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Digital divorce – is it for you?

Married couples may soon be able to apply for a divorce entirely online in a legal shakeup designed to speed up the process and save the government money.

The move is designed to cater for extremely straightforward and uncontested divorces but with 320 couples currently filing for divorce every day, what percentage of couples actually find themselves in this position? And even so, is going online a safe way to end a marriage?

Background to the scheme

The Ministry of Justice tested the scheme in Nottingham where court managers reported that four in ten people had their application forms rejected because they couldn't fill them in correctly without the help of a lawyer.

Even so, it has since announced that new pilots are to follow across the UK allowing all uncontested divorces to be conducted using an online application process.

  • Spouses are asked to complete an online form, with questions tailored to their circumstances based on the reasons behind the marriage breakdown;
  • Applicants then submit the petition online, and it is sent to the other partner to sign;
  • If the divorce is uncontested the first part of a divorce, the decree nisi, is issued;
  • After six weeks, the applicant can complete the divorce by applying for the final document, the decree absolute.

Rising numbers already using DIY online divorce forms

The actual divorce process itself is already relatively straightforward and largely revolves around filling in forms so the process of going online does not change much. It is, however, vital that the process is completed correctly. If not, there is a risk that the grounds for divorce will not be met, financial claims may be excluded and costs not dealt with.

There are no changes to the grounds for divorce.

And with more people getting divorced, but fewer ending up in acrimonious and expensive court cases, a rising number of couples are already using online DIY divorce services to keep costs down.

There is no doubt that an agreed divorce should not cost much, online or not. That's why, here at Wards Solicitors, we are able to offer a fixed fee of £500 plus VAT (plus the court fee) to support you and ensure the process is completed smoothly.

Caution - finances and children

It's important to remember that while the process of filling in divorce papers online and pressing the send button may trigger the first part of a divorce, it won't start, resolve or conclude any financial claim.

Most couples need a consent order which documents how their assets will be split, how pensions are to be dealt with and any maintenance claims. It is important to take legal advice before reaching an agreement or entering into a consent order as you will be bound by the terms.

Failure to get a financial order, effectively gives an ex-partner carte blanche to return at a future date and make a claim on your finances (not necessarily limited to the period of the marriage) meaning that taking proper legal advice is cost effective in the long run.

Parents will also need to agree arrangements for their children, who the children will live with and how much time they will spend with each parent. A parenting agreement can be useful but the court does not in the divorce itself make any orders or record any agreements about children.

If there is disagreement about any aspect of the arrangements for children, parents should always take legal advice and in some situations, including when there are contact issues, safety or welfare concerns or a risk of abduction, this should be sought urgently.

For legal help and advice about divorce, please contact Wards Solicitors' Family Law and Divorce team by phone or by calling into one of our 11 local offices.

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