The Pros and Cons of Online Divorce
The BBC has recently reported that the number of online searches for ‘how to get a divorce’ are soaring. Family lawyers are now predicting a ‘post-lockdown divorce boom’ after the pandemic has placed a strain on many relationships. However, many people are now understanding that obtaining a divorce is not a quick and easy process.
Recent statistics show that a paper-based divorce application took 66.5 weeks on average to complete at the beginning of 2020. The recent introduction of the online system hopes to speed this process up and reduce the timings to under a third of the time, 20 weeks. Whilst this much needed modernisation helps to bring the legal sector up to date and promises a speedier process, it is not without its pitfalls. At IBB Law, we have had a great deal of experience dealing with divorce and both the paper and online systems. Below are some of the pros and cons we have experienced with the online system:
The new online system has been created in order to assist those who have not had legal advice or assistance (Litigants in Person). In addition to being quicker, it is supposed to be easier with more user-friendly language used. However, this can lead to people believing it is only a ‘tick box’ exercise, resulting in errors which may impact how their case progresses. These errors include:
- Failing to indicate that you would like the Court to order the Respondent (your spouse) to pay the costs of the divorce
The cost of filing for a divorce is currently £550 and without correctly completing the Petition you are liable for this fee in full. The other party will not have to pay anything towards this unless ordered by the Court.
- Failing to select the boxes in relation to a financial order
Often upon divorcing, you and your partner will also need to deal with the related financial issues arising. It is therefore important that you have ticked the boxes within the Petition relating to this although this does not indicate that you will need to Court to intervene. It is always hoped an agreement with regards to the finances can be agreed by discussions, but it is sensible to complete this part of the Petition at the outset.
- Drafting a Petition that is needlessly inflammatory
Until the ‘no fault divorce’ comes into force in the Autumn of 2021, parties must select one of five grounds to evidence the fact that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The most commonly utilised of these is ‘behaviour.’ Whilst it is not necessarily an error to provide inflammatory examples of the other party’s behaviour, this is likely to lead to unnecessary acrimony and may cause your spouse to try and defend the Petition, creating delay and increased costs for both parties. A solicitor can help to draft the particulars of behaviour in a way that supports the Petition being accepted by the Court and will also reduce hostility between spouses.
A significant flaw with the online divorce system is that it currently cannot be utilised where the Respondent is legally represented. Many people are circumventing this currently by utilising their solicitor for advice in completing the relevant documents but submitting the paperwork themselves.
Finally, the new system invites the Respondent to reply to the Petition in what is known as an Acknowledgment of Service. The invitation is sent within a letter with a code to be input. However, this letter can be downloaded by both sides, meaning a dishonest Applicant could file the Acknowledgment of Service without the other person ever knowing about the divorce. The risk of this is that the Applicant can then be fined or imprisoned for contempt of court.
Whilst the online system has been a welcome change for family lawyers and those wanting to move forward with the divorce there are still a number of issues with the system in its early stages. If you are contemplating filing a Petition for divorce and would like some advice about the process or your next steps, then please contact a member of our team who can advise you further.
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