An urgent investigation has been launched by the Ministry of Justice after a glitch was discovered in an online divorce form.
The divorce form in the headlines is part of a process that divorcing couples may complete to give full details of their financial circumstances to the other spouse and to the court. It is called a Form E.
The only version of the Form E with a software error is the online form produced by using the website of the Ministry of Justice.
The problem will mostly affect people who represent themselves because family solicitors use different software to produce their forms. Family solicitors believe that only a small number of cases will be affected, although the Ministry of Justice has not ruled out the possibility of “thousands” of cases being involved.
To put it into context, just over 130,000 couples a year divorce in England and Wales. It is thought that only around half of them seek a court order to finalise the financial settlement of their assets. Most couples who get a financial order do so by agreement rather than asking a judge to decide. Figures recently released by the MOJ show that only 8% of contested cases do not settle and go to a fully contested final hearing.
The glitch is that although the form is completed with all the figures, the auto calculation function ignores the liabilities and debts. The resulting figures produced are therefore wrong because the bottom line figure is a calculation of the assets only and the debts are not subtracted. Potentially this can over-inflate the value of a spouse’s assets for the purposes of negotiation and court proceedings.
The remedy is to return to court or to renegotiate the agreement based on the correct figures. Resolution solicitors can help give you the best advice and if you go to our website on www.resolution.org.uk you will be able to find an experienced family solicitor near to you.
Specialist family solicitors would make their own detailed calculations of the value of a client’s assets and not simply rely on this one online version of the Form E produced by the Ministry of Justice. The form is just one part of an investigative process which has to be updated during the course of the case, which can last 12 to 18 months.
I would therefore be very surprised if any discrepancies are not picked up by the checks and balances in the financial remedy procedures.