May wasn’t a good month for the Family Law Blog – I didn’t manage to write anything. Not for a lack of interesting content – Johnny Depp’s divorce, Eurovision, Clarke & Son’s first family law seminar, my first golf event (2 years in the making no less), completed my collaborative law training (more on that later)… Ok, maybe I was just too busy. Time to make up for it.
The Guardian published an article yesterday about a new divorce app being trialled which provides emotional support and legal information with the tools to allow a couple to do all the administration required to get to the point where their divorce and finances can be sorted. This includes disclosing assets and agreeing how they will be shared as well as new living and co-parenting arrangements. The idea behind this self-service approach is to limit costs by cutting out solicitors, because apparently family lawyers cause conflict and encourage court proceedings.
With 115,000 divorces in England and Wales each year and costs ranging from a few thousand pounds to up to £30,000 and more in contested cases, the idea of providing a tool to help families through difficult separations is in essence a great one, cutting out tailored legal advice altogether is not. As anyone working in family law or with separating families will tell you, no two situations are the same. There is no one size fits all with legal advice. And even the most seemingly straightforward of procedures has its own pitfalls. Case in point – applying for divorce.
HMCTS (Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service) have revealed that on average 40% of divorce petitions sent to the divorce centres for issue are being returned for correction. That’s nearly half of all petitions are completed incorrectly. Considering it is taking the divorce centres 5 to 6 weeks to even look at documents let alone process them, these errors seriously delay the already long divorce process. The top 10 reasons for returning divorce petitions (as compiled by Resolution) are as follows:-
- No fee enclosed
- Details of the marriage (names of the parties, place of marriage or date of marriage) are incorrect.
- The jurisdiction page (ie can England and Wales actually deal with the divorce) is either incorrect or simply not completed.
- No response is given to the question about other proceedings or arrangements already in place.
- Either two grounds for the divorce are selected (there can be only one –much like the Highlander) or the grounds for the divorce don’t match the statement of case (ie the evidence for grounds chosen).
- There is either not enough information in the statement of case or the box is incomplete.
- The marriage certificate is not enclosed. Or it is but it is a copy and not the original. Or there is no translation of the document.
- The solicitors forget to include the Certificate of Reconciliation confirming they have/haven’t advised their client about reconciliation and have/haven’t given them details of someone who can help them with this (I’m guilty of having done that a couple of times in my career).
- No fee remission contribution received.
- Service details incomplete or no address for service for all parties (how are you supposed to send them the issued documents if you don’t know where they?)
If something as administratively straightforward as divorce proceedings can cause this many issues for half the people getting divorce, I think it is safe to say administrative matters such as separating finances or sorting out care arrangements for the children will be even more complicated to navigate without legal assistance.
My advice to families going through separation – seek legal advice at the outset. Solicitors will provide you with a legal advice tailored to your individual case and with information about alternative ways of sorting things out such as mediation, collaborative law, arbitration, etc. Most importantly, don’t believe everything you read.