Divorce rates were steadily declining until January 2020 but have now suddenly risen. The process for divorce can be one of the most stressful and time-consuming processes one may have to go through, as on average 42% of marriages end in divorce. Due to the volume of cases, there can be backlogs and massive delays in processing these applications HMCTS launched their online divorce service on 1 May 2018 for anyone in England and Wales to apply for a divorce without legal representation. They are now working on an online service for legal professionals to submit applications on their client’s behalf. The question is are the Courts really ready to go online?
Pros of online divorces
The divorce process is typically a paper-based exercise. This means that in most cases the Court can deal with the termination of the legal marriage without the parties ever appearing in Court. Situations, where parties have to attend Court, can include when the respondent would like to contest the divorce or where there is an issue regarding costs. Therefore the process itself can be simple enough to be able to do online.
Another benefit to having an online portal is that you can check the status of your application by simply logging into the portal. This can be cost-effective for the petitioner as there is less of a need to call the Court, wait in a lengthy queue to find out whether the Court has received your paperwork or processed it yet. This also decreases the chance of documents being misplaced and lost in the post as they can be easily accessed online.
Cons of online divorces
Currently, the online system is only available to people that are not legally represented. When it comes to ending a marriage there is more to consider than just terminating the legal relationship. There are financial implications of a marriage such as the invalidation of a Will and property disputes which need to be dealt with. There are also arrangements for the children that need to be discussed. Without legal advice, the person could be leaving themselves vulnerable to future financial claims without realising.
Family lawyers also know all too well that an online system cannot account for every eventuality. Often there will be complications in the divorce process which will result in having to instruct a solicitor. The problem with this is that as soon as a solicitor comes on record as acting for that person, the Courts transfer the application to a paper application and then the divorce can no longer be dealt with online. This can cause major delays in the processing of the applications. This may deter people from instructing solicitors and lead them to submit applications with errors which will also lead to delays.
Although being able to submit applications online can be easy there is also concern about what happens when the Court servers are down and the systems are not working. There are times when the portal is down for maintenance or even that the system is not working. When this happens the process is then put on pause until the online service is repaired. This can in some cases take weeks which means that the parties either have to wait for the service to start working again or request a paper application.
There is no doubt that being able to complete applications online can be very beneficial in the case of a simple divorce application. By simple I mean when both parties are fully engaged, and there is contest from the Respondent regarding the divorce itself or the costs of the same.
As we can see however, this is not a flawless system and is not appropriate in all cases. It also remains to be seen whether once the portal goes live for legal professionals, whether the Courts technology and servers are up for the challenge as no doubt the volume of applications will only increase, with the introduction of no-fault divorces.
HOW CAN WE HELP YOU
Our family law team has over 35 years of successful experience dealing with divorce and family finance cases. We are ideally placed to advise you about what will happen if you petition for a divorce or you receive a divorce petition. We fully understand how stressful this process can be and we will be with you every step of the way.
We can offer an initial fixed fee consultation for £360 ( based upon an hourly rate of £300.00+ vat per hr) to review your case and advise you.
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