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The online divorce system is a fantastic facility available to both legal professionals and litigants in person. Until the divorce reforms are brought in by Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 bringing in the ‘new’ no-fault divorce regime, thought to be Autumn 2021, we will continue to use the system under the ‘old’ regime.
This enables a person to petition for divorce, completing the form online with minimal fuss and being able to exit and enter the form at their convenience, saving their draft petition if necessary. The questions posed to the user are exactly the same to those posed on a ‘hard-copy’ application and are posed in a logical, self-explanatory way.
Our experience of the online system is that the process is fairly streamlined and that it is very user-friendly. A major benefit is the timescales involved with using the online system are dramatically reduced when compared to a ‘hardcopy’ application. In some cases we have been able to submit our application and apply for the Decree Nisi in less than a 14-day period. Divorces using the online system are typically concluded with a 3 – 5-month period as opposed to the estimates of between 6 – 12 months we would give for an uncontested ‘hard-copy’ application.
However, the one major fault in the system is where the respondent is represented by a legal professional. For some reason, despite Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal system being aware of this issue since circa January 2020, this issue is yet to be resolved.
The issue being that where a respondent is represented by a legal professional, the legal professional cannot acknowledge service of the divorce petition using the online system. If the respondent wants to retain legal representation, the divorce petition has to be transferred to ‘paper’, usually issued out of the Divorce Unit at Bury St Edmunds. Unfortunately, the Divorce Unit at Bury St Edmunds is so overwhelmed with applications and the effect of Covid-19 that as of July 2020 they are currently dealing with matters filed back in March this year. Having the matter transferred to ‘paper’ causes inevitable delays and should be avoided where possible.
By way of example, one such matter was transferred to paper in February 2020 with the court informing us that the acknowledgement of service would be sent to the respondent shortly thereafter. The respondent has not yet received the acknowledgement of service despite it being five months after the fact.
Not only is this causing lengthy delays in people obtaining their divorce, but this is also undermining the trust clients place in their legal representatives and causing an increase in costs as one would now need to deal with correspondence and communication with the court about the petition being transferred and chasing the matter to see if updates can be provided.
Online divorces will also be transferred to ‘paper’ if the matter is defended by a respondent or if an amended or supplemental petition is thereafter filed. Of course, a way in which to avoid a defended divorce petition, in an unreasonable behaviour petition, is for the respondent to select the option wherein they confirm that they do not accept the behaviour alleged but allowing the divorce to proceed. This allows the respondent to make their point that they do not accept the behaviour alleged, without going to the time, costs or acrimony of defending and proving that they were not at fault.
Whilst without a doubt the online divorce petition is a great advance in the current divorce system, it has been let down by this fundamental point in service. Until this has been resolved, both clients and legal representatives face ongoing delays and issues with the service.
Nevertheless, given the overwhelming benefits to the online system when compared to the ‘hard-copy’ application process, we would recommend using the system in most new divorce applications.
For more information
If you would like to speak with one of our Family Law specialists about commencing divorce proceedings, please call 0121 212 7417 or contact Kadie Bennett.
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