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The DIY form that could make divorce anything but easy

The DIY form that could make divorce anything but easy


The new DIY petition could make a difficult situation for clients even worse, warns Paul Hunt

Family lawyers among us will be aware that a new form has been introduced for divorce petitions.

The form has primarily been redesigned to make it easier for petitioners to complete it without the benefit of legal advice.

The change of paperwork is not in itself particularly exciting news, even though the reason for its redesign is somewhat depressing for the legal industry. Instead, it is certain features of the new document that are giving cause for concern.

First, there appear to be no separate notes for guidance. These have been incorporated into the form as notes down the right-hand side, which has had the effect of lengthening the paper considerably.

Details not previously required, such as the phone number and email address of the parties, are now being requested. It is not clear what use either piece of information would be in the matter of service of the divorce petition, and sometimes there is a good reason why that information should not be available to the other party.

While addresses and other contact details can be omitted by the petitioner and sent confidentially to the court through a separate C8 form instead, this is not made particularly obvious in the sidebar. Nor is the fact that even a person who has no issues about their address being known will, I assume, now have to complete a C8 to omit their telephone and email details.

Second, and perhaps more important, the points in sections 7 and 8 concerning an adultery allegation raise the question of whether the person with whom the other party has committed adultery, i.e. the co-respondent, should be named.

As most family solicitors are aware, the only practical advantage that can come from naming a co-respondent is that the court can order that they, as well as the respondent, should pay the legal costs of the petitioner.

In all other respects, naming a co-respondent simply means involving another person who has to be served by post with the petition and from whom proof of receipt of the document has to be extracted.

The notes for guidance do contain a small print warning about potential delays to the divorce and the possible increase in costs if the co-respondent does not respond, but for a wronged spouse acting alone with no one to advise them on the ramifications, the temptation to include the co-respondent’s details may be too great to ignore.

It is situations such as this which highlight the dangers of the ever-growing reliance on DIY law. Without proper guidance, people can let their hearts rule their heads, allowing emotions to lead their decision-making processes, rather than the expert knowledge required if the best possible outcome is to be achieved.

In my view, any increased use of named co-respondents which might come about as a result of this new form would be an unhelpful backwards step.

Indeed, there is an old-fashioned feel about this which takes us back to the days where adultery was seen by some to be the only excusable reason for seeking to end a marriage.

The legal landscape is a rough, rugged terrain that needs an expert hand to guide passengers safely towards their destination. Any attempt to imply otherwise risks devaluing both our expertise and the client’s own precarious situation.

Paul Hunt is a senior associate at Kirwans Solicitors