The answer is that maybe it is the right decision for you.
It is easy to look on the internet and search and find firms offering online divorce but, before you rush ahead pause and consider if it is the right way for you.
Cost is a major reason someone usually considers that an online divorce is better for them. However, the Court fee for issuing a Divorce Petition is £550. That is the same fee whether you use Solicitors, issue the Petition yourself, or use an online firm. Many people fear “huge” costs of divorce. However, the divorce itself is the procedural part that takes you from being married to being divorced. A Solicitor’s cost is usually around 3 hours of time for all of the steps to take you from the beginning to the end with Decree Absolute. Some Solicitors offer a fixed fee and others charge an hourly rate. You can multiply the hourly rate by 3, add VAT and that is going to give you the approximate cost of divorce. If, say, a Solicitor charges £195 an hour, then the time taken in your divorce would be £585 plus VAT. It’s worth comparing this with the online divorce cost. For example, one firm is charging £600 plus the Court fee.
If a relationship has broken down there are three parts usually to sort out. The divorce itself, the finances and the children. In many cases a couple can reach agreement on the children but still need to sort out finances and divorce.
When considering how you want to proceed with divorce itself, it is best to do this in a context of what else needs to be resolved. For example, it may be appropriate for there to be a Pension Sharing Order. If one person, say the husband, has a much larger pension, as part of resolving finances, a percentage of his pension can be transferred to his wife so each have equal pension provision. If the pension is being built up during the marriage, it is part of the sharing of those marital assets. However, it is important to consider the stage between a couple separating and obtaining that financial order which includes a pension share. This could take some time, particularly if they are having difficulty reaching agreement on other parts of the finances.
What happens if the person with the larger pension dies before finances are concluded? If they are still married his wife is likely to be entitled to a widow’s pension. However, if the divorce has gone through all of the steps to Decree Absolute, she will no longer be his wife. In the event of his death, she will not receive a widow’s pension. However, she will also not have received a Pension Sharing Order if finances have not progressed to that stage and his pension will die with him.
It is very important that the timing of the divorce itself is considered in the context of finances.
There may also be tax implications. If there is more than one property, say the couple own their home and one or two buy to let flats, they may want to transfer these - one each - into their sole names as part of the financial settlement in their divorce. If a property is transferred from joint names to the sole name of the other person within the tax year of separation (i.e. before the 5th April in the year they have separated) they can make this transfer without triggering a liability to Capital Gains Tax. This also has to be done before Decree Absolute.
It is also important to realise that divorce itself does not end the couple’s claims one against the other. A couple can complete the divorce process, obtain Decree Absolute (which is the final step) and be living quite separate lives for a significant period of time. However, if they have not resolved finances in a Court Order (this can be done as what is known as a ‘Consent Order’ if they can agree the finances) they can still make financial claims one against the other even after divorce. Many people do not realise this. If in the intervening period, one person’s finances have increased significantly, for example by further contributions into a pension or by an increase in property value, all of these assets still fall to be considered if one or other makes a financial claim. The Court will take into account the parties are divorced, but it does not prevent a claim being made.
Are the grounds of divorce relevant? Generally, the reason a couple get divorced does not affect other issues between them, for example finances or the children. However, if one person is on the receiving end of a Divorce Petition with allegations about their parenting ability and perhaps saying they had not behaved appropriately towards the children, this could be used against them if there were subsequently proceedings to resolve the care of the children or the contact that parent should have.
An online divorce may be just right for you, but before considering this it is always best to consider it in a wider context.