Mena Ruparel answers key questions concerning the online divorce pilot.
In Review of the online divorce pilot project , Karen Dovaston takes you through the expected changes to the online divorce petition, which is a streamlined version of the current petition. It looks as though it requires little legal knowledge to complete in its current form as it is designed with the litigant in person (LiP) in mind rather than the solicitor.
Solicitors currently charge anywhere from £200 - £1200 plus VAT to deal with an undefended divorce case from start to finish. Many solicitors have told me that they think it is fair to charge in the region of three hour’s work for the undefended proceedings, even if it only take 90 minutes or so to deal with the case. Some solicitors still charge hourly rates of circa £200 per hour and upwards to deal with this work, which surprised me as this is work that is easy to unbundle but may be much fairer to the client.
The new petition has been a relatively simple form since 2011 when it was introduced. Practitioners will remember that the statement of arrangements for children was put to one side during the last re-write. It is clearer but still taxes the average person so solicitors are still instructed to deal with these applications.
There are three areas that I can see that the petitioner should take advice:
If clients are sensible they will see a solicitor to take advice before they start the petition online by themselves. However, it is more likely that the solicitor will be providing unbundled advice to the client after something has gone wrong and they are asked to fix it. The most likely area of concern will be the respondent’s failure to return the acknowledgment of service.
It may be that the days of the fixed fee undefended divorce are at an end. One thing is for certain, practitioners will need to adapt their services and pricing to reflect this technological change.