“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur” Red Adair
Divorce and Children’s Specialist Lawyer, Lucinda Connell of Major Family Law, Newcastle and Hexham’s leading specialist lawyers comments in the Accent magazine with the growth of the internet has come access to voluminous amounts of information purporting to instruct and guide the uninitiated in the ways of how to do just about anything – including conducting your own legal proceedings.
Lawyers get a bad press generally and, let’s face it, no one wants to add their woes by having to pay large amounts of money to someone for something they don’t actually want.
And since the demise of Legal Aid within family proceedings last year, the number of people representing themselves in court applications has rocketed.
The web is awash with sites pedalling “cheap” DIY divorces: complete their forms online for a small fee, follow the instructions, and Bob’s your uncle: divorce will surely follow in record time.
With online providers advertising a “quickie” divorce for as little as £37, together with essential tools such as Google and Wikipedia cutting through years of legal training and qualifications, why would you not choose that route?
Aside from the fact that whether an online site is used or not, everyone issuing divorce proceedings will incur Court fees to progress the divorce, which currently amount to £455. The forms themselves can be obtained from official websites for free, together with the relevant guidance notes for completion.
Consulting a solicitor, however, is not usually less about assistance with completing forms than it is for seeking expert advice and support. A website will not tell you how the law applies to your personal individual circumstances and it will not tell you what your financial entitlement or expectations following divorce should be.
And the bad news for fervent Do-It-Yourself fans is that there is no such thing as a standard financial agreement form available to complete. The average consumer, no matter how intelligent, is unlikely to have the knowledge, experience and skill required to craft a consent order that will both embody accurately the agreed financial terms and be acceptable to a Judge so that he endorses the order.
Contrary to popular belief, it is entirely possible to instruct an expert lawyer and still keep the costs down. The ending of a marriage is a highly emotive situation. What tends to run up costs is the disagreement over financial and practical arrangements.
What really keeps costs down is a high level of cooperation and agreement between separating spouses: the more you can agree between yourselves, the better it will be all round. Communication is key. You don’t have to agree on everything, but if you can communicate with each other directly and treat each other cordially, it will go a very long way to easing the passage.
Of course, relationships don’t often end on amicable terms, and where communication or agreement is difficult, a good solicitor can assist you in determining which issues are worth pursuing and when compromise should be considered, as well as advise you what your expectations should be and help you to achieve a fair outcome, embodied in a legally binding order. The best family lawyers pride themselves on their ability to resolve issues without having to resort to Court and will negotiate expertly to achieve the best outcome.
For those who are intent on saving money by choosing not to instruct a lawyer, the consequences can be costly. Ignoring the financial side of the divorce can be potentially disastrous and long-reaching, and putting right earlier mistakes is usually more expensive than having invested in expert assistance in the first place.
For more information and advice contact Lucinda Connell, Senior Solicitor at Major Family Law, the Divorce and Family Law Specialists, 12 West Road, Ponteland, Newcastle upon Tyne. T: 01661 82 45 82 www.majorfamilylaw.co.uk. Twitter: @majorfamilylaw