Those of us who attended the
At A Glance Conference
in June got to see the online divorce portal currently being piloted in Nottingham.
The interface will be one familiar to you if you use the
website for the child maintenance calculators, tax credits, capital gains tax and so on as that is the entrance point to use the system. The layout and functionality is also similar.
We were told that the project is on the twentieth re-write. This is not hard to believe as the petitioner is asked directive questions to move them through the process. The sections for ‘free flow’ information to be given are very limited indeed. There are also ‘hard stops’ built in the system where you cannot proceed further unless the right information is given or if you are not eligible to proceed eg divorcing prior to the first anniversary.
The current system is for the use of a married (or civil partner) litigant in person whose marriage certificate is in English. We were told that at this time the system does not support solicitor users (so there is no option to file the statement of reconciliation) and is not set up for marriage certificates that are not in English. The system is expected to eventually be expanded to cover that, and in time, will have a link to the General Registry which would mean the end to having to produce certificates for ceremonies registered in England and Wales. Under this system, marriage certificates are scanned and uploaded.
'What about fraudulent certificates?' asked one delegate. They didn’t really get an answer other than to say the benefit outweighs the risk.
The system is designed to ask questions in a way that are as fool-proof as possible - hence the earlier 19 re-writes, I would suggest. The portal asks for information at the outset that would usually be provided later in the point of proceedings - for example, asking for addresses after separation.
The trial run will be expanded across Nottingham over the next few weeks.
Payment is also available online - which for solicitors would mean getting a credit card set up. Hopefully, when the system is expanded to solicitor users, the PBA account will be linked to the application.
Her Majesty's Courts & Tribunals Service has certainly tried to make it as simple as possible to go through the process – but then any process is simple if you know what you are doing. I still think we will have clients who will not want to use this or do not feel up to the task of using it. Until the online portal becomes mandatory, clients who do not wish to use it will be able to continue going to their solicitor as they currently do.
We also have to hope that related IT infrastructures can cope.
Yes, I am looking at you Client and Cost Management System (CCMS) portal and you Universal Credit application.
About the author - Karen Dovaston
Karen Dovaston is a member of the Family Section Advisory Group. She is deputy head of family law department and family law arbitrator at Jeffries Solicitors.