Caution Against Using Online Divorce Lawyers

By Adam Dunkley

Associate

A judge in the family court has dismissed 28 divorce petitions from the same online company on identifying that the particulars of behaviour were “absolutely identical” to each other.

To petition on the basis of behaviour, the petitioning party must set out a list of examples of the other person’s behaviour to demonstrate to the court why the marriage has irretrievably broken down. It is accepted practice that family lawyers often advise clients to tone down their examples to encourage agreement with their ex. However, until the law changes to no-fault divorce in April 2022, the petitioner must still pass the evidential test that the marriage has indeed broken down and they find it intolerable to continue living with that person. The family lawyer must therefore prepare a carefully thought-out list of examples to satisfy the evidential test, but not so bad as to de-rail the parties’ relationship entirely. After all, the quickest and cheapest divorces are those that happen by agreement.

As family lawyers we often hear of online services and clients quite understandably ask, why should they seek specialist legal advice from a trained family lawyer, rather than spend a few quid with an online company? The ramifications are neatly set out in the judgment of Mr Justice Moor. One online company, presumably well aware of the tricky balancing act of drafting examples of behaviour, used the same list of examples in 28 divorce petitions. The cases were referred from the Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre by a Deputy District Judge who was overseeing the unit at the time. Court documents are completed by signing a statement of truth confirming that the document or statement is being made on the basis that what is said within it is true. Misrepresenting divorce petitions in this way was clearly contempt of court, a criminal offence that can lead to a fine, imprisonment or both.

These cases were not referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions however it serves as a stark reminder to always seek specialist legal advice where there may any doubt as to how best proceed with a divorce or separation.

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