Lord Chief Justice highlights online divorce scheme in speech

The Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett delivered a speech on ‘the age of reform’, at the fifth BAILII lecture.

He discussing the courts modernisation programme and highlighted the online divorce pilot scheme, saying that it was ‘working well.’

“The (online divorce) pilot has now moved to general availability since 1 May. Over 600 applications were received in the first week and a total of 2,600 as of this Monday. In the paper-based world, an uncontested divorce requires a petitioner to fill out a form and file it with the court. Many people fill them in themselves others pay lawyers to do it for them. They are not difficult but the rejection rate illustrates how lawyers sometimes fail to appreciate that what is our meat and drink proves indigestible for others. 40% of those forms have to be sent back to the applicant. They are rejected because they had not been completed properly. The form checking is done by District Judges or fee paid deputies. It is mind-numbing work which does not call for the skill of a judge or the cost involved in deploying a judge to such work. But a 40% rejection rate also wastes the time of the petitioners and of HMCTS in processing the forms. The paper form takes a petitioner about an hour to complete. The new online process takes roughly 25 minutes; less than half the time. And it is designed (as with so much we all do online) to prevent a person moving on to the next stage unless the earlier stage has been completed fully and correctly. The rejection rate is now only 0.5%. The benefits all round are enormous. The President of the Family Division has been singing its praises at every turn. It is the shape of things to come.’

Supreme Court rules in divorce maintenance case

The Supreme Court considered whether a businessman should increase maintenance to his former wife 16 years after their divorce.

Last year Graham Mills was ordered by the Court of Appeal to increase monthly maintenance payments to his former wife, Maria, from £1,100 per month to £1,441 for life as she was “unable to support her basic needs.”

Following their divorce settlement in 2002, Mrs Mills was given a lump sum to buy a house mortgage-free but had “unwisely” traded up to live in more upmarket properties. She was subsequently left with a mortgage and without any remaining capital.

She is presently living in rented accommodation and wants her maintenance payments to be increased.

Mr Mills is asking the UK’s highest court to reduce the maintenance payments. Mr Mills has since remarried and is arguing that he wants to move on with his life.

Courts Service to use online divorce pilot to develop digital family law service

The Courts Service will develop its new online divorce family law service following the online divorce pilot.

Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) have already started enabling people to issue divorce petitions online.

HMCTS divorce service manager Adam Lennon said, “Now that the application part of the divorce process is online we will, over the coming months make the rest of the process digital – including the response from the other spouse to the application and the final certificate of divorce – making the whole process simpler to understand and navigate.

“We are also currently working with legal professionals to develop an online application for them to use which will allow them to submit a petition on behalf of a client online.”

It is hoped that the same approach will be adopted in future to all family services.

Woman who spent most of married life in Scotland divorces in England

The former wife of an aristocrat will be divorcing her ex-husband in English courts even though they spent almost all their married life in Scotland.


Charles Villiers, 55, has accused his ex-wife, Emma of ‘trying it on’ in the English courts as a cross-border divorce tourist.


Mr Villiers added that if she won her case, England would become ‘the maintenance capital of the United Kingdom’ and face an invasion of divorcees from other home nations.


In a ground-breaking decision, top judges in London ruled that Mrs Villiers is entitled to claim maintenance from her ex-husband in England even though their divorce is still on-going in Scotland.


Divorce proceedings were initially launched in Scotland in 2012 by Mr Villiers.


Mrs Villiers, however, brought her battle for £10,000 a month in maintenance to England.


In 2016, Mrs Justice Parker ruled that the English High Court had the power to help Mrs Villiers, because she was by then ‘habitually resident’ in England.


Mr Villiers argued that his ex-wife had effectively been ‘rewarded for moving from Scotland to England.’





Supreme Court to hear rare contested divorce case

The Supreme Court will decide whether a woman can divorce her husband even though he contested the move.

The case of Tini Owens, 67 and her husband Hugh, 78 has raised questions about whether there should be an overhaul of the divorce law in England and Wales.

Mrs Owens said her marriage had broken down irretrievably, alleging that her husband had behaved unreasonably and prioritised his work over home life. Mr Owens, however, contested the divorce, saying the couple still have a “few years” to enjoy together.

Lower courts have ruled that Mrs Owens had not proved she was entitled to a divorce decree.

Mrs Owens argued that their marriage is over and she filed a petition for divorce when they separated in 2015.

At present divorce decrees are granted in England and Wales after it has been proven that a marriage has broken down due to adultery, desertion or “unreasonable behaviour” or because the spouses both consent to the move and have lived apart for more than two years. If one party contests the petition, the couple need to have lived apart for more than five years for the divorce to be granted.


Ministry of Justice launches online divorce scheme nationwide this month

Following its online pilot scheme the Ministry of Justice has launched the scheme nationwide this month.

The latest initiative in the department’s £1bn modernisation programme enables divorcing couples across England and Wales to complete their applications on a website without going to court.

The language on the digital form has been simplified and also allows payments and evidence to be uploaded from home.

Over 1,000 petitions were issued through the system during its test phase, with 91% of users reporting that they were satisfied with the service, according to the MoJ.

Sir James Munby recently described online divorce as a “triumphant success” and “final proof positive that whatever people think, government can do IT (information technology)”.

