Seventeen law firms in the UK have been chosen to take part in two new Government pilot schemes, designed to radically reduce the time it takes to divorce.
The two pilot schemes are part of the UK government’s £1 billion programme to transform the court system which includes moving the divorce application process and the Financial Order process online to make divorcing much faster and more cost efficient. The first pilot allows submission of divorce papers digitally to a dedicated judge for sign off, bypassing the current lengthy process. This could cut the divorce process in half and drastically cut the number of returned applications due to errors. The second pilot is the financial remedy consent order pilot for uploading financial orders electronically, also to a specifically assigned judge. One pilot firm, Gardner Leader say they have found the waiting time has been cut down from months to days and even hours in some cases. Seona Myerscough, partner and head of the family team at Gardner Leader, says ‘there are now more than 100,000 divorces a year in the UK, which can be a very difficult time for couples and it is not helped if there are unnecessary delays in the process. It is hoped that the new pilot schemes will reduce the frustration caused by delays and our clients have certainly started to see the benefits.’
However, digitising the divorce application process and ‘hoping for the best’ isn't enough to reform the legal requirements for splitting up, the Law Society has warned, telling the government to restore legal aid so separating couples can receive early advice. Removing 'archaic requirements' to allege fault is a move supported by the Society, but thinks the government should consult further on the length of the process. It says the divorce process 'cannot simply be understood through the lens of how long it takes parties to reach decree nisi or absolute'. Divorcing couples 'must be supported and empowered’ to understand mutual financial responsibilities and any children they have. The society strongly recommends ‘the reintroduction of legal aid for early advice for separating couples'. The government is also asked to consider the possibility that digitising the divorce process could 'weaponise' it. The society says, 'a heated, but normal, spousal argument could lead to an online issue of divorce even just moments later.'