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Divorce law blog

DIY divorce comes with a health warning

29/01/2013   By: Rachel Chapman

The national press is littered with articles about the steep costs of divorce and horror stories of people who have spent tens of thousands of pounds (or even more – remember the divorcing solicitors who started with millions and ended up with £90,000?) for a service that they probably never envisaged they would need. This, combined with the ongoing economic uncertainty we face and the fact that legal aid for most divorcing couples is about to be pulled, is reason enough to seek a “cheaper” alternative to instructing solicitors. As a result, there is a growing trend for so-called DIY divorces, where you deal with the divorce process by using an online service.

Many people understandably want what is one of the most distressing times in their lives over with as quickly and cheaply as possible. However, appearances can be deceptive. Websites offering “quickie” divorces can come with a price if you’re not careful.

It’s true to say that the divorce process is paper based and, more often than not, you do not need to attend court to get to Decree Absolute (the final decree that ends the marriage). But there are many issues that can’t be sorted out by a simple online form. What if your spouse contests the divorce or does not agree costs? What if you need to hold up the divorce to protect your position if your spouse dies before you’ve finalised the money aspects? These require proper advice and even court hearings that cannot be dealt with over the internet.

More importantly, the relatively straightforward administrative process of the divorce itself is not the end of the story of course. The key issues of the arrangements for your children and your finances need to be dealt with.

Issues relating to the children can be the most emotional for both parents. Where the children are going to live, where they will spend Christmas and where they will go to school are all things that will need to be discussed by the family, but are often the most contentious. Although only a minority of families end up in court, specialist advice early on makes it more likely that you will be able to agree on what’s best for your children. You can’t pay a quick one-off fee to cover this.

It’s vital of course that you understand and try to reach agreement on the financial consequences of your divorce. What assets you have as a family and how they should be split fairly are key issues. Professional advice is needed to make sure that everything is considered and covered. Your future financial security depends on it.

There is a common misconception that the party at fault, for example the person who had an affair, is “punished” financially. This is simply not the case. If you can’t agree and the court ends up having to decide it will take a number of factors into consideration. What you may think is fair and appropriate may not be, for example if you simply hadn’t appreciated the importance of pensions or the value of some business interests.  

There is no question that in the short run completing the divorce process online can be cheaper, but what about the long term costs? If there are issues left unresolved between you and your spouse, how can you be sure that you will obtain a fair and complete settlement? 

Involving professionals will provide protection for you and your family in the future by ensuring that you have not missed any details or failed to close any loopholes. The law surrounding divorce and finances is so fluid that you need someone who is experienced and up to date.  

Lawyers are not the only professionals who can help you. Mediation or collaborative law may be good options for you to consider. A settlement that you both agree on after checking that you have all the relevant information is almost always going to be better than one imposed on you by a judge at the end of lengthy and costly court proceedings. 

DIY has its place, but at one of the most important and emotional periods of your life you can’t afford to get it wrong.

You can get more information by watching our video on DIY divorce.

Rachel Chapman
Family Law Solicitor

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