Can you afford the risks of a “Quickie Divorce”?

Caroline Swain, Partner at BPS Law and specialist in Matrimonial and Family law, has worked on many high profile and ultra-net worth financial disputes giving her the reputation of one of the most sought-after divorce lawyers in the UK.

Divorce is common. In 2011, it was estimated that 42% of marriages ended in divorce in England and Wales. It is therefore unsurprising that many look for a quicker and cheaper alternative than hiring divorce lawyers.

The term ‘quickie divorce’ is often used, suggesting that a couple have achieved a divorce without going through the usual and often slow process of us safety conscious lawyers.

Celebrities have been quick to hail the ‘quickie divorce.’ For example, after announcing their separation in February 2016, papers claimed that the marriage of Millie Mackintosh and Professor Green ended after a quickie divorce hearing that lasted just thirty seconds.

Gary Linker and ex-wife Danielle Bux were also said to have finalised their settlement for just £400 through a ‘DIY’ divorce process.

Whilst many wish to still hire a solicitor, those who believe they can resolve their divorce amicably choose this ‘DIY’ route. Such ‘DIY’ divorces can supposedly be done online and for as little as £37.

However, these adverts may be falsely luring the general public into thinking that financial separation can be achieved quickly and without the benefit of legal advice. This could be disastrous for many and inherent with risks of both long and short term dire consequences.

Firstly, there are several hidden costs to these DIY divorces.

Filing a divorce petition costs £550 in England and Wales. This payment is compulsory as court fees apply to every divorce case. Online divorce sites often fail to advertise this compulsory payment which must be paid whether you carry out the process online or with the assistance of a legal team.

Most couples also need a consent order. This documents sets out how property, capital, business interests, income, debts, pensions will be divided. The consent order ensures ex-spouses cannot make claims against each other in the future, something that we cannot stress enough to our clients as being essential before obtaining Decree Absolute. The Court fee for filing this Order is £50.

The wording of the Consent Order is paramount, it must deal with all claims and future claims. Most individuals will employ solicitors to draft these documents as it makes the process more straightforward. The financial claim one spouse has against the other is complicated, and if the advice is insufficient future problems can arise regarding pensions, property or maintenance.

Moreover, the use of mediators has become increasingly popular in order to keep down costs and speed up the process. Solicitors may advise mediation in order to resolve issues that are inhibiting the divorce from proceeding and achieving financial settlement.

Mediation involves assessment of these key issues. It does come with a financial cost, but can help keep costs down in the long run.

However, mediation does not always work. If spouses are unable to resolve issues amicably, additional legal costs can occur. Parties may need to go to court and in doing so they may have to pay additional costs.

Furthermore, in terms of being granted a divorce quickly, one cannot be granted immediately. After a divorce petition has been filed, and a decree nisi has been pronounced, any couple must wait at least six weeks before applying for a decree absolute. The decree absolute is the official document confirming that the marriage has ended.

The six weeks that stand between the decree nisi and the decree absolute are rarely abridged. An individual must have exceptional circumstances for this to be possible.

The ‘quickie divorces’ we see advertised online or in the paper are therefore processed no quicker than any other divorce. However, both parties may have worked efficiently and amicably in order for the divorce to be finalised quickly.

Whilst costs may increase once solicitors are employed, they can remain fairly low if both parties remain civil throughout proceedings.