Do You Need A Solicitor To Get A Divorce?17th Nov 2017
More people getting divorced are representing themselves in court because they can’t afford a solicitor. There has been a significant reduction in the number of people entitled to Legal Aid.
Courts are trying to make it easier by simplifying the legal forms you have to fill out but there are still risks.
Going To Court Unnecessarily
It’s rare that people actually want to go to court – not least because of the emotional toll and the financial expense. And besides, there’s a long waiting list at the overworked family court.
It also means risking handing control over the fate of your hard-earned assets to a third party judge with a full workload of cases.
So it’s much better for all concerned if you can reach an agreement about your divorce and financial arrangements without having to appear before a judge.
But that’s much less likely to happen if only one (or neither) of you has a lawyer to provide objective and constructive input to help prevent arguments from flaring up and disrupting the process.
A lawyer can also advise and support you with alternative forms of dispute resolution such as mediation or collaborative law. These ensure you retain control throughout so you’re are better placed to reach an agreement.
Divorcing In Haste Can Prove Expensive
Getting divorced and resolving your finances are two separate processes. It’s one thing to fill in court forms yourself but quite another to understand the legal machinations behind all the paperwork.
Don’t make the mistake of rushing to get a Decree Absolute (the legal ending of your marriage) without first resolving all your finances – it can have a serious impact on your pension and inheritance entitlement!
What If Your Former Partner Tries To Hide Assets?
Your former partner may try to hide assets to avoid having to share them with you. They may offer an unfair settlement that doesn’t provide you with the share of the family home, savings and other assets to which you are entitled.
Remember – you may be getting divorced for the first time. All this will be new to you. But divorce solicitors are experienced at spotting asset-hiding tricks such as ‘gifts’ or loans to relatives or friends or underpayment of company bonuses.
It helps to have someone on your side during the negotiations about arrangements for the children or who gets to keep what when you divorce.
Imagine what could happen if your former partner has a solicitor and you don’t.
Drafting Your Own Divorce Petition
Despite the government’s bid to simplify the divorce process, there’s still a lot of paperwork involved. The Application (petition) for a Divorce form (D8) alone is 15 pages long.
One mistake you can make on this form is in Section 6 where you’re asked to show the reason you want a divorce (‘the facts’).
Ticking a box sounds simple enough doesn’t it? And so it should be. But I recall one lady coming unstuck after ticking two boxes – ‘Adultery’ and ‘Unreasonable Behaviour’. Here’s the problem – she was the one who committed adultery…and you can’t divorce yourself!
Her clerical error wasn’t discovered until the divorce reached the Decree Nisi stage (the point when a Judge determines whether the divorce should proceed or not). And so after all the time and hassle involved, the lady had to amend her divorce petition, resubmit it and endure yet more delays.
Another area that can cause confusion in the D8 form is Section 5: Why This Court Can Deal With Your Case (‘jurisdiction’). The increasing number of marriages involving people either married, born and/or living abroad can make it difficult to know whether you can even divorce in England and Wales and, if so, how best to fill in the form.
How Much Can You Save By Not Using A Divorce Solicitor?
Not as much as you would think. Getting divorced costs £1,450 (including VAT) – but £550 of that is unavoidable court fees so you’re only saving £900 by not using a solicitor. And if you have to reapply to court because of paperwork issues then that’ll cost you extra court fees.
And don’t forget…getting divorced and resolving your finances are not the same thing. The simple fact that you are divorced does not stop your ex-spouse from pursuing your assets years later.
So the further cost of using a solicitor to help you reach a fair financial arrangement and having that recorded in a binding final order could be far outweighed by whatever you lose if you try to negotiate by yourself and get it wrong or don’t secure a truly final settlement.
Need Help And Support?
We understand that not everyone can afford a solicitor. And that nobody enjoys spending money on court and legal fees. So we’ll always do our best to help you – whatever your circumstances.
For more information, contact our Family Law Team.