Online portal fault allowed couples to divorce too early

Divorce: Judges deciding what to do about final orders granted in error

A fault in the digital divorce system allowed 67 members of the public to apply for their divorces earlier than they were allowed to by law, it emerged last week.

The judiciary is still considering how to deal with the cases and the divorce orders remain final until judges reach a decision, justice minister Lord Bellamy said.

Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, there is a statutory bar against applying for an order for divorce before the end of one year from the date of the marriage.

The digital divorce service was introduced in 2019, which included a validation function to stop applicants making their applications before one year and one day from the date of their marriage.

A new system was built to reflect the implementation of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, introducing no fault divorce, and it went live on 6 April 2022.

In a statement to Parliament, Lord Bellamy said: “We have identified a technical fault with the new system which allowed applications to be made after a year of marriage (as opposed to one year and one day) between 6 April 2022 and 23 November 2022.

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

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has since reviewed all 90,431 applications made during this period and identified 67 cases where members of the public submitted an early application and subsequently received their final divorce order from the courts.

“The premature applications were not rejected during the court process at the stage of issuing a conditional order, or a final order.”

Pending the judiciary’s decision on the way forward, HMCTS has written to all the people affected by the error and established a dedicated helpline and contact email to offer guidance and support.

Last month, the president of the Family Court refused an application to rescind a final divorce order which a law firm had obtained by error using the online system.

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