Two out of five cou­ples di­vorce via the in­ter­net

The Sunday Telegraph - - News - By Gabriella Sw­er­ling SO­CIAL AF­FAIRS EDI­TOR

ON­LINE DIY di­vorces are now cho­sen by al­most half of cou­ples who are split­ting up – but they may still have to wait more than a year for the mat­ter to be set­tled in court.

Just 18 months af­ter the on­line di­vorce sys­tem was launched, 40 per cent of ap­pli­ca­tions from cou­ples wish­ing to split are now be­ing made via the in­ter­net. How­ever, court de­lays mean di­vorces are tak­ing around 60 weeks go through.

Fam­ily court data an­a­lysed by Wil­sons, the law firm, found that 11,129 out of 28,144 cou­ples filed for di­vorce on­line in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2019 – 4,108 (10 per cent), were filed in Jan­uary alone. There is of­ten a sharp in­crease in the di­vorce rate af­ter Christ­mas, of­ten put down due to strains on fam­ily life and a de­sire for a fresh start in the new year.

Jac­que­line Fitzger­ald, a so­lic­i­tor at Wil­sons, said: “Many di­vorc­ing cou­ples are al­ready us­ing on­line di­vorce ap­pli­ca­tions but they mustn’t be fooled into think­ing that will make the di­vorce process a quick one.”

She said that the vol­ume of di­vorce ap­pli­ca­tions had cre­ated a bot­tle­neck in the court sys­tem, ad­ding: “With­out more fund­ing for re­sources, it is un­likely that this will im­prove.” Di­vorce ap­pli­ca­tions went on­line in May last year un­der Sir James Munby, formerly the most se­nior fam­ily court judge in Eng­land and Wales.

Cou­ples wish­ing to di­vorce can be­gin the process on­line and con­tinue all the way to de­cree nisi, but not to de­cree ab­so­lute. How­ever, most so­lic­i­tors act­ing on be­half of clients be­gin the process in pa­per form.

Le­gal ex­perts claim that while on­line trans­ac­tions ap­pear to be quicker, ap­pli­ca­tions can still fall vic­tim to de­lays and com­plaints within the Fam­ily Courts.

It means di­vorc­ing cou­ples can ex­pect to wait 57.7 weeks un­til a di­vorce is fi­nalised – an in­crease of 19 per cent in five years, from 48.5 weeks in 2014.

A Min­istry of Jus­tice spokesman said: “On­line di­vorce has sped up the process for more than 45,000 ap­pli­cants, with the av­er­age cou­ple wait­ing less than 35 weeks for a di­vorce. Pa­per cases are be­ing dealt with more quickly since we re­cruited ex­tra staff and the back­log is now fall­ing.”

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