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Gone are the days of paper-based divorce applications

View profile for Phoebe Trott
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Gone are the days of paper-based divorce applications

Since April 2018, spouses and their legal advisers have been able to apply for a divorce through the online court portal. The use of the online portal will become mandatory for legal advisers from 13 September 2021. 

This means that instead of filling in paper applications and posting documents to the court, the necessary documents must now be uploaded and the fees paid online.

 The online divorce process:

The online process largely mirrors the traditional paper-based method. It is open to either party to start the divorce application online and they will now be known as the ‘applicant’, rather than the ‘petitioner’ as was the case previously. 

The applicant has to show the marriage has irretrievably broken down and provide evidence or examples to support their application based on one of the five facts:

1.    Adultery (N.B you cannot rely on your own adultery)

2.    Unreasonable behaviour

3.    2 years’ separation and the other spouse consents

4.    Desertion

5.    5 years’ separation 

The relevant information is inserted into the online application and a copy of the marriage certificate is uploaded to show that you have been married for at least a year.

The applicant then submits the application online and pays the court fee, which is currently £550.00 and increasing to £593.00 from 30 September 2021.

The court will then issue the divorce application, which they advise is currently taking around 4 weeks. Once issued, the spouse (known as the ‘respondent’), will receive notification either directly or via their solicitor, to log onto the online portal and complete the acknowledgment of service. The respondent must respond within 7 business days of the date they were served with the application, indicating whether they intend to defend the application.

Once the respondent has returned their acknowledgement of service, it is open to the applicant to apply online for the Decree Nisi and confirm to the court whether any of the contents of the original application have changed.

Once the court has checked the petition and is satisfied the applicant is entitled to the divorce they are seeking, the court will notify both parties or their legal advisers through the portal of the date when the Decree Nisi will be pronounced.

The applicant must wait 6 weeks and one day from the date of the Decree Nisi until they can apply for the Decree Absolute, which formally dissolves the marriage. The processing times are much quicker when using the online portal, and many Decree Absolutes are being issued on the same day. 

We would not generally advise you to complete this final step, until the financial claims between yourself and your spouse have been settled. If you were to die once the Decree Absolute had been granted but before the financial claims have been finalised, you would not stand to inherit the deceased spouse’s estate or obtain the benefit of any widow’s pension.

From April 2022, the law on No Fault Divorce is being introduced in England & Wales, meaning it will no longer be necessary to rely on one of the five facts as stated above. It will be enough for a couple to divorce without providing a reason. 

 The bigger picture – what financial claims do I have?

It is important to consider the wider implications upon divorce and to close the door to any financial  claims with your spouse. Completing the online divorce process will not sort out what is to happen to your financial arrangements. The only way to do this is to invite the court to make a financial order.

Married couples have 4 primary financial claims against each other upon divorce:

1.    Property

2.    Lump Sums

3.    Income – includes both Child Maintenance and Spousal Maintenance.

4.    Pensions  

It is open to the parties to agree a financial settlement between themselves, at mediation or with the assistance of solicitor-led negotiation. In the event that an agreement cannot be reached, either party can make an application to the court, where there will be a series of hearings and ultimately if an agreement cannot be reached during that process, a Judge will make the final decision.

If an agreement is reached, it is important it is reflected in a Financial Consent Order and submitted to the court for approval. It is not until the Order is sealed by a Judge that the financial claims are resolved.  

As with the online divorce process, it is also possible to submit the agreed Financial Consent Order online. It is important to note that a Financial Consent Order cannot be submitted to the Court for approval until the Decree Nisi has been issued. 

The parties will each have to complete a D81 Form, also known as a Statement of Information form, providing a snapshot of their finances. The current processing time for a Consent Order to be approved online is 4-6 weeks, which is a vast improvement on the traditional paper-based applications.

It is important that the Financial Consent Order is drafted by a specialist family solicitor and that if you are provided with a draft order for signature, that you take independent specialist legal advice upon it.

 

If you require advice in relation to the divorce process or in relation to financial issues, why not give one of our specialist family solicitors a call? 

We offer a free 15 minute telephone consultation and have the ability to offer appointments both virtually and face-to-face. I am based in our Colchester office and can be contacted on phoebe.trott@birkettlong.co.uk or 01206 217389.

 

 

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