As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, many providers and advisers moved quickly to implement digital signatures and get the administration side of the advice process online.
The legal profession has previously used digital signatures for commercial transactions, but developments by HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) led to the introduction of the Financial Remedy online service last summer with the aim of saving not only time, but also legal fees for divorcing clients.
HMCTS says “We understand that resolving finances after separating is one of the most challenging aspects of a couple’s divorce.” According to its figures, there were over 28,000 consent applications for financial remedy orders in 2019. Therefore, any streamlining of the process is welcome.
Financial Remedy online service
A consent order set outs the agreement a divorcing couple has reached for their finances. It is submitted to the court for review and will be made legally binding once the decree absolute has been granted. Pensions are included within the provisions of the order, with a pension sharing annex setting out the specific details of the scheme and the split agreed where appropriate.
A pilot of the Financial Remedy service was launched in 2018 for legal professionals to submit consent orders online and simplify part of the divorce process. As at December 2020, over 10,000 submissions had been processed online.
The new service is designed for clients with legal representation and is available around the clock. Progress can be tracked by online notifications meaning solicitors do not have to repeatedly contact the courts to chase. Typically, online submissions are processed and returned within a week.
From 24 August 2020 the service has been mandatory for divorcing clients with legal representation. At present, it is not available for financial orders made alongside civil partnership dissolutions or judicial separations which will remain paper based.
A pilot is now underway for contested financial remedy orders. These are required where no agreement can be reached between divorcing spouses and mediation has failed. Ultimately the court will decide how the financial assets (including pensions) are split as well as any ongoing income provision.
Individuals who choose to represent themselves will still have to submit a paper-based consent order, but they should find their applications are dealt with more quickly as HMCTS will be using the online framework.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 is now in law and ready to introduce no-fault divorces later this year.
Although it remains to be seen if the number of divorcing couples will increase as a direct result of this, commentators believe the effect of repeated lockdown, families staying at home for work and home schooling could also play a part.
Whatever happens to the numbers, the hope will be that moving the submission and tracking of financial remedy orders online will help divorcing clients to focus on moving on with their lives.