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New phase of online divorce pilot launched

Testing should soon encompass entire process from petition to decree absolute

Beta testing of the online divorce pilot has begun. Four solicitors' firms have been selected to test the process. Initially the testing will apply only to the divorce petition itself. However, in coming months the test will be extended to the entire process from the petition through until decree absolute online via the Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) portal. 

The online divorce beta system will allow users to issue divorces online.  Tick boxes and free-text fields replace the offline equivalents. The details can be shared with clients and once approved the divorce petition is submitted online. Marriage certificates can be "posted" as PDFs and there are options for payment to follow by cheque or directly by the existing Pay by Account system (PBA). 

The pilot will be rolled out to a further 16 firms in coming weeks before launching to the legal profession in the autumn. It has been available for all litigants in person since 1 May 2018 but has been held back for the legal profession until final testing has been completed.

Stuart Clark, associate at The International Family Law Group LLP, which is one of the firms testing the service, said:

"This is an exciting new development as the Family Courts move steadily towards a digitised service. This could mean the end of the exclusively paper-based lawyer.  Online issuing has been commonplace in the civil courts for several years but this launch of the online divorce pilot by the Courts' service is a significant step for the Family Court."

Electronic filing already occurs in family court proceedings and online issuing (of the initiating application) is the next step toward a digital Family Court. 

It is hoped that soon online issuing will be the norm not only for divorces but for all applications across the Family Court, including financial applications and applications relating to children.  Pilot projects on each are already underway.

Tony Roe, principal of another of the four firms selected to test the system, said:

"From the statistics, we know that clients have been suffering from delays of months, or even a year. Now, clients who instruct our firm in the pilot will see rapid progress within their divorce, something which the paper-based system cannot deliver."

David Hodson OBE, partner at The International Family Law Group LLP, added:

"This launch is an important step forward for the family law profession and we are pleased on behalf of the profession to be leading the charge to digitalisation.  We are however always mindful that this digitisation must ensure simultaneous opportunities for appropriate access to justice for those unable to adequately access these changes."