‘Technical fault’ with online system allowed 67 couples to divorce early

Affected couples have been alerted and offered support while judges review cases, as ministers acknowledge that system operated by HMCTS experienced issues over a period of seven months in 2022

A “technical fault” with government’s online system for submitting divorce applications allowed 67 couples to successfully untie the knot earlier than should have been allowed, ministers have admitted.

All those affected have been alerted and are being offered support, while judges are now considering what – if any – action to take in these cases.

The digital divorce platform, which was first launched by HM Courts and Tribunals Service in 2018, is designed so as to allow people to apply for a divorce only after a period of one year and one day since the day of their marriage. This is intended to ensure compliance with long-standing statutory requirements prohibiting couples from applying for a divorce during the first year of marriage. A new version of the system was introduced on 6 April 2022 to reflect legislative changes including the introduction of no-fault divorces.

Between the launch of the updated online service and 23 November 2022, the digital platform permitted applications to be made after precisely one year of marriage: a day earlier than should have been allowed.

A total of 90,431 applications were made during this time period and, having reviewed all these cases, government has identified 67 couples that filed their digital divorce papers on their first wedding anniversary – submissions that should have been prohibited by the website.

The fact that they were not was caused by “a technical fault with the new system”, according to a written parliamentary statement from Lord Bellamy KC, under secretary of state for justice.

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“The error was rectified as soon as it came to light to prevent any future applications from members of the public being submitted early,” he added.

All of the 67 early applications went on to be rubber-stamped by the courts – and will remain so, until and unless a formal ruling is made otherwise. Judges are now considering how to proceed from here, Bellamy said, and anyone who might be affected by the issue has been contacted and is being offered support.

“The premature applications were not rejected during the court process at the stage of issuing a conditional order, or a final order,” the minister added. “The independent judiciary are looking at how best to deal with the cases. Until they reach a decision, all final divorce orders of the court will remain final orders. HMCTS has written to all those people who have received a final divorce order from the court. HMCTS has established a dedicated helpline and contact email to offer guidance and support.”

Sam Trendall

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