Do-It-Yourself Or Get A Solicitor?
The number of divorces in England and Wales in 2011 – the latest year for which statistics are available - was 117,558. The previous year there had been 119,589 divorces, which was an increase compared to 2009 but the only blip in an otherwise steady downturn since 2003.
But when divorce is the only option there’s no doubt it can be expensive. Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch handed over $1.7bn to former wife Anna when their 32 year marriage ended, whilst Formula 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone is thought to have given $1.2bn to his model wife Slavica. And Mel Gibson’s former wife Robyn, with whom he has seven children, is said to have gained $425m of his $850m fortune because under California law she was entitled to half of everything he owned.
Most divorcees don’t face bills of anywhere near this amount of course. But estimates put the average cost of divorce in the UK at between £1,300 and £2,000 and this can shoot up rapidly if a couple cannot agree on who gets what. Add to this the fact that the UK is in a double-dip recession and living costs are spiralling and it’s no wonder that would-be divorcees are looking to save costs any which way they can.
In the last few years there has been a rise in the number of online divorce sites promising quick, simple and cheap divorces. Even the Government’s own website has a step-by-step guide to divorce with all the necessary documents available to download and print off. But is it wise to try to get divorced for a few hundred pounds? Or is DIY divorce just a false economy?
Rachel, of Pontypridd, says getting divorced online was straightforward and cost just £340 – a big saving compared to the solicitors’ fees she had been quoted. “My ex and I both wanted to get divorced and there was little animosity by that point,” says Rachel. “In fact, he came over one night and we sat down and downloaded all the forms and read through them together.
We set the ball rolling in the July and our Decree Absolute came through in the November. I only had to make one call to the County Court to check the fee and the rest was done online and through the post. I couldn’t believe how simple the forms were really.”
But Rachel can see that this would not work for everyone. “Our income was pretty equal and we’d both put roughly the same amount in over our 11 year marriage,” she says. “We share care of our two children, a boy and a girl, and live around the corner from each other. But the key is that we agreed on what’s fair and what’s best for the kids. If you don’t agree on the basics I think it could get pretty nasty.”
Family law solicitor Victoria Cannon of South Wales-based Full Stop Law couldn’t agree more pointing out the pitfalls of trying to go it alone.
“I've recently been instructed by several ladies who have reached the Decree Absolute stage in divorce and have, albeit without full knowledge, inadvertently finalised all financial claims with their husbands,” says Victoria. “This situation has occurred for several reasons but usually because they have completed the divorce process with an online company in order to attempt to save costs without taking legal advice during the process – whilst their husband has.
“Unfortunately, as a result, financial claims have been dismissed without any form of redress through the court or otherwise. This could mean that any potential claims such as transferring their home into their sole name, receiving a lump sum payment following divorce or even making provision for a pension-sharing order cannot be resurrected.”
In other words, once the divorce reaches this stage it is too late for either partner to do anything about the terms and they might find they have been stitched up by an ex they thought they could trust.
Victoria adds: “Although I appreciate that entering into divorce and financial settlement can be costly, when considering costs proportionately to loss that could occur, the costs can be minimal. It is essential that when individuals enter into this process that they are aware of their rights and the pitfalls that can occur by not having knowledge.”
And Victoria expects the situation to get worse following the withdrawal in April 2013 of Legal Aid except where there has been an element of domestic abuse in the relationship.
“At Full Stop Law we offer affordable services in line with income or ad hoc packages to assist you with this process,” she says. “We are concerned that individuals will increasingly turn to online companies as a result of the withdrawal of Legal Aid. Therefore the question must be asked - are we really achieving access to justice?”