London firm launches fixed-fee arbitration in bid to stem spiralling costs of divorce

Divorce: numbers falling

Divorce: numbers falling

A central London law firm has launched a fixed-fee family arbitration service in a bid to slash what it says is now an average £70,000 cost for divorcing people to reach a financial settlement.

Seddons said that its ‘Secure Separation’ service would also reduce the 11 months that couples have to wait to finalise their divorce to four months. It costs from £10,000 plus VAT.

According to the firm, if a case goes to court, each party is likely to pay in excess of £35,000. However, it said that “the real cost are the hidden expenses that accumulate during the process” and lost shared assets, such as a house, pension or car. The average cost was put at £70,000, although for Londoners it was £134,525.

Secure Separation costs from £10,000 plus VAT, excluding fees for the advocate and arbitrator, which are approximately £4,000 plus VAT.

An accompanying poll of 2,500 people found that two-thirds were worried about the impact of delays on their personal finances, with half of those surveyed interested in the arbitration option, with the certainty of cost a particular appeal.

Toby Hales, the family law partner at Seddons who developed the service, said: Getting divorced is relatively straightforward. Reaching a financial settlement can be harder for couples as when they disagree, they can find the courts are clogged, causing further distress and a crippling drain on their finances.

“Our new service aims to address these issues by providing a clearly priced service and faster resolution of their case through private arbitration.”

Meanwhile, an annual ‘veracity index’ has found that those who have divorced are less likely than the average to trust that lawyers are telling the truth.

The poll by Ipsos Mori found that the public trusts hairdressers and newsreaders more than lawyers, but does not have such a good opinion of economists, bankers, politicans, journalists and pollsters.

Lawyers sat in the middle of 24 identified groups, with 52% of people saying they generally trusted them to tell the truth, and 44% saying the opposite.

The breakdown of the figures, however, showed that only 45% of those divorced, separated or widowed trusted the truthfulness of lawyers, against 49% who did not. The analysis did not go into whether this was linked to their experience of legal processes.

The findings also indicated that those education to at least degree level, and those who read broadsheet newspapers had significantly better opinions of lawyers than other groups.

Overall, nurses topped the list of people generally trusted to tell the truth – backed by 93% of those surveyed – with doctors close behind (91%), followed by teachers (88%), judges (81%) and scientists (80%).

At the other end of the scale were politicians, who just 15% of the 1,019 people surveyed trusted to tell the truth, below even journalists, estate agents and bankers.

Finally, figures today from the Office of National Statistics show that there were 111,169 divorces in 2014, a decrease of 3.1% compared with 2013 and 27% from a recent peak in 2003. For every thousand married people, an average of 9.3 were going through a divorce.

The number of divorces in 2014 was highest among men aged 45 to 49 and women aged 40 to 44.

Nicola Haines from the ONS said: “Compared with 2004, divorce rates in 2014 were lower for all age groups except women aged 55 and over. Likely factors include increased cohabiting and increasing age at first marriage.

“Previous research indicates a higher risk of divorce among those marrying at younger ages, whilst cohabitation may be reducing the number of weaker relationships progressing to marriage.”

Clare Wiseman, a family lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, said: “Most divorcees are now in their 40s. People are recognising that they don’t have to stay in unhappy relationships and the number of dating websites and groups that are aimed at older people show that it is possible to build new relationships no matter what age you divorce.

“Having said that, the stats show that once a marriage lasts 20 years, there is a much greater chance the couple will stay together. The first 10 years remain the most likely time that a divorce will occur.

“Long term, the statistics show that divorce rates generally are continuing to decline which may reflect the fact that more people are cohabiting first which could mean their relationships are stronger when they come to get married or they are simply choosing not to marry in the first place particularly if one or both parties have had a previous relationship and/or are wealthy in their own right.”

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