National Audit Office challenges court reform programme and timelines
A top official at the National Audit Office (NAO) has questioned the government’s plan for delivering wide-ranging court reforms, and…More
Figures released by the Office of National Statistics last week show the number of heterosexual couples who divorced in England and Wales increased by more than 18 per cent last year to 107,000.
With lockdown and money worries having an adverse effect on many relationships, that number is expected to rise still further in 2020, with digital divorce service Amicable reporting that, during the first lockdown in spring, it saw inquiries triple year on year.
In addition, The Times reported last week, a growing number of UK couples are looking to reduce the costs of separation by instructing one solicitor to handle both sides of a case.
According to insurance firm Aviva, divorcing couples spend on average around £2,700 on legal fees, with that figure rising to nearly £5,700 if a child custody dispute is involved. Complex proceedings that end up in court can meanwhile cost in excess of £30,000.
The idea that couples can save a considerable sum by instructing one solicitor to act for both parties has partly been borrowed from nations such as Italy, the Netherlands and Belgium; where it is common practice. In addition, legislation to remove the concept of fault from divorce is expected to come into force next year.
While the sole lawyer option may be cost-effective, some experts warn of its drawbacks; pointing out the profession is strictly regulated and that solicitors cannot act where there is a conflict of interest.
Charlotte Coyle, a senior associate at law firm Goodman Derrick, said: “By virtue of the fact that the couple want to divorce, there is a thin line to cross, as this inherently brings with it a conflict of interests.”
“A client should feel that they can let their guard down and confide in their lawyer, allowing them to be themselves and feel supported throughout the process,” she added. “Can this really be the case if they are sharing their lawyer with their ex-spouse when they know they only have one ear and their ex-spouse has the other?”
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