DIY Divorce and Online Divorce – What are the Risks?

online divorceYou’ve reached the end of the road and you want a divorce. You want to get on with it, you don’t want any fuss and bother, and you want to spend as little money as possible.

I’m not surprised at the rise of DIY divorce. There are sites all over the internet telling you how to do it or offering online assistance. It’s like everything else. Need a holiday, a new washing machine, a recipe for tonight’s dinner? Go online. You’ll find the answer.

But please always check with a real life family solicitor first, especially if there’s a disagreement about the children, or there’s a property, or valuable assets such as a pension. Speaking to a solicitor doesn’t have to cost anything (firms often offer an initial free discussion). And check they are a member of Resolution, an organisation committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes.

And of course talking to a solicitor doesn’t mean you can’t have a DIY divorce.

But if you need some help along the way a solicitor might be able to suggest a “pay as you go” or “fixed fee” scheme. Compare these to the charges for online divorce – you might be pleasantly surprised. You will have the assistance of a properly qualified and experienced solicitor with personal knowledge of your case. And if your solicitor is local, you can actually meet her.

I have acted for many distressed and heartbroken clients going through divorce and I know it’s never easy. Quite often the emotional fallout is much greater than anyone imagined. But from a purely technical point of view I can tell you that divorces vary tremendously in complexity. Some are straightforward. Some are not.

Let’s take two extreme cases.

A young woman consults me. She and her husband married just over a year ago and it hasn’t worked out. They have no children and they don’t own any property. They’re both young and healthy and have jobs. There are no savings or pensions. There’s been no domestic abuse. They both want a divorce and to move on.

She asks me whether I think she could do the divorce herself, I say, Yes, certainly. I suggest that she and her husband get together and draft the divorce petition themselves. As she’s ready with her questions about the documents I’m able to help her within our free twenty minute discussion.

I advise her she needs a court order recording that their financial claims against each other are over for good. This will protect her if her circumstances change in the future and her ex makes a claim against her. I tell her I can do this for her and will charge her a fixed fee (again you might be surprised how well this compares to online providers in terms of cost and service).

Another extreme would be the man who has been married seven years and has two children. He suspects his wife is hiding valuable assets, and is planning to dispose of them so he can’t claim a share. She was born in another country and is hinting that she will return and take the children with her.

Obviously he will need a great deal of expert legal advice. It might be necessary to go to court to prevent the wife disposing of assets or moving them abroad, and to clarify the position in regard to the children.

If your marriage or civil partnership has broken down and these or any other similarly serious issues apply to you, I would urge you not to delay. You need to see a family solicitor urgently. These are not the sort of issues suitable for a DIY or online divorce.

If there any issues about property, or assets, or children, or if there is an international element (especially if there is the risk of child abduction), you need someone on your side who knows family law like the back of their hand, someone who is prepared to drop everything to do what is necessary to protect you and your children, someone who will give you unbiased and independent advice.

In the long run consulting a family solicitor might even save you money because questions about property, pensions and other assets can affect the rest of your life.

It’s not just about agreeing to whatever your other half suggests here and now, it’s about the future, about where you’re going to live, how the children will be supported, how much you will have to live on in your old age (a vital question nowadays when people are living longer).

A family law solicitor will be able to tell what you should expect to achieve financially.

Anyone going through marriage breakdown needs as many options as possible. It doesn’t have to end up in court (but if it does, your family lawyer will be there for you). Maybe collaborative law or mediation is the answer?

And as you turn the corner and are able to look to the future, do you need help moving forward? Maybe you will need the support of a counsellor to help you see a brighter future?

A good family lawyer will be able to provide you with a range of services herself or be able to give you genuine and unbiased recommendations of services you can use.

I believe everyone has the right to seek the advice of a properly qualified and experienced expert. So certainly look online, but don’t forget to protect your future and the future of your children by organising a free or fixed cost interview with a family law solicitor.

It’s like when you’re organising a holiday. However independent you want to be in your travel plans, you certainly don’t want to fly the plane yourself. There’s an experienced pilot for that.

And that’s the value of a family law solicitor

Did you have a DIY Divorce? Are thinking about one? We would love to hear from you with your opinion so please leave us a comment.

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JUST FAMILY LAW are specialist divorce and family law solicitors offering personalised legal solutions.

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The topics covered in this blog post are complex and are provided for general guidance only. If any of the circumstances mentioned in this blog might have application to you, you should seek expert legal advice.

photograph by Darron Birgenheier on flickr

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