There are now quite a few websites which offer an online divorce service, claiming to reduce costs, speed up the process and avoid the need to involve a solicitor. So are these claims really true and can you obtain a divorce without incurring solicitors’ fees?
According to national statistics around 140- 150,000 couples divorce each year in the UK. Of these, many will not instruct a solicitor and will obtain the relevant divorce forms and guides from the court office. If there are no children and financial matters are simple, the couple can reach an agreement and a solicitor does not need to be involved. This carries the risk that one of the parties will change their mind about the financial settlement at a later stage and will pursue further financial claims. Unless there is a court order preventing this, either party could subsequently pursue claims (unless remarried), although the passage of time would make such a claim more difficult. However, such situations are not very common.
So why involve a solicitor at all? Most cases in which a solicitor is instructed involve some kind of dispute between the parties, often about the financial settlement and sometimes about the arrangements for the children. It is in these cases that the experience of the solicitor in negotiating, dealing with other solicitors and, most importantly, advising on the court’s approach to settlement is most needed. This is not something which can be replaced by an online service, which is process driven and does not provide a service tailored to the client’s needs. The word which is conspicuously absent from most online divorce service websites is ‘advice’.
What do the online providers offer and are their claims true?
‘We use the UK’s fastest divorce court’ – but do you want to issue proceedings in the Llanelli County Court? What happens if a dispute arises and you have to attend Court, but both of you live in Reading? In the event of a dispute, wouldn’t you rather have the proceedings in a Court known to your solicitor and in the Court which he/she advises is where you are most likely to secure the settlement you want?
‘Children’s arrangements catered for in all cases’ – but not if an agreement cannot be reached, in which case you will need to attend Court and will probably want to engage a solicitor. This will be much easier if it is a solicitor who is already familiar with your case and the issues involved and with whom you have already developed a working relationship.
‘All correspondence dealt with for you and included’ – this does not cater for a situation where the parties have reached an agreement on a financial settlement which the Judge is not prepared to approve. A Judge is not obliged to make an order simply because it is what the parties have agreed and will only do so if the terms of the settlement fall within the range of orders which a Judge would make. A solicitor can advise on whether the agreement is likely to fall within the range of likely orders and what to do if the Judge rejects the order. An online service for £400 is not going to be able to deal with this situation.
‘A Divorce, a clean break agreement and a Will all for £397’ – this headline rate conveniently excludes the Court fees which are payable for obtaining a divorce and a clean break order. These currently total £380 which is payable in addition to the £397, nearly doubling the true cost. It remains the case that ‘you get what you pay for’. A personal and quality service offering high level advice comes at a price. An inexpensive online service cannot provide an individual service and it is more likely that errors will arise. In a recent example, a client of an online service changed her mind about obtaining a divorce before the decree absolute was obtained. She notified the service and confirmed that she wanted to withdraw the petition and obtained a quote for issuing judicial separation proceedings, which she paid. She was then notified that her decree absolute had been granted – the application had been submitted in error. Unfortunately, a decree absolute cannot be reversed unless there has been a procedural error so she is now faced with the prospect of a negligence claim.
Law firm Blandy and Blandy
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