Originally the assessing will apply only to the divorce request on its own in Family Law. Nevertheless, in arriving months the test will be extended to the entire procedure from the petition with prior to decree absolute online via the Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) portal. Pre-release examining of the online divorce pilot has commenced. Four solicitors’ firms have been selected to test the procedure.
The online divorce beta system will allow individuals to issue divorces online. Tick boxes and free-text fields substitute the offline equivalents. The information can be shown clients and when validated the divorce request is sent online. Marriage certificates could be “uploaded” as PDFs and there are options for payment to comply with by cheque or straight by the existing Pay by Account system (PBA).
The pilot will be rolled out to a further 16 firms in arriving weeks prior to releasing to the legal profession in the autumn. It has been available for all litigants face to face since 1 May 2018 but has been suppressed for the legal profession until the final assessment has been completed.
Stuart Clark, an associate at The International Family Law Group LLP, which is one of the firms assessing the service, stated:
“This is an exciting new development as the Family Courts move steadily towards a digitised service. This could mean the end of the exclusively paper-based lawyer. Online issuing has been commonplace in the civil courts for several years but this launch of the online divorce pilot by the Courts’ service is a significant step for the Family Court.”
Electronic filing currently develops in the court of domestic relations proceedings and online releasing (of the initiating application) is the next step toward a digital Family Court.
It is wished that soon online issuing will be the norm not only for divorces but for all applications across the Family Court, including financial applications and applications relating to children. Pilot ventures on each are already in progress.
Tony Roe, head of another of the four firms selected to test the system, stated:
“From the statistics, we know that clients have been suffering from delays of months or even a year. Now, clients who instruct our firm in the pilot will see rapid progress within their divorce, something which the paper-based system cannot deliver.”
David Hodson OBE, a partner at The International Family Law Group LLP, added:
“This launch is an important step forward for the family law profession and we are pleased on behalf of the profession to be leading the charge to digitisation. We are however always mindful that this digitisation must ensure simultaneous opportunities for appropriate access to justice for those unable to adequately access these changes.”