Want a quickie divorce? Just pop down the supermarket

Last October, the Ministry of Justice allowed anyone wishing to file for divorce to do so online. The scheme was introduced ostensibly to reduce time and bureaucracy, and it was estimated that it would save the MoJ a staggering £250 million. Over the intervening months a number of companies have spotted a business opportunity and started offering online divorce services, but the most recent to join the fray is certain to raise a few eyebrows.

Corner shop divorces

Most of us have a local Co-op within easy reach, and it is often a Godsend if you suddenly need a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk. But is it not the first place you would think of if you decided to file for divorce.

Yet Co-op Legal Services is claiming it can cut divorce processing times by a third, and reduce costs significantly with its new online divorce services.

The timing is unsurprising, given that the first two months of the year are considered divorce season in family law circles, and perhaps the step is inevitable given that Co-op Legal Services now receives around 60 percent of its family law enquiries online.

The company charges a fixed fee, which allows the petitioner to file all the necessary papers and, if the divorce is uncontested, the whole thing can be done from beginning to end in as little as four months. But is that really such a good thing?

Divorce on the up

It is a good question. In November, I posted an article that asked whether marriage was going out of fashion, in which I commented that divorce rates were in decline. What a difference a couple of months can make! That article was written around two weeks after online divorces had been introduced, and since then, the UK divorce rate has actually increased.

Co-op’s head of family law, Tracey Moloney, believes the new services will increase the number of divorces processed by the company by 50 percent. But will that be because people will be using the Co-op instead of some other divorce lawyer, or simply because more people will choose to get divorced?

Eroding the institution of marriage?

The Coalition for Marriage is a campaign group that supports the institution of marriage and all that it stands for. The group is opposed to most changes to the definition of marriage or to any modifications to family law that could weaken traditional marital values.

As you might guess, their Campaign Director, Thomas Pascoe has been highly critical of the Co-op’s latest service offerings. He said: “Around one in ten petitioners abandons divorce proceedings before the decree absolute is issued, and protecting these couples is the reason that delays are built into the current system. Far from easing the pain of divorcing couples, the Co-op’s new service will only serve to ensure families break down which might otherwise have remained together, given time to reflect.”

Walking the tightrope

In a world where you can go to work, watch a film, chat with friends and even fall in love online, it seems inevitable that you can get divorced there, too. In many respects, our current divorce law is somewhat Victorian in nature – if you have not already done so, you might like to read this piece on no fault divorces for further thoughts on that topic.

However, Thomas Pascoe certainly makes a valid point. We all know the words – marriage is a serious institution and should not be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly and so on. Surely ending a marriage should be just as serious a matter.

At Hylton Potts we have an experienced team of knowledgeable and approachable staff who have helped thousands of clients through the legal and emotional minefield of divorce. If you need help and advice, just give us a call on 020 7381 8111, or get in touch via email at law@hylton-potts.com.

We would love to know what you think about the latest news in “quickie divorces.” Are they a welcome simplification to an unnecessarily painful and convoluted process, or do they cheapen the institution of marriage? Please leave your comments in the section below.