The prospect of an online divorce draws one step closer to reality with the publication of rules to be used as part of an online pilot.
The Family Procedure Rules – the set of rules that supplement Acts of Parliament to govern the way the Family Court system works – have been updated to include provisions governing an online divorce system.
There are many websites currently offering an “online divorce”. By and large, what they mean is that they email forms to clients, forms are completed using a computer and communication with clients takes place largely by electronic means. Astonishingly, a number of sites charge their clients to download divorce forms and guidance notes – shocking when you know that the forms and their guidance notes are all available for free from the website of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. If this constitutes an online divorce then just about every firm of matrimonial solicitors in the country is currently offering an online divorce service – we certainly work in a modern way by using computers to complete forms quickly and contacting our busy clients by email.
The fact is that there is simply no way around the fact that an application for divorce must be submitted to the Family Court in hard copy accompanied by a paper copy of the couple’s marriage certificate. That is, until now…
An online system of divorce is set to be piloted in England and Wales in the coming months. Solicitors will be required to complete an online form and upload relevant documents (such as a marriage certificate) for consideration by the Court. It is unclear at this stage how far the online element will extend – will solicitors be able to complete the divorce process online, will queries and updates be handled online, will the pilot extend across England and Wales or cover a specific area?
The last big innovation in the divorce process involved the introduction of six specific divorce processing centres, taking the process out of the hands of local courts. Grayfords has been unable to perceive any increase in speed or ease of the process and for us it has certainly proven unsatisfactory in a number of ways. For example, rather than being able to lodge all our divorce petitions by hand, into the hands of court clerk, unless there are special circumstances we must post petitions one of the regional centres. If we have a question it now involves a lengthy wait on hold with a helpline rather than a face to face conversation with a clerk from the local court’s divorce section. While we welcome the pilot generally, and anything that can help us provide a better service for our clients, we will treat the online divorce pilot with a healthy level of scepticism until we see a more-streamlined, more user-friendly and faster process in action.
You can find all the relevant forms for divorce here: http://hmctsformfinder.justice.gov.uk/
UPDATE 1ST FEBRUARY 2017: The Ministry of Justice has announced that the East Midlands divorce centre will be the first to trial online divorce.
The update to the Family Procedure Rules can be viewed here: http://www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/family/practice_directions/practice-direction-36d-pilot-scheme-procedure-for-using-an-online-system-to-generate-applications-in-certain-proceedings-for-a-matrimonial-order