Almost 40% Of Divorces Issued Online

Since April 2018, litigants in person have been able to apply for a divorce online, meaning people are able to bypass solicitors when seeking a divorce.  This is certainly a popular option for those who have what can be considered a ‘simple’ divorce where the parties are amicable or where finances are easily separated, and no children are involved. 

In August 2018, four family law firms initially piloted the online system, which has now been opened up to many more firms with the intention of all legal firms able to use the system for divorce applications.  One of the first four firms in the pilot was International Family Law Group LLP (IFLG) who was the first firm to issue a petition online.

Now with almost 40% divorces issued online, IFLG have recently released information obtained from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) under the Freedom of Information Act, regarding applications for divorce online versus paper.

Whilst the online system was being trialled there were concerns, by some, that the rate of divorce would increase due to the easiness of the process, especially as the MoJ has simplified the terminology used.  There were also concerns that people looking for a divorce would apply online before getting legal advice on such items as any financial order or child custody concerns.  The worry would be that people would ‘rush’ into applying, possibly to ‘point to the other spouse about unhappiness in the marriage.’

In the information released by the MoJ, there were some interesting figures, the first being that acknowledgements of service, by the respondent, between online and paper remained largely the same, showing that respondents were dealing with both options the same.  The most interesting figures, however, were that the number of applications progressing to both Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute were less from online applications. During the period where applications were made only by litigants in person, the number of applications proceeding to both Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute remained fairly consistent with paper applications, however in the period of July to September 2018, when law firms were able to make online applications, the numbers changed to show 14% fewer divorces proceeding to Decree Nisi and 7% fewer to Decree Absolute.  The amount of applications proceeding to Decrees decreased even further in the final quarter of 2018 with 23% fewer proceeding to Decree Nisi and 18% to Decree Absolute, compared to paper applications

Due to the relative newness of online applications and the lack of recent statistics, IFLG still feels further investigates need to be done to identify the reasons as to why fewer applications proceed to final decrees when done online.

Could it be that a simple search for ‘divorce’ online brings a frustrated or angry spouse to the application page, within a few clicks they can prove to their partner how unhappy they are in their marriage.  Could it be that online applications are being used as a threat, a final straw to push a spouse to make a change.  When solicitors becoming involved it could be seen that there has been more thought put into the decision to end the marriage, rather than a virtual action possibly made in haste.

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