Digital divorce service update – June 2021

We met with representatives from HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) on Tuesday 15 June to discuss progress with the development and take up of the online divorce service.

Person working on computer

We discussed:

Represented respondent journey

In April, HMCTS made us aware of a ‘bug’ in its digital divorce service which allowed a respondent’s representative to access draft papers before a petition was issued.

We're happy to note that this issue has now been fixed.

Be aware, however, that in the 'manage organisation' platform, some permissions are set to 'CAA' (Case Access Administrator) but others are not.

It is not yet clear why some firms have these permissions pre-set and others do not. This means that if you’re designated as acting for the respondent, the case must first be allocated to the fee-earner in the 'manage organisation' platform.

Once the CAA has allocated a case, it is removed from their case list. This will mean that, should an allocated solicitor leave a firm, the case could not proceed on the digital platform. Likewise, if a solicitor moves to a new firm and wants to take a case with them, the case would need to proceed as a paper application.

Notice of change (notice of acting)

This service is not currently supported by the digital service but HMCTS is aware of the need to explore this functionality. As it stands, the digital service cannot transfer a citizen journey case into the solicitor portal.

HMCTS is keen to hear suggestions for workarounds while it investigates this further.

Send your ideas to HMCTSFinancialRemedy@Justice.gov.uk.

Refunds on consent orders

There has been an increase in requests for refunds on consent orders. This is mainly due to solicitors who were previously in paper-based proceedings trying to lodge consent orders in the portal.

If you start proceedings outside the online service, you should send consent order applications to the court handling the case. This is also relevant to contested proceedings which may result in a consent order.

Refund requests have also increased, due to respondent solicitors lodging consent order applications. At the moment, these applications must be made by the applicant solicitor because of the way the order templates are set out. We’ve highlighted this issue and the need for flexibility as there will be a number of reasons why respondent solicitors may need to draft consent orders.

Contested financial remedy applications

All Financial Remedy Courts (FRC) will become digital from 21 June.

Currently, the system can only manage straightforward applications. Applications issued online must:

  • relate to divorce proceedings
  • not include an element of maintenance pending suit, or a request for a freezing order/injunction
  • not require personal service on the respondent
  • not require translation into the Welsh language

The following applications remain paper based:

  • schedule 1 Children Act cases
  • maintenance pending suit
  • part III (Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984)
  • section 37 (Matrimonial Causes Act 1973) injunctions

Once your application has been issued, you’ll be able to share it with colleagues in your organisation. You’ll receive automated notifications as the case progresses, so you no longer need to contact the courts for updates. Orders made on the case will be accessible online.

MyHMCTS also allows you to:

  • upload draft orders following hearings
  • create general applications
  • lodge consent orders to settle the case

Please note that old cases will not be retrospectively added to MyHMCTS for contested financial remedy applications.

Where to lodge an application

The application must be lodged at the FRC closest to the applicant’s home court (regardless of where the divorce petition was issued).

Find the nearest regional financial remedy centre

Payment

The issue fee must be paid online via Payment by Account (PBA) or with a valid Help with Fees application.

Managing bundles and supporting evidence

When you’ve lodged your application, it will be managed online from start to end. This means that solicitors for both the applicant and the respondent (if they are signed up to MyHMCTS) should upload supporting evidence directly to the portal, including Form Es and trial bundles.

Uploads are restricted to 100MB (about 400 pages) each, but multiple uploads are permitted. Users are therefore asked to section larger bundles.

Bundles can be marked as confidential within the portal but there's an option to share with the other represented party. HMCTS will be updating its guidance to make this clear.

Once documents are uploaded, they are not submitted until you press the 'submit' button.

If the respondent solicitor has not signed up to MyHMCTS the relevant papers will be sent to them by the court.

HMCTS is aware that there may be better ways of managing bundles and has started work to review this. It will also be sharing tips and tricks with the profession as it can.

Mandating the online divorce service

HMCTS currently plans to mandate the online divorce service for solicitors from September 2021.

We’ve made a number of suggestions to ensure members are given enough support to successfully use the service, including:

  • champions in regions to offer support and assistance
  • demos and training sessions
  • continued communications between HMCTS and the profession, particularly in light of the recent bug which has damaged confidence in the system

Other issues

New divorce system

Work has started to amend the digital service in preparation for the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 coming into force.

HMCTS will also be looking to redraft Form D8. It welcomes views on how the profession might help the public make joint applications under the new law. The clear message from all stakeholders is that the system must be flexible to allow for all possibilities, including:

  • one solicitor making an application for both parties
  • for both to have separate representation
  • for solicitors to be changed within the system
  • the parties to become litigants in person

Uptake

As of May 2021, uptake for the digital service stands at 71% for solicitors and 86% for the public.

Next steps

Our next meeting with the digital divorce team at HMCTS will be 20 July.

If you have any queries or concerns which you’d like us to raise, email hmctscourtreform@lawsociety.org.uk.

Resources

HMCTS factsheet: Divorce and Financial Remedy Service (Word 30 KB)

How to set up Payment by Account

How to set up an account on MyHMCTS

Guidance for applicant solicitors using MyHMCTS

Guidance for respondent solicitors using MyHMCTS