The launch of the online divorce pilot by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is an exciting new development as the Family Courts move steadily towards a digitised service.
Though initially only the divorce petition itself will be online, in coming months online issuing will be the norm not only for divorces but for all applications across the Family Court, including financial applications and applications relating to children via the court service portal.
Family Partner, Rebecca Silcock welcomes the changes but with many people now divorcing using the court services portal, Rebecca advises of the importance of taking legal advice first to ensure you get the best outcome for you and your family.
This is especially vital as the portal does not enable respondents to be legally represented. This means their solicitors cannot file or receive paperwork so a respondent to a divorce needs to be vigilant in ensuring they do take advice before completing the papers.
Don’t apply for Decree Absolute too soon
For many pension provision within a marriage is not equal and often is one of the most valuable assets within the marriage. Pension sharing orders are a common way of dealing with this disparity. This means that a portion of the larger pension is shared and transferred to the spouse with the smaller or no pension provision. In many cases this can be a benefit of tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds.
However if a Decree Absolute is applied for too early this benefit is lost. A Financial Order with the pension sharing order must be lodged with the court before the Decree Absolute. If it is not then a pension sharing order cannot be made and this could be a very expensive error.
A respondent may be well advised to seek an agreement from the petitioner or their solicitors that the Decree Absolute will not be applied for before a financial agreement has been reached.
If a Decree absolute is issued before financial agreement is reached and one spouse dies this could have ramifications on inheritance. The situation gets even more complex if there are no Wills or competing claims where there are several dependents. The result can be expensive litigation under the Inheritance Act.
Timing is key
Finally if the Decree Absolute is applied for after a financial order is made but before the appeal window has expired there is a risk the other side may appeal and the issues above can arise.