Solicitors launch self-help divorce tool

Bell: Helping people make informed decisions

A new self-help divorce and separation tool, created by two solicitors formerly at City firm Withers, is aiming to help clients with no or limited budgets for legal advice.

Amanda Bell, co-founder of SeparateSpace, said there was “a huge need” for “authoritative and accessible information, guidance and signposting”, and the company had recently received two grants from Innovate UK.

SeparateSpace was awarded £50,000 by Innovate UK as a ‘diverse innovator’ at the end of last year, reflecting the fact it was a female-founded business. Alongside the money, Innovate UK provides a package of support, including coaching, PR and marketing.

The second grant, for innovation in professional and financial services, is to fund a separate project using artificial intelligence to improve access to justice, details of which will be released later in the year.

SeparateSpace is an online service, paid for by a monthly subscription of £39 (or £150 for six months). This provides clients with a dashboard where they gain access to a ‘personalised, interactive pathway’ with a timeline and actions list, along with a ‘package of guides, templates and real-life examples for each stage of the process’.

Ms Bell said algorithms were used to respond to an individual’s circumstances, such as whether they were renting or living in their own home, and how old their children were.

“The profession is clear that technology can help serve this underserved market. We are not anti-lawyer and refer people to lawyers… If you have a budget, we will make it work harder.”

For those who had no money for legal fees, SeparateSpace could “help them make informed decisions in a way that Google can’t”.

The amount of information about divorce on Google was “overwhelming” and “some of it is reliable, some of it is terrible”. It was very difficult for people to work out “what is reliable and what is relevant” to them, Ms Bell said.

“There is a huge need for authoritative, accessible information, guidance and signposting to help people understand the landscape and how to make decisions.”

Ms Bell, formerly a senior associate at Withers, and Victoria Nottage, formerly a professional support lawyer at Withers and now head of knowledge and learning at Family Lawyers in Practice, set up SeparateSpace in 2022. It was launched to paying clients in February this year.

Ms Bell said the very wealthy clients who used Withers for divorce and separation could afford “not just lawyers, but very good therapists, psychologists and financial advisers”.

She went on: “If you’ve got a team like that around you, it can make a huge difference.”

Ms Bell, who volunteered for Citizens Advice while working for Withers, said not understanding what to do when people separate and when to do it can add “another layer of stress” to a stressful situation.

Ms Bell and Ms Nottage are joined by former divorce lawyer and relationship therapist Joanna Harrison and child psychologist Dr Ellen Shumka.

SeparateSpace received its first funding from private angel investors in 2022, and will soon be closing a further funding round. The company is not releasing figures relating to investment or client numbers at this early stage.

Ms Bell said SeparateSpace was different from online divorce service amicable, which uses divorce coaches to work with couples and markets itself as an alternative to solicitors. Octopus Group acquired a majority stake in amicable last December.

Ms Bell said SeparateSpace was a self-help tool aimed at individuals, rather than couples. “There is an enormous access to justice gap in this space since legal aid was reduced. The end of a relationship is always stressful, but having no support can make it overwhelming.”

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