Why DIY divorce is not a good idea
Back in 2008, Heather Mills' decision to represent herself during her court battle with Sir Paul McCartney led to a surge in battling couples carrying out their own DIY divorces. Warring husbands and wives thought if she can do it, so can I.
And now following the coalition's cuts to family legal aid, a new report by YouGov SixthSense reveals that this is likely to increase because nearly a quarter of those who used a solicitor, approximately 24%, relied on family legal aid to fund their divorce proceedings.
While it may only be a minority of couples turning to DIY divorces, as a family law solicitor in Liverpool with 22 years experience, I am greatly concerned particularly as figures already released by a leading on-line divorce firm show an increase of 25% in the sale of DIY divorces since April.
So how good can these on-line divorces be? Admittedly, they are cheap - some start at £37 - but are they a viable option?
Are they the right choice for you?
DIY Divorce solicitors advocate that if your separation is amicable, you and your partner are communicating, you have no children, no financial assets to divide and your divorce is uncontested, DIY divorces are the ideal solution.
How wrong are they! Amicable or not, you always need to ensure you have completed a Consent Order which is the legal document finalising financial matters on divorce. Without this, you are vulnerable to your partner making a financial claim against you years later.
This is something I insist all my clients complete and from my point of view, is the most important part of the divorce process. Furthermore, a consent order has to be carefully drafted which is something that cannot be done on a DIY basis.
Millionaire Dale Vince was almost a victim of this when his ex-wife Kathleen Wyatt appealed to the High Court for financial remedy 21 years after she divorced Mr Vince - we don't know if any financial orders were made at the time of the couple's divorce as all the court papers apart from the divorce decree itself have been destroyed. In addition, the files of the solicitors involved at the time are non-existent.
Initially, he was ordered to pay £125,000 to fund her legal costs for bringing the claim against him. However, on appeal to the High Court, Lord Justice Jackson ruled that Mr Vince should not be expected to pay his ex-wife a vast sum, years after their divorce in UK law just because he had become a successful businessman.
Mr Vince's case highlights the potential of what can go wrong if the Consent Order is not completed. All divorces have to go before the courts and the danger is if you have not completed this vital component you could end up having your divorce delayed. No judge is going to sign off a divorce unless the necessary paperwork is in order.
How much do they really cost?
On searching Google, I found a number of firms offering 'quickie divorces' at a range of fees, from £37 up to £99, but what about the hidden extras? Many don't mention the court fees which currently start at £410 to get things going. Nor do they mention the fee for the decree absolute or the final order and then there is the court fee for issuing a notice of an application for a financial order. So already, your costs are mounting up before you even start.
More often than not, I deal with people who have had their basic divorce petition rejected because it has not been completed properly - there is a certain way a petition needs to worded to satisfy a judge - and this is usually due to a DIY divorce. Therefore, this not only incurs additional cost but also delays proceedings.
So what you see, isn't necessarily what you get - there are lots of hidden extras which many firms won't tell you about until it's too late. So a word of warning, be very careful that you explore and understand the fee structure before signing on that dotted line.
Why it's important to take your time
Getting divorced takes time and can't be achieved overnight. In my opinion, as a family law solicitor in Liverpool, there's no such thing as a 'quickie' divorce.
Separation is difficult. In fact, according to the charity Relate, it can result in mental and physical health problems. Most people want to get the formalities of a divorce over and done with but I recommend my clients take time to consider what they want so that they don't have any regrets afterwards.
Getting divorced is not just about ending a marriage. It is also about a change in life for you, your partner and children if you have them.
That's why I would recommend people use a solicitor. We are not just here to do all the paperwork but also to guide you through what will undoubtedly be a very stressful time in your life.
A DIY divorce will not give you this security. And research has shown that women are the ones who come off worse financially when opting for a DIY divorce. They think they will be better off but the reality is they tend to lose out when it comes to the financial settlement.
Is the traditional divorce under threat by the DIY divorce? Do you think women do come off worse than men when opting for a DIY divorce?