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Divorcing couples opt for fixed fees

27 September 2019

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Nearly two-thirds of couples divorcing or dissolving a civil partnership now pay fixed fees – but final legal fees for many were higher than expected, a new report has shown.

The UK Family Law Consumer Research Report by IRN Research revealed that 24 per cent of respondents were charged a higher final fee, with just 9 per cent seeing their final fee lowered.

The findings are based on responses from 304 consumers involved in a divorce or civil partnership dissolution in the last five years.

Around 80 per cent of clients declared themselves “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with nearly all aspects of the service offered by firms; although satisfaction levels dropped to 70 per cent on the explanation of costs at the start of the proceedings.

The research showed that almost a third of individuals involved in a divorce or civil partnership dissolution dealt with the proceedings themselves from start to finish, with another 10 per cent starting proceedings themselves, but then using a lawyer or law firm to complete the process.

More than three-quarters (76 per cent) chose not to instruct a lawyer because their split was amicable and easy to deal with, while 36 per cent went down the DIY route because they could not afford to pay for a lawyer.

The launch of the Ministry of Justice’s online divorce portal last year – which allows individuals to complete a divorce online – may be a factor in encouraging more people to handle their own divorces; almost one in four are aware of this portal which is “an encouraging awareness level given that the portal is relatively new”, the report said.

Most separating couples seeking legal advice opted for recommendations from friends, relatives, and colleagues, with 24 per cent choosing to go back to a solicitor or law firm they have used before and 21 per cent using search engines.

“Despite the emergence of online tracking of a case, or email and telephone communications, face-to-face contact with a legal advisor is still important for the overwhelming majority of those going through divorce/dissolution proceedings,” the report said.

The family law market declined in value in 2014, the report concluded, following the limits on legal aid heralded by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, but picked up the following year and continued to grow, “albeit modestly”, between 2016 and 2018.

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Technical legal practice Family Divorce