Justice minister Lucy Frazer said, “Allowing divorce applications to be made online will help make sure we are best supporting people going through an often difficult and painful time. More people will have the option of moving from paper-based processes to online systems which will cut waste, speed up services which can be safely expedited, and better fit with modern life.”


Couples who thought they were divorced could still be married after a series of blunders by officials

Newly-divorced couples may still be married because of a series of blunders by officials.

A senior judge said that those affected were granted legal break-ups too quickly.

In some cases, couples submitted divorce petitions before they had been married a year – the minimum period.

In others, officials approved divorces before the applicants had spent enough time apart.

Individuals who have remarried are at risk of having inadvertently committed bigamy.

The mistakes appear to have been made at the 11 divorce centres set up in England and Wales since 2015.

Sir James Munby, the most senior divorce judge, has ordered courts to apologise for the ‘devastating impact’ the errors will have on those who thought they had formally separated.

The news of the mishandling of divorces was issued in a technical briefing to the courts.

Sir James Munby said, ‘Very recently a number of cases have been brought to my attention where decrees nisi and absolute have been granted notwithstanding that the petition had been issued within one year of the marriage.’

He said that in such cases the divorce would be null and void and that he had called in the Queen’s Proctor – a government lawyer employed to deal with family law cases – to tell the courts to strike divorces out.

Sir James added, ‘Judges will wish to be alert to the potentially devastating impact on litigants of being informed that there is a problem with their decree. Especially (and this is unlikely to be known to the court when the first communication is made) a litigant who believes they have been validly divorced has remarried or is due very shortly to remarry.

‘Communications should accordingly be expressed in appropriately sympathetic and apologetic language.’



Woman demands £700k compensation over ‘cheating’ husband’s death because ‘they would have got back together’

A woman who was in the process of divorcing her husband when he was killed by a speeding driver wants almost £700,000 in compensation, claiming they would have reconciled had he not been killed.

Cathryn Craven, 50, has taken her claim to the High Court amounting to £676,985 against Davies on behalf of herself and her family under the Fatal Accidents Act.

At the time of Mr Cravem’s death, the couple were in a “cooling off period” between decree nisi pronouncement and decree absolute.

After a 29 year relationship they separated in January 2014 after Mr Craven began an affair and Mrs Craven petitioned for divorce.

Mrs Craven’s counsel, Marcus Grant, told Judge Freedman that there was an 80% chance of reconciliation while lawyers for the other side say that is “no more than fanciful” and was never going to happen.

Mr Grant added that neither Mrs Craven, who worked as a part-time travel consultant, nor her husband, who was the major breadwinner, had received legal advice about the financial implications of going through with the divorce.

He also said that had Mrs Craven thought it through, she would have opted to save the marriage and reconcile, which was Mr Craven’s wish.

He said: “The claimant is quite satisfied that once furnished with this advice she would have done everything in her power to reconcile with the deceased and to terminate the divorce proceedings.

“The cooling off period between the decree nisi and decree absolute stages in divorce proceedings is specifically designed to provide angry couples with time to reflect on the financial reality of their decisions before they become irretrievably committed to acting on them.”


Irish couple who got married in Ireland and divorced in UK unable to remarry

An Irish couple who got married and then divorced now want to get remarried, however are prevented from doing so because of a legal loophole.

Laura Hamilton and Paul McSherry, from Dublin, got married in Ireland in 1990 and then moved to London.

In1998 they decided to get divorced in London’s High Court.

Both Laura and Paul moved separately back to Ireland.

The couple have decided to remarry but are unable to do so because of a legal loophole known as the domicile rule.

The domicile rule states that in order for a foreign divorce to be accepted in Irish law, both parties must be domiciled, or have their permanent legal residence located, in the country where the divorce was granted.

The case remains ongoing.

‘Meal ticket’ divorce ruling signifies change in maintenance

A high-profile divorce ruling scrapping future payments signifies a sea change in how courts regard maintenance, according to a leading family lawyer.

As reported by the Law Gazette, in the case dubbed the ‘meal ticket for life’, the Court of Appeal ruled that maintenance payments for Kim Waggott from her ex-husband should end after three years.

The 49-year-old had been awarded a settlement of £9.76m and £175,000 in annual maintenance payments for life, after she was divorced from her multimillionaire husband William in 2012.

She had asked the court to approve an increase in annual payments, but he challenged the original award.

The Law Gazette stated, sitting in the appeal court, Lord Justice Moylan said Mrs Waggott could make up the shortfall from losing her annual payments by investing around 10% of her initial payment and using the interest. Moylan ruled that payments should stop from March 2021.

The judge added, ‘Any extension of the sharing principle to post separation earnings would fundamentally undermine the court’s ability to effect a clean break.’

Henry Hood, head of the family department and partner at London firm Hunters Solicitors, said the judgment is likely to be seen as the most significant indication yet that the law relating to spousal maintenance is less generous than before.

‘There had been a distinct division amongst the judges dealing with these matters, and Moylan LJ was seen as the standard bearer for the more generous approach,’ said Hood. ‘His judgment may therefore have confirmed a more limited approach to maintenance, both as to amount and duration, than was the case a few years ago.’

The lawyer also suggested the judgment may produce a consistent approach across the country, and end the situation where maintenance orders standard in some parts of the country are unobtainable in other areas.

It has been reported that Mrs Waggott now faces a ‘significant’ legal bill following the judgment.