It is feared that over 2000 divorces will be affected by the Government’s online divorce form fault. The fault on ‘Form E’ was only discovered in December last year and had been available on the Government’s website since at least April 2014. This form can be used by a separating couple to calculate their financial settlements.
A problem with the form left couples’ debts out of the calculations. The form has now been corrected and the parties involved in any live cases have been alerted to the problems with the form.
Unfortunately, many of the couples who used the form may have done so without a solicitor. Anyone who divorces wants to do so in as quick, stress-free and inexpensive a manner as possible. Although divorce is often portrayed as an adversarial and aggressive experience, many couples can work together to come to an agreement. Some couples may have used Form E to lessen the involvement of solicitors and the courts.
The error was discovered not by a judge or lawyer, but by a lay person legal expert. Nicola Matheson-Durrant is a ‘McKenzie Friend’ who specialises in family law at the Family Law Clinic in Ascot, Berkshire. Mrs Matheson-Durrant said, ‘It is such a critical fault. This form has been used in training so it will also have been seen by paralegals, university law departments and the Law Society.’
The Justice Minister, Shailesh Vara MP, has updated the House of Commons on the error and said that the ‘wider implications of the faulty form were not immediately recognised.’ He said, ‘I have instructed HMCTS to write to all parties in the 2,235 closed cases. The letter expresses our sincere regret for the error, sets out what happened and explains that, although Form E is just one part of the evidence used in their case, there remains a possibility that the error affected the final outcome.’
Anyone who thinks that they have been affected by the error on the form has been urged to contact the Ministry of Justice at formE@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk.
Divorcing in England and Wales
More and more people are considering using the ‘DIY method’ to divorce. This procedure has worked well for many people and even celebrities such as former footballer Gary Lineker have divorced in this way. As long as couples don’t want to make a financial claim upon one another and agree on the grounds for the divorce, this option may be available to them. This procedure could take only a few months.
However, the recent form E headlines have highlighted the dangers involved in ‘divorce DIY’ and may make some couples more cautious about divorcing in this way.
Many couples find that the best option for them is to instruct an expert family lawyer who can advise on all aspects of separation and will ensure that a high quality and professional service is provided. A solicitor who specialises in family law will have years of experience in handling divorces.
Molly McGrady is a legal writer based in Scotland writing about topics such as divorcing in England and Wales.