During 2018, the court service launched a scheme that allows you to deal with your own divorce proceedings online, making it even easier than sending a paper petition into the court using the traditional process. We are all used to using the internet to find out information that we need and to deal with many things ourselves that years ago we would have turned to a professional for. Is there still a role for solicitors in today’s digital age?
It is possible, some would even say easy, to issue your own divorce proceedings through the court service website or by paying one of the online providers a relatively small fee. This works for many people but you need to bear in mind the following:
- A solicitor who is experienced in completing these forms and knowing the process can deal with matters quickly and efficiently. It might take you a long time to prepare and check the forms.
- It is likely that you are not used to dealing with these forms, so it is possible you could make mistakes which could then delay your divorce process.
- You may find the process very stressful, both in terms of the time and worry in ensuring the forms are correctly completed, and the potential emotional impact upon you of receiving documents. Your solicitor is there to filter that correspondence for you and advise every step of the way.
There is no substitute for legal advice that is tailored to your personal situation. In England and Wales we have a discretionary system. Therefore, if you took one set of facts and gave them to ten judges to rule on, you would get ten slightly different answers. There is what is known as a “band of reasonable orders”. There is no prescriptive formula that can be used. A solicitor will advise on the basis of your particular situation and their experience, taking into account both legislation and precedents set by recent cases. It is useful to get legal advice at an early stage so that you have realistic ideas about how finances may be resolved. You might then choose to negotiate directly with your spouse or go to mediation together to come to an agreement, and then just contacting your solicitor for advice when you need it.
You and your spouse or civil partner will have financial claims upon each other which are not brought to an end by Decree Absolute in divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership. You need to have a court order dismissing those claims. If you can come to an agreement with your spouse or civil partner, whether by discussing matters directly, going to mediation or through solicitor negotiations, that agreement can be drawn up as a Consent Order. Again, this is a document which needs to be carefully tailored to your situation and slight changes in wording can make a big difference to the way the order may be interpreted or enforced in future. If your budget is very limited, the one thing you should ensure that you pay for is for a solicitor to draw up a consent order.