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Beware of the online divorce

View profile for Philip Hoddell
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Beware of the online divorce

Government statistics show that as many as 40% of divorces are now being dealt with online. But what is the background to this and where are the pitfalls of an online divorce? 

Online divorce was introduced by the Ministry of Justice in 2018. A lot of money has been put into the system. At the same time, the length of time it takes for an average paper-based divorce to complete has more than doubled from 6 months to over 12 months. It is widely assumed that this is because of a lack of proper resources into the wider court-based system. 

If online divorces are quicker, then clearly that is a good way forward. It is interesting that, at first, the government excluded solicitors from being able to use the system. Thankfully, that decision has now been reversed and we can help clients process online divorce proceedings. 

But what of couples who decide to apply for a DIY divorce without legal advice?  It is hugely worrying that only a fraction of such couples ever address the financial issues that arise on their separation.

Savings, investments and properties can all be sold, transferred or shared without a court order. Pensions cannot. That, in itself, is very worrying because there is a lot of evidence that pensions are either overlooked or not dealt with properly in divorce cases. This causes what can be severe financial hardship many years down the line. 

Add to this the fact that spouses can make claims against one another long after the divorce has been finalised. The only way of preventing late claims being made is by obtaining an order from the court. I have blogged before about the case of Wyatt v Vince, where an ex-wife was awarded a lump sum 25 years after the divorce, when her then penniless ex-husband went on to found a very successful business.

Given these risks, you would think that the online divorce tool would warn couples about the dangers of just dealing with the divorce and ignoring the finances, wouldn’t you? In fact, you would be wrong. There is no such warning.

In fact, the advice given on the gov.uk website is wrong. It says you can ask the court to approve a financial consent order provided you have started the divorce process but you have not applied for the final document yet. That is legally incorrect and we have been pointing that out to the government for more than 2 years now. It still has not bothered to change the advice. 

At least now gov.uk indicates that you need to talk to a solicitor about your finances.  Whether you are doing an online divorce or we are helping you with it, make sure you get proper legal advice about the financial implications of separation and divorce as part of the overall process.

If you have questions about finances following divorce or separation, then why not call me for a free 15-minute discussion about how I can help you on 01206 217320 or email philip.hoddell@birkettlong.co.uk.

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