DIY divorce is still a hot topic in family law it seems. In the current economic climate, it is no surprise that people are looking for any means possible to cut back on expenditure. Divorce is one area where they feel they can do this though I have flagged already why I feel people may be selling themselves short by doing this. Apart from anything else, the cost of the actual divorce will not include sorting out – and drawing a legal line under – a range of issues, including finance and arrangements relating to any children.
The Daily Mail picked up on this news last week, discussing, in alarmist language, how these people doing it themselves are bringing “chaos” to the courts. It picks up on the Resolution survey I mentioned last week that claims the economic climate, changes to Legal Aid and ADR (sorry, DR) are all coming together to form a two-tier divorce structure: those without funds are going it alone and doing themselves a disservice while those with money are benefitting from arbitration and using specially-trained lawyers.
As with most family law stories in the mainstream media, there is a certain amount of confusion over the terms used and them being interchangeable. It does though mention the difficulties that increased numbers of litigants in person – where a person represents themselves at any court hearing – is having a negative effect on the speed at which proceedings progress.
Again, it appears to be a money saving tactic. The problem I always have with this is that people should still seek legal advice to help with the process and to understand their options – and the vast majority of our cases do not go to court. Going down that route may actually cost someone more in unnecessary court fees.
An additional aspect to this is that we have anecdotal evidence that some judges are treating litigants in person in hugely different ways. On the one hand, some appear to be given a lot of help by the judge in a hearing as they take pity on the person. But the opposite is also true as unsympathetic judges throw document bundles back at applicants telling them to go away and fill in the paperwork properly, adding more stress, cost and time to the divorce. The reality is that delays are being caused because forms are not filled out correctly but people should not be penalised for this. There needs to be a consistent approach applied by all judges. Guidance is needed.
An experienced family law professional will still be able to act for a client effectively and economically and can do many things that a DIY divorce cannot. Off the top of my head:
- Advise what course is right for you, as every case is different
- Help fill in and file documents correctly with the court
- Ensure arrangements are settled for the division of assets and child contact etc
- Give peace of mind that no loose ends are left
- Point you to additional help agencies.
Whether it is a DIY divorce or litigant in person, people need to be clear on what an experienced family lawyer brings to the table otherwise their attempt at economy could end up costing them more.