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Our blog provides illustrated practical guides for those going through the divorce process, plus news on divorce, money and family breakdown.

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6 February 2018

Pilot scheme testing online divorce applications expands

The government has announced it is piloting a fully online divorce application process across England and Wales which it hopes will make the process less stressful for families, reports The Law Society Gazette.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service initially piloted a scheme last year which enabled people to apply for a divorce online, print off the form and send it to court. The service is now being extended so that people can submit a form, send relevant documents and make payments. In the first week HMCTS received 130 online applications. (If your divorce is being managed free of charge ass part of Intelligent Divorce's co-operative service, then as much as is currently possible will be done online.) 

Susan Acland-Hood, HMCTS chief executive, said: 'These measures are drastically cutting the number of applications returned because of errors - streamlining the process and ensuring we are best supporting people going through a difficult and often painful time.'

HMCTS claims it has received positive feedback from users. The next stage will enable legal representatives to use the system.

The pilot is part of the government's £1bn plans to modernise the justice system. More than 3,000 fare dodgers have already been sentenced through a paperless operation at Lavender Hill Magistrates' Court in London. Transport for London no longer has to manually process and physically deliver case papers to the court. Instead, prosecution evidence is electronically transferred directly to the court. The cases are then considered by a magistrate and legal adviser on a laptop. People can also submit tax appeals online, which has significantly cut the number of incomplete or inaccurate forms being returned.

Russian billionaire's ex-wife seeks record UK divorce payout

A Russian billionaire who was ordered to pay £453m to his former wife in what is believed to be Britain’s biggest divorce case was named at the high court on Wednesday as Farkhad Akhmedov, reports The Guardian.

However, the court in London heard his ex-wife Tatiana Akhmedova had not received “a penny from him”.

An order had prevented the couple’s identification after Akhmedova requested anonymity because of fears for her safety. However details of the settlement – and the couple’s lavish lifestyle — were revealed in the court of appeal on Wednesday.

Akhmedov, 62, who featured this week on the US “Putin list” of officials and oligarchs close to the Kremlin, was ordered to give his 41-year-old ex-wife 41.5% of his “staggering” wealth by a high court judge in 2016.

The gas and oil tycoon who is close friends with Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea football club, married Akhmedova more than 20 years ago.

The couple, who have two sons, moved to London in 1993 and Akhmedova raised the children without the help of a nanny, the court was told.

They lived in a £39m mansion in Surrey and had a £27.8m holiday home.

Akhmedov is appealing against the divorce settlement. His lawyers claimed the judgment, by Mr Justice Haddon Cave, showed “manifestly unjust” favouritism towards her by the British courts.
She had argued she was due almost half of their £1bn fortune due to her “equal contributions to the welfare of the family” during their marriage.

Akhmedova says she has received almost nothing despite the court’s order.

Hodge Malek QC, for Akhmedova, told the Court of Appeal she was just 17 when she met her ex-husband, and 21 and pregnant when they married in 1993 and moved to England.

“The husband has not paid a penny. Despite being awarded in aggregate £453,576,152 before interest and costs [she] has to date received nothing from [him] save for some de minimis assets in the UK.”

”The marriage broke down in 2013 and finally ended in 2014,” he said. Since then he alleged her husband “embarked on a deliberate campaign of trying to defeat the wife’s claims by any means possible – save on the merits”.

Malek claimed the husband had shifted almost all of his wealth offshore from the UK to “stop his wife getting it”.

The previous highest divorce payout was made public in 2014 when Jamie Cooper-Hohn, estranged wife of financier Sir Chris Hohn, was awarded £337m. Last year Khoo Kay Peng, the boss of Laura Ashley, was ordered to pay his ex-wife, Pauline Chai, £64 million. Such awards have given London the reputation of being “the divorce capital of the world”.

Judge calls rich couple's divorce battle 'a waste of time'

A divorce battle between a couple who have spent almost £2m on lawyers’ fees while fighting over assets worth £6.6m at most, has been described as a “scandalous waste of court time” by a judge, reports The Guardian.

Barbara Cooke, 58, and Michael Parker, 55, an estranged couple who run a firm that supplies luxury bathrobes and towels to upmarket hotels and spas, had “completely lost touch with reality”, said Mr Justice Holman.

The dispute has yet to be aired at a trial, but the judge warned the couple, who are both directors of BC Softwear, that they were heading for a “catastrophe” and urged them to negotiate.

The business, which is based in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and employs 17 people, was set up by Cooke in 2001. Parker subsequently became a director.

Holman aired his concerns while analysing the latest stage of the dispute at a pre-trial hearing in the family division of the high court.

“They have spent a third of their wealth slugging it out,” he said. “These people have completely lost touch with reality. I don’t know where the responsibility lies; it’s probably shared.

“This is heading for catastrophe.”

Holman estimated that about another £200,000 would be spent on lawyers if the divorce went to trial.

“This whole case is a scandalous waste of court time. Sometimes one can see cases where people are just absolutely determined to go on and on and on. I don’t know on which side the fault lies but this seems to be that sort of case.”

The judge made a similar point at a hearing in May, when he said: “If there is nothing left at the end, there is nothing left at the end. It won’t be Maseratis, will it? It will be a beaten-up old Ford if you’re lucky.”

It has previously been alleged that during the couple’s relationship, Parker arranged for a £1m bungalow belonging to Cooke to be burned down in a failed insurance fraud.

A high court hearing in 2012 heard that the couple made a claim to their insurers over the property in Farnham Royal, Berkshire. They were living elsewhere. Mr Justice Teare rejected the claim and found that Parker, who was running a nursing home business, arranged the fire himself, and that his wife had no idea what had happened.

“I have reached the conclusion that there is no credible explanation for the fire on the evidence before the court other than it was set by persons on the direction of Mr Parker,” the judge said .

Suspicions were raised after investigators found a key left in the outside of a conservatory door, suggesting the arsonist had access to the property. No criminal prosecution was brought.