You may have heard about the error in the online form used for disclosure of financial information in divorce which is also known as the Form E. In December 2015 a mistake in the form was discovered by Nicola Matheson-Durrant, a family law specialist at the Family Law Clinic. She explained to The Guardian: “Having discovered the fault and advised the Ministry of Justice, it became apparent that not a single solicitor, barrister or judge in the whole of the UK had noticed this error. It is such a critical fault.”
The glitch in the Form E is found within Section 2.20 – this is the section which sums up the parties’ positions. The summary adds up Parts 1 to 5 of the Form E to form a ‘total value of assets’ figure at the end. Within the table, there is a liabilities and capital gains tax section which is supposed to be deducted from the overall figure. The mistake spotted by Nicola Matheson-Durrant showed that the liabilities and capital gains tax section was not actually deducted from the total overall figure. This meant that the total asset figure would be inflated.
The Courts Minister Shailesh Vara has updated Parliament on the problem which affected Forms E with the faulty formula between April 2014 and mid December 2015. He stated that “A total of 36,527 cases contain a version of Form E filed from these periods. HMCTS staff have not 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. Out of the affected cases, Shailesh Vara confirmed that 1,403 of the cases are still live.
Despite the possibility of the error occurring in many divorce cases, the error in the Form E is unlikely to have led to very many unfair settlements. Solicitors and Courts will very often consider the discrete assets and liabilities within the Form E rather than the summary sections where the error has occurred here. If you are concerned about this error however and think you may have been affected, HMCTS have created a dedicated email address that you can contact – formE@Hmcts.gsi.gov.uk.