In the United Kingdom, the latest initiative in the Ministry of Justice’s £1bn modernisation programme enables couples splitting up across England and Wales to complete their applications for online divorce without going to court.
Language has been simplified for the digital form, allowing payments and evidence to be uploaded from home. More than 1,000 petitions were issued through the system during its test phase, with 91% of users reporting that they were satisfied with the service. Sir James Munby, the judge in charge of the high court’s family division, recently described online divorce as a “triumphant success” and “final proof positive that whatever people think, government can do IT [information technology]”.
Justice Minister Lucy Frazer said it will make the task easier when people are going through a difficult and painful time. She added: “This will cut waste, speed up services and is a better fit for modern life.”
A refined version of the scheme was rolled out across England and Wales at the beginning of May. The department says there has been a 95% drop in the number of applications being returned because of mistakes.
It is part of a £1billion programme to modernise the courts. Other changes include a digital system to claim money owed and resolve disputes out of court.
The quickening pace of court modernisation has, however, raised concerns in parts of the legal profession about funding for the ambitious programme which, it was revealed last week, will see 6,500 court and backroom jobs disappearing across England and Wales by 2022.
The National Audit Office will publish a report on the effectiveness of technological and cultural changes being pushed through by HM Courts & Tribunals Service. Among other developments being trialed are virtual courts for tax tribunals, where claimants can participate in hearings – giving evidence and interacting with lawyers and the judge – from home via computer laptop cameras.
There will be more remote video hearings, online pleas for minor offences, video replay facilities for jurors in their retiring rooms and fewer courtrooms. More than 250 courts have already closed since 2010. Anxious to ensure that the integrity of the justice system is preserved, last week the lord chief justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, circulated all judges with details of the impact of the changes.
There have been concerns about technology’s expansion into the courts. Last year, a report by the organisation Transform Justice alleged that “trial by Skype” defendants, participating remotely from police stations or prisons in virtual court hearings, find it difficult to hold confidential discussions with their lawyers, become disconnected from remote proceedings and may be disadvantaged during sentencing.
The lord chief justice last month referred to under-investment in court buildings “amounting to neglect”.
Is Online Divorce A Good Idea?
While online divorce will surely help some couples arrive at a swift and affordable dissolution of their marriage, online divorce services can also be a complicating factor for couples. Since these services have such ease and accessibility, many spouses don’t realize the gravity of the decision to pursue a divorce. The immediacy of these services can cause a spouse to act rashly and surrender significant rights to decisions, custody, or assets going forward.
- It’s relatively easy to do online, you’ll need a reason for divorce, address of the person you are divorcing, the court fees and an understanding of the legal documents.
- You don’t need to be a legal expert.
- You don’t have to worry about things getting lost in the post, everything is tracked online.
- Court stats show that four out of ten people have their divorce application rejected because there is an error on the form. This prolongs the process and adds stress. A common question is how to fill out the reasons for divorce during the online application. ‘
- It doesn’t help with the important bits such as parenting arrangements and the emotional journey. Although the divorce bit has been made simpler with the online system, it still doesn’t help families come to arrangements about their futures.
- It doesn’t help with the financial separation. An online divorce does not allow you to complete the property settlement, nor does it assist you to understand what is fair and legally binding. You’ll still need to sort a consent order to make your financial split legal.