Divorce form error by MoJ – a storm in a teacup or a serious and widespread problem?
Ask most people going through a divorce and they will tell you that Form E is the bane of their lives. A long statement, running to around 25 pages, Form E covers details of income, capital, liabilities, housing and budgetary needs and also sets out the background information, as seen by the party completing it. Form E is the cornerstone of financial disclosure; the process of sharing information prior to negotiating a divorce settlement. Until all the cards are face up, it’s not possible to consider the terms of a fair settlement. So, without a doubt it is a very important document.
The recent news that the Form E downloadable on the Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) website, contained a fundamental error (by omitting to deduct liabilities from assets in the summary) for a 20 month period until it was corrected recently, is unlikely to have widespread repercussions. By far the majority of family lawyers use a wholly different software package and in any event, they carefully construct their own asset and liability schedules based on information provided in the Form E produced by both parties. It also seems unlikely that a litigant in person would ignore the contents of their spouse’s Form E and just rely on the abbreviated summary page when negotiating a settlement. But we will have to see whether any damage has been done. In the circumstances, if the error has made a fundamental difference to a settlement, the Court will re-open the financial order.
Whilst this is unlikely to have any significant implications for divorce settlements, it is a salutary reminder to lawyers and litigants in person never to rely too heavily on computer aided calculations in place of reading the document itself.
The HM Courts & Tribunals Service asks anyone concerned about their own court proceedings to contact formE@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk. If you have any queries, please contact our Family Law solicitors on 01202 525333 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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