The Ministry of Justice has rolled out the new online divorce service across the country. It had been piloted towards the end of last year in the East Midlands, administered by HMCTS teams in Liverpool, Nottingham, Southampton and Stoke. The success of the pilot has enable the scheme to be introduced nationally.
The scheme enables couples to apply for an uncontested divorce digitally via smart forms, and completely removes the need to fill in paper forms and post them to court.
At present the online divorce service is only available to parties acting in person. there are plans to introduce a scheme that can be used by solicitors to enable them to submit forms online for their clients, but the scheme currently only provides for those acting without representation.
The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby and the Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service Susan Acland-Hood have written to judges and staff with details of the new online divorce application process. The letter dated 8 May 2018 says:
Dear Judges and Staff
Apply for a divorce: Online service goes public
Over the weekend, we publicly announced that the online divorce application has moved from private to public beta. This means that, while still being tested and improved, the new online divorce application is publicly available to individuals across England and Wales through GOV.UK
As part of our £1bn reform programme to modernise the courts and tribunals service, we have been developing a simplified and intuitive online application process for divorce, which can be used by anyone without legal representation wishing to apply for a divorce across England and Wales, making the process easier to understand for separating couples.
Progress so far
We have been testing the online divorce application with unrepresented individuals over the last year, starting as a small pilot in the East Midlands before expanding to a restricted national pilot. Support and administration has been delivered by specialist HMCTS teams at four sites at Liverpool, Nottingham, Southampton and Stoke. Applicants were invited to fill in the divorce application form online and provide feedback, which enabled us to continuously improve the form and the experience of people using it.
Throughout the last year additional features have been added, most recently in January 2018 when changes were made to allow applicants to upload their documents, pay and submit their divorce application online. This improvement increased digital take-up by 130% compared to the initial version of the online application form. Since January, we have received over 1,100 digital divorce petitions through the new and improved online channel.
Our commitment to improving the service during testing has seen the previous high level of applications which contained errors (and could therefore not be issued) drop from 40% on paper to seven percent with the first version of the online system to a current level of less than one percent. This includes built in validation which will address the issues that have caused recent comment in relation to errors made in a small number of cases.
Improvements like these – and the ability to complete the application more easily – are already saving both applicants and court staff significant amounts of time. This will continue to increase as the service is expanded.
The online service captures user satisfaction through a survey after their petition is complete. More than nine out of ten of users said they were happy with the service provided.
Putting divorce applicants first
We worked closely with the people and organisations who use and advise those going through a divorce in order to understand what areas of the process could be improved. Those going through a divorce are at the centre of the design of the new service and we’ve regularly tested the design of the online application to make sure that it is as helpful and intuitive as it can be.
Our project team will continue to develop other parts of the divorce process in a phased approach: Acknowledgement of Service; Decree Nisi; and Decree Absolute. We will test these in private beta (with a small number of selected applicants), before we finally join up the constituent parts to provide a fully transformed end-to-end digital service for divorce.
We are also currently working with legal professionals to develop an online application for them to use which will allow them to submit a petition on behalf of a client online. We hope to start testing this with a small group of professional users in Summer 2018.
If you would like further information about the divorce project, please do not hesitate to email Divorce@Justice.gov.uk
Sir James Munby
President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice
Chief Executive, HM Courts & Tribunals Service
HEALTH WARNING: DIY CAN CAUSE SERIOUS INJURY
Managing Partner, James Thornton says of the scheme:
“It is welcome news that the MOJ and HMCTS are bringing the divorce process into the 21st Century. However, individuals acting without legal advice need to be wary of the pitfalls of obtaining a divorce without making sure that their financial position is protected.
Divorce is not to be taken lightly, and the potential to miss the opportunity to make financial claims cannot be underestimated. What the online service cannot provide is the expertise and tailored solutions that having your very own specialist family lawyer can offer.”
We highlighted the pitfalls of DIY divorce in our post here.
If you would like more details on this or want to discuss your family law matter, please do not hesitate to contact James, Frank or Evelyn. Paradigm Family Law offers a free initial consultation and our fixed fee solutions cover financial proceedings from start to finish. You can call us on 01904 217225 or email us to firstname.lastname@example.org.