Almost two-thirds of divorce and separation clients now pay fixed fees, but less than half of them end up paying the price quoted at the start, a report has found.
It put the value of the UK family law market as a whole last year at £1.66bn and predicted that its value would increase “steadily, if unspectacularly” over the next five years.
Researchers from IRN said 64% of divorce and separation clients were charged a fixed fee at the start, but less than half (31% of the whole sample) actually paid that fee.
Most of this group (24% of the whole sample) were charged a higher fee, with only 9% charged a lower fee.
The report also found that almost a third of clients (32%) were handling their divorce proceedings themselves from start to finish – in line with previous findings.
A further 10% started on a DIY basis, but used a solicitor or barrister to complete the process.
The main reasons given for not instructing a lawyer were because the split was amicable and simple to deal with (76%), and because they could not afford to pay for one (36%).
Researchers said the launch of the Ministry of Justice online divorce portal last year was likely to be another factor encouraging DIY divorce. Awareness was already quite high, with almost four out of 10 in the survey knowing of its existence.
Clients who used law firms reported high levels of satisfaction, with just under eight out of 10 satisfied or very satisfied by the service. However, this fell to seven out of 10 when clients were asked to rate explanations of costs.
IRN surveyed 304 consumers who had been involved in a divorce or civil partnership dissolution in the last five years for its UK Family Law Market 2019  consumer research report.
The report found that consumer decisions on legal advisers were “very gradually” being driven by digital channels.
“Recommendations from friends, relatives, and colleagues are still the main source of advice to those looking for legal advice, emphasising that law firms and solicitors should maintain some client relationships with satisfied clients after a specific legal matter has been completed – at the very least, check that the client is satisfied with services so that they can provide good publicity for services to others.
“Internet search engines are the second most popular method of finding a legal adviser but other digital channels are slowly growing in importance, e.g. online divorce sites with links to legal advisers, sites with consumer reviews of legal advisors, and social media.”
The report concluded that the family law market had declined in value in 2014, in the wake of the restrictions on legal aid imposed by LASPO, but had recovered the following year and continued to grow, “albeit modestly”, between 2016 and 2018.
“The UK family law market value is forecast to increase steadily, if unspectacularly, over the coming five years, based on an anticipated continued fall in divorce cases compensated by some rises in legal costs, and increases in work related to the Children Act, domestic violence, and mediation services.
“Price transparency could be introduced, following initiatives in other areas of consumer law and, if so, this could curb any rises in legal fees.”
IRN predicted that the value of the market would increase by 13% over the next five years from £1.66bn in 2018, excluding court fees.