This month is one of the peak times of year for divorce but while starting the divorce process can be done online, there is still a long way to go before full digital divorce becomes a reality.
Nonetheless The Ministry of Justice has committed itself to reducing the stress individuals encounter during divorce proceedings as well of the length of time divorces take. The aim is to put as much as possible online yet there is still no date set for the launch of a full digital divorce service online.
The preferred approach is to introduce processes stage by stage starting with the divorce petition. The prospect of the full digital divorce could revolutionise this aspect of family law and bring this area of law into line with other legal processes that can now be done online.
One of the difficulties likely to be encountered with a full digital divorce is being able to introduce a process that is fair to both parties in a divorce. The nature of human relationships means that there will be difficulties in developing processes that will provide the same level of protection for those involved as would be the case offline.
January is traditionally the month when people make promises to themselves to make a fresh start and this can mean seeking divorce. But will this be a quieter year?
The Office for National Statistics revealed a record drop in divorce rates in 2014 when divorces fell to a new 40-year low. 2014 saw 111,169 divorces which was a 3.1% fall on the previous year. The difference becomes even more stark when comparing that figure to 2003 when the number of divorces was 27% higher.
Cuts to legal aid and a rise in cohabitation since the early part of the last decade have both combined to reduce divorce rates.
Surprisingly the highest number of divorces were among men and women in their 40s rather than younger age groups.
Why divorces are more likely to happen in this age group is unclear however economic factors have been blamed in the past for putting pressure on couples. Financial disagreements are often a leading cause of resentments building between married couples and these can become even more pronounced during recessions.
Despite divorce rates declining, most people involved in family law agree that the workload has changed little with disputes over custody and finances a major part of work undertaken.
A recent article in the Times newspaper claims that couples will be able to divorce online this year under plans that could open the way for the abolition of fault-based grounds for ending marriage. The article also states that ministers are preparing a pilot project to allow divorce proceedings to be issued digitally for the first time, in order to save time, paperwork and stress for thousands of separating couples. It goes on to say that Sir James Munby, England’s most senior family judge, is backing this plan and it will be tested before being introduced across England and Wales in June 2017.
Following these reports, Tony Roe, Family law solicitor and arbitrator, has spoken to the HMCTS in light of the Times article and has stated:
‘It would be wrong to think that a complete digitalised divorce process will happen any time soon. At best only the petition may be available to complete online by the end of the summer, possibly.’
It seems, therefore, that the modernisation of divorce is a long way off, however, excitement and expectation is growing amongst family law practitioners as to when the first digital petition or pilot scheme will be released.
It is estimated that millions of pounds go unpaid every year as a result of non-compliance with financial remedy orders. The Law Commission has called for a cultural change to ensure that family financial orders are enforced more effectively as family financial orders are an important yet often overlooked area of law. The Law Commission’s report has been welcomed by family practitioners.
Family financial orders are usually made upon the ending of a marriage or civil partnership that require a payment of money, or the transfer of property, between former spouses or civil partners. Orders can also be made between parents for the benefit of the children of the family. The Law Commission found that people tend to think the process is over once a financial order has been made. The Commission has said that ‘Enforcement of that order is unlikely to be at the forefront of people’s minds. There is an expectation that people will comply with court orders’.
Recommendations made by the Law Commission to improve enforcement include making three types of asset more accessible to the court to discharge the debt:
1. The debtor’s pension;
2. Funds held in joint accounts;
3. Money that will become payable to the debtor in the future.
The Commission also suggests more effective coercive methods of enforcement such as disqualifying debtors from driving or ban them from travelling out of the UK. A Ministry of Justice spokesperson has said that they ‘welcome the report and will consider its recommendations carefully’.
We have considerable experience in dealing with the enforcement of family financial orders so if you have failed to comply with the terms of a financial order or your former partner has breached the terms of the order then we recommend that you seek legal advice promptly. Our specialist team will be able to advise you of your options and the potential consequences. Please contact us today on 0161 927 3118.