Current Affairs | Online Divorce system commenced in England & Wales
Further to our article written in April 2018 in respect of online divorce in England & Wales, news emerged over the bank holiday weekend that a new online divorce system has commenced and is now available to the public.
The pilot scheme for the new system saw 1,000 petitions lodged, from which 91% of users reported that they were satisfied with the service. The new online divorce system, has been what Sir Munby James called a “triumphant success”.
The new online divorce system allows members of the public to complete the whole process via this forum, without the need of legal representatives. Whilst the online divorce system is meant to reduce the stress and costs for parties to a divorce, critics have been quick to comment, since the Ministry of Justice’s press release, on the potential risks and consequences with the online system.
Law firms in England & Wales have stressed the importance that, whilst the online divorce system may seem attractive, there is still a need to take proper legal advice. As no marital breakdown is the same, and each matter is largely a case by case basis, the online divorce system may be too generalised, particularly for those couples who may have complex issues in terms of their finances and/or child arrangements.
In that respect, the online divorce system appears to be more suitable for those who have little or no finances between them, and/or no children or have previously agreed arrangements.
Where matters are complex, and parties seek to use the online divorce system, the following risks may occur, where no proper legal advice is sought:
- An increase of issues concerning the ‘blame game’; for example where a petitioner alleges adultery or unreasonable behaviour of the respondent, this could lead to a worsening of the animosity between the parties where no legal advice is given. Where, in practice, most legal representatives would advise not to defend a petition alleging one of these grounds, due to costs and delay, it could amount to respondents who are not privy to such advice defending those types of petitions.
- If a petitioner states that the respondent should bear the costs of their proceedings, and this is disputed, it could amount to a delay in the matter, which contradicts the speediness envisaged for the process.
- A petitioner may file for decree absolute once the decree nisi stage has elapsed (six weeks and one day), without settling any outstanding issues concerning the finances and/or child arrangements. In practice, legal representatives usually advise the petitioner not to apply for decree absolute until such matters are settled between the parties.
The system in Jersey
At present, there appear to be no published plans to implement an online divorce system in Jersey. The current system in place for those parties who wish to represent themselves (litigant in persons), is still paper based; however, the relevant forms can be found online. The States of Jersey website provides for comprehensive procedural advice for divorce proceedings, should someone wish to represent themselves.
The implementation of an online divorce system may be a bridge too far, in terms of generalising what can be a complex process (depending on the circumstances), into a digitalised forum.
Author: Stephanie Devine