In 2016 HM Courts and Tribunals Service launched its £1bn reform programme; an ambitious series of change that aims to bring new technology and modern ways of working to courts and to tribunals.
At the heart of this reform is our aim to provide better access to justice for all, by simplifying processes and introducing more digital ways of working.
Before we began this process, many of our old paper forms were outdated. Some were overly complicated, used off-putting technical language, or took a long time to complete.
We knew we could do better, so as well as starting to offer online services, we began to redesign processes – taking our lead from the wants and needs of our users.
One of the first services we started to redesign was divorce. We wanted to offer those wishing to end their marriage the opportunity to apply to do so online, with the aim of making it as simple and stress free as possible.
We have gone to great lengths to design a service that meets the needs of those who use it, including researching and then testing with real people. Their feedback helped us to create something that is simple to use and easy to understand.
It’s easy to see why people found applying for divorce confusing. The laws around divorce date back to 1857, and are surrounded in legal jargon; petitioners, respondents, decree nisi, decree absolute, to name just a few. People were also unaware of the steps involved, what these terms meant, how much it would cost, or how long it would take.
Based on this feedback, the online service clearly explains each step, what is required and includes all the information needed. As well as this, online guidance pages include a step-by-step guide, with an explanation of the five reasons you can apply for divorce, advice on childcare arrangements, and how to divide your money or property.
Your partner can also use the online option to respond to your application, with helpful guidance on what happens if they decide to agree or to defend the divorce.
Users can check the progress of their application online and sign up to receive email notifications throughout the journey, supporting those who are unsure of the process. The service also includes online payment, and you will receive an automatic notification that it has been processed.
The online service uses plain English and has built-in validation, which has helped us to significantly reduce the number of applications rejected because of user error: decreasing from 40% with paper forms to less than 1% when using the online system. The most common mistakes were incomplete information or missing evidence. For the applicants, this can mean fewer delays between submitting an application and their divorce being finalised.
Since the launch in May 2018 more than 40,000 applications have been processed, with 94%of users saying they were happy or very happy with the service. Rebecca, one of the people who used it, received legal confirmation of her divorce 11.5 weeks after submitting her application online – whereas the paper process takes around six months.
Another applicant said: “It was marvellous, pain free and less stressful that the paper form which I tried several years ago to complete but got fed up of it being rejected.”
While the service is live on GOV.UK, it’s still in a testing phase – meaning we’re collecting feedback and making improvements as needed.
The divorce online service can be accessed at www.gov.uk/divorce.
Ministry of Justice
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