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Analysis: New Practice Direction signals further step forward for online divorce
Date:24 JAN 2019
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Trainee solicitor

Emma Chowdhury, of the International Family Law Group, discusses new Practice Direction FPR 2010 PD 36L whichs allow some litigants in person to pilot the next stage of the online divorce system.

Practice Direction 36L supersedes the previous practice direction, FPR 2010 PD 36E. This new pilot is currently only available for litigants in person but it is hoped that this will be rolled out to piloting practitioners in the coming months.

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Online divorce became available to litigants in person in England in May 2018 and then to selected piloting firms in July 2018. We at iFLG have been delighted to take part in the first online divorce pilot for solicitors, in conjunction with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’), and we have been very impressed with the efficiency and user-friendliness of the online portal. We were the first firm of solicitors to issue an English divorce petition online and believe we received the first Decree Absolute stemming from this online process. 

On 14 January 2019 a new Practice Direction, FPR 2010 PD 36L, came into force. This will allow some litigants in person to pilot the next stage of the online divorce system. Practice Direction 36L supersedes the previous practice direction, FPR 2010 PD 36E. This new pilot is currently only available for litigants in person but it is hoped that this will be rolled out to piloting practitioners in the coming months.

Practice Direction 36L covers the period 14 January 2019 to 13 January 2020. It only applies to applications filed on or after 14 January 2019 and therefore cannot be used by those who have already made an application under the online system. It is yet to be determined whether this will apply to practitioners when this pilot is made available to them. We urge it is extended to all present online petitions.

What applications are being tested?

The litigants in person in this pilot are now able to do the following:

  1. Apply for a Matrimonial Order online, also known as a divorce petition (which they have been able to do since May 2018);

  2. Apply for Decree Nisi online;

  3. Apply online for Decree Nisi to be made Absolute; and

  4. Elect to receive orders/judgments from the Court by email.

Respondents to online petitions (whether or not their lawyers are in the pilot) will be given the choice as to whether they would like to respond to a petition by submitting a hard copy Acknowledgment of Service or to respond online.

Interestingly, if on digital receipt and instead of agreeing to respond online a Respondent elects to respond by post, the time period for their response will commence on the date on which they receive their hard copy Acknowledgment of Service. Practically, this means that the time period for Respondents to file their Acknowledgment of Service in this pilot could exceed the 7 days stipulated in the FPR – Paragraph 6.3(b)(2C), FPR 2010 PD 36L.

Of course, this pilot has only just commenced and it is anticipated that each new application will undergo significant development before being made fully available. The advent of these new online applications, however, marks an important step forward in the possibility of different types of divorce applications being made online. This progress is wholly endorsed and supported by iFLG. We will continue to inform the profession of our experiences and lessons learned in working with HMCTS and the online family court based services.

Emma Chowdhury is a Trainee Solicitor at iFLG. Emma completed the Graduate Diploma in Law at the University of Law and the Legal Practice Course at BPP University, obtaining a Distinction in both. Emma.chowdhury@iflg.uk.com

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