I began practicing family law nearly a decade ago, right in the midst of very difficult economic times, and during my practice it has become increasingly common for at least one party in divorce proceedings to represent themselves, which is known as being a "litigant in person".
Of course, I am aware that scores of divorcing couples do not use a lawyer at all when divorcing and we often come across these cases when an issue arises within the divorce process or when the parties are unable to come to a decision as to the division of their matrimonial finances.
Many attribute the increase in parties representing themselves to the limitation of legal aid for divorce and associated proceedings in 2013, and whilst this has no doubt accelerated the increase there are a number of other factors that have compounded this issue, including the wealth of information now available over the internet and the difficult financial circumstances many people found themselves in during the recession.
Over the last few years the documents required to start divorce proceedings have become more accessible, and the latest version of the divorce petition launched in August 2017 has been designed to be more user friendly, with the "legal language" having been toned down to make the more complicated areas of the petition easier to understand. There is a suggestion that in the future the divorce process will become an online process, and a gradual "de-linking" of the divorce process from matters concerning children and finances has also been taking place.
In recent years the requirement for the court to be satisfied that adequate arrangements for the children of the family are in place has been removed completely but, at present, the divorce petition still includes a nod to the resolution of financial matters.
All of these steps have arguably made the divorce process more simple, and so it is easy to see why dealing with your own divorce has become more appealing. However, there are a number of potential complications that can arise when acting in person - issues that often to a lawyer specialising in family law will not be a complication at all, as we are well versed in the various factors that can crop up, delay proceedings and often lead to unforeseen costs.
Our divorce procedure is still underpinned by clear legislation, and in order to obtain a divorce you must prove that your marriage has irretrievably broken down based on one of five facts. It is often the choice of the "relevant fact" that can cause problems with the process, and this is just one of the potential problems a lawyer can help you to avoid.
One of the most important factors to consider is how your position changes when you get divorced, and how this change needs to be managed. When you get divorced a number of rights afforded to you as a married person cease to apply. For example, when married, if your husband or wife dies you are protected by the laws of intestacy if they do not have a Will. Once you are divorced you are no longer a spouse and so the rules change if your former spouse dies and you have not resolved the outstanding financial matters between you. Also, on divorce, any provision that would benefit a spouse in a Will would fail and you would not be protected in the same way by the laws of intestacy, as you are no longer married. In addition, the rights that once may have existed under your spouse's pension provision may also change. It is vital that these things are considered and, if necessary, addressed before your divorce is finalised.
It is understandable why avoiding lawyers and their fees can be an attractive proposition, but what you cannot get from acting in person, nor from looking online, is the specialist, bespoke legal advice about how being divorced will affect YOU, what your legal rights are and what else needs to happen in light of your divorce proceedings to provide for and protect you into the future, taking into consideration your individual circumstances.