The use of the expression “DIY divorce” is a relatively recent one in the press and on-line and results from a growth in unregulated and DIY legal services with more people choosing to do-it-themselves rather than use a qualified professional. Undoubtedly the accessibility of legal information on-line has led people to think that they have sufficient knowledge without consulting a solicitor but also legal aid cuts have played a part, leading some to look for ways to minimise their legal costs.
The proliferation of on-line DIY legal services has led the Law Society to mount a campaign encouraging members of the public to use qualified solicitors for family law and other legal disputes.
This article seeks to show you that the question you should be asking is not “Do I need a solicitor?” but “To what extent do I need a solicitor?”.
What is a divorce?
Getting a divorce, ends the legal contract of marriage. It is a piece of paper confirming that you are no longer married. It involves completion of paperwork and, unless contested, it is a purely administrative process.
Many choose to deal with this aspect – the main suit – themselves and courts have made the process more user-friendly. However, you should bear in mind that the forms if not completed correctly can be rejected by the court causing delay, additional stress and higher costs.
If you are not confident dealing with paperwork or do not have the time to do so, you may prefer to instruct an accredited specialist family lawyer who will have current experience and knowledge of family law as well as familiarity with the particular requirements of the local judiciary to guide you through the process.
What about settling finances?
A divorce does not bring an automatic end to any financial obligations you might have to one another. Unless the split of your assets is set out in a court order you will not have a clean break from your spouse, which may mean that he or she can claim further money or property from you in the future.
If you can both agree on how to divide your finances, you will need a family lawyer to embody your agreement in a legally binding document known as a Consent Order which you both sign. This is then filed at court for the approval of a Judge after the Decree Nisi of divorce.
However, most people need an experienced divorce lawyer to assist them through the process of separating their matrimonial finances at an earlier stage and this is particularly advisable if you have a lot of assets at stake, if you feel you are in a vulnerable position compared to your spouse, if many of your assets are held in your spouse’s name only, if you are unsure what is fair financially or if one or both of you have significant pension provision.
It is important to get the settlement right as your order, if it provides for a clean break, will not allow you a second bite at the cherry.
Why use a solicitor?
There are several on-line divorce websites offering a cheap drafting service of divorce documentation and consent orders. However, they are unregulated and so there is no compensation scheme if things go wrong and they are not allowed to give legal advice. Access to legal advice is important to ensure you avoid mistakes that may have serious long-term consequences. Further, you do not need any qualifications at all to set up as a “divorce expert” on-line.
Solicitors on the other hand are highly qualified and many are accredited specialists; we are regulated by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority, must carry Professional Indemnity Insurance and if things go wrong and your solicitor is unable to resolve your complaint, then there is a free impartial ombudsman scheme.
Controlling the cost of your divorce
While a solicitor can help you throughout the divorce and financial settlement process, you do not have to use a solicitor for every stage of the process if you do not want or cannot afford to. If you take a solicitor’s advice early, they can help you decide how much support you need, and at what stage of the process.
Here at BLB Solicitors we can tailor our service to your needs and budget. Sometimes our clients want us to do the whole package for them which includes filing for divorce, sorting out arrangements for children and working out their financial settlement. Others want us to provide one-off legal advice or legal advice on an ongoing ad hoc basis. We are happy to do as much or as little as you wish.
Image by Kate Hiscock under a Creative Commons licence