Is the dawn of the digital divorce upon us?

It was back in August 1991 (almost 27 years ago) when the World Wide Web first went live to the world. Although the internet and technology has grown and developed exponentially since this time, it is fair to say that not everyone has fully embraced the digital age.

It would however seem that HM Courts and Tribunal Service is now on the brink of bringing the divorce procedure into the 21st century by making the process fully digital. Given that many other services have operated online for a number of years (i.e. banking, insurance, filing tax returns, and shopping etc) this hardly seems groundbreaking, however for family lawyers and the public alike this could be a big step forward.

An online divorce application process is presently being tested in pilot areas across England & Wales. The process allows a person to submit all forms, documents, and make payments online to the court.  The idea behind the pilot is aimed at reducing time and the amount of stress that can be caused by the divorce process.

Although the actual divorce procedure remains unchanged (i.e. from completing a divorce petition to receiving the decree absolute etc) it is hoped that having a fully digitised online system will make the process more efficient and remove the need for court staff to look over and have to check large amounts of paperwork. In theory the process should also be more user friendly and interactive.

Most courts are frequently overwhelmed with work and delays are common place. Removing some of the burden on court staff should allow them to concentrate on other cases and make the courts generally more efficient.

According to the HM Courts and Tribunal Service, the online system has already reduced the number of applications being returned due to errors being made.  Although much has been made of the efficiency this system hopes (and is likely) to bring, there are some areas which remain unclear.

Generally speaking the majority of divorces are straightforward and can be dealt with ‘on paper’.  The process can however become less straightforward when a divorce is contested, or if there is a disagreement about who should pay the costs of the divorce. It is not clear at present how these issues will be dealt with using an online only system?

It is of course inevitable that as with any technological advancement there will be a period of ‘trial and error’ until the system is finalised and fully functional.

Whilst we may not quite be on the way to infinity and beyond, should the pilot schemes prove successful then with a little further development there is no reason why the Family Court cannot join us in the 21st century.

This article only deals with the actual divorce process and not matters related to a divorce such as issues regarding children or money. There are however similar plans for these areas which are currently being considered, so watch this space.