A new-look divorce petition was unveiled this week, which will take effect from 7th August and be the only version used as of 4th September. The electronic version will not be available on Gov.Uk until 7th August and, therefore, any attempts to submit a petition using the new version before that date will be rejected by the Courts.
The revised petition is obviously designed to ensure a smooth transition to the online divorce process, but it will also provide litigants with a much clearer and plainly worded document.
The new version is longer – some 15 pages to the previous eight; however, incorporated into the new D8 are succinct guidance notes in the right-hand margin of the form. This provides the litigant with ready access to all-important information that will assist them when completing the form. Until now, guidance notes have been available in a separate document (D8 Notes), meaning that anyone attempting to complete the petition has to flip back and forth between the two in an attempt to gain information about completing the petition. Plus, these guidance notes are not written in plain English and are often confusing, especially for a litigant whose first language isn’t English or is distressed. The incorporation of short notes in the margin on the actual petition is a very welcome addition.
The overall tone of the language used in the new version is much improved; it's written using very clear terminology without sounding patronising or having been “dumbed down”, with brief explanations of legal terms inserted into the margins. It is a vast improvement and will no doubt be welcomed by DIY litigants, lawyers and advisory agencies.
The petition is broken up into headed sections, with each heading written clearly and in lay terms.
We are very pleased to see the inclusion of the option to keep home address details confidential from the Respondent (where it is appropriate to do so). While this option for protection already exists, it is currently not made clear to those who may require it – especially if they are attempting to undertake the divorce themselves, without a lawyer. In the past, this may have discouraged some victims of domestic violence from furthering the divorce process. Hopefully, the inclusion of this information will enable abuse victims to feel confident that their residential address can be kept confidential from the Respondent.
In addition, we welcome the inclusion of the option to provide an alternative address for future correspondence from the Court – not only will this provide reassurance for those who wish to keep their residential address confidential, but it will also assist those who still live in the family home with the respondent and who are concerned that their post may be tampered with by the respondent or others.
The section relating to jurisdiction has always been a thorn in the side of litigants; the current version is very clumsily worded, and the guidance notes offer little or no support on this section either, instead offering a long-winded and garbled attempt to explain what information is required by the Court and why. The new version translates the previous wording into plain English, making it much easier to read and understand – hopefully removing the headache-inducing confusion so many litigants experience when trying to decipher the rules on jurisdiction.
The section relating to the reasons for the divorce (often referred to as “the facts”) is set out well and has explanations for irretrievable breakdown and each individual “fact”.
However, there is one issue we can see: The first question at 7.1 asks "On what date did you reach the conclusion that your marriage or civil partnership was at an end?" Followed by "On what date did you stop living together as a couple?" We feel that this first question has little or no relevance to the fact and has the potential to cause confusion and delay.
This date of final decision regarding the breakdown of the partnership could be much later than the date of initial separation – how many people are left by their spouse but take several months to really understand that the marriage is over? So, when reading on and discovering that "both dates must be at least 2 or five years ago" this means a petition could be submitted on the grounds of separation but not be able to demonstrate that the required full separation period of either 2 or 5 years has occurred following the date of "conclusion". For some petitioners who don't wish to falsify the dates this could mean an unnecessary hold-up for the sake of a pedantic detail.
There is a separate page dedicated to the fact of adultery, with some carefully worded guidance notes.
Interestingly, there is no section that requests details of the parties’ children. In the last five years, we have gone from having to complete a full Statement of Arrangements for Children on a supplemental form (C8A) to providing just basic details on a voluntary basis to now removing any mention of children within the divorce petition. Some may not be happy at the exclusion of the children’s details, but we would argue that the divorce is between the parents, not the parents and children, and as such there is no need for any particulars of children to be mentioned in the petition.
The section asking about ongoing court cases has been amended slightly, with the removal of any details relating to proceedings in a separate jurisdiction relating to the marriage. Hopefully, litigants will be savvy enough to know to include all external relevant proceedings in this section.
The revised section 10 is simply headed “Dividing your money and property”, and the tick boxes have been simplified to state "Yes" to applying for a financial order for the petitioner and any children, with the types of financial orders set out in the introductory text. The guidance notes make clear that the court will not automatically deal with the financial orders until the appropriate (and separate) application is received. This should provide a great deal of clarity for respondents in particular who, after having read a list of allegations about their alleged behaviour, are often alarmed when they then read a long list of financial order boxes, all ticked, giving the impression that all those orders will be granted without discussion between the parties.
The Prayer now appears in the new section 11, which also covers costs and again has a short summary note relating to costs.
We are convinced that this new look petition with the vastly improved language and guidance notes will make the process of completing and understanding the form easier for litigants, particularly when the petition becomes fully integrated into the online system. As with any alterations to an existing form or process, there may be some teething issues, and any glitches can be ironed out as the petition is used in volume. It will be interesting to hear the thoughts of litigants as they complete the form themselves, first on paper and then, as from next year, completely online.
Contact Oratto on 0845 3883765 to speak with a family law adviser or use our contact form to arrange a call-back.