Take the DIY approach to the end of the affair

Divorce doesn't always have to be a difficult and expensive process. Chiara Cavaglieria reports
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The Independent Online

Difficult economic times can spell disaster for married couples, but this recession has persuaded many to delay divorce, new research reveals.

Half of the divorce solicitors questioned in a poll by professional advice website Unbiased. co.uk said the downturn has led to fewer divorce clients approaching them in the past year. And of those that do decide to split, it seems many more are looking to save money. Insurer More Than has seen an 11 per cent rise in the number of people using its online legal services to file for divorce, suggesting that some couples have become more cost conscious when doing the relationship splits.

More Than's home insurance customers can pay less than £20 per year to add on access to its legal services, which provides several legal documents for divorcing couples including a divorce petition and decree nisi. Once the forms are filled out, the insurers have them checked over by a qualified professional. There are also many websites promising to provide a cheap and quick divorce service. Quickie-divorce.com, for example, offers its services from just £40 while Click-divorce.co.uk charges a fee of just £29.99.

"People can save a substantial amount by writing the documents themselves, as opposed to using high street solicitors. All our documents are accompanied by a comprehensive law guide written in simple language so people can understand the procedure," says Annette Lepper, the head of More Than legal services.

As well as the price, the pull from these do-it-yourself divorce kits for many couples is that the process can be less stressful than using a solicitor, who can cost anything from £150 to £500 an hour. And those figures spiral if the divorce has to be settled in court. "It is perceived that to involve a lawyer in a divorce is a sure-fire way to ratchet up the pressure, the time it takes to get resolved, and therefore to increase the costs," says Rachel Spencer Robb, an associate solicitor at Clarion Solicitors.

So if couples are thinking about a quick DIY divorce, are these websites really a viable option and what are the potential pitfalls?

On a basic level, divorcing couples first complete a petition stating the reasons for applying, as proof that their marriage is over. If children are involved, a "statement of arrangements" is also needed to inform the court about the provisions that have been made for them once the divorce is finalised. Court staff can help out with queries before accepting the paperwork. Couples in complete agreement about financial support, property and arrangements for any children may not have to attend a court hearing at all.

"Where a couple have good communication and there are no complex assets to resolve, a DIY divorce can be beneficial. It only works, however, where both parties are fully aware of their respective financial positions and there is a considerable measure of trust between them," says Ms Spencer Robb.

The problem, however, is that there is no guarantee that an amicable relationship will remain so. There is a chance that problems could arise later and without a lawyer, DIY divorcees risk underselling themselves and missing out on funds. Many couples will find that their financial relationship is far from simple. The division of pensions, savings, property as well as other physical assets makes the process highly complicated, and an incorrectly drafted consent order may result in one spouse asking the court to reconsider the arrangement long after the divorce.

"The main pitfall of a DIY divorce is that people can be in danger of not resolving their finances in a fair way. Furthermore, any serious errors in the paperwork could actually invalidate the whole divorce," says Shelley Hesford, a partner at law firm sas daniels.

Commonly, divorce settlements fail to take full account of the couples' pension position. This can often have a detrimental effect on women who, usually, have poorer pension entitlements than men. If, for example, the woman has spent time out of work to bring up a child, then it is likely that her pension pot will be smaller than her husband's.

Ms Hesford adds that if couples do carry out a DIY divorce, a solicitor should check the paperwork before submitting it to court. The division of matrimonial assets is increasing complex and some legal advice is essential. Couples must also apply for a final court order to ensure that an ex-partner will not make demands 20 years later.

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