This week the Co-op supermarket chain announced that it will soon be offering DIY divorces from just £99. Call the Co-op’s new legal hotline, pay your money and you will be emailed or posted a step-by-step guide on how to manage your divorce, along with all the forms needed to make it legally binding. For an additional £50, one of the Co-op’s family lawyers will check through your documents. For an additional £150, you can have an hour of legal advice over the telephone, or face-to-face in London.
It sounds wonderfully easy, doesn’t it? The Co-op is planning to launch other “family law products”, too. A prenuptial agreement, for example, will cost £950. A cohabitation agreement will cost £550. The Co-op has a team of 25 family lawyers, and leaflets advertising their fixed price services will soon be seen in a supermarket near you.
These services are targeted at those who are feeling the financial strain, and who feel unable to afford to see a solicitor face-to-face.
So what is not to like? For me, as a practising family lawyer, there are alarm bells ringing. So here are the pros and cons:
Co-op Divorce: Pros
- It’s cheap.
- If you have no children, no money, no assets and the split is amicable, DIY divorce can be a cost-effective option.
Co-op Divorce: Cons
- It appears from the news coverage that if you opt for the Co-op’s cheapest option, the £99 DIY divorce, you will receive forms but you will not consult a solicitor. Fail to seek legal advice at your peril: a DIY divorce may be cost-effective in the short term, but long-term it can be a financial disaster. You may agree to demands that place you at a financial disadvantage – and which you come to regret down the line. You may discover, at a later date, that you were “bilked” of your rights and entitlements.
- The form-filling and legalese are not for everyone. Doing your own divorce has been compared to doing the conveyancing for your own house.
- If you really need to save money and you are set on a DIY divorce, does the Co-op’s £99 package provide good value? You can obtain those forms for free from your local county court! Alternatively you can download them from www.courtservice.gov.uk. Remember that the Citizens Advice Bureau may be able to assist with queries and individual advice.
- The Co-op has pledged a transparent pricing structure and “no nasty surprises”, which is admirable. However the pricing structure strikes me as being wholly unrealistic for lengthy, complex cases. At £150 an hour, the Co-op’s legal advice service isn’t the cheapest out there. At Stowe Family Law we hold free legal clinics every week, with trained lawyers providing advice and support.
- Experience has taught me that you cannot package divorce in the same way that you can a house purchase, or a will. As we discussed on ITV This Morning yesterday, family law is not black and white. Every case is different, and negotiating a divorce can be like wading through marshmallow. For many cases it isn’t a matter of ticking the boxes; instead, the outcome pivots upon the exercise of skill and judgement. There is a lot to be said for a bespoke service.
I wonder if other law firms will begin cutting their fees to compete with the Co-op’s new cut-price service? I hope not. I think that lawyers and clients alike will lose out if that happens.