It has been recently discovered that the form on HM Courts website which is used by divorcing couples to disclose and calculate the full value of their assets, has had a technical glitch on it, causing incorrect results.
The court form in question, Form E, is used to find out what assets the married couple have. Each side fills out their own version and then exchanges forms. It is the starting point from which the court or the couple themselves try to find a fair division of assets. A miscalculation at this point is potentially very worrying.
If the incorrect version of the form has been used by couples and the court as a basis for the division of assets then many divorce settlements may, in theory, have to be dealt with again.
What was the mistake?
It has become clear since this news first broke that the calculation on the court form failed to take into account any debts or liabilities when calculating a party’s total assets. This would have had the effect of increasing their wealth. If the mistake was not spotted and those figures were used as the basis for a settlement then it may well be the case that incorrect decisions were made about the following issues:
– how much maintenance should be paid
– whether a property should be sold or transferred to the other person
– if a lump sum should be paid to the other person
Why has no lawyer noticed this sooner?
Many family law solicitors do not use the court website’s version of the Form E and use their own inhouse versions tailored to their own requirements. In addition, after the Form E has been exchanged with the other side, a spreadsheet of who owns what is often drawn up – a schedule of assets – in which the sums are examined again.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) put a corrected version of the form online on 14 December 2015 and it has issued a new court form, Form D650: Notice of application to vary or set aside a financial order (Form E calculator error), to address problems which have been caused by the error. We understand that no court fee will be charged for making this application. The MOJ is considering the future of form E.
The MOJ delivered a written statement to Parliament on 21 January 2016 giving an update into the faulty online form used in divorce proceedings (https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/family-justice). The statement set out the following:-
• “the faulty formula was present in versions of Form E which were online between April 2014 and mid December 2015 and between April 2011 and January 2012”
• “A total of 36,527 cases contain 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 with an incorrect figure for net assets figure in the summary table”
• “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. Although the faulty form was used in these cases, it will not necessarily have had any effect on the ultimate outcome. Form E is only a part of the material used by the parties and the court and is used at an early stage, so the information is often disputed or superseded by further information introduced during proceedings”
• “Following the error coming to light, HMCTS established a dedicated email address which people could use if they were concerned about their own case: formE@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk.”
If you are concerned that the value of assets in your divorce was miscalculated, it would be prudent to have your divorce settlement checked. Do not hesitate to contact us on 01625728012 to discuss your case.