this blog is particularly for the information of anyone who completed a form E (financial disclosure form) in divorce proceedings between april 2014 and December 2015 or april 2011 and January 2012, using the online form published on the hmcts website (https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-courts-and-tribunals-service). my source is a written statement to parliament by shailesh vara mp and the ministry of justice on 21 January. the statement confirms that just before xmas 2015 an error was discovered in the online version of the form e on the site. as a result, the automatic calculator used to populate the form wrongly calculated the total of the individual’s net assets by failing to deduct certain liabilities. the fault was corrected on 14 December 2015, but unfortunately the problem doesn’t end there.
form e is a very important document in financial remedy proceedings ie an application for financial orders within divorce or civil dissolution proceedings.(for more information see https://www.justdivorce.co.uk/financial-clean-break). it is completed by parties to make disclosure of their income, assets, debts etc and the court cannot decide how to divide the pot fairly until it first identifies how big the cake is. the error in the online form means that the court (or the parties themselves if they negotiated their own agreement) was using incorrect figures when reaching it’s decision, and therefore the outcome may have been unfair. mr vara did fairly point out however that this may not inevitably be true in every case, as various factors are considered by the court in addition to the bare financial figures.
hmcts staff have been able to identify 3,638 files where the faulty form e was used, resulting in incorrect figures being produced and relied upon by the court and/or the parties to the proceedings. about 1,400 of these cases are still live, and hmcts has been able to notify the court in each case of the problem so that the figures can be corrected before a final decision has been reached. this may however result in additional legal costs for the affected parties and one wonders if compensation will be offered to those who suffer detriment by relying on the hmcts website in good faith.
this leaves 2,235 cases which are closed and in which incorrect figures may have been relied upon to provide unfair outcomes. I understand that hmcts is writing to all these parties notifying them of this problem and explaining the possible options which may be available to them, such as applying to the court to vary or set aside any order granted. a new form has been created to provide for such applications and the usual court fee will be waived. all this is helpful, but it may be difficult for litigants in person to make an application of this nature and I have not seen any offer by hmcts to reimburse to parties their legal expenses. don’t hold your breath.
there is also a dedicated email address to contact for people who believe they may have been affected by this error, being formE@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk.
I should add that we do not generate form e at justdivorce.co.uk, because our financial clean break order service relies upon the full consent and cooperation of the parties and therefore form E is not required. of course we do everything we can to keep all our online forms fully up to date and I am confident as i write that they are all completely accurate. however, it would be helpful if practitioners could be given a little more notice of changes in court forms!
as the law has stood in england and wales since 1973, if a husband and wife have not already been separated for at least 2 years then neither of them can get a divorce except by making allegations of bad behaviour or adultery. the reasoning behind this is that the institution of marriage would be fatally undermined if divorce is made too easy and so parties should have to show fault before bringing their marriage to an end. making it difficult to get divorced is also seen as benefitting any children of the relationship, although this is apparently contradicted by recent research from resolution (www.resolution.org.uk) showing that 8 out of 10 children would prefer their parents to split up if they are unhappy. hence there has always been strong opposition to attempts to introduce “no fault divorce”, where the parties can end their marriage by mutual agreement without having to prove misconduct. the sabotage of the family law act 1996 is a typical example of this conflict, illustrating the strength of the religious lobby in the house of lords (an un-elected body, incidentally).
on the face of it this approach may seem logical, but family lawyers are familiar with the practical difficulties it raises at the coal face every day. the requirement to make allegations of bad behaviour immediately risks raising the temperature unnecessarily. it also actively encourages the divorcing couple to adopt unreasonable and aggressive positions from the start, which in turn can polarise attitudes and create conflict where none existed before. this can increase legal costs dramatically and foster acrimony and delay. how can that possibly bolster the institution of marriage, or help children caught up in family breakdown?
