Divorce process could be cut from a year to two months
A straightforward divorce usually takes up to 12 months but a joint pilot scheme between the government and Co-op Legal Services aimed to cut the time down to just eight weeks.
During the pilot, hard copies of divorce papers and financial orders weren’t posted to the courts for review and couples didn’t need to wait months for sign off of the paperwork.
Instead, paperwork was uploaded directly to a judge.
Depending on the outcome of the pilot scheme with the Co-op, the new system could be rolled out more widely. With an average of 100,000 divorces taking place each year, the move could streamline the prolonged process.
Tracey Moloney, head of family law at Co-op Legal Services, said: “We know divorce can be an extremely difficult and heart-wrenching time for families and lives can be turned upside down as a result. Divorce is a last resort for couples and they have often considered it for a number of months before they come to us, so they want the process to be as quick and painless as possible.’’
Finances and children add to complexity
The online divorce system deals with the divorce itself, not the finances which still need to be done via a paper application in the event of contested financial proceedings.
It also can’t handle the dissolution of a civil partnership, nullity or judicial separation at this stage as they have to be dealt with using paper applications.
Harry Gates, co-founder of The Divorce Surgery, said that while many people would welcome speeding up the divorce process, many don’t appreciate it’s not the divorce itself but arguing over related issues such as finance and arrangements for children which takes a long time.
Gates said: “The divorce itself is rarely controversial; the current system obliges one party to ‘prove’ they are entitled to a divorce on one of the statutory grounds. Sometimes parties can disagree as to why, and even whether, a marriage is at an end. The most common reason for delay is the need to settle financial arrangements before the divorce is concluded which can be a particular concern in cases involving claims against pensions.”
He added it’s probably sensible to be wary of any government IT programme which “promises the world until it is tried and tested”, but said: “If this can be delivered as it is conceived, I am sure it will be welcomed.”
Kate Van Rol, divorce barrister at 4PB, said that a divorce is an emotional and difficult time and anything which can assist in expediting the process should be welcomed.
“Usually if the time taken to complete a process is reduced then so too is the cost so hopefully the cost of obtaining a divorce will be reduced.”
Van Rol said it costs £550 to file a divorce petition but the global cost of a divorce can run into many thousands of pounds if the parties have each engaged a solicitor to assist them with the process.
“Any issues of non-cooperation or complexity, such as jurisdictional disputes, will add to the cost. The overall cost of getting a divorce to include settling the financial arrangements, which people often assume is involved in the term ‘divorce process’, will usually cost considerably more.”