A smaller number of online divorces proceed to a final divorce decree absolute than paper petitions, according to recent figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

Covent Garden based firm International Family Law Group (IFLG) obtained the data from the MoJ following a freedom of information request.

IFLG was one of the first four firms to deal with the online divorce process and issued the first ever law firm online petition in August 2018.

The number of divorce petitions being issued online is increasing and 40 per cent of petitions are now issued digitally since it was first made possible in April 2018.

The figures from the MoJ showed that during the three-month period to December 2018, 23 per cent fewer online divorces proceeded to a first decree compared with 18 per cent of paper divorces. 

In the preceding quarter, the figures were substantially lower at 14 per cent and 7 per cent respectively.

Furthermore, over the 12 months to March 2019 between 11 per cent and 19 per cent of divorce petitions – either paper or online – were not acknowledged by the respondent.

IFLG said either the parties decided not to proceed or these petitions were not even served.

The MoJ’s data also revealed that out of the divorce petitions issued in the three months to December 2018, 30 per cent of paper divorces had reached the decree absolute stage compared to just 12 per cent of online divorce.  

This rebutted the perception that all divorces take at least 12 months to obtain a divorce because of court delays, said IFLG partner David Hodson.

He added: “If these statistics remain in six months’ time when delays at court can be fully discounted as a factor, it would seem that more divorce petitions lodged online do not proceed to a final divorce order.

“Patterns of behaviour and attitudes on separation and divorce are sensitive and fragile and are often hard to discern. They can change and availability of online divorce may be a factor.”

Hodson believes it is crucial to “consider and reflect how the online divorce opportunity may be changing behaviours and attitudes”, for example, whether they are a “cry for marital help” or lodged with less reflection.

These, he warned, are the real concerns behind the MoJ statistics and it is fundamental these trends are considered.

He commented: “It certainly cannot be said that a marriage has broken down irretrievably on the lodging of a divorce petition if as many as 11 per cent or more are not even acknowledged by a respondent, let alone proceed to a decree of divorce.”

He commented that given that the online process has been built deliberately to discourage unnecessary or premature petitions when emotions are running high, the statistics suggest this should be reviewed.

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