Do you need a solicitor to get a divorce?


Do you need a solicitor to get a divorce?

There are a lot of webpages dedicated to answering this question. 

It’s no surprise that solicitors think you should and unregulated companies say you shouldn’t.

In the end it’s down to you to choose the best service you can afford and the one you feel most confidence in.

Read reviews (especially the average/bad ones). Speak to people. Ask for recommendations. Compare prices, but also what you’re going to get for your money. 

What does the .gov website recommend?

There is usually no need to use a solicitor to apply for the divorce itself.

You can use the .gov online divorce application system to do that.

For financial issues, it does however recommend that you consult a solicitor to help you make any agreement legally binding.

And what if you don't have a financial agreement?

In that case, the .gov website tells you to seek help from a mediation service first. 

You cannot apply to the court for a financial remedy order unless you have tried mediation or you are exempt.

What if mediation has broken down?

Sometimes mediation breaks down;  other times it just isn’t suitable at all.

In those cases, you may need to make an application to court.

Then you need to decide whether to use a solicitor or barrister to help you do that.

Everyone has the right to represent themselves at court.

Some people do a great job of representing themselves.

But most people find the experience very stressful, especially if their spouse or partner has a solicitor or barrister.

The advantages of using a solicitor in court proceedings

  • Specialist family law solicitors know the divorce procedure inside out.
  • A good family law solicitor will take care of all the form filling, time limits and court rules. That’s one thing less to cause you stress.
  • Solicitors can ask the questions you’d feel awkward asking. Like asking for copy bank statements or when your spouse or partner is going to move out of your home.
  • Whether you reach an agreement, or the court imposes an order, over finances or children, you need to write it up, following a strict legal precedent. Solicitors and barristers are very used to doing this. 

The disadvantages of using a solicitor

  • You have to pay for the service.
  • It can feel sometimes as if you don’t have complete control.
  • There is a perception that solicitors’ involvement can cause tensions to escalate.

Alternative advice services

There are many types of divorce adviser, coach and representative. Each has their own skill set.

It can be very confusing, trying to work out who is going to help you best and how you will pay for it. 

Do they have legal training? What court experience have they got? How much do they cost?

When it comes to appearing in court, you need someone with a particular skill – advocacy. 

Only solicitors and barristers are allowed to conduct advocacy on your behalf in court. You should check that whoever you use to help you has authorisation, experience and training.

All solicitors and barristers also have a special type of insurance that protects you if they make a mistake and you lose out as a result. 

Unregulated businesses simply do not have this insurance, although some claim to on their websites.

It’s easy for it all to go wrong in court when you don’t really know what you’re doing. And unfortunately the judge can’t let you off just because you have hired the wrong type of adviser.

In an upcoming article I’m going to talk about McKenzie friends, divorce coaches and all the “entrpreneurs” who are setting up online “law firms”.

Are these legal? Are they really cheaper than the traditional solicitor or barrister and what are the pitfalls in using them? 

Could you in fact end up paying a lot more than if you used a solicitor or barrister in the first place?

Summary

  • You don't have to use a solicitor to apply for the divorce. You can do it on the .gov website. yourself.
  • Use a solicitor to draw up any financial agreement for you.
  • Find a mediator to help you reach an agreement.
  • If mediation breaks down, a solicitor or barrister can help you apply to court.
  • Divorce and conflict coaching is useful but is not the same as legal advice.
  • You can only use a qualified and insured solicitor or barrister to represent you in court.
  • If you are confident, and your case is not too complex, you may prefer to represent yourself.

Links to other services