GOOD DIVORCE WEEK

110_F_92545603_05FtI1aanYzLpXuqmUh1sAdVD8tGj4Cais there such a thing as a good divorce? yes, if you can cooperate fully with your other half and/or if you choose a member of resolution (resolution.org.uk) to act on your behalf. resolution is a group of family lawyers genuinely committed to improving the divorce experience for their clients, being the people who actually have to go through the legal process of getting un-hitched. resolution has a carefully drafted code of conduct representing best practice in this specialised area of law, which all members agree to comply with on joining the organisation. the code has recently been revised and updated and resolution is using this as an opportunity to publicize it to the general public. the rules emphasize the importance of adopting a conciliatory approach, of not increasing the temperature unnecessarily, not personally insulting any party involved in the proceedings and of putting children first etc etc. all good sensible stuff.
the initiative has been named “good divorce week”, as a way of emphasizing that clients can choose to have a good divorce experience or a bad one, depending on matters such as choice of laywer. why on earth choose a bad one, you may ask? unfortunately not every factor in the process can be controlled and for example you can’t veto a spouse’s (or civil partners’s) choice of lawyer. some people want their day in court and a rottweiler solicitor regardless of any advice they may receive to the contrary, perhaps to gain revenge for perceived bad behaviour or in the (mistaken) belief that this approach will achieve a better financial outcome. but yes, proper adherence to the code can well result in lawyers charging lower fees which, contrary to daily mail belief, good solicitors are always happy to do if the result is a satisfied client. for more information visit http://www.resolution.org.uk/code/.
having said that, i do more than occasionally deal with resolution members who only seem to pay lip service to the core values of the group, although resolution does have a complaints procedure where breaches are alleged.
resolution has also published a manifesto to clarify its aims and intentions, which presently include campaigning for the introduction of no fault divorce (a topic covered in previous blogs by this author) and for improving the rights of unmarried couples which are presently almost non existent. these are important and worthwhile objectives and resolution works hard to achieve them, for example by lobbying members of parliament and publicizing the unfairness and difficulties caused by the law as it now stands.
we are proud to support good divorce week and proud to be members of resolution.

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NO FAULT DIVORCE (AGAIN)

this month’s blog re-visits a regular topic in family law circles, namely no-fault divorce. the house of commons library published a briefing paper in September, reminding us of the present grounds for divorce and looking at the arguments for and against no-fault divorce. so firstly, what is no- fault divorce? under the present law, one can only get an immediate divorce by alleging unreasonable behaviour or adultery. if you want a divorce by mutual agreement with no guilty and innocent party then you have to separate for at least 2 years before you can untangle the knot. the introduction of no-fault divorce would mean that someone could get divorced for example by showing simply that the marriage had completely broken down, without having to prove that the other party has been guilty of bad behaviour or adultery.
understandably, a lot of people don’t want to wait 2 years to exit an unhappy marriage. research carried out last year by resolution (resolution.org.uk) found that over half of divorce petitions were blame based. tellingly, over a quarter of those questioned admitted that the allegations contained in their petitions weren’t true, presumably so that they could divorce immediately. there has long been a strong body of opinion favouring the introduction of no fault divorce, with heavy hitters behind the proposal including resolution, many senior family judges and the family mediation taskforce. the last serious attempt to change the law took place in 1996, when a reforming statute was effectively wrecked and made unworkable by the religious lobby in the house of lords (an un-elected body of course). recently there have been attempts to introduce no-fault divorce private member’s bills in parliament, for example by richard bacon.
those in favour of reform argue it is clearly undesirable to force divorcing couples to make unpleasant allegations against each other at a time when they should be encouraged to cooperate as much as possible, especially if there are children involved. also, it seems to me that the making of false allegations to get round the existing law undermines the legal process and respect for the law in general, which can’t be a good thing either.
opponents of change argue that if it becomes easier to get a divorce then this will undermine the institution of marriage, encourage people to jump ship from relationships that might otherwise be saved, and therefore increase the social fallout resulting from failed marriages.
there does seem to be an increasing momentum towards a change in the law recently, although one suspects there is little appetite on the part of any government to grasp the nettle, particularly a government with a small majority as now. however things may be different this time, partly due to the enthusiasm displayed by the head of the family division sir james munby to introduce a family court online divorce process (see september blog). such a welcome development is bound to be helped if the law of divorce itself is simplified. if the reform lobby can jump on the back of digitization and commoditised legal services then this time they might finally get over the line.
personally i can’t see what can be gained by either trapping couples and indeed their children in unhappy marriages or forcing them to slag each other off as part of the process of separating. having practiced family law for 38 years i am in favour of no-fault divorce, provided that any new structure continues to emphasise the importance of marriage and that getting married is a serious and life changing decision.
presumably the briefing paper has been issued to encourage further debate and so justdivorce.co.uk will await further developments with (vested) interest.

