The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has launched its online divorce service nationwide.
The scheme enables couples to apply for an uncontested divorce digitally via smart forms, removing the need to fill in paper forms and send them to court manually. The initiative is part of a £1bn plan to reform the justice system.
The MoJ claims that court staff currently spend 13,000 hours dealing with complex paper divorce forms, but this simpler and less technical online service has already contributed to a 95% drop in the number of applications being returned because of mistakes, when compared with paper forms.
Justice Minister Lucy Frazer, said:
‘Allowing divorce applications to be made online will help make sure we are best supporting people going through an often difficult and painful time.
More people will have the option of moving from paper-based processes to online systems which will cut waste, speed up services which can be safely expedited, and otherwise better fit with modern day life.’
In a joint letter the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, and the Chief Executive of HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), Susan Acland-Hood, said:
'We worked closely with the people and organisations who use and advise those going through a divorce in order to understand what areas of the process could be improved. Those going through a divorce are at the centre of the design of the new service and we’ve regularly tested the design of the online application to make sure that it is as helpful and intuitive as it can be.
Our project team will continue to develop other parts of the divorce process in a phased approach: Acknowledgement of Service; Decree Nisi; and Decree Absolute. We will test these in private beta (with a small number of selected applicants), before
we finally join up the constituent parts to provide a fully transformed end-to-end digital service for divorce.
We are also currently working with legal professionals to develop an online application for them to use which will allow them to submit a petition on behalf of a client online. We hope to start testing this with a small group of professional users in Summer 2018.'
Collaborative lawyer and family law arbitrator, Tony Roe, who has assisted the HMCTS with the scheme, says:
Katie McCann, family law partner at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth said:
‘It is important to realise that the HMCTS announcement relates to the online process for the public, acting as litigants in person. The release of the solicitors’ application for divorce is still awaited.
To date research has been conducted with 42 legal professionals from 24 different firms. Following this research, HMCTS had significant interest from firms volunteering to be involved in its private beta testing stage.
As a project it will start to test the solicitor application with a limited number of firms initially, representing a cross section of legal firms to ensure testing is robust. An update is promised by the summer.’
'The new digital divorce scheme presents those seeking a divorce with a mixed bag. On the one hand it’s a massive step forward – in a world that’s increasingly digital, an online divorce will be much cheaper, quicker and overall a smoother process for the average person wanting to apply. The divorce process at its core is basic, and people should have the option open to handle it themselves.
On the other hand, the law is complex and family law in particular still relies on older, more traditional routes. While the average person will be able to apply for a divorce, there’s also a much higher chance of them getting it wrong without expert advice at hand. Digital divorce is likely to result in more litigants in person, more unnecessary mudslinging and more contested divorce because we do not have a no-fault divorce legal system in place.
No-fault divorce is desperately needed so both the legal world and the public can remove the "blame game" involved with divorces and let the digital divorce process truly flourish.'