family law is a specialist area of legal practice requiring a different mind-set to other forms of litigation. a good family lawyer will always work to reduce conflict in accordance with the resolution code of conduct and will do everything possible to keep the family out of court altogether, for example by considering alternative forms of dispute resolution such as mediation. indeed we are just coming to the end of family dispute resolution week, with that specific objective in mind. there are legitimate ways and means of achieving a consensual divorce even under the law as it currently stands, if both parties and their lawyers where instructed adopt a sensible and conciliatory approach. see for example https://www.justdivorce.co.uk/unreasonable-behaviour. however, there are still far too many lawyers out there with the old aggressive approach, who often fan the flames and raise emotions rather than taking the heat out of the situation. this attitude can have a terrible impact on divorcing couples, at great personal and financial cost to the parties and their children. in my view these lawyers rarely do this cynically to run up legal costs – they are just naturally adversarial, and usually the ones who won’t speak on the phone.
fortunately there now seems to be a fresh momentum for no fault divorce, again spearheaded by resolution. last month a no fault divorce bill introduced into the commons by mp for south norfolk richard bacon was passed for a 2nd reading despite attracting predictably stiff opposition from conservative mp sir edward leigh. mr bacon contended that his bill would not actually make divorce easier, but would remove the need for divorcing couples to throw mud at each other. he pointed out that one can already get a quickie divorce in 5 months, although in fact it could be even faster than that in a simple case. mr bacon proposed that the divorce process should be lengthened to maybe a year, to counter any suggestion that no fault divorce would make it easier to get un-hitched.
personally I am sure that the no-fault route is the way to go, even if it means re-drafting our wonderful undefended divorce online service or even putting us out of business! I am not at all so sure however that introducing a one year delay in the process is a good idea. delay tends to be a bad thing generally in family cases, especially where children are involved. it may be better to focus on how the parties will come out of the process the other side, for example by helping the parties to become single parents. it will be interesting to see where we go from here.
as clients of justdivorce.co.uk will know, the present fee paid by a petitioner (the person issuing a divorce petition) to the court service to process a divorce or civil dissolution is £410. this fee is paid upfront when the divorce petition is sent to the court for issue and for most people it’s a significant chunk of money. the last increase was in july 2013, just over 2 years ago. worryingly, the ministry of justice (moj) has recently announced a consultation and review of court fees across the board, including the family court. i say worryingly because in other areas of law there were increases only 6 months ago of 600%!
the proposal on offer is to raise the existing fee for issuing a divorce petition from £410 to £550, a whopping inflation busting increase of over a third. however, the law society reports that the moj’s own research suggests that the true administrative cost of dealing with a divorce petition is £270. coincidentally this equates almost exactly to the fee of £269 charged by justdivorce.co.uk for its undefended divorce service, although I suspect that we carry out significantly more work in delivering our online offering. on these figures government is proposing to make a profit of £280 on every divorce handled by the court service. it is worth noting that the service provided by the courts to its users can be variable, particularly at present while the new regional divorce centres are bedding in. see my previous blog of 3 july this year for more detail on that development. furthermore, yet more court fees are payable on top of the initial fee if the parties need a judge to deal with any children or financial issues arising within the divorce proceedings.
this statement of intent from our leaders raises 2 serious points. firstly, there must be a chance that a court fee of £550, possibly in addition to lawyer’s fees for professional advice, will put some people off the whole process completely for financial reasons, leaving them still married and in limbo when they should be getting themselves divorced. maybe this could also have a knock on effect on any children on the family?
secondly, government ministers have spoken a great deal in recent years about the importance of access to justice. yet at the same time they have taken drastic measures which seem designed to achieve exactly the opposite effect, for example by largely removing the availability of legal aid from areas such as family law and personal injury work. far more knowledgeable commentators than myself have been warning consistently of the wider consequences of these apparently cost cutting measures for society as a whole. it is disappointing when politicians retaliate with the easy but cheap shot that this is just another example of fat cat lawyers seeking to feather their own nests.
we all have to accept that we live in difficult times, and i can allow that our society just may not in future be able to afford what perhaps we once took for granted. however, the ability of individual citizens to go to court and obtain redress under the law of the land must be one of the most fundamental freedoms that we possess. it should be cherished wherever possible, not undermined.
can it possibly be right as a matter of principle for government to profit from the court fee system, thereby effectively taxing people who seek the protection of the law? the president of the law society and many others are adamant that it is not, and i agree with them.