Posted in Divorce, Divorce Law, Online Divorce, Resolution, Uncategorized, uncontested divorce, undefended divorce, unreasonable behaviour | Leave a comment

FAMILY FIXED FEES ON THE HORIZON?

110_F_117114359_Ll9asNzUEjX5P4flfSnbzQwHHCs3AJxL (1)
as noted previously in this blog, the push towards imposing fixed fees in family law proceedings continues apace, following in the footsteps of road traffic cases etc. the legal services consumer panel has recently responded to the interim report of the competition and marketing authority’s study of the legal services market, which concluded that competition is not working effectively for individuals and small businesses. the main reason cited by the CMA for this state of affairs was a lack of transparency over pricing and service by solicitors, an old bugbear. the consumer panel has jumped on this as further justification for requiring law firms to offer fixed fees for family law work, or at the very least to publish the average cost of cases and offering a range of fees.
next up comes news that the ministry of justice is consulting on its intentions to reform the justice system, including the family courts, entitled “transforming our justice system”. a central thrust of this move is a project to enable divorce proceedings to be issued online, with the added intention to simplify the court process and reduce the bureaucracy involved. There is to be a commitment to modern IT, which is obviously a must, plus a review of court buildings around the country – hope that isn’t code for just closing yet more of them! the project is presently at an early stage, with the MOJ consulting with the system’s end users ie divorcing parties – that seems to be a sensible starting point. more free information will be made available to court users, partly no doubt to try to fill the hole created by the removal of legal aid, which is clogging up the courts with litigants in person (people acting for themselves without a lawyer). new stats show that in about a third of family law cases neither party is legally represented, a situation which a district judge friend of mine bemoans as often being a nightmare for the courts. this process effectively adds up to increased commoditisation of the divorce process, and with standard processes comes fixed fees as sure as night follows day.
the message was rammed home this month by liz truss, the new lord chancellor, in a joint statement with the lord chief justice, when they made it clear that fixed recoverable costs similar to those in personal injury cases will be extended to as many civil cases as possible.
so what does all this mean for law firms and their clients? lawyers need to accept that the days of hourly rate charges are probably numbered, certainly for relatively simple (if there is such a thing) “commoditised” legal services such as undefended divorces, and even for more complex work in the future – some large companies are already asking their panel firms to pitch for valuable blocks of corporate work at fixed prices. law firms need to invest in IT, and even more importantly actually commit to it with proper training and culture change, since buying software is only half the battle. they need to calculate the average cost of similar cases and factor in the problem ones to decide what fixed fees they can offer for what types of work to make a decent profit while actually getting work through the door. most firms probably also need to specialise, so they can do the fixed fee work efficiently in bulk but continue to charge hourly rates for specialist advice where complexity and importance justifies it. lawyers also need to accept that, although they are professionals and deserve the respect this involves, it does not mean there is a professional business bubble in which they are entitled to make a good living regardless of the needs of their customers and the harsh realities of the commercial world. lawyers also have to embrace new ways of working, such as offering un-bundled services dealing with only certain more complicated aspects of a case and not the whole thing from beginning to end.
for consumers it is probably all good news, unless they long for the days when professionals like doctors, lawyers and bankers were accorded a special status in society. clients have always hated hourly rate fees, which lead to uncertainty as to final cost and appear to reward inefficiency. probably there will be less time and individual attention paid to their cases where fixed fees are involved, and this can certainly lead to problems if unusual difficulties arise. however there need be no erosion in the quality of legal advice so long as clients pick the firms who are properly geared up to the brave new world of IT driven legal services. as ever, the market place will no doubt separate the good from the bad over time and the strong will survive.

