Software failure may cause divorced couples to revisit financial settlements

Tens of thousands of couples who have settled their divorces in the last 20 months may have to re-open negotiations because a critical fault has been found in software used to calculate financial terms, according to The Guardian.

The Ministry of Justice was urgently investigating the extent of the errors of “Form E” on its website which have the potential to inflate the financial worth of a wife or husband. 

The fact the software had been miscalculating assets since April 2014 was only spotted earlier this month by a family law specialist, Nicola Matheson-Durrant of the Family Law Clinic in Berkshire. The MoJ only publicly admitted the problem on Thursday.

Ms Matheson-Durrant is not a legally qualified solicitor or barrister, but is a McKenzie Friend, a lay expert who helps litigants. 

One particular paragraph, numbered 2.20, which is supposed to produce totals, fails to reflect the minus figure of final liabilities entered earlier on, producing a simple mathematical error. If a party had significant debts or liabilities, they were not recognised or recorded on the electronic form, potentially inflating their true worth. Distorted net figures of applicants’ assets were therefore being produced.

Not all divorcing or separating couples use the online form – some prefer pen and paper calculations – but the impact of the errors could be widespread.

The discovery comes at a time when the senior judiciary and the justice secretary, Michael Gove, are encouraging the development of online justice as a means of improving courtroom efficiency and making further economies. 

An HMCTS spokesperson said: “We are urgently investigating this issue. Officials are taking steps to identify rapidly cases where this regrettable error may have had an impact.”

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