Separation & Divorce: Using the Online Divorce Service
HM Courts & Tribunals Service has launched a number of online platforms. These are available to both solicitors and members of the public to submit applications for divorce, and certain applications within children proceedings (those under s8 of the Children Act 1989; child arrangements, prohibitive steps, specific issue, to vary or discharge or to ask for permission to make a section 8 order).
The main aim of introducing these online platforms was to simplify the process for making an application to court by using a smart input form and less technical language. It was hoped that the result would be fewer errors and fewer forms having to be returned for amendment which is both time consuming and administratively expensive.
Statistics quickly demonstrated the success of the online process with a press release in 2018 from the Ministry of Justice announcing that the digital service ‘had contributed to a 95% drop in the number of applications being returned because of mistakes, when compared with paper forms.’ The online process as it currently stands is largely user friendly and, as a result, improves access to justice. Applications submitted via the online portal are issued considerably faster than those started on paper as the delays facing the divorce centres do not seem to affect the online process.
The online divorce system largely follows the paper divorce petition with regards to the questions asked and the steps which must be followed to obtain a valid divorce (respondent’s filing of answers, application for Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute). Unfortunately, it is not currently possible to use the online process for the dissolution of a civil partnership, judicial separation or nullity. However, with the significant overhaul in anticipation of the introduction of No-Fault Divorce in April 2022, other changes should also follow to enable civil partners to apply for a dissolution online.
The online C100 which is used for children arrangements largely mirrors the paper based C100 application form. Cases listed following an application online are allocated to the court nearest the child/ren to manage going forward. One positive of the online C100, is that it highlights and strongly encourages the use of the out-of-court dispute resolution services available to the applicant prior to submitting the application (for example, encouraging the use of mediation, arbitration, the collaborative process to reach a solution). The need to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) before applying to the court is still required unless you meet one of the exemptions.
Although these new online processes make applying for both divorce and children proceedings easier and somewhat faster for both solicitors and members of the public, they are not completely risk free for those who choose to proceed without any legal advice. There are elements in both applications which are complex and require careful consideration before proceeding and any litigation should not be undertaken lightly. Parties who wish to use the online services to start proceedings should carefully consider obtaining legal advice before submitting their applications.