If you are currently going, or ever have gone through a through a divorce, you will know it’s a very stressful time for all involved. From finding a lawyer, to negotiating between the two parties, arranging financial settlements, and even child custody issues, the divorce process can be a headache, and the costs can quickly escalate.
In order to make the divorce process easier, the UK officially launched an online divorce service in May 2018. As a result, you can start the divorce process at home with the click of a button. In addition, the introduction of “no-fault divorce” in 2022 has made divorce even faster. You can learn more about no fault divorce here.
Many people now believe that divorcing couples can get divorced on their own by simply filling out a form online without hiring legal guidance. However, what you need to understand is that even if you can file for online divorce and obtaining a final order of divorce, there is a difference between this and a “financial order”. A final order of divorce will not affect your financial arrangements. That is, a couple may successfully divorce online but still have unresolved financial claims. These unresolved issues may create new problems for you for years, or even decades to come.
With the popularity of online divorce, more and more divorce service companies have emerged. They claim to provide clients with a service that can replace professional lawyers, but charge lower prices and have proven to be popular among some divorced couples. However, a small saving now can lead to a significant increase in costs later.
The BBC recently reported that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) receives complaints and claims every year relating to these online divorce service companies. Many people complain about the lack of quality of these companies. They all claim that the divorce process is simple and provide misleading information so that divorced couples have no idea what help they can get and what they need to pay.
First, let’s take a look – is online divorce legal and safe?
In the UK, it is not only legal to get a divorce online, it is also a relatively safe and simple way. However, it is important to note that the divorce will still proceed through the courts and need to be approved by a judge. However, you can complete a divorce document (D8 Divorce Application Form) online yourself and submit it to the Divorce Court or through the UK Government’s online system.
How to apply for divorce online?
If you want to start divorce proceedings online, you can apply for divorce through the UK Government website (www.Gov.uk). Official UK Government guidance outlining the process for applying for an online divorce will help you through the process.
Before starting your application, you will need to prepare the following documents and information:
- You and your ex-spouse’s full names and addresses. This is required so that the court can send a copy of the divorce petition to your ex-partner.
- Your original marriage certificate or a certified copy thereof. Please note that if your marriage certificate is not in English, you will need to provide a certified translation.
- If you changed your name after separating from your partner, please provide proof of any name changes. This can be evidenced by your marriage certificate or name change deed.
In addition, you will need to pay court fees of £593, which include all necessary administrative costs and the cost of processing the divorce application. When you file for divorce online, you need to pay before you can file. Some financial aid is available to cover the costs of people who have been receiving government benefits, such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Employment and Support Allowance, General Credit and Pensions Credit.
Your eligibility for financial aid will be based on your total income, including any savings. Generally speaking, anyone under 61 who receives a government benefit and has less than £3,000 in savings is eligible for expense reimbursement.
Limitations of Internet Divorce
There is no doubt that filing for divorce online can save you time and money, especially expensive legal fees. If both parties agree to a divorce, it can also help to maintain a cordial relationship with each other. However, you need to be aware that online divorce also has some limitations.
First, financial problems cannot be solved automatically
When a couple divorces, you need to obtain a divorce final order as well as a financial final order, which sets out the financial agreement of the divorcing parties. The online divorce process does not include a final financial agreement, and if financial arrangements are not addressed at the time of divorce, financial issues between you will remain unresolved. Either party may make a financial claim at any time after the Decree Absolute is issued and until remarriage. Depending on how the divorce papers are filled out, a claim can sometimes even be filed after a remarriage; even 25 years after the original divorce if the case was successfully filed.
Second, the pension issue
There are a number of important considerations when dealing with pensions during a divorce, including how to draft divorce documents to ensure you retain your right to make a financial claim, whether there will be a delay in applying for a decree absolute to complete the divorce and the implications of remarriage. Getting it wrong means you could lose a very valuable, and sometimes the most valuable, pension asset in your marriage.
Third, there is no lawyer to ask questions and get advice from
Before you are ready to apply, you need to prepare a series of paperwork. If you don’t have an solicitor to help, sometimes things like careless omission of documents can happen. As mentioned above, online divorce still has to go through the court process and needs to be approved by a judge. So, if any problems arise during your divorce, you will not have a lawyer to help resolve the issues, and ultimately, your divorce will be delayed.
Be wary of divorce service companies that flatter to deceive!
In recent years, although online applications have become more and more popular among divorced couples, due to the disadvantages mentioned above, divorced couples often hesitate over whether to apply by themselves or spend money to hire a lawyer.
Some companies have taken a fancy to the business opportunities and launched “affordable” online divorce services. These companies claim that they have professional legal representatives who can provide a comprehensive DIY divorce guidance, divorce faster than traditional law firms, and most importantly, their fees are relatively cheap. They usually take on the paperwork preparation part, saving divorcing couples time to prepare materials. In addition, they can also provide advice if the divorcing couple has some legal issues and help follow up on court situations.
While it all sounds great, many of these service providers are unregulated and do not have qualified family lawyers on their teams to provide tailored advice to divorced couples, ultimately complicating the divorce process .
Firms offering these services are now set to be investigated by the CMA, as well as those providing will writing and pre-paid probate plans. If these firms have breached consumer law, then the CMA can take enforcement action by obtaining a court order.
In addition, the service quality of these companies can often be very poor. They have been found to provide wrong forms to the government and courts, enter wrong information, etc. Some consumers have also been duped, in some cases by the firms luring them with “extremely low” consulting fees without telling them that the costs would escalate significantly later.
Always consult a family lawyer
Whether you apply online or not, hiring a family lawyer to handle a divorce has never been compulsory. For some couples, if your marital situation is not complicated, you can go through the divorce process online without a lawyer. However, even if you do not hire a lawyer to assist you through the process, we recommend that you contact a family lawyer before commencing the process or before obtaining a final Decree Absolute for advice on the relevant financial distribution.
It is especially important to hire a family law solicitor to assist with the entire divorce process if your divorce involves children, family businesses, complex financial arrangements, overseas property, and situations where the parties cannot agree.
As the outcome of each case will depend on the facts, a rough 50/50 split of funds may not be the right outcome and careful consideration will need to be given to how the children’s financial needs will be met and whether this is necessary. For example, whether there be a clean break or ongoing maintenance, and whether there should be a pension sharing order. A solicitor will also make the correct calculations for this.
Crucially, once fair settlement terms are reached, solicitors draft the terms of the settlement as a consent order and submit it to the court for judicial approval. Only then will these terms be binding and enforceable. All in all, although divorce is becoming increasingly simpler, it is still important for both parties to take independent legal advice so that each party’s financial situation is properly considered, documented and protected.
If you require assistance, please contact Lisa’s Law Solicitors today. Our family lawyers can provide you with advice and assist you with your divorce.
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