I’m sure there are people out there who believe that online divorce providers like justdivorce.co.uk are sinful, for undermining the institution of marriage and making it easier for people to get divorced. I do understand that argument, although having been a family lawyer for over 35 years and counting I am also conscious of the misery suffered by spouses and their children trapped in unhappy marriages.
everyone has their own moral code. all of us are different and certainly none of us are perfect. personally I regard as morally reprehensible those websites that actually encourage spouses to commit adultery during marriage. a notorious example for all the wrong reasons is Ashley Madison, whose strapline is “Life is Short. Have an Affair – Guaranteed!”. the site describes itself as the world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters and even has an infidelity news feed.
at the risk of sounding like mr angry of cyberspace I really think it awful to be actively encouraging married people to commit adultery for profit. apart from fostering deception between people who have committed their lives to each other, there is also the obvious risk of harm to any children of the marriage or relationship. does it feel like the last days of the decadent, crumbling roman empire to see sites like these (and maybe some would include justdivorce.co.uk) trading confidently without public condemnation, or even a good dose of tory MP outrage?
understandably, Ashley Maddison emphasises that it is an SSL secure site, that it is 100% discreet, and that it is the recipient of a trusted security award. it boasts over 41 million anonymous members, yet despite these precautions the site hit the headlines last month in the most embarrassing fashion. a group of hackers called the impact team claimed to have broken into the site and made public the names and confidential information relating to numerous registered users, including various high profile personalities and people in positions of public trust.
impact blamed the site’s users themselves, stating – “Find yourself in here? It was ALM that failed you and lied to you. Prosecute them and claim damages. Then move on with your life. Learn your lesson and make amends. Embarrassing now, but you’ll get over it.” I’m not sure that 2 wrongs make a right in this way and clearly these incidents raise serious privacy issues for providers and users of the internet. it seems almost impossible to block hackers who are determined to break into a site, as the US military has found to its cost. presumably numerous law suits will follow in litigation mad America from victims of these embarrassing disclosures, and maybe this in itself will bring the site down.
of more local significance is the fact that there are apparently more than 1 million users of Ashley Madison registered in the UK. some of these details are bound to come into the public domain, as suspicious spouses sift through hacked information for incriminating evidence against their errant partners. will this lead to a spike in the number of divorces in England and Wales based on adultery? quite possibly. could the mere fact of registration on Ashley Madison constitute evidence in itself of adultery? in short, no. however it would certainly fan the flames of any doubts the other spouse may already be harbouring.
instead of registering with sites like Ashley Madison in search of thrills and illicit sex, maybe the better option would be to register with justdivorce.co.uk and get a divorce before starting another relationship? is that so evil?
as reported in previous blog posts, the family court is presently undergoing significant changes. one example is the ongoing creation of regional administrative hubs around the country, which will be responsible for issuing all divorce petitions within the catchment area for each hub. the new divorce unit for London and the south east is in bury st edmunds (of course), and a briefing session was arranged for the press, public and users of the new hub towards the end of may. at this event it was claimed on behalf of hmcts, which operates the court service, that 40% of new petitions sent to the courts for issue are rejected. some of the common reasons cited are really basic stuff, such as omitting key information, failing to include the court fee or enclosing unsigned papers. this really is a worrying statistic and certainly not one that remotely applies to justdivorce.co.uk!
