Put yourself into this scenario: You have gone as far as you can with your marriage and you want a divorce. You want to get it done, without fuss and delay, and you want to spend as little money as you can.
You therefore look online and see websites offering an online divorce service. Some of them say you can use them to get a “quick” divorce from less than £100, although they emphasise that they do not give legal advice. Why do they say this? Because most of them are unregulated providers who are not qualified to give legal advice on the implications of your divorce or the consequences of any related court order dealing with your finances.
Online divorce can be particularly risky if you and your spouse are trying to sort out your finances as part of your divorce. What strikes many people when they start to dig a little deeper with these unqualified providers was just how limited their service provision is when you look into it.
The cheapest option these unqualified providers offer can consist of charging you under £50 for documents you could have obtained for free on the government’s online divorce website. A few times you cannot help but notice their misuse of punctuation and the occasional misspelling of words like “gui0des”, “responsibilty” and “logal”, even as they emphasise their professional service.
How unqualified providers try to make themselves appealing
The unqualified providers do their best to differentiate themselves from solicitors. They say, as an example, that solicitors focus on your interests as an individual and not the family. This is a surprising comment since, for example, where children are involved your solicitor has to consider the best interests of the children first, as anyone should. A Financial Order should take into account the number of children, their ages and with which parent they live. This affects housing needs for each party and maintenance.
Unqualified providers’ websites commonly say their services include help and “advice”. Take care to note they do not say “legal advice”. If you look at their terms and conditions they describe their guidance as merely information, stressing that it is not legal advice. Even when you get an online divorce solicitor involved, this is usually for a fixed fee that does not include detailed legal advice on your children and finances, the main aspects of any divorce.
In fact, the terms and conditions of unqualified providers are well worth a read, not only so you know the limitations of their work, but also because they often undermine their own statements. They make so much effort to appear attractive compared to solicitors, only to say in their terms that they recommend you take a solicitor’s advice. You also have to agree to be responsible for checking the court orders for any mistakes or omissions, even though you are obviously not experienced with what should go into them.
Be aware that if your Financial Order does not provide what you wanted months later, you can find yourself with no course of action to make a claim against an unqualified provider as they avoid liability by placing ultimate responsibility on you. Solicitors are insured in case their advice or actions cause you loss, so clients can get reimbursed should this ever happen.
Unqualified providers may claim to be quicker than solicitors but then emphasise you and your spouse have to be in agreement about how the divorce will go, because it is in fact disagreement which is the key cause of delay, not whether you use them or a solicitor. For example, where a spouse does not respond to the divorce process, cannot be found, wishes to defend the divorce, tries to bully you into accepting less than you should receive or is maybe not being open and honest about what income and assets they have.
In the end, the unqualified provide a basic service without legal advice, so they can only ask for a basic fee. Their attention-grabbing quotations do not tend to mention that in addition to their fee, you will still need to pay the court fee of £550.
The dangers of using a solicitor willing to use online divorce
Perhaps the most significant risk of online divorce, whether or not you use a solicitor, is if you try to make arrangements for your finances online. Using the traditional route, you have to not only state your assets and income, but also provide documents to prove these figures, including bank statements, pension fund values and payslips. In this way you and your solicitor can check whether your spouse is being truthful or has tried to hide how much they have.
With online divorce on the other hand, you do not have to show such evidence. This glaring flaw in the online process allows spouses to cover up the extent of their resources. In divorces your and your spouse’s money, property, and pensions are all potentially at stake. Why would you risk letting your spouse hide how much they have?
If you have a solicitor to look after you, they should check to make sure that there is documentary evidence for these figures and review your spouse’s finances to see if they have tried to conceal assets from you. If you were disadvantaged in the divorce because your spouse hid their assets, a solicitor can help you.
Unqualified providers may appreciate the importance of pensions in a financial consent order, but did you know for example you could also arrange for expenses like the children’s orthodontist fees to be paid on top of the maintenance? As we have found, even online divorce solicitors can miss out seemingly small but significant details like this in their simplified service.
When divorcing you want the process to be as stress-free as possible with a fair outcome. It is worth keeping in mind that you and your children will have to live with the outcomes of the divorce process moving forwards. Specialist family solicitors are experienced with every stage of the divorce process and work in the best interests of you and your children. They are the experts who work efficiently to alleviate the stress, expense and delay.