Why do you need a solicitor for a divorce if it is all agreed?

27th September 2021


by Rebecca Woodley, Solicitor, Senior Associate, Family Law Department

Rebecca Woodley, a family lawyer at Fraser Dawbarns, explains where things can go wrong if you don’t have legal support for your divorce.

Historically if someone wanted a divorce they called a lawyer. Now, many people just search “how to obtain a divorce” on the internet.  If they ignore the paid-for-advertising, they will be directed to the Government’s online divorce system. They can issue divorce proceedings without consulting a lawyer. So, if they have agreed everything, including financial matters and arrangements for children if they have them, why should they ever instruct a lawyer?

These two case studies help to illustrate some of the issues that can arise.

In the first scenario, the couple agrees everything. Neither sees a lawyer. The house is transferred to the wife who pays the husband a lump sum. She believes she will not have to pay him anymore. She plans her future. Two years later the husband sees a solicitor so they can divorce based on two years’ separation plus consent. The solicitor considers the financial agreement reached by the parties and realises they have not considered pensions. Pensions are now often the major asset in a divorce. The wife instructs a solicitor and pension details are obtained and considered. There is a significant difference between the pension provision of the parties. The wife has to pay the husband a further £30,000 before the parties can obtain a clean break. It is only then that the parties can feel secure in the knowledge the other party has no further claim. The wife’s future plans are significantly disrupted. She has to borrow an extra £30,000 to pay to the husband.

If the parties had consulted a solicitor when they were agreeing financial matters the wife would have known she had to compensate the husband in relation to pensions and saved herself a considerable amount of stress two years later. If this couple had issued the divorce on line and never seen a solicitor the husband would have been £30,000 worse off and neither would have had the benefit of a clean break.

In case study two the parties are not amicable. The wife instructs a solicitor. The husband is concerned about the cost of legal advice and does not believe he needs a solicitor. He negotiates an agreement with the wife’s solicitor. The agreement involves the husband paying spousal maintenance to the wife. The wife’s solicitor prepares an order which the husband approves, assuming the agreement is fair, and signs without the benefit of legal advice. The parties were married for seven years. The order states that the husband will pay the maintenance to the wife for their joint lives.

Ten years later the husband is still paying that maintenance. He wants to stop paying maintenance and finalise things with a clean break settlement so needs to go back to Court to do this. The wife represents herself and drags out the proceedings. It is costing her nothing, and, as long as the proceedings are ongoing the husband has to keep paying the maintenance. It ends up costing him thousands of pounds.

If the husband had taken legal advice in relation to the order at the time it was made he would have been advised not to sign it. He would have been told that the maintenance should be for a fixed term with a clean break at the end of that period. He would have saved a substantial sum by instructing a solicitor at the time of the divorce rather than ten years later when a full blown court application was required.

People are often reluctant to spend money taking legal advice if they think they can possibly avoid doing so.  The danger is that ‘do it yourself’ law is a bit like trying to diagnose your own illness and prescribe your own medicine – you may miss something and the long term effects can be hard to deal with.

As with any other profession, it takes several years to qualify as a lawyer. The end result is that we are properly equipped to make you are aware of your rights and to ensure that those rights are upheld.  We do our best to ensure all divorces are dealt with amicably and fairly and we try and keep costs down. Our clients can help to do this if they see the big picture and take our advice; the most expensive divorces are either those where very large estates are involved or where both parties insist on arguing over every little issue.

We offer a free initial interview. You can have what we call outline advice. We provide full costs details and you can make an informed decision as to how to proceed. If you choose to use the online divorce system, remember that all it does is get you a divorce. There is no advice regarding financial matters and no ‘clean break’. There are very limited circumstances in which it is a good idea and in the long run it may prove to be a significantly more expensive option.

Fraser Dawbarns has a team of lawyers with a wealth of experience in divorce cases and contact rebeccawoodley@fraserdawbarns.com directly or telephone any of our offices for more information.


Find out more about Rebecca Woodley

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This article aims to supply general information, but it is not intended to constitute advice. Every effort is made to ensure that the law referred to is correct at the date of publication and to avoid any statement which may mislead. However, no duty of care is assumed to any person and no liability is accepted for any omission or inaccuracy. Always seek advice specific to your own circumstances.

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