President of Family Division says 'digital divorces' will begin in 2017

By Lenore Rice

The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, told guests at an annual dinner of the Family Law Bar Association that online divorce cases are planned "for at least initial implementation early in 2017".

He said that some divorce proceedings could be carried out almost completely online, including the final hearing. The system would involve online questionnaires being completed by the divorcing spouses, and all parties interacting by email and possibly video links. The questionnaire would deal with issues such as marital history, assets and income, and the arrangements in respect of child maintenance, residency and contact. The online system would also extend to probate cases such as approving Wills, and is being introduced to tackle the huge burden of cost and time on the courts in England and Wales.

The time-scale for implementation has been questioned by some professionals in the family law sector. In a Justice Select Committee meeting last month Sir James Munby did not display as much confidence at how quickly the online system could be in place. He told the Chair of the meeting that the court modernisation would only be successful if underpinned by a an "IT revolution", but admitted that "the government's track record on IT projects is not exactly shining". He said that "the jury is still out" on whether the online system can be delivered, and that he was "disappointed" at the lack of progress being made.

If you require legal advice from a divorce solicitor in Northern Ireland, contact Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast or Bangor by calling 0800 840 1363.