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26 January 2016

Are you affected by the Form E divorce fault?

Back in December 2015 it was announced that the Form E provided on the Ministry of Justice website between April 2014 and December 2015 contained a faulty calculation. This resulted in automatic fields within the form calculating the incorrect total for an individual's net assets, as it failed to deduct certain liabilities.

The form was replaced with a corrected version of the form on 14 December 2015.

So what does this mean for those who went through a divorce and related financial remedy proceedings during that time?

The first point to bear in mind is that solicitors do not tend to use the on-line version of the Form E.  Solicitors firms have access to specialist software which was not subject to faulty calculations.  Therefore if you used a solicitor, then it is most unlikely that a faulty form was used.

The fault has mostly affected Litigants in Person, that is individuals who did not instruct a solicitor.  Due to the recent cuts to legal aid, it is unfortunate that the error appears to have affected the people that had no access to legal assistance and were forced to deal with matters themselves.

Even if the faulty form was used, it will not necessarily have had any effect on the ultimate outcome. That is because the Form E is only a part of the material used by the parties and the court and is used at an early stage, so that information is often queried or replaced by further information during the proceedings.

The Courts Minister Shailesh Vara has recently updated the House of Commons on the investigation into the online Form E error.  The investigation found the faulty formula was present in versions of Form E which were not only online between April 2014 and mid December 2015, but also between April 2011 and January 2012.

Interestingly the investigation found that a total of 36,527 cases contained a version of Form E filed from these periods. HMCTS staff have now reviewed all these cases and found that 3,638 files (10%) contained the faulty calculator version of Form E.

1,403 of these cases are still live, allowing HMCTS to intervene immediately to clearly flag these cases to the courts in order to avoid the error affecting the final orders in these cases.

The remaining 2,235 files – 6.1% – were closed cases.  HMCTS will be writing to all parties involved in these cases setting out their options. Some may wish to do nothing, if, for example, they know that the error was corrected during the proceedings or they do not wish to re-open their cases. If people think they have been affected by this error then they can apply to the court to vary or set aside their order. No court fee will be charged for making such an application.

If you think that you have been affected by the error then seek specialist family law advice.  HMCTS have also set up a dedicated email address which people can use if they are concerned: formE@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk .


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