it would be interesting to peek at a breakdown of where these rejected applications come from. presumably the main culprits are sloppy or inexperienced solicitors, sloppy or inexperienced online divorce providers, badly supervised support staff of the aforementioned and litigants in person who, understandably, are not familiar with the process. only the latter have some excuse. although attempts have sensibly been made to simplify the divorce process with litigants in person in mind, there are still some procedural steps that are easy to get wrong, plus some genuinely complicated techie issues, such as establishing jurisdiction where one or both parties live abroad(see http://www.justdivorce.co.uk/jurisdiction).
in my view, part of the problem lies with the court itself. like many public bodies the court service seems to be over worked and under funded and it is currently taking several weeks for even simple applications to be processed and issued by the courts. the facility to lodge applications in person at court is becoming severely restricted in the absence of urgent circumstances. court staff seem to be less and less experienced and sometimes do not appear to understand the law relating to various relevant issues, such as how a person can legally change his or her name. we have found that on occasions a divorce petition has been rejected by court staff for reasons which are simply wrong, as has been accepted when the papers have been returned with a letter from us putting them right.
as part of the reorganisation of the family court, “legal advisors” rather than district judges will now deal with some of the stages involved in the divorce process, such as checking new petitions. again this may well be a sensible development, provided it is properly resourced. although I have seen a fair bit of information about these developments I have yet to read a clear summary of the qualifications and experience these legal advisors are required to have. hopefully they are being properly trained and will adopt a positive attitude to their role and will not for example feel a need to make their mark by rejecting petitions for very minor irregularities. all of us involved in the divorce process, including the district judges, must remember that we are there to serve the parties to the proceedings. they pay a lot of money for the privilege, as the court fee to issue a divorce petition is currently £410, a lot more than the fee charged by justdivorce.co.uk (£269).
another possible niggle with the new legal centres is that the person intending to issue the petition should now insert his/her home postcode into the courtfinder website search engine(https://courttribunalfinder.service.gov.uk/search/) to identify where to send the papers for issue. we are currently experiencing some difficulties around this as well, and it is important for this website to be kept closely up to date with the changes so that parties can choose the correct court first time round.
sensible attempts to increase efficiency and reduce delay must be welcomed, and the present system is creaking in both areas. however the new legal hubs must be properly funded to ensure that the system does not cause even more frustration for court users, both professionals and litigants in person.
of course everyone makes mistakes, and I would not claim that at justdivorce.co.uk we have never got it wrong. I can say confidently however that we nearly always get it right.
hot on the heels of my last blog post on 31 may (this divorce is unfair!) comes a joint report from the universities of warwick and reading, with the results of research into a widespread perception of bias against fathers in cases involving children. the report concludes that men are in fact treated fairly when seeking contact (often wrongly referred to as access) with children and are “overwhelmingly successful” when doing so.
the report also found that men were as likely as women to be successful on an application for sole residence, that is an order that a child of the family should live with one of the parents alone (formerly known as custody, but now called a child arrangements order).
more evidence apparently that a law firm which targets men as the down trodden victims of the family justice system is wide of the mark. however the study involved 200 cases – is that enough to provide reliable conclusions? no doubt this emotive debate will run and run.
the telegraph reported recently that a group of women led by michelle young, who feel the divorce courts have left them short-changed, have joined forces to help others in their position. mrs young was involved in particularly acrimonious, long running and expensive divorce and financial remedy proceedings. she and others have clearly been left feeling that many women are treated unfairly by the family justice system in England and wales. this claim runs contrary to the general belief, which of course may or not be true, that London is the divorce capital of the world and that wives do better than husbands in financial cases here.
yet at almost the same time the independent reported that an American law firm which acts for men only is about to set up a branch in London. apparently they told their American male clientele reassuringly that “we’re going to help you keep the dollars you earned”. claims have been made that firms such as these are “about empowering men, not bashing women.”, although this approach may feed on a perception that the courts are biased against fathers in disputes involving children in particular. similarly, there is a certain number of lawyers who have gained a reputation for ferociously pursuing claims on behalf of vengeful wives against reluctant husbands – not an enviable reputation in my view, although it may well be good for business.
