Online divorce is officially coming to the East Midlands. Although for now it’s at an early trial stage you will still need to print and post your application to send it in to the court.
Online divorce and the court service
Presently you cannot issue a divorce online in England and Wales.
There may be several website selling “online divorce” services but in fact all they are doing is taking your details online in some form of questionnaire.
There is currently no facility to file a divorce petition online at the court service. You must post or deliver your divorce petition to the court.
East Midlands Divorce Centre online divorce pilot
All of this is about to change however. East Midlands Divorce Centre is now running a pilot online divorce scheme. It will roll out across the country eventually.
The new system is simply going to be called “Apply for a Divorce”.
It is presently being tested and improved.
Stage One of the online divorce pilot scheme
Stage one testing or the Beta system or whatever you prefer to call it, started in January this year. Only a relatively small proportion of the divorces issued in England and Wales will be put through the new system. The team building it will monitoring how easily people handle filling in the new online forms.
During this first phase of testing, you will still need to print off and post your application with a cheque.
It may be many months in the future before the fully operational system is introduced. But what will it mean for couples going through divorce when it is?
I suppose a lot depends on further modernisation of technology in the court service offices.
Are we simply going to wait 2 weeks for the applications to be downloaded and printed? If so, this new system will achieve very little apart from saving the cost of paper and a stamp.
Or, will there be further automation of the process to send paperwork out to the respondent to the divorce?
I expect that there will and that in the long run we will end up with a more accessible, easier to use system to handling the divorce process from start to finish.
Will people still need to go to solicitors to start an online divorce?
People don’t actually have to use solicitors to handle a divorce anyway. The fact is that many people choose to use a solicitor to represent them for many different reasons. I don’t expect that to change.
This reform is really just about making the paperwork easier to file.
So, for people who are simply concerned that they might fill the forms in wrong, the new system should help alleviate that and enable them to apply for a divorce more confidently via the court service. This will reduce the cost of starting a divorce for those people who would only go to a solicitor for that reason.
I expect that it will result in people turning away from unregulated divorce services. These are the sort of companies you see online that charge for information packs on how to do your own divorce.
Many people don’t realise that they aren’t real law firms. There are no rules on whether they even need to have any qualifications. They don’t have to have a genuine complaints policy. They are not allowed to represent you or employ solicitors to work for you.
Many of the staff don’t seem to have any relevant training from anywhere other than dubious sounding trade organisations they appear to have made up themselves.
They charge for the same information you can download absolutely free on the court service website.
I am sure that once the government’s own online divorce service is properly operational this type of service will gradually disappear. This isn’t a bad thing. If you are going to pay for legal advice it should at the very least be from someone who has taken the time to qualify properly and has taken out at least £2,000,000 insurance in case it goes wrong.
Will the court fee come down?
The government is hoping to save £250million per year following the introduction of the new reforms to the justice system.
But so far I have seen no mention of those savings actually being passed on in fee reductions. In fact, court fees across the board went up last year.
The current divorce fee is £550. I doubt this will come down. But I suppose the best we can hope for is that it may not go up again so soon.