The Ministry of Justice is celebrating the results from a £1bn investment to introduce new technology into the court system.
Online divorce was one of several services introduced in the last 12 months. This was in response to significant increased pressure on court admin staff caused by members of the public wrongly filling in divorce petitions. 40% of divorce petitions were rejected because the forms were filled in incorrectly and had to be returned. Many of these petitions would previously have been completed by solicitors for a client who could access Legal Aid, however following huge cuts to the availability of Legal Aid, many people have little option financially but to try and divorce themselves.
The Ministry of Justice states that since the online divorce system was introduced, less than 1% of divorce petitions are now rejected. This has undoubtedly solved the immediate problem of reducing pressure on court admin but the information published is a bit misleading insofar as:
- The process isn’t fully online. You can submit your initial application online, but so far, that’s it. You are not divorced just because the initial application has been filled in online.
- There are no statistics about any difficulties encountered after issuing the divorce petition online, for example, problems with the other party not filling in forms etc. Many courts have simply pushed the backlog of work and problems further down the line. The expectation of the public is that email queries will be responded to within a reasonably short period of time and that correspondence will also be dealt with quickly. Some courts are weeks behind in processing routine enquiries. The initial application is submitted online fairly quickly, but at the moment this is the only quick aspect of the system.
- The process doesn’t help those divorcing with resolving money, property, pensions or children issues.
However, it is fair to say that any news to simplify the divorce system and reduce pressure on court staff to make the system more efficient is good news. The Ministry of Justice is keen to publish that roughly a quarter of the 100,000 divorces each year are now started online.
As the New Year brings the anticipated spike in the divorce rate (with the first Monday of the working week dubbed ‘Divorce Day’ by the media), the Ministry of Justice has published that 13 divorce petitions were submitted online on Christmas Day itself. 455 people decided they wanted a divorce between 24 December and 1 January. This is often due to many people staying in an unhappy relationship over the Christmas period in order to have a ‘perfect Christmas’ and waiting until the New Year to seek advice on divorce. Alternatively, it may also be due to the stress regarding Christmas and the money issues it brings along with it.
Divorce remains a difficult and often emotional process which can involve issues relating to a family home, financial support and children, therefore it is important to seek some initial legal advice even if the application form is then submitted online. Legal fees can become expensive if problems arise which could have been avoided with the right legal advice in the first instance.
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