February 6, 2020

Online Divorce – a step in the right direction

Online divorce

This new scheme is part of a process instigated by HMCTS in order to streamline the divorce process, and avoid the lengthy delays in receiving paperwork back from the courts that has been creating difficulties for clients simply trying to get through their divorce. According to the Courts and Tribunals Service, 40% of new work is now issued online and processed centrally in a ‘service centre’.

This shift has allowed them to start reducing the number of regional divorce units that previously dealt with paper applications, so that all existing paper applications currently in the system can still be dealt with at the unit at Bury St Edmunds, and any new paper applications that come in can also be re-allocated to the digital pathway there. It is still not possible to apply for judicial separations, financial remedy applications, or nullity applications online, although a pilot is currently in place which is trialling online financial remedy applications - there is currently no timetable for when this will be available nationally.

According to law firms who have trialled the online service, it has already drastically reduced wait times in terms of issuing proceedings, as well as feedback regarding any amendments needed on petitions. There are still issues as soon as the receiving court centre develops backlogs of requests for Decrees Nisi and Absolute; nonetheless, initial feedback has been positive in the sense that going online has made it easy to check progress without spending time on the phone to the court, and the new interface is user-friendly and accessible. By all accounts, the new system is therefore definitely a move towards more cost-effective, straightforward divorces.

Why use a lawyer?

Although the new online system enables clients to apply for divorce more easily than ever before, and there are now many online companies advertising the ability to take them through the process at a fraction of the price of a traditional law firm, these two factors are not new threats within the Family law landscape: clients have been able to do their own divorces for some time, and there have always been companies that offer a cheap service by simply filling out the paperwork.

The new online system, however, is not designed to, nor is it able to, minimise the complexities of personal circumstance that can arise during the divorce process. It still does not account, for example, for the interplay between divorce proceedings, financial remedy proceedings and children’s law proceedings, all of which are important to understand in order to ensure the divorce goes as efficiently, satisfactorily and hopefully painlessly as possible. The new online divorces are simply of administrative assistance, helping to streamline the paper trail and reducing the pressure on court systems already overloaded with cases.

Therefore, although doing your own divorce is certainly an option, nothing can replace the expertise and reassurance of having a solicitor on hand to guide you through the process. That way not only do you know you are getting the best result for you and your family, but the risk of the process having to be re-looked at later if issues are not resolved properly is minimised.

We are in the process of setting up access to the online divorce service and we will shortly be able to issue divorces online for our clients. We hope this will resolve the often lengthy delays we and our clients have experienced from the divorce centres processing paper applications.

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