part of the problem is that these opposing views are based on little firm factual basis. most family court proceedings are held in private and are not reported due to the personal nature of the issues in dispute, particularly where children are involved. the current president of the family division is keen to make the family courts more transparent so the public can be educated about how it all works, but this campaign is beset with obstacles. it is the juicy salacious cases that sell newspapers, not the run of the mill disputes which make up the daily business of the family court.
perhaps an even bigger problem is the intensely personal nature of family disputes, which creates a tendency for parties who don’t get the “right” result to feel cheated and hard done by. for example, in children disputes the court is obliged to regard the interests of the children themselves (and not the parents) as the paramount consideration. this is absolutely correct, but those parents who are unable to elevate their children’s interests above their own will often be left bitterly (but unreasonably) dissatisfied with the outcome. in financial claims the court has a very wide discretion and is tasked to achieve a “fair” outcome. fairness is a very subjective concept, which can lead to widely differing and somewhat unpredictable results. this again can result in bitterness and a sense of perceived injustice.
in truth, these claims of gender bias from both camps simply illustrate the difficulty and complexity involved in family law disputes. not only are these cases often highly emotionally charged, but also the law applied to them is outdated and in need of reform.
personally I am suspicious of law firms and lawyers who cater only for men or women, to the exclusion of the other sex. I think this potentially blinkered approach can lead to a siege mentality and encourages parties to approach divorce proceedings with a combative and mistrusting attitude. it also obstructs one of the most important elements in the skill set of a good lawyer, namely the measured ability to see both sides of a dispute.
it’s worth remembering that “online” divorce is no different to “normal” divorce as such. the law, the court procedure and the forms are the same. it is simply the method of delivery that is different, in that online divorce advice is provided primarily via the internet and email, at least if the service concerned is genuinely online. both online and normal legal services provided by firms of solicitors are regulated by the solicitors regulation authority (the SRA), which supervises the activities of all solicitors regardless of the nature of the operation concerned. however, there is a large number of companies offering quickie divorces and such like online which are not firms of solicitors and therefore are not regulated or controlled in any way, despite the fact that they are clearly offering legal services. some of them may even be breaking the law by performing work which can only be done by solicitors (“reserved legal services”).
against this backdrop the results of research commissioned by the legal services board and the legal services consumer panel was recently published, which sought to identify whether or not there are any practical problems or difficulties arising for consumers as a result of these gaps in the regulation of online divorce. the outcome of the research was largely very positive and for example 83% of those using online services were satisfied with the outcome (although the figure was similar for users of traditional law firm services). these people are 3 times more likely to recommend their online provider than users of high street firms.
the good news goes on. the chair of the consumer panel said that consumers of online services generally reported ‘quicker, cheaper and less stressful’ experiences than those in face-to-face cases. the divorce was typically faster for online users, who felt that the process was easier than they had anticipated and involved less effort. so far so great for justdivorce.co.uk.
however, LSB chairman Sir Michael Pitt, stated: ‘The benefits of online service delivery are obvious. The regulatory risks however are less well understood and this research seeks to investigate whether there is any evidence of these risks translating into problems in practice for consumers. I am pleased to say that this unique research shows no evidence of any such problems occurring.’
I find this statement slightly more problematic. there is certainly a valuable place for online fixed fee divorce in suitable circumstances, for example where the facts are simple, both parties want a divorce and they are capable of cooperating sensibly together. however, even in that situation the divorce represents an important legal process with potential pitfalls and problems. a botched divorce can cause considerable delay, distress and possible extra cost.
even more seriously, many online providers also offer services and advice concerning the financial aspect of divorce, including applications for financial orders. one gets the impression that the quality of these services is much more hit and miss, and that some of the advice on offer is not of a good standard. the issues relating to financial outcomes on divorce can often be far more complicated than the divorce itself and so there is much greater scope for online users to suffer serious detriment from receiving bad advice, the consequences of which can be disastrous. just because a case is suitable for an online divorce that certainly does not mean that the finances can be sorted out in the same way. even worse, online users may get divorced without ever receiving any advice at all about the financial issues flowing from the process. this can have very serious consequences (see for example the recent case of wyatt and vince, referred to in my last blog).
