Divorce courts often have their tied up in complex and bitter divorce cases. Whether they are negotiating custody agreements or judging the merits of a petition, the job of handling other people’s divorce proceedings is a hard one.
Not every divorce is like this. In fact, in France at least, around 54% of divorce cases are fairly straightforward, with each party not only consenting to the split in principle but being able to agree on the terms of the divorce between themselves.
This is why France is currently putting together plans for straightforward divorces to be processed by court clerks, without the need to involve a judge. It is believed that clerks have sufficient legal training to process a divorce for which the couples have already agreed on the terms.
According to France’s Le Figaro newspaper, couples spend only an average of eight minutes in front of a judge. The hope is that this move will free up time for judges to take on the more complex cases that fill their schedule.
Minister for Families Dominique Bertinotti proposed the change, claiming that ‘simplification is a good thing.’
‘One couple in two will divorce. Do we have to make it more difficult?’ asks Mme. Bertinotti.
Family groups however oppose the plan to streamline divorce, claiming that divorce in France is already too easy. There are also concerns that marriage as an institution may be weakened. As with many other Western nations, the importance placed on marriage in France has been steadily declining for some years.
Though there are no plans to bring a similar system to the UK, it may be only a matter of time – especially in a time of austerity when the courts can ill afford to spend the time and resources on dealing with such simple cases.
Some would say the requirement for a judge to oversee the proceedings is no longer always needed – dating from a time when divorce was treated as more significant than it is now, and perhaps when fewer couples we able to come to an agreement among themselves.
There are no reports on whether other European countries may be considering similar reforms at this time – though many nations have similar divorce rates, with around half of marriages ending in divorce.
A report on the feasibility of this and several other proposals for French divorce reform was due to be published this month, but seems to have been delayed for unknown reasons.