Divorce Portal Error Grants Divorces Within First Year of Marriage

July 10th 2024

In 2019 an online portal for divorce applications was introduced as part of the previous government’s £1 billion reform of the Court system. 

Anecdotally, there continues to be widespread support among legal professionals for the idea of digitising legal services in order to improve efficiency and access to justice. However, developing a straightforward online system that accurately reflects the law has proved challenging.  

Recently, a fault in the online system allowed couples to finalise their divorces after only one year of marriage, rather than the one year and one day required by law. Former Justice Minister, Lord Bellamy, announced to parliament that 67 couples had been unlawfully divorced between April and November 2022. 

Judges will now have to decide between going back and reversing the divorces that were granted, presumably to the distress of the 67 couples that thought they were divorced, or allowing the divorces to stand in spite of the letter of the law. 

The online portal has made it much simpler for couples to get divorced without instructing solicitors. However, this incident highlights why it is still beneficial to take some legal advice before starting the divorce process. A lawyer would have been able to advise the couples affected by this system error that the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 places a bar on divorce within the first year of marriage. 

There may not be many couples seeking a divorce within the first year of marriage. However, a much more common issue is couples overlooking the need for a separate financial Order to end the financial ties of a marriage. Seeking legal advice at the outset may prevent stressful and costly issues arising further down the line, as well as providing peace of mind. 

For more information on any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Patrick Mulcare, Head of Family Law at SE-Solicitors, on 01295 204153, or by email at pmulcare@se-solicitors.co.uk.