justdivorce.co.uk is operated by Josiah-lake gardiner, a firm of solicitors which is fully regulated by the SRA, and so clients can be confident that high professional standards are maintained in the delivery of our online services. however, many or even most online divorce firms out there on the internet are simply companies who have identified a perceived gap in the market and may have no professional qualified lawyers involved in the delivery of their legal services at all. they are not subject to any independent review or control in relation to their activities. given the importance of divorce and related financial work I find it hard to believe that the expanding online divorce market does not require any independent regulation at all. one thinks of the similar example in personal injury work, where a decision was sensibly made that claims managers (or “farmers”) should be subject to regulation for the protection of consumers.
it is certainly true that online divorce tends to be much cheaper than using a high street solicitor, and it may be that the cost of traditional legal services has become too high for many people to afford, particularly where fees are based on hourly charging rates. surely however cost cannot be the only benchmark for the champions of consumer rights? what about standards of service, quality of legal advice, proper insurance cover and rights of redress? is this another example of lawyers being unreasonably squeezed out of areas of work that are seen as being unnecessarily shrouded in legalese and restrictive practises? or am I just being a typical fatcat lawyer trying to keep out the competition and maintain a cosy professional monopoly? you be the judge.
THE INTERESTING BIT.
wyatt and vince is one of those family law cases the press loves – it has everything apart from a murder or an orgy. “EX-WIFE’S DIVORCE WIN 23 YEARS ON” screamed the london evening standard on 11th march 2015, as it explained that dale vince and kathleen wyatt split up in 1984 and divorced in 1992 after spending much of their 2 year marriage as new age travellers living in a peace convoy and surviving on state benefits. after the divorce however mr wyatt made his fortune from wind farms, and was worth a cool £110 million by the time of the hearing. he now lives in a georgian hill fort near stroud with his new wife and 5 year old son and owns a conference league football club, having been awarded an OBE!
unfortunately for him, ms wyatt became aware of his new found wealth. she on the other hand was reported to have remained penniless and to be in poor health, raising her 3 children of other relationships on part time work and state benefits. she had also raised the child she had with mr wyatt until he went to live with his father at age 18, which you would think might justify some kind of claim. just to complicate matters further, neither party had retained any of the papers from the original divorce apart from the final divorce decree, the court file had been lost and the solicitors’ files had long since been destroyed. this could have been important – see the techie bit below if you want more.
she finally made a claim for financial orders within the original divorce proceedings in 2011, seeking a lump sum in the region of £2 million (on my maths that would leave mr wyatt with £108 million – why on earth not just pay up?). the first judge to deal with the matter made some temporary orders in favour of the wife, and the husband appealed against them. the court of appeal agreed with him and struck out the wife’s application completely, meaning that she could no longer proceed with her claim. she in turn appealed against this decision to the supreme court.
the headline result is that the supreme court overruled the court of appeal and gave permission to ms wyatt to continue with her claim for financial orders. however it is important to understand amidst the sensationalist reporting that the supreme court did not actually award any money to the wife; it merely gave her permission to continue with her claim, with the amount to be decided by a high court judge at a future hearing. indeed the supreme court commented that the wife faced formidable obstacles to success. nonetheless, the decision confirmed that there in no time limit for making a financial claim against a spouse after divorce and that a claim can be pursued many years later, even when circumstances have changed in the most dramatic and unimaginable way.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
at present it is quite easy to get divorced without sorting out any of the financial issues resulting from the separation. this is set to get even simpler, due to recent proposals to “de-couple” divorce from finances yet further. many people get divorced without realising the importance of dealing formally with any financial issues and obtaining a proper court order, by agreement or otherwise. quite often of course the financial issues on divorce can be complicated and obviously need to be resolved formally with a court order. however, even if there is nothing to divide at the time of the divorce, or everything has already been split leaving nothing else to do, it is still very important to obtain a financial clean break order dismissing all potential claims by both parties once for and all. without this there is no certainty or closure, as graphically illustrated by wyatt and vince. for more information and a perfect cost-effective online solution to this problem visit http://www.justdivorce.co.uk/financial-clean-break.
