Family profession should welcome the modernisation of divorce
As of 13 September, all new divorce applications must be made via the MyHMCTS portal. Paper applications will no longer be accepted. I welcome this change, provided the portal is up to the task.
Over the past few years, we have seen the transfer of divorce applications away from our local courts to regional divorce unit hubs. Significant delays in processing such applications ensued. Obtaining Certificate of Entitlement to Decree Nisi could take in excess of 3 months at some centres. This had a knock on effect on parties being able to submit a financial remedy consent order to the court and indeed being able to finalise their divorce. The profession therefore welcomed the introduction of the digital service.
Overall, the digital service has modernised divorce applications and has significantly reduced the time between application and grant of Decree Nisi. The portal now allows cases to be shared between colleagues in the same firm, ensuring seamless service to a client even when their designated solicitor is unavailable. It is far simpler to complete the online petition rather than a D8 form and the portal will accept clear photocopies of marriage certificates, meaning it is no longer necessary to obtain a replacement when one party is holding the original copy hostage.
The introduction of the MyHMCTS portal has not, however, been entirely smooth. When it was introduced, it permitted only one party to be represented. Pre-issue, if you represented a respondent spouse, your client was faced with a rather unenviable decision. They could either proceed “in person”, and not have a solicitor directly involved to manage the process for them, or instruct you to be named in the petition or file notice of acting and consequently kick the application back into the paper system, leading to the aforementioned delays. Similarly, post-issue, if a respondent solicitor acknowledged the proceedings on behalf of their client, that would push the application back to a regional divorce hub.
The first issue is now resolved – the portal has been improved so that the applicant solicitor can name their counterpart upon application. However, the second remains without a fix – a solicitor cannot be added to the portal post-issue. I have cases where the applicant was previously represented but is now in person and the consequence is the loss of the digital system. It is understood that HMCTS are aware of this issue but there is no immediate timeframe for it to be resolved. There are also times when the circumstances of the case will mean that conversion to a paper application cannot be avoided. I sincerely hope that the parties in such cases will not, as a consequence of HMCTS’ focus on the portal, receive a second class service.
I applaud HMCTS for moving forward with a digital divorce service and the modernisation of this process. The development of the system has been a significant stride in the family law world. With the exception of civil partnership dissolutions, nullity proceedings or applications for judicial separation, this is now compulsory for family law practitioners. There are, of course, still some teething issues and these may be addressed when the provisions of the new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act are brought fully into force.
Overall, I consider it a success and await the further development of the financial remedy portal and introduction of this nationwide.
Helen Fisher is Managing Associate at Cripps Pemberton Greenish