Could using a government website result in unfair divorce settlements?

18th December, 2015

The BBC has a story claiming that relying on a government website could lead to unfair divorce settlements.  This articles explores what it is about and whether you should be worried.

A government website had hosted a copy of the financial statement, called a Form E, that couples should complete when financial claims are pursued through the court.

The free online version had a programming error; the form is supposed to subtract the debts that a husband or wife has from the assets that they have and provide an accurate figure.  It was discovered after 20 months that the necessary calculation was not being carried out.

The BBC report that this could have lead to unfair settlements for some of the 120,000 divorces that happen each year.

The Form E is an important document.  It enables everyone to disclose all of their information.  The reality is that very few people rely on the totals which the form then calculates and it would be dangerous to do so.

Instead, the proper calculation of who is entitled to what when resolving financial claims in divorce is much more sophisticated.  It requires the consideration of a range of criteria which can be found in s25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

There are a couple of points that can be drawn from this alarmist BBC news story.

The first is the reminder that resolving financial claims in divorce is an area where people need specialist advice.  Simply putting the forms online is not an alternative to getting professional help.  In fact, this story demonstrates that it might have a downside that people can be too quick to place too much credibility on what an online form says or over-estimate its role or function, especially if it is hosted on a government website.

The second point is many solicitors and barristers never use this online version of the form in any event.  Negotiating financial claims on divorce is so much more than a form filling exercise.  It needs the skill, insight and experience to considering the different kinds of assets and needs of each partner.  That work often results in more detailed lists and tables showing who has got what, who might be entitled to what and, when working with financial advisers, revealing what each person’s situation might look like in 5,10 or 30 years time.

If you are worried about your divorce or feeling overwhelmed by the issues that need to be taken into account then you can contact Diane Genders specialist divorce solicitors on 01522 516500 or email them in confidentiality by CLICKING HERE

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