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POST IT OR STASH IT?

grown ups spend a lot of time warning kids about the dangers of posting stuff online and the fact that once it is out there it is out there. an obvious example is teenagers who sext intimate photos of themselves to one individual and then find them splashed all over the web, causing huge embarrassment or even worse.
however adults should also look to themselves, particularly if they are involved in divorce proceedings. the online undefended divorce services provided by justdivorce.co.uk rely on mutual cooperation and usually take place amicably, so most of our clients are able to communicate with their ex on sensible terms. but divorce can often be acrimonious and there has been discussion this week about how social media content has become a new cause of marriage breakdown. internet posts have provided evidence of marital misconduct for some time, such as lewd and loutish behaviour on lads’ weekends away. married couples apparently now feel under more pressure than ever though as a result of “facebragging”, that is a constant stream of posts showing perfect couples with perfect children enjoying perfect married lives in perfect homes. one suspects that the reality is often quite different. do you really need to tell people constantly how happy you are if you really are happy? and how insecure do you need to be to believe them anyway?
similarly, i am finding that social media posts are becoming increasingly important to my “normal” offline caseload even after divorce proceedings have been issued. one can readily understand that facebook posts showing a spouse drunkenly snogging someone who is clearly not his or her wife could easily provide evidence to support an adultery petition. however, the ramifications can be even wider. for example i was involved in a recent case where my client posted on fb that he was enjoying a well earned break in one particular foreign country when in fact he was supposed to be somewhere else entirely! even worse, the post wasn’t true, and we had a tough job convincing the other side that it was incorrect.
in another case i am dealing with presently we have used information obtained from twitter to delve further into a party’s financial dealings which seem to be at odds with his stated case.
and so the well worn but ever valid moral of this public service blog is – think before you post and keep tabs on your privacy settings, particularly if your marriage may be on the rocks or you are involved in divorce proceedings. in particular, almost certainly never post anything after 11pm or 3 alcoholic drinks (whichever comes first), free advice that professional footballers and reality tv stars in particular should heed.

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SHOULD ALL ONLINE DIVORCE BE REGULATED?

