People will be able to apply for a divorce from the comfort of their living room after the Ministry of Justice announced it has rolled out a fully digital application process across England and Wales.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service initially piloted a scheme last year enabling people to apply for a divorce online, print off the form and send it to court. The service was extended so that people can submit a form, send relevant documents and make payments.
More than 1,000 petitions were issued during the testing phase, the ministry said today. Nine out of 10 people were satisfied with the service. Since January, 0.6% of digital forms have been rejected. The ministry says 40% of paper applications are rejected at the first stage due to incomplete forms or missing documents.
The digital process is also expected to eliminate up to 13,000 hours of time spent by court staff checking petitions, as the Gazette reported last month.
Justice minister Lucy Frazer said: 'Allowing divorce applications to be made online will help make sure we are best supporting people going through an often difficult and painful time. More people will have the option of moving from paper-based processes to online systems which will cut waste, speed up services which can be safely expedited, and otherwise better fit with modern day life.'
The ministry, in today's announcement, provides two case studies to show how effective the digital process is.
One woman, who is disabled, received legal confirmation of her divorce 11.5 weeks after submitting her application. She said: 'The service was a lot easier because I use a wheelchair and didn't have to go out, and I also found it very easy as an autistic person to get support from the team when I had questions.' According to the ministry, the paper process would have taken around six months.
Another woman said she found the process 'marvellous, pain free and less stressful than the paper form which I tried several years ago to complete but got fed up of it being rejected'.
Sir James Munby, president of the family division, has hailed the online divorce system as a 'triumphant success'.
Family law specialist Tony Roe, of south-east firm Tony Roe Solicitors, told the Gazette: 'It is important to realise that the HMCTS announcement relates to the online process for the public, acting as litigants in person. The release the solicitors' application for divorce is still awaited.
To date research has been conducted with 42 legal professionals from 24 different firms. Following this research, HMCTS had significant interest from firms volunteering to be involved in its private beta testing stage. As a project it will start to test the solicitor application with a limited number of firms initially, representing a cross section of legal firms to ensure testing is robust. An update is promised by the summer.'