THE TECHIE BIT.
unlike most civil claims, there is no time limit within which an application for financial orders on divorce or civil dissolution must be filed with the court. it is possible for the other spouse to apply under rule 4.4 of the family procedure rules 2010 to strike out such a financial claim, but only on certain limited grounds. this was the application made unsuccessfully by the husband in wyatt and vince. hence the wife did not actually receive a financial award as a result of the supreme court decision – she was simply given permission to continue with her claim.
importantly however, if a divorced person remarries before making a claim for financial orders then he or she loses the right to make any claim at all in relation to the earlier marriage (apart from a pension sharing order). this is a trap for the unwary that regularly causes problems, and it is very important for divorcing couples and their legal advisors to be aware of this rule. the problem can be avoided entirely by including a full claim for financial orders in the divorce petition at the outset, and this issue is flagged up for all clients of justdivorce.co.uk. in wyatt and vince it was not possible to check whether or not the wife’s divorce petition had included a financial claim as all the papers had been lost, but the court was generously willing to conclude that she must have done so. in fact ms wyatt had not subsequently remarried, so she was safe in any event.
the government has recently confirmed it’s previously stated intention to establish a limited number of “divorce centres”, which will be “points of entry” for issuing all divorce petitions and financial applications. 6 centres have been identified so far, with London and south east applications to be issued in bury st Edmunds as from October 2015. wales is a centre on its own, and the others are north east, north west, midlands and south west, with differing start dates.
the belief is that the issue of divorce petitions and financial applications can become more streamlined and cost effective if done in bulk. that may well be right, provided that the divorce centres are resourced properly. hopefully this development will include the provision of decent IT facilities, which is crucial for the court service generally moving forward. will we shortly see the day when paperless divorce proceedings are routinely issued? hope so.
the actual process of divorce is gradually becoming less legal and more procedural in nature. one reason for this may be a tacit acceptance by the courts that if a marriage is over it is over, regardless of what the law says about the available grounds for divorce. this may have resulted in no fault divorce becoming a reality in practice on the ground, despite the continuing reluctance of parliament to deal with such a political hot potato. that in turn makes online divorce for a fixed price more attractive in appropriate circumstances, such as where the parties are in agreement and there are no unusual complications.
an example of the trend towards the commoditisation of divorce is that “legal advisers” who are not judges are now able to deal with applications for decree nisi, an important but fairly routine step in the divorce process. most of these applications are simple in nature and so this does seem to be a sensible use of the court’s resources. however, a judge recently exposed a large number of linked bogus divorce petitions which he described as being on “an industrial scale” and one wonders if the involvement of lesser qualified staff will make it more difficult to uncover malpractice of this nature.
if a separate court hearing does need to take place, for example relating to children of the family or finances, then this will happen at a family court geographically most convenient for the parties, and not necessarily at the original designated divorce centre – again a sensible measure. this is not relevant to cases handled by justdivorce.co.uk however, which should rarely if ever require the parties to attend at court.
it used to be that people could issue a divorce petition in any county court in England or Wales, regardless of where they lived, as a result of which one online divorce provider at least was in the habit of bulk issuing petitions in its local court. now, however, petitions should be issued in the relevant catchment area, unless a reason can be given for issuing somewhere else. again, this development does not affect justdivorce.co.uk, which has always covered all the courts in which petitions can be issued.
one senses that further changes are on the way. what an exciting slash challenging time to be a family lawyer!