110_F_66048626_32ri0F2DNcO8wXDBxvEgqs7604YhbMYUthe legal services board has recently published the results of its research into the provision of unregulated legal services, in other words people/organisations who provide legal advice but who are not solicitors, barristers or other qualified lawyers such as licensed conveyancers. this report targets one of the main battlegrounds in the brave new legal world of technological advances. at its extremes, the qualified lawyers are depicted as old fashioned fat cats trying to keep hold of an outdated monopoly, so they can carry on ripping off the general public. the unqualified providers are presented as cowboy outfits intent on making a fast buck, with no proper standards, expertise or accountability. as is usually the case, such generalisations are not particularly helpful.
in the family law arena the report found that about 10 to 13% of divorce services are provided by unregulated entities, mainly online divorce providers and unqualified advisers known as mckenzie friends, and this proportion was lower than anticipated. the main reasons for choosing an unregulated provider over a solicitor were found to be lower prices, greater transparency and certainty over pricing and better innovation and use of technology. the main dangers with using non solicitors were seen to be the possibility of misleading advertising claims and confusion as to whether or not the providers were qualified lawyers. indeed there has been a proposal that no-one should be able to describe themselves as a “lawyer” without having some kind of legal qualification, due to a lack of understanding about what this word actually means.
there lies the rub. firms of solicitors are regulated by the solicitors regulation authority (the sra) which requires firms to maintain insurance, to comply with various professional standards, and to have ongoing legal training amongst other stipulations. there is no doubt that these requirements help to uphold standards and give clients an opportunity for compensation if things go wrong, but they also add to the cost of running a solicitors’s practice which contributes to higher charges. this is illustrated by the recent plea from the law society to government to delay any further review of legal market regulation, to allow solicitors’ firms enough time to deal with the legal fallout from brexit. the public is aware that some lawyers earn large sums of money and there is a general perception that legal fees are not affordable to the average person. there is certainly some truth in this, for example for a “normal” family involved in financial remedy proceedings on divorce.
on the other hand, the process of getting divorced itself is fairly simple, although sorting out related issues concerning children and finances can be very complicated. nonetheless divorce petitions can and do go wrong, and there must be a concern that clients may not be able to obtain proper compensation from a company that isn’t obliged to maintain insurance cover or be tested on levels of expertise.
the reality is probably that both sides could up their game for the benefit of the general public. the legal profession has tended in the past to be conservative, old fashioned and resistant to evolution, although there is some evidence that this is changing. solicitors need to show more willingness to innovate and deliver legal services in different ways and in particular law firms need to understand that hourly charging rates are unpopular with the general public. they make it very difficult to predict the likely overall cost of a case and can even appear to reward inefficiency.
the other side of that coin is that unregulated providers may need to provide more protection for consumers when things do go wrong if they are to escape all statutory regulation, such as maintaining minimum levels of insurance cover. they may also need to introduce some form of quality control to root out rogue operators.
having said that, there is a perception in recent years that government has been intent on bashing the professions as part of a treasury driven cost cutting exercise and that it may therefore be willing to allow unregulated providers to continue offering legal services to increase competition and drive down costs. if so, that may well be a short sighted approach.
fortunately justdivorce.co.uk continues to sit quite happily between these 2 camps, as an innovative provider of online legal services at fixed transparent prices, fully regulated by the sra. yes, sometimes you can actually have the best of both worlds!

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BREXIT – ARE WE IN OR OUT?

