Could the new digital divorce process help court backlogs?


You can manage most things online these days, from securing a mortgage to renewing your passport. But divorce is still something that is firmly in the dark ages. New changes on the horizon could help remove a lot of stress from the divorce process and allow couples to focus on moving on with their newly separated lives.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the courts saw a huge increase in divorce applications, likely due to the added pressure of lockdowns, working from home and homeschooling. With many court staff forced to work from home, this led to a backlog of cases and the realisation that much of the documentation could be managed online.

With this in mind, the government announced a new system that will hopefully speed up divorce applications by using an online portal. In addition, using an online portal should also hopefully speed up applications by spotting errors in applications before they are submitted to the judge.

How are divorces processed at the moment?

At the moment, everything is handled in physical form. For example, the individual seeking a divorce must produce four copies of their divorce petition and send three to the courts. Working with a specialist divorce can speed up the process, but it is still at the mercy of court processing times. From there, the courts provide a copy to the other spouse and await their response.

What is set to change?

From 13th September 2021, a new online process will replace the current process. This online portal is intended to be easier to use, removing a lot of the complicated jargon associated with divorce proceedings.

The online portal will allow judges to keep track of paperwork and electronically receive confirmation of documents and responses. This system will also allow judges to work from anywhere, ensuring the optimal use of court resources.

And finally, this system will relieve pressure on the courts to check and keep track of documents manually. In 2019, the courts managed 108,421 divorces in England and Wales alone. Moving the system online will hopefully speed up the process for couples.

Is this all good news?

While the prospect of a swift divorce is tempting for some, others warn that this might not be great news for everyone. Critics of this move point out that this new online portal will be available 24-hours a day. This means individuals could file for divorce in the heat of an argument, while the current system would provide a buffer by forcing them to wait until the court opening hours.

Others point out that this could make it too “easy” to secure a divorce and might actually damage the sanctity of marriage. If couples know it’s easier to get a divorce and can file the paperwork online, are they more likely to marry in haste?

While these are valid concerns, we know that removing barriers to divorce doesn’t lead to an increase in divorce rates. For example, when Scotland introduced no-fault divorces in 2006, there was a small spike in divorces followed by a stabilisation in divorce rates. This could be attributed to the couples that had waited for the changes to be introduced.

Could a no-fault mortgage streamline divorce further?

This isn’t the only shakeup to the divorce process on the horizon. In April 2022, England and Wales will introduce the option for a no-fault divorce. This means couples will no longer have to place blame or separate for two years before they can secure a divorce.

These changes, coupled with the digital portal, will hopefully make divorce less stressful for couples, allowing them to focus on moving on with their lives. Of course, couples that want to separate will do so, even if this means a lot of paperwork. But by making this process easier, it is hoped that couples will experience far less administrative stress alongside their heartache.