Online divorce pilot: 2018

02 / 07 / 2018

Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (“HMCTS”) had previously published how they proposed that the Courts (in England and Wales) should work differently moving forwards. In order to test the proposals various pilots were to be carried out. Back in January of this year HMCTS announced that an online process for divorce was being introduced and this would be piloted too.

There had previously been a part online service whereby people could complete the form online and print it and send it to the Court but in January this was extended to allow everything to be done online in the first instance.

On 7 June 2018, the right Hon. The Lord Burnett of Maldon spoke at the Sir Henry Brooke annual lecture 2018. He said, in part, that “significant reforms of the civil and family courts have been tested via pilot schemes, such as the online civil money claims pilot – commonly, if inaccurately, referred to as the online court – the probate pilot scheme and the online divorce pilot scheme. These pilots are working well”.

He continued that “First, I mention the online divorce pilot. The pilot has now moved to general availability since 1 May. Over 600 applications were received in the first week and a total of 2,600 as of this Monday. In the paper-based world, an uncontested divorce requires a petitioner to fill out a form and file it with the court. Many people fill them in themselves others pay lawyers to do it for them. They are not difficult but the rejection rate illustrates how lawyers sometimes fail to appreciate that what is our meat and drink proves indigestible for others. 40% of those forms have to be sent back to the applicant. They are rejected because they had not been completed properly. The form checking is done by District Judges or fee paid deputies. It is mind-numbing work which does not call for the skill of a judge or the cost involved in deploying a judge to such work. But a 40% rejection rate also wastes the time of the petitioners and of HMCTS in processing the forms. The paper form takes a petitioner about an hour to complete. The new online process takes roughly 25 minutes; less than half the time. And it is designed (as with so much we all do online) to prevent a person moving on to the next stage unless the earlier stage has been completed fully and correctly. The rejection rate is now only 0.5%. The benefits all round are enormous. The President of the Family Division has been singing its praises at every turn. It is the shape of things to come”.

Whilst the above all sounds really positive, which is great news, I would certainly recommend that people still do seek legal advice even if they are making the application for divorce online since there are the related financial aspects to be dealt with. If these are not dealt with at the time of divorce it is certainly possible that the other party may make a claim for either property, pensions, lump sums or spousal maintenance at any point in the future (the potential claims do not end upon divorce – which is a common misconception – but instead remain open until an Order of the Court).

If the parties are in agreement regarding the finances and even if the agreement is that either party is to make no financial claim against the other either now, in the future or upon death, that can be dealt with by way of a Consent Order signed by both parties and sent to the Court on paper (so no Court attendance is required). This would provide the parties with protection.