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'Deeply regrettable'. Those were the words the Rt Hon Michael Gove, Justice Secretary, used to describe the error on a version of the Ministry of Justice's (MoJ) online Form E.
The MoJ's April 2014 version, no longer available, miscalculated assets by not properly taking into account liabilities. Mr Gove said that up to 17,000 people might have been affected.
He added to the information offered initially by the MoJ website which said, giving an email address, 'An error has been identified in the automatic calculations used in the version of the Form E (Financial Statement) available on the HMCTS Form Finder website...The current online version has been corrected. We are urgently investigating this issue and will be writing to anyone affected as soon as possible.'
The issue soon got a moniker, 'Form E-gate'. The media predicted that 'thousands of couples who had settled their divorces in the last 20 months may have to re-open negotiations' (The Guardian). A number of family lawyers were quoted and did little to put the issue in perspective. It’s worth trying to do that.
Five per cent of financial applications, or ancillary relief matters, go to a fully contested hearing. 95% settle beforehand. To formalise such a settlement, a draft consent order application must be filed. A court will only consider that if it is accompanied by certain information, including financial details, not in Form E format, which may have already been filed and served, but a Form D81 statement of information, instead. Hopefully this reworking would uncover any glitch.
Even where a matter is contested, a Form E is just a snapshot.
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