Approximately 40% of all divorce petitions are submitted online, and it’s highly likely that percentage has increased since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Submitting a petition online can be convenient and quick, but there are also some drawbacks to weigh up before you proceed.
The online application process was set up with an aim to make things easier and more accessible for couples wishing to separate in response to rising numbers of litigants in person. However, the main issue with this is that most people don’t have the resources or knowledge to adequately represent themselves, and even the simplest online system will not fix that.
In all cases, it’s highly recommended that you speak to an experienced solicitor before making any kind of decision about divorce or separation, as they will be able to talk you through the various options and potential outcomes for your situation. Without professional guidance, an online divorce application could lead to an unfair settlement, additional stress, disruption, and cost.
Another issue is the wording of the petition itself. Until ‘no fault divorce’ comes into action in the autumn of 2021, petitioners must provide evidence to show that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. In most cases this is ‘behaviour’, but while a solicitor can help to draft a fair and balanced petition that focuses on a positive outcome, individuals submitting an online petition may be tempted to be more acrimonious or feel that they need to write pages of behaviour stretching back many years in their application in the hopes of ‘proving’ their spouse’s conduct. While this is entirely understandable, it is not necessary and it may lead to an attempt to defend such a petition with unnecessary hostility, disagreement, and additional delays and costs. It is worth keeping in mind that the contents of the petition has no effect on an financial settlement.
There is another even more concerning issues with the digital process. For example, to reply to a petition, the respondent is sent a letter with a code to input as acknowledgement of service. However, this letter can be downloaded by both parties, meaning that an applicant could hypothetically file the acknowledgement without the respondent’s knowledge. Such an action – if discovered – would result in a fine or even imprisonment for contempt of court.
Unfortunately, many DIY online options are woefully inadequate, regularly leading to errors, misunderstandings and costly issues, ultimately resulting in couples having to make representations to the court to get it sorted. All of which could have been avoided had they consulted a professional solicitor in the first place!
Don’t be fooled by ads for ‘£49 quickie divorces’. The court fee for a petition is £550, so you won’t be getting much advice for £50 – if you read the small print there are likely to be additional costs for each step. Also, of course, there is a big distinction between simply getting ‘unmarried’ and getting a financial settlement, making children’s arrangements and dealing with the division of property and assets. Always seek professional advice tailored to your circumstances to make sure that you are covering all bases and protecting both your legal rights and your financial future.
Interestingly, according to the Ministry of Justice, online petitions are also less likely to result in a decree of divorce than paper petitions. It’s thought that the process of submitting online feels less concrete and is often done as a first step in assessing whether it’s the right decision. In other cases, issues or misunderstandings while submitting an online petition lead to the petitioner giving up until they’ve sought proper legal guidance, which brings us right back to the start…
If you are in need of advice or support in submitting a petition for divorce, get in touch with one of our family law team for tailored advice and a free 45-minute consultation. Our expert team is here to take the weight off your shoulders and deal with all the legal aspects of separation, so you can focus on making plans for your new life.