I was featured in yesterday’s edition of The Times, discussing the rise of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ in 21st Century divorce:
Divorcees are falling out of love with adultery
The number of couples citing adultery as grounds for divorce has halved over the past 40 years, with unreasonable behaviour now the most common reason for a split.
A study of the five million divorces granted over the past four decades found that only 15 per cent cited adultery today compared with 29 per cent in the 1970s. Unreasonable behaviour now accounts for half of all divorces, compared with 28 per cent 40 years ago.
Marilyn Stowe, senior partner at Stowe Family Law, said the sharp increase in “unreasonable behaviour” divorces also reflected a move on the part of the courts and lawyers to make the emotionally difficult process of parting as humane as possible.
“Everyone wants to behave in the most civilised way possible when it comes to divorce and unreasonable behaviour is the most civilised way to go,” she said.
Citing adultery still requires proof and if the accused party does not admit it, it can become very expensive and very nasty obtaining evidence, she said.
“The courts no longer demand pages and pages of detailed accusations on unreasonable behaviour, so will accept a lack of affection or showing insufficient care to the family as evidence. It just makes everything less difficult.” she said.
“Unreasonable behaviour” is probably as close as England is going to get to no-fault divorce despite calls for reform, with all parties too afraid to change the law. The last attempts to introduce no-fault divorce failed in 1996.
“There is a fear that if no-one is to blame it devalues marriage. I don’t expect there will be any attempts to change the law in the near future,” said Ms Stowe.
Would you get an online divorce?
Would you get divorced online? It’s relatively cheap and fast – but it does have its drawbacks.
If you type ‘quick divorce’ into Google, a series of adverts for quickie online divorce sites pop up. One says it can offer a quick divorce from £37, another for £49.
With solicitors’ bills running from between £100 and £200 an hour – and legal aid largely no longer available for family law cases – thousands of people are logging on for DIY divorces.
But don’t be fooled by the cheap prices. The bare bones of the legal process will cost you £410 and that’s just for the court fees.
Plus, you have to pay up whether you use a website to sort out your divorce or a solicitor.
… the DIY route is only suitable for people in straightforward domestic and financial situations.
“Divorce isn’t an overly complicated process, assuming there is goodwill on both sides,” says Marilyn Stowe. “What complicates things are children and finances.”
Anyone with children under the age of 18, significant assets or other complicated financial affairs, would be best off seeking the help of a legal professional, she says.
Quickie Divorce spokesperson Jay Williams agrees, adding: “Our services are not suitable if both parties do not agree to a divorce and individuals should seek legal advice under these circumstances.
“Individuals should also seek legal advice if they and their spouse are unable to agree on how their joint assets – such as property and savings – should be divided or if they are in any way concerned with any agreement that they and their spouse have reached and their implications.”
He says that only when couples are able to agree such matters, can DIY divorce websites such as Quickie Divorce provide an appropriate service. And by bringing about a ‘quick’ divorce, they can help to discourage acrimony between both parties, “something that, in our opinion, is certain to benefit the parties and also any children who may be involved in this process,” he adds.
However, while Stowe admits that it is entirely possible for people who have a simple case to manage the divorce process themselves, she advises them to do so independently, rather than paying for the services offered by divorce websites.
“For example, a young couple who have similar wealth and haven’t bought a home would do better to act alone by going to collect forms from the court, filling them in themselves and then they would only need to pay court costs,” she says.
Stowe also points to several specific examples of why it can be “risky” to employ the services of an online divorce service that is managed by non-legal professionals.
“First, while there are lots of websites promising quick and cheap divorces, I’ve only found one that’s got professional indemnity insurance. These companies are also unregulated. That means should anything go wrong, you will have no formal way of claiming redress,” she explains.
“And on the whole, with these websites, it’s difficult to know who exactly you’re dealing with. You may have contact with several different ‘advisers’, and it’s not clear what training they’ve received.”
Top tips for a smooth divorce
The process of obtaining an online divorce is far simpler when both parties are able to communicate with one another – which is easier said than done.
However, this will allow them to agree who will file for the divorce (known as the Petitioner) and who will receive the documents from the court (known as the Respondent). It will also allow the individuals to agree to the reasons for their divorce before proceedings get under way, which can help to identify precisely what will be required of each party throughout the process.
Marilyn Stowe of Stowe Family Law advises:
- Don’t rush and be too quick to settle. Some clients are so fixated on getting the divorce brought about quickly that they don’t think through some of the things they propose. Slow down.
- But don’t delay either. Keeping your spouse waiting can affect their behaviour and any action they take – such as spending – may prejudice yourself. Stay pragmatic.
- Be commercial – don’t be emotional. Establish a good working relationship with your lawyer and your ex-partner if you possibly can. It’s not always easy but that’s what your lawyer is there to help you with and to ensure you make informed decisions.
- Don’t go after every last penny. Stand back and be fair.
- Don’t be too modest about your needs, either. Moving house is expensive. What will your utility bills be like? What about childcare costs?