Courts to receive new powers to reduce divorce delays

Family court judges will have the power to order DNA tests in an effort to cut delays in divorce proceedings.

Senior members of the judiciary have become frustrated that many cases are prolonged by disputes over a child’s parentage.

In an attempt to tackle the problem – and make the divorce process run more efficiently – judges in England will soon be able to order the tests.

The changes, which take effect in September this year, follow pilot schemes in Taunton and Bristol.

When the process was trialled in the two West Country areas, it was found that parents were more likely to abide by judges’ orders after paternity tests had been carried out. This could save days of legal argument between couples.

Justice Minister Simon Hughes said: “When [the cases] come to court, they should be resolved in a civilised way so that children don’t suffer.

“DNA tests will prove parentage and help to end acrimonious court battles.”

In the pilot areas, around two per cent of family court cases were referred for DNA testing. It is estimated, therefore, that they will play a part in around 3800 cases nationwide each year.

Resolution, the association of family lawyers, welcomed this week’s announcement.

Chair Jo Edwards said: “While we don’t expect to see this affect huge numbers of people, it will make a big difference in the cases that need it.”

The organisation believes the next logical step is to introduce drug and alcohol testing into courts, this too was trialled in the pilot areas, but due to funding issues is not set to be extended nationwide at this stage.