceedings have been increased to 23. This change brings up the age at which a child may receive maintenance from his or her parents in line with the provisions of the Maintenance Act. However, the more critical issue which relates to the fact that a child cannot apply for maintenance for the first time when he or she is already over 18 years of age, which could not be dealt with in these amendments, still needs to be addressed.
- Whenever a property division claim has been included in a divorce petition or there is an application for any order apart from the Decree Nisi, the paper application will have to be referred to a judge, rather than to the master. That amendment could not, and does not address the fact that matrimonial property division claims are not 'matrimonial causes', as defined in the Matrimonial Causes Act.
One important structural change has also made it a little less frustrating to handle divorce proceedings. The Family Division has been relocated to the Supreme Court's new wing at Public Building North (just beside the Supreme Court) where persons enquiring about family matters can take a number and wait on cushioned seats in an air-conditioned building until they are attended to.
Also, the deputy registrar with responsibility for family proceedings will make herself available to speak with persons at the window on Thursdays between 10 a.m. and noon, rather than limiting direct interaction to scheduled appointments, only.
More changes are needed
Even with these positive developments, still more changes are needed:
- The number of persons employed to assist with enquiries at the Family Division window needs to be increased. At best, two persons are available to assist and on most days, there is only one.
- There needs to be at least two deputy registrars fully dedicated to handling matrimonial proceedings, due to the large number of divorce matters that are being filed each month and the need for all documents to be checked before files can be sent to the masters and judges for applications to be considered.
- When files are submitted for consideration by judges and registrars, the court staff must implement a system for follow-up so that the applications can be determined in a timely manner.
We can help
In fairness to the court staff, persons filing divorce proceedings can also assist in preventing delays by being careful in the preparation of documents to ensure that they are accurate, and by trying, where possible, to file documents together so that the files do not have to be removed and replaced multiple times.
I can only hope that we are finally on the right track, but that is left to be seen.