110_F_112000663_nwEVF9xyBWVXMhTiHtAi7MBQBFCoIehvthis blog would lose its hard earned credibility if i fail to add my two penny worth to the great brexit debate – but i will try to keep it short! we have all been bombarded with stats, facts, claims and the inevitable counter claims from both camps during the last few months of increasingly acrimonious debate about whether or not the uk should remain in the european union. it’s been fun to watch the tory party implode spectacularly without any help from a largely anonymous jeremy corbyn. immigration, sovereignty and rather dubious economic arguments have largely dominated the debate, but so far as i am aware there have been few headlines about how a brexit might affect the legal industry in this country and the law of the land itself.
given the international pre-eminence of the city of london, a bailout would presumably have a significant effect on the magic circle firms, but inevitably there seem to be competing views about whether or not this impact would be positive or negative. would it release the city from the shackles of eu regulation, leaving it free to deal with the genuine world powers in the usa and china, or would it cut us off from our closest and most important markets? these extreme views mirror similar debates in other areas. while i will leave it to those better qualified than me to provide commentary i can’t help suspecting that the city will continue to do well inside or out, provided that it continues to provide and develop its existing expertise.
how would the law of the land be affected by a brexit? looking firstly at justdivorce.co.uk, a divorce petition can only be issued in england and wales if the courts of those countries have jurisdiction to accept the proceedings. at present the definition of jurisdiction is provided by an eu regulation usually referred to as brussels ii revised, which sets out a specific exclusive set of circumstances which will bestow jurisdiction. for more information visit https://www.justdivorce.co.uk/jurisdiction. these definitions work well enough, although there are one or two which i have always found a little confusing. i suppose if we leave the eu we may revert to the common law doctrine of “forum conveniens” to establish jurisdiction, a test which would introduce greater discretion on the part of the court but therefore greater scope for legal arguments and uncertainty.
one eu rule we could gladly get rid of on brexit is that stating that the eu country where the first divorce petition is validly issued will retain jurisdiction regardless of the parties’ links with any other country. this rule was intended to give certainty, and does succeed in doing so. however, it is disliked by most family lawyers since it encourages parties to rush off and serve the first petition in secret for tactical reasons, rather than encouraging a spirit of cooperation.
other eu directives and regulations seek to break down national borders in relation to the rule of law, for example by providing that certain court judgments in 1 member state are directly enforceable in all other eu countries. this is a worthy project, but such provisions tend to be complex and difficult to understand even for lawyers (or maybe it’s just me). as the brexit campaigners would be quick to point out, there are various examples of treaties that work well on a world wide scale independently of the eu, such as the hague convention. i am not going to open the can of worms that is the much maligned human rights act!
personally i tend to feel we need to look outwards rather than inwards in the modern world and there is nothing i dislike more than the daily mail view on life in general. but then again i would also ban the monarchy, despite the present admirable incumbent. remember the duchess of york? i suppose at present i am leaning towards remain, but i am not finally decided. i would certainly tend to oppose anything supported by ukip, boris johnson and iain duncan smith, but then that puts me onside with david cameron and theresa may. i do have concerns about the eurozone and a federal europe, and wonder how the uk would be affected if/when the euro experiment fails and possibly plunges the whole european project into turmoil. on the other hand, it feels easier to predict how things will go if we stay in, and in truth i am sure nobody really knows what will happen if we jump ship. we are constantly being told that we are the 5th largest economy in the world and if that is right (is it? does that really go hand in hand with austerity?) then presumably this is evidence that eu membership is working for us.
one suspects that people will vote finally with their un-informed hearts rather than their statistics bombarded heads, based on sovereignty (why should those un-elected foreigners make our laws for us far away in brussels) and immigration (they come over here taking our jobs etc etc). if so, then it is arguable that by calling the referendum david cameron has undermined our whole democratic process and that the crucial issue of eu membership should be decided by our elected representatives in parliament and not by the great un-washed.
whatever the outcome justdivorce.co.uk will continue to provide its various online services, adapted as required to cope with any future changes in the law. in the meantime, do let me know if you want me to sign a joint letter to the times. it’s bryan with a y.

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THE TRUE COST OF DIVORCE

Blue fox leicester city football club premier league champions 2016
I still remember the nail biting flicker of hope gary lineker gave us when he pulled one back against argentina in 1986 after maradonna’s infamous hand of god goal (which he should have been banned for afterwards). I also regard him as an amusing and polished link man on motd, and as an ex Leicester city player it has been an incredible season for him. he seems less lucky in love however and has recently been through a 2nd divorce, taking the opportunity to have a gratuitous swipe at family lawyers in the process during an interview with the radio times. he accused divorce lawyers of running up legal costs and encouraging acrimony between the parties, a common perception amongst the public at large. i suppose it’s fair enough for him to tackle this subject, although to my knowledge it’s the only tackle he ever made.
I am the first to acknowledge that there are too many lawyers out there for comfort who should not be allowed anywhere near a divorce case and who do great harm to the divorcing couple by adopting an aggressive and arrogant attitude. I know this because I and my clients have the misfortune to deal with them on a regular basis. there are also firms of solicitors who are well known for an aggressive house style and indeed trade on it, typically describing themselves in website code as “robust” or “determined”. high net worth clients in particular seem attracted to these firms. the fact is that whilst clients do not always get the spouse they thought they were marrying, they usually do get their lawyer of choice. there are many divorcees out there who fall over themselves to employ a Rottweiler lawyer to “milk him for every penny” or “make sure she gets nothing”.
sweeping generalisations are usually unfair however, and my view after nearly 40 years in practice is that most family lawyers are reasonable people who work hard for fair outcomes and actually care about their clients. gary lineker should look at the resolution website (resolution.org.uk) for an obvious example of this conciliatory approach and he may then conclude that he has scored an own goal.
his solution for his inherent mistrust of lawyers was apparently to obtain his divorce through a government website for £400, although I am not clear as to whether this website dealt with the divorce alone or also enabled the linekers to sort out their finances on top. this blog has reported previous difficulties experienced by government in delivering legal services online, although in my view that should not deter them from going down this path given proper funding (see eg postings of january and march 2016).
the legal services board has recently published a report confirming the prices charged for divorce, concluding that there is often a significant variation in the price that consumers pay for the same service. the report found that fixed fees were widely available for many types of legal work, even quite complex cases. this development is not surprising given many clients’ understandable dislike of hourly rate based charges, which at worst can seem to reward incompetence. the average charge for acting for a petitioner on a divorce alone (ie not including any children or financial issues) was found to be £722, presumably not including the whopping court fee for issuing a petition of £550.
this mean average shows the justdivorce.co.uk undefended divorce fixed fee service of £269 to be very competitive. admittedly our service enables our clients to deal with the divorce themselves as litigants in person rather than us doing it all for them as solicitors on the court record, but all they have to do is print off the forms and letters we prepare for them and post them to the court. no penalties and no extra time!

