Legal aid cuts likely to spark surge in DIY divorces: report
The government’s recent elimination of legal aid for all but a limited number of divorce cases is likely to spark a rise in so-called ‘DIY divorces’, according to a new report from YouGov.
The report found that nearly a quarter (24%) of those who used a solicitor/law firm during their divorce used legal aid to fund some or all of their divorce proceedings. This suggests that a significant minority of potential divorcers from now on might turn to DIY divorces, hold back on getting divorce or have to fund their divorce in other ways. Over one in five (21%) adults who arranged their own divorce say they did so because they could not afford a solicitor.
Traditional sources of legal support and representation, i.e. law firms and solicitors, are still used by the majority – almost six in 10 – to help in the divorce process. However, a quarter (25%) of survey respondents had arranged the divorce themselves without any external legal help. DIY divorces are more popular amongst younger people, with a third (30%) of 25-34 year-olds opting to arrange their own divorce.
Less than a third (30%) of those arranging a divorce themselves used DIY divorce websites, and of these the largest percentage (67%) used them to find free information and advice. Almost as many (65%) downloaded divorce-related documents. Just 11% used these sites for some free legal consultation and advice. Amongst those using web divorce sites, Divorce-Online has been used by 30% and Quickie Divorce by 25%.
The cost of splitting up
The YouGov Report found that one in five divorces cost less than £1,000, 44% cost less than £2,000, while over a quarter (28%) incurred fees of over £5,000. Divorce legal costs of over £20,000 were paid by around 6%.
Just over half (53%) received a bill covering the legal fee they were expecting at the end of the process, while the other 47% were not expecting the bill they eventually got. For the vast majority (90%) of those surprised by the bill, the charge was higher than they expected.
Survey responses suggest considerable savings for those arranging their own divorce rather than using a solicitor or a law firm. Total legal fees (excluding court fees) were less than £200 for 30% of those arranging their own divorce, and less than £500 for 64%.
Over 80% of those arranging their own divorce were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the way they were able to deal with the divorce proceedings, and with the final outcome of the process.
Commenting on the report, YouGov Reports Research Director James McCoy said: “The reduction in the number of divorces year-on-year, the loss of legal aid funding for most divorce cases and the likelihood that this will spark a rise in DIY divorce proceedings are all challenging factors for the family law industry. In order to survive this market environment, law firms must innovate and look for new ways to provide legal support outside of traditional divorce proceedings. This could include more legal work associated with the dissolution of civil partnerships, services for co-habiting couples and legal advice beyond divorce for those involved.”