In the three years since the Government removed Legal Aid funding for all but a handful of divorces, it is perhaps unsurprising that some individuals trying to sort out the end of their marriages have decided to do it themselves.
New research has suggested that as many as 40 per cent of separating spouses try the ‘Do-it-yourself’ divorce approach instead of opting for a lawyer.
The decision to remove Legal Aid from cases which did not involve domestic abuse, child protection or abduction, or forced marriage coincided with an increase in the number of firms offering couples the facility to complete their divorces online.
All in all, both were hailed as opportunities to enable husbands and wives to administer their affairs in a more informal manner while also reducing the huge costs and workload facing the judicial system.
I would suggest that even though the latest figures indicate an appetite to pursue a more personal form of divorce, they don’t provide the full picture.
Even though most people representing themselves (known in legal jargon as ‘Litigants in Person’) do so out of necessity due to the Legal Aid economies, their involvement actually means the business of divorce can take longer to resolve and, therefore, cost even more.
They often look to judges or court clerks for guidance, a role which they’re not supposed to fulfil. That can be especially true in relation to complex financial issues and even to the kind of evidence which they present to support their arguments.
It is arguably the same for those using online services. Such companies may well handle the submission of the necessary forms effectively but offer none of the broader, trained support or information which a lawyer can.
One client found that the internet firm he used had mysteriously filed his divorce papers with a court many hundreds of miles from where he lived. He only found out when there was a problem and he contacted me to fix it.
Ending a couple’s marriage is very personal to them and their circumstances and, as easier as it might seem, a ‘one size fits all’ approach simply isn’t suitable. Divorce by machine, if you will, offers no flexibility and, in fact, can create more issues than it solves.
For instance, it doesn’t always inform people of the importance of something called a financial order or help them obtain one. The document is, in a nutshell, a financial full-stop to a relationship and prevents spouses making future financial claims on each other.
Some two-thirds of marriages in England and Wales are now concluded without such an order being in place. It means that if someone gets a promotion, wins the National Lottery jackpot or inherits money, their ex-husband or wife could demand some of the cash.
In my experience, an understandable desire to save cash can have severe, long-lasting consequences which require spouses to spend far more than their original divorce to put right.