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NOT SO FAT CAT LAWYERS?

Fat cat lying on its back illustration
there are few headlines newspapers love running more than “fat cat lawyer does this/that/the other”. politicians adore any sound bite that gives them a chance to boast they will bash “fat cat laywers”, with one minister promising some years ago to make them squeal. then they get transferred to some other department and promise to bash teachers or doctors or taxidermists instead. any story about a bent lawyer is lapped up enthusiastically by the press and a common theme is often that lawyers are lazy, greedy, overpaid and/or dishonest. however, how does this over simplistic viewpoint impact on the fabric of our society? ok, sounds a bit heavy but bear with me for a moment.
of course there are some dishonest lawyers, who do a great deal of harm to the image of our profession and for example the solicitors’ regulation authority shut down 5 law firms this week alone for suspected dishonesty! there are some lazy lawyers and some greedy lawyers and some overpaid ones (not me, sadly), as with any other walk of life. however, is it helpful for various sections of the media and politicians to depict these dubious qualities as the norm for anyone who takes a law degree?
a charity called citizens advice thinks not.it recently prepared a report on the experience of people who represent themselves in family proceedings without a lawyer, known as litigants in person. it concluded, perhaps unsurprisingly, that litigants in person often achieve worse outcomes than represented parties due partly to the stress, responsibility and loneliness of going it alone. the report showed that 90% of self represented people found that the experience negatively affected their health, relationships, work and/or finances, sometimes resulting in job loss or debt. I suspect that many family lawyers battling with the court system might complain of similar symptoms! with hindsight, 70% of litigants in person thought they would have been better off with representation. well, I wouldn’t want to carry out my own heart transplant without a doctor somewhere at hand.
the charity concluded that the rise in the number of litigants in person was largely the result of recent cuts in eligibility for legal aid. absolutely. however, the report also said that some people chose to act alone because they either mistrusted lawyers or didn’t realise how much value they could bring to the table. another problem is lack of clear information about the services provided by lawyers and difficulty in comparing different firms as a result.
so to some extent family lawyers can give themselves a pat on the back, most of whom are well meaning, hard working and skilful professionals who want to help people solve problems in return for a decent salary. the legal profession has got better at making the law more accessible to “normal” people, for example by doing away with a lot of the old latin phrases and stuffy etiquette, although I still struggle to understand some of the convoluted legislation coming out of parliament even after 38 years in the field!
however, it’s not all good news. law firms can still seem unwelcoming and inaccessible, so that the idea of going to a lawyer is an intimidating thought for many people. also there is no doubt that lawyers are still expensive. people are understandably concerned by the cost involved in obtaining representation, especially where the lawyer is unable to say how much the process will cost due to charging by an hourly rate rather than a fixed price. it’s very difficult to predict the cost of a particular case because this can vary so much depending on how much work is involved, but clients hate hourly rates, just as I hate it when my plumber draws in his breath and asks “who did that botch job”.
law firms need to encourage potential clients by becoming more friendly and approachable, by providing appropriate free information to de-mystify the law, by being more flexible in how legal services are delivered, and where possible by offering fixed fees. many forward thinking firms are already well travelled down this path, and justdivorce.co.uk is (I like to think) a worthy contribution to this important journey from Josiah-lake gardiner.

