There is no evidence of online divorce leading to regulatory risks, joint research by the Legal Services Board (LSB) and Legal Services Consumer Panel has concluded.
The report found high levels of satisfaction with face-to-face legal advice (79%) and online (83%), with face-to-face clients most unhappy about cost, with online clients citing quality of service.
Online services were more likely to be used for ‘amicable’ divorces (86%), compared to just over half of those handled by a traditional provider.
“The benefits of online service delivery are obvious,” Sir Michael Pitt, chairman of the LSB, said. “The regulatory risks however are less well understood and this research seeks to investigate whether there is any evidence of these risks translating into problems in practice for consumers.
“I am pleased to say that this unique research shows no evidence of any such problems occurring.”
Elisabeth Davies, chair of the consumer panel, said: “Consumers taking part in the study and using online providers generally reported quicker, cheaper and less stressful experiences than those using face- to-face providers.
“For those going through a reasonably amicable and uncomplicated divorce with a high level of agreement about things like finances, our findings suggest the online route is certainly one to consider.”
The research by consultants BDRC Continental studied two groups of divorce clients, 84 as they went through the process and 100 afterwards.
Researchers said the average cost of the divorces they studied was £1,250 for online, and £2,700 for face-to-face, though they said the face-to-face figures were “skewed” by a number of divorces costing over £5,000. When these were excluded, the average cost came to £1,522 for face-to-face and £613 for online.
“Only 11% of online users and 12% of face-to-face petitioners tried to negotiate on the fee. This is very low and particularly relevant, due to the fact that those who did negotiate achieved 100% success rate on getting the fees down.”
As well as being much more likely to be experiencing an amicable divorce, online clients were much less likely to have sought advice from friends or family on potential advice providers, 17% compared to 44%.
Online clients were far more likely to be motivated by cost in their choice of provider (31% compared to 8%), and less likely to be alleging ‘domestic violence’ (defined very broadly to include neglect to partners and children) – a third of online clients compared to 47% of face-to-face.
Satisfaction with advice on arrangements for children was lower for online clients, 61% compared with 84%. This was also true for advice on financial arrangements, though in this case the gap was smaller, 72% compared to 83%.
Once the process was over, 36% of face-to-face clients said they were dissatisfied with both the cost and the quality of service. More online clients were unhappy with quality, 46%, and less about cost, 23%.
Almost half (46%) of online clients were unhappy about the information provided during the process, compared to 21% of face-to-face clients, while online clients were almost twice as likely to be unhappy about “how I was treated as a person”.
Online clients were more likely to blame their lawyer for problems, and not one of them blamed their partner. In contrast, a quarter of face-to-face clients blamed their other half.
The LSB said the research would help it “target future work looking at online legal services” and would help the panel “inform the debate on the benefits and risks of technology”.