Disruption Divorce

Breaking up is hard to do: Is UK divorce sector about to feel the Uber effect of online disruption?


By Dom Burch, managing director

March 15, 2016 | 7 min read

I’ve been thinking about getting divorced recently.

Before you worry about the state of my personal affairs, let me clarify Becky and I are still happily married, at least I think we're both happy.

No. It's not that.

The other week I stumbled across some stats that really got me thinking.

For instance, did you know that 42 per cent of couples who walk down the aisle end up parting ways?

Or that on average, it costs you both £13,500 in legal fees to successfully separate? That's each, not in total.

Not to mention the cost of finding somewhere else to live, buying new furniture and doubling up on all the other things that previously could be shared equally or later split down the middle.

My maths isn't brilliant, but a quick back of a fag packet look at those numbers again reveals a market that is ripe for disruption.

118,000 marriages in the UK end up in a divorce every year.

£27,000 in legal fees per couple.

That's a potential £3bn market to attack.

Now, according to the Ministry of Justice, more than half of couples choose to represent themselves to try and keep the costs down.

So let's play it safe and divide £3bn in half. It’s still a staggering figure when you stop and think about it.

Divorce is not just an expensive business on both sides, but also a time consuming, confusing and often deeply unsatisfactory process for all concerned.

So what happens when you do call it a day?

The reality is someone normally has to step in and help untangle your complicated lives.

And when that person is a solicitor, their hourly rate is going to make your eyes water.

When you boil it down, marriage is nothing more than a legal contract between two parties. I know, who said romance was dead?

Pre-nuptials obviously come in handy if you ever do decide to split, but let's face it they are usually only reserved for the rich and famous.

Talking about pre-nups isn't the most positive way to start a relationship either, even if the odds of staying the distance are almost 50:50.

'Just sign this luv and we're good to go...'

The divorce sector is therefore crying out for some Uber-esque disruption.

One firm attempting to lead the charge is Resolve based in Leeds.

I recently met the founder and managing director Martin Holdsworth following an intro from my mate Jason, who had helped him design his new website.

Martin is a fascinating chap. A typical Yorkshireman in many ways. Warm, informal, shrewd and extremely charming and witty.

No offence legal eagles, but he's not your typical lawyer.

He's also got first hand experience of getting a divorce. So he is qualified on all fronts.

I get the sense he's on a mission, and wants to help take the pain out of getting a divorce, both emotionally and financially, by keeping lawyers at arm's length until they are absolutely necessary.

A lot of the initial grunt work of financially separating from your partner is done online, meaning some aspects are obviously self-served.

But all of the important parts are done face to face with a trained family practice mediator.

I hadn't previously appreciated just how hard getting a divorce was until I started looking at it.

In England and Wales, you need to show that you have been married for more than a year and that the marriage has “irretrievably broken down”. Fair enough.

To do this you then have to establish that you have grounds for divorce based on one of the following factors:

Adultery, unreasonable behaviour, two-year separation with consent, five-year separation, or desertion.

All sounds a bit grim doesn’t it?

But once you've made the decision and have served the time and have the grounds, you then just want to get on with it, and get it over with.

According to Martin, Resolve is the only online divorce solution that actually enables spouses to manage, and conclude all their matrimonial financial disputes online, from end to end.

He says: “We simply ask each party to complete and share their financial information, to select an independent barrister for an opinion on the likely settlement, before arranging a face-to-face mediation meeting at a mutually convenient date, time and venue.

“An expert family law mediator runs the meeting. If no agreement is reached at this point, a second mediation is available, before the case goes on to an arbitration hearing where your chosen barrister will represent you, as a final step."

Resolve guarantees that a binding award will be made at the end of the process, either by agreement between you and your spouse or by the ruling of the arbitrator.

Martin has spent months and months carefully refining the process.

He adds: "The website is intuitive, it can be paused and returned to by each party to suit them, and unlike a lot of divorces, the outcome is guaranteed."

Another important difference to the traditional route is the cost. Divorcing online only costs a few thousand pounds rather than tens of thousands, which makes getting on with the next chapter of your life a little less financially challenging if nothing else.

The cost of divorce has a wider impact on society too.

The British Chambers of Commerce estimate divorce costs the British economy around £46 billion each year, negatively impacting business productivity and employee well-being.

Most people end up taking time off work through a combination of stress and the necessity of sorting things out like moving out of the family home.

Martin adds: "No one really wants the pain of lawyers getting involved at every twist and turn.

"My approach is to deliberately design a divorce process that ensures the least amount of hassle, and enables you both to part on good terms."

I guess you can't argue with that.

Follow Dom on Twitter @DomBurch

Disruption Divorce

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