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ANOTHER HIKE IN COURT FEES!

Greedy businessman with a bunch of money
hot off the press and like getting blood from a stone, news has just been squeezed out of the ministry of justice that the court fee on issue of a divorce petition is to rise from £410 to £550, a whopping 34% increase. even worse, the increase will apparently become effective next Monday 21 march, thereby effectively preventing people from getting their papers into court for issue before the deadline expires over the weekend. how can there be any possible justification for a government department to behave in such a secretive, non-communicative and non-consulting manner?
furthermore, how can there be any justification for this inflation-busting hike, given that the actual administrative cost of a divorce is estimated at about £270? £550 is a large amount of money for anyone, and a huge sum for many that might put them off applying for a divorce at all, thereby possibly stacking up all kinds of problems in the future for themselves, their spouses and any children of the family. it is more that double the price charged by www.justdivorce.co.uk for its online undefended divorce service.
can it be right that government should make a profit from the court system and the people who need to use it, often at a time of crisis in their lives? presumably this is another example of this administration providing “access to justice”. ho ho.

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COURTS TO PROVIDE ONLINE DIVORCE BY 2017?

Judge in online on his laptop
the services provided by justdivorce.co.uk are rightly described as “online”, although I’m not sure all our competitors can justifiably make the same claim. our clients complete an online questionnaire to get the ball rolling and then check draft court forms and letters by logging onto their personal online account. they receive emails to notify them when there are documents available to review on our website.
the bit we can’t control or improve is when communication is required with the court itself, which at present is still a paper based postal system. a divorce petition has to be lodged as a hard copy under cover of a letter, together with an original marriage certificate and a cheque or postal order for the court fee (currently £410). the court serves all documents on the parties by post. hence, no matter how slick and automated our end of the chain might be we still have to fall back onto traditional forms of communication at the court end, which can cause delays beyond our control.
according to sir james munby, the energetic president of the family division, this may be about to change. speaking recently at the family law bar association annual dinner (be thankful you weren’t invited) sir james announced that plans to digitise divorce proceedings could be implemented by early 2017. he said that a paperless court should be achievable within the next 4 years, rather than being a distant future vision. he envisaged a system apparently very similar to the bespoke software already used by justdivorce.co.uk, so the future has already arrived in this corner of the world wide web! I have also heard him speak on this subject and there is no doubting his vision and enthusiasm for this project, which may well carry the day. he is to be applauded for such forward and dynamic thinking.
sir james also referred to the growing problem of litigants in person representing themselves in court proceedings because they can’t afford a lawyer. this issue increasingly preoccupies judges who have to deal with the fallout in family cases at the coal face, which can often be highly emotionally charged. he thought that an online system should help such people, saying “In times of austerity, and faced with ever-increasing numbers of litigants in person, we must constantly strive to improve, to streamline and to simplify the system”. this must be correct, if they get it right.
and there lies the rub. as with all IT systems, if it is to work correctly the project must be properly resourced and funded. the treasury will therefore need to be persuaded that the move to an online system will result in a significant saving for the justice ministry budget – this seems to be what drives most “Justice” initiatives these days, possibly sometimes at the expense of justice itself. unfortunately there has been a significant track record of government funded IT projects crashing and burning, for a variety of reasons.
at justdivorce.co.uk we will certainly be keeping a watch on these developments, not least because any such changes are bound to have an impact on the way we conduct our online business (and offline business via Josiah-lake gardiner). hopefully in a good way however, so bring it on!

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