Online forms used by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which have been wrongly calculating assets in divorce settlements, could mean up to 17,000 people would need to re-look at their divorce settlements.
The embarrassing error, which left debts out of its automated calculation, has led to a public apology from Justice Secretary, Michael Gove.
Mr Gove called the error on ‘Form E’, “deeply regrettable” and has asked anyone who thinks they might have been affected to contact the department, which has been using the form since April 2014.
Mr Gove said he was sorry that so many people might have had the allocation of resources miscalculated at what is “already an inevitably stressful time in their lives.”
According to The Guardian, which first reported the problem, 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.
This means that if an individual had significant debts or liabilities, these were not recognised or recorded on the electronic form, potentially inflating their true worth. As a result, distorted net figures of applicants’ assets were produced.
Whilst not all divorcing or separating couples used the online form, those most likely to have been affected are litigants acting in person who did not employ a lawyer and had more modest assets, where the discrepancy may have been less noticeable. However, the impact of the errors could be widespread.
Following the exposure of the fault, there are calls for the Government to pay for additional court costs incurred by divorced couples, as many may have to return to the courtroom to have their financial settlements renegotiated. Anyone who may have been affected should seek urgent professional advice.