Online divorces – Are they the future?

With the advent of the computer age and explosion in personal technology there has been a mass stampede of traditional high street businesses moving their products and services online.

One area which has recently caught the headlines are so-called ‘online divorces’ or ‘edivorces’. In this article we explore what they are and some of the hidden pitfalls behind this latest service to emigrate online.

What are online divorces?

Online divorces are now provided by a number of unregulated businesses which offer a range of services from ‘DIY divorces’ to ‘managed edivorces’.

With DIY divorces, users are posted the court documents to complete and send to the court. Managed divorces are handled by an administrator who will complete the necessary forms and file the paperwork at court.

These services are often advertised from as little as £37 and promise a cheap and cheerful divorce within a matter of weeks.

Of course, on top of the fee charged by the online divorce business, there is also the mandatory £410 court fee, unless you qualify for help with court fees (called a fee remission or part remission).

Too good to be true?

If this sounds too good to be true, then it might just be. There are some circumstances, if for example there are no children involved, both partners agree to the divorce and there are no financial assets to divide, where an online divorce could be a viable option. However, they aren’t without their pitfalls.

At the less extreme end of the scale, some people who have used online divorce services have reported problems from receiving the wrong forms with other individual’s personal information to having to pay additional court fees as a result of incorrectly completed paperwork.

Of more concern however is the lack of information provided to users of online divorces about the financial implications of divorce and the financial claims that each spouse has against the other.

Yes a divorce is a divorce, however unless there is also a court order setting out how your finances should be dealt with either spouse may bring a financial claim in the future many years after the ‘divorce’.

Readers may recall the much publicised case where the ex wife was entitled to bring financial claims against her husband, who following the divorce had gone on to become a multi-millionaire renewable energy entrepreneur, some 20 years later. Equally, if one partner remarries, the other could lose the right to claim a financial settlement.

The cost of not dealing with the important financial decisions at the time of the divorce can be significant. Former President of the Law Society, Linda Lee comments: “Divorce can be a highly complex issue and it would be difficult for any case to receive a full and thorough analysis without a client having had the benefit of at least one face-to-face meeting with a family law solicitor.”

During what can be an emotional time, one party may feel they are not on a equal footing with the other.

For most people, divorce is about getting sensible advice so that a fair outcome can be achieved for both parties. Contrary to popular belief, the financial arrangements on divorce can now largely be dealt with without the need for expensive and lengthy legal proceedings and court hearings.

A look into the future…

This week the president of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, gave a clue as to what the future of divorce proceedings may hold.

He believes that in due course the court process surrounding divorce will be entirely digitised because as he puts it: “in times of austerity…we must constantly strive to improve, to streamline and simplify the system.” Watch this space!