DIY divorces could lead to huge financial problems

08 April 2021

The huge dip in the number of divorces receiving at least one court hearing is “extremely worrying” and could point to a significant increase in risky DIY divorces.

That’s the view of Philip Barnsley, the Head of the family law team at West Midlands law firm Higgs & Sons.

ONS stats show there were 129,313 divorce petitions in England and Wales in 2011, and of these 14,869 involved at least one court hearing. Of those, approximately 67 per cent of people were represented, and 33 per cent were not.

The most recent statistics released by the ONS for 2019, show that there were 116,907 petitions issued – but the number of cases involving at least one court hearing plummeted to just 5,900. The number of cases that involved representation rose to 73 per cent in comparison to the 2011 figures.

Mr Barnsley says these stats suggest that those who can afford legal representation continue to do so – but those who cannot are saving money with DIY solutions without proper legal advice and more importantly, without dealing with the financial consequences of divorce properly. That, Mr Barnsley said, is extremely risky and could cause huge problems in years to come.

Mr Barnsley said: “Those without proper advice are leaving themselves wide open to financial claims, which can be made years after a divorce has been issued.

“By my calculations, there could be 50,000 to 80,000 cases where there could be legitimate financial claims still open as a result of insufficient divorce legalities being completed.”

Mr Barnsley cited the case of Vince v Wyatt where the couple divorced with barely any assets. The husband went on to found the profitable Ecotricity business. His wife engaged lawyers and filed a financial remedy order a full 19 years after the divorce was finalised and she received a financial settlement from the court following expensive and bitter legal proceedings.

“We are also at risk of creating a huge financial imbalance,” warned Mr Barnsley. “One significant problem is pension sharing. Without proper legal advice, this is unlikely to be addressed.

“Generally, it is men who have larger pensions and tend to be more financially aware, so it is going to affect women disproportionally. In 2019, the ONS reported that on 13 per cent of the cases issued resulted in an order being made in relation to pensions and this is a very concerning statistic.”

Mr Barnsley added: “You don’t know what the future holds. There could be an inheritance windfall, the launch of a new business, a lottery win, or all manner of life circumstances that have an impact on wealth. The danger of not dealing with all financial claims that arise on divorce at the time should be a concern to anyone who is in that situation.

“We advise that couples, where possible, do agree as much as they can between themselves. This leads to a cheaper and quicker resolution and can improve long-term relationships, particularly where there are children involved.

“But it is important to engage the right legal and financial professionals to that ensure everything is in place to safeguard both parties in the future.”

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