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Online Divorces – But what about the money?

For the past 50 years, politicians, lawyers and academics have debated whether making the process of divorce simpler would encourage couples to terminate their relationship. Several changes to the law have been proposed and then discarded in the face of opposition from vested interest. The fundamental view remains: divorce is bad for the country and the individuals concerned.
 
Accordingly, we remain with a system in which the only ground for divorce is proof of irretrievable breakdown of marriage proven by establishing one of five specific facts. Two of the five (allegations of adultery and unreasonable behaviour) rely upon the fault of the other party.
 
Just how far one needs to go with these allegations is a matter that the Supreme Court is considering again. It’s strange when one thinks that the law remains as it has been since the introduction of the Divorce Reform Act 1969.
 
Certainly, when that Act came into force there was a spike in the number of divorces. But for some years now, numbers have been flat or even falling. It remains a matter of conjecture as to whether the introduction of a “no fault regime” would necessarily increase the number of people seeking a divorce.
 

Procedural Changes

Rather than “take the bull by the horns”, the most recent change is procedural rather than legal. This has been so of several “innovations” that successive governments have introduced since 1971. In a digital age, the government has signalled an intention to move towards an online divorce process, allowing individuals to log on and submit their divorce petition via the internet.  

You will need a payment card, and whether you apply online or by post, the fee is still a substantial £550. In many cases, the online divorce process will effectively serve the needs of the separating couple. Despite the complaints about “making divorce too easy” the evidence shows that couples think long and hard before taking the necessary steps to end their relationship.   Indeed, the relationship will usually have been dead for many years before any legal termination. The online divorce process will be the most sensible course to adopt in cases where both parties are keen to bring their marriage to an end at the least possible cost.

How to Complete an Online Divorce

The government have been kind enough to offer advice on how to complete the forms online in the hope of reducing complications. In general, the move toward an online divorce process makes sense. This is because, in most instances, the divorce itself is more of a procedure than a legal case. Much of the court-based work is being delegated to officials rather than Judges.  

Jurisdiction has been transferred to a small number of regional centres to reduce the cost to the Exchequer of providing divorce Courts. The efficiency of these centres has been the subject of much criticism. To reduce cost further, the obvious choice is to allow the parties themselves to create not only the documents but the court file too. They could also automate as much of the process as possible to enable further reductions in court staff levels.  

The parties are often in agreement that the relationship is over by the time the divorce proceedings have commenced. Crucially, however, they are frequently unable to see eye to eye on the vital question of money. The idea of no-fault divorce tends to flounder when a party who thinks that they are blameless finds that their standard of living is likely to suffer.  

The Question of Money

The reality is that it is always more expensive to run two homes rather than one. Resources are rarely sufficient to maintain two homes at the same level as the pre-separation joint family enterprise.  

There have been some efforts to simplify resolving financial issues. But the very fact that each family’s circumstances are different makes it impossible to have hard-and-fast rules. The equal division starting point is subject to numerous exceptions. Even when those exceptions do not apply, it can still be difficult to ascertain exactly how to divide things up.  

Giving each party half of the family assets may seem like a good idea. But what if that means there would be nowhere suitable for children to live, do you include bonuses or inheritances? Many individuals risk missing out on their entitled share of family assets. This might be because, for example, they did not realise they were able to make a claim in respect of the other party’s pension or Company Share Scheme.  

Cost-Effective Legal Support

Let’s say that you can get past these complications and agree on how to divide the money. How do you then make that agreement legally binding? The government advise that you “need to get a solicitor to draft a ‘consent order’ and ask the court to approve it”. How much is that going to cost? Will involving a solicitor complicate matters and risk upsetting the prior agreement?  

At the Family Advisory Bureau, the experienced team deal with the financial aspects of marital breakdown every single day.

We cover everything from initial assistance to helping you prepare the finance order for approval by the court. We are skilled in negotiating settlements, working with you directly with the other party or via their solicitor. Complicated language and procedures will never intimidate us. Instead, we look to provide common-sense solutions with the best outcome at the lowest cost.

Even in cases where you think that everything is straightforward and agreed, it is worth getting advice. In some cases, there can even be tax traps that can significantly damage one party’s interests. As with so many things, when the government says it is simplifying matters, watch out for complications!  

This blog was written by Alan Moody

After more than 30 years as a Practising Solicitor, Alan Moody now provides Consultancy Services to Legal Services Providers. From time to time he also writes excellent blog posts for The Family Advisory Bureau https://familyadvisorybureau.co.uk

Author: The Group Hug

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