As legal aid all but disappears in England and Wales, do-it-yourself divorces and fixed-fee deals are becoming much more common, since mounting legal costs often add to the stress of a situation when two people decide to go their separate ways.
In April this year, legal aid for the 120,000 couples who divorce in a typical year has more or less disappeared in England and Wales, except in cases of proven domestic violence. Some commentators are predicting a big increase in do-it yourself divorces and the changes have prompted the arrival of a raft of new fixed-fee legal deals that keep legal bills to a minimum.
There are several organisations that offer do-it-yourself deals, but it is important to remember that these services only work for uncontested actions. In an uncontested action, a divorce petition is relatively straightforward to draft. One side, the petitioner, cites grounds for divorce, such as two years’ separation, unreasonable behaviour, or adultery. Then, once the court fees are paid, a divorce is granted.
However if there are custody issues, significant assets including property, these quick fix services are probably not the best path to choose. Divorcing couples should remember that they have to budget for the unavoidable £385 court fees on top of whatever they pay to a legal provider.
About two-thirds of divorces involve a financial order to share assets, such as property and pensions. The split is usually agreed between the former partners or their lawyers. Relatively few go to a full court hearing where a judge imposes a settlement. But where they do, the costs can be very high: with bills for £15,000 for each side not being uncommon.
A number of law firms, such as Close Thornton Solicitors in Darlington, have launched fixed-fee deals. A straight-forward divorce costs £650 +VAT for the petitioner and £125 + VAT for the respondent