An online divorce service for people without legal representation is now available to the public via the Gov.uk website: www.gov.uk/apply-for-divorce
As part of a £1 billion programme to transform and modernise the Court system, the new digital service is designed to make the process of applying for a divorce easier to understand, more accessible and avoid the need to fill in paper forms and post them to the court with the consequent delays.
Following a pilot of the new digital service towards the end of 2017, developments have continued so that since January 2018, applicants are now able to complete their divorce application, upload their documents, pay and submit online. Since January 2018, over 1100 applications for divorce have been received, with the success of the pilot enabling the scheme to be introduced nationally from 1 May 2018.
The actual law on divorce remains the same. No changes have been made to the level of judicial involvement in considering whether an applicant has satisfied the ground for divorce and none of the procedural steps to obtain a divorce have been removed. The fee (currently £550.00) to apply for a divorce also remains the same whether applying using the traditional paper route or new digital online service.
According to HMCTS records, the online system has drastically cut the number of divorce applications being returned due to errors – showing a 90% improvement from the traditional paper forms. The built-in validation not only assists applicants, but also saves Court staff significant amounts of time. Positive feedback has included that the system has become simplified and streamlined, without the worry of paperwork and fees being lost in the post.
Making the application digital also means that applicants are better informed about what is happening with their case. Sending a divorce petition to the Court by post could easily leave the applicant waiting up to four weeks, or longer, to know if it had been issued. Now people will know instantly that the Court has received the document and that it has been issued.
At present, the online divorce service is only available to parties acting in person, i.e. without the assistance of a solicitor.
There are plans to extend the new online service to enable solicitors to submit a divorce petition on behalf of their client, with work on this aimed to progress in the summer, 2018.