Who needs a divorce lawyer anyway?

There are many individuals that decide to deal with their own divorce without instructing solicitors, usually with the aim of saving costs, but are divorcees really better off not instructing a lawyer? As a family solicitor, you would expect my answer to be “no” (which it is), and now a major research study published last week backs this up.

The Nuffield Foundation published their report; “Fair Shares? Sorting our money and property on divorce” which can be found here: Fair shares? Sorting out money and property on divorce – Nuffield Foundation. The report provides unique and detailed insights into the current law relating to the division of financial assets on divorce, how this works in practice and makes recommendations for reform. A number of interesting findings were made in the report, many beyond the scope of this blog.

Some of the findings are, in my view, worrying:

·         36% of divorcees had not made any financial arrangement with their ex-spouse when they divorced.

This is a concern because, even after the divorce has been finalised, either spouse still has potential claims on property, savings, pensions and income of their ex-spouse and there is no statutory time limit on making this claim.

·         There is evidence to suggest differences in outcomes where legal advice was sought:

This is, perhaps, not unsurprising. The research showed that not using a lawyer made it more likely that the pensions would not adequately be addressed and less likely that the lower-earner would receive ongoing financial support or be able to stay in the family home or receive a larger share of the proceeds of selling the family home.

·         Only 11% of divorcees with a pension yet to be drawn had made an arrangement for pension sharing

Pensions can often be one of the most valuable assets on divorce and the research showed that too many divorcees are ignoring pensions completely. The report highlights the lack of awareness and understanding of the options available on divorce as an explanation for why they are often ignored; another reason why it is so important for divorcees to take legal advice.

·         The study highlights the financial vulnerability of many female divorcees, particularly mothers, and those in older age, compared to men.

On average, up to 5 years after the divorce, women were worse off financially. Given the findings referred to above, this is not surprising. It is more likely that women earn less than men for many complex reasons, including taking time off and part time working to raise children. This not only effects their income but also their pension provision; therefore if wives are not advised on pension sharing options and/or spousal maintenance, then this finding is not going to change. In the vast majority of cases the focus of solicitors, when advising their clients, will focus on how to put the parties on an equal footing financially.

The benefits of instructing a lawyer are clear; divorcees are more likely to end up with a binding financial settlement that protects them from future claims and helps provide financial certainty. Further, where lawyers are instructed, the outcome is more likely to be fair and reflect the overall financial landscape of the divorcees. The research also reports that the legal and mediation costs for most divorcees were “relatively modest”. Therefore, the risk of not taking legal advice surely outweighs the costs.



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