On Monday 6 August 2018 the family courts will take another step towards becoming digital. From that date applications for consent orders in family court financial proceedings can be filed online rather than delivery to a physical court office. For many law firms increasingly geared towards the digital rather than the paper, this is yet further welcome progress.
New Practice Direction 36I
will allow consent orders within certain categories of matrimonial proceedings to be filed online via an online application system through Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service. The pilot scheme will apply where each of the following criteria are met:
a.The application is for a financial remedy in connection with matrimonial proceedings to which the standard procedure within Part 9 FPR applies. This of course includes financial provision ancillary to divorce (unless for periodical payments only as although they are within Part 9 it is within the fast-track procedure of that Part rather than the standard procedure) but also includes other proceedings including Part III (except an application for permission which is under Part 8) and Schedule One (again unless for periodical payments only or where the fast-track procedure has been elected).
b.The application is for a consent order. This would seem to include interim orders such as maintenance pending suit and directions as well as final financial orders.
c.The applicant is legally represented. The respondent does not need to be legally represented but would be required to have signed the consent order.
d.Access to the online system for making such applications must be permitted and more particulars in this regard are being sought.
e.The application started in the Family Court; and
f.The application is filed in the period commencing 6 August 2018 and ending 5 August 2019. It is not clear whether the date of the application for the consent order or the date of the originating application must fall within this period. Further clarification is being sought but it should be the date of the application for the consent order.
There are various modifications to existing provisions within the FPR to support this pilot. These include an amendment to r.9.26(1)(a) requiring the applicant to file a draft of the order in the terms sought which must be signed by both parties and r.5.1(a) which will require the applicant to provide all the information and documents required by the online application. For example, the statement of information for a consent order in Form D81 will be required when a final financial order is lodged.
It is intended that future Practice Directions will establish more pilot schemes to allow for other stages in financial remedy proceedings to take place via the online system. This is part of the continued drive to improve the efficiency of the family justice system by making it possible to commence and progress proceedings online. This development is in parallel with the online divorce petition pilot, which is open to litigants in person from 1 May 2018 and is understood to be rolled out progressively to the legal profession very soon.
The author would be interested to hear of experiences in the use of online filing for financial consent orders in order to feed back to the court service for future digital developments.