This post was first published in June 2015.
But how prevalent are these services? The numbers are pretty hard to come by. Divorce Online, which was certainly the first online service I came across, claims to have “dealt with over 180,000 online divorces since 1999″, which would average out at 12,000 a year. I suspect, however, that reliance on a total figure means that their annual figures may be dropping as more competitors join the market.
The best information comes, rather ironically, from an upheld Advertising Standards Authority complaint against Quickie Divorce (who also operate Managed Divorce). Quickie Divorce posted a YouTube video in which a woman stated that “Quick Divorce are firmly established as the UK’s leading providers of online divorces”. The complaint was upheld because Quickie Divorce were not able to provide any data about their competitors’ activity levels and could not therefore prove that they were, in fact, the UK’s leading provider.
Quickie Divorce did, however, give some information about their own activity levels to try to support their claim. Amongst other things they reported that during 2013 they had:
- been contacted by 25,090 people;
- provided (sold) services to 11,564 people;
- submitted 7,043 divorces.
As there were 118,301 petitions filed in 2013 that means Quickie Divorce were approached or in some way involved in between 6% and 21% of divorces. Relying on Q2 and Q3 figures, Quickie Divorce said that they “assisted” 12,881 people – claiming this showed a 22.5% market share.
As you will have seen from previous posts, I have been looking closely at the Family Court Statistics recently. What these show is a very clear and consistent increase in the number of unrepresented petitioners:
I must admit that this was not what I was expecting. I had thought there might be a jump in mid 2013 when Legal Aid was removed for divorces, but it made no noticeable difference at all. What there is, however, is a clear and consistent rise in the number of people choosing to get divorced without solicitors. Court statistics for this only go back to 2011, but since then the percentage has increased every single quarter, from 26% in Q1 2011 to 45% just four years later, and shows no sign of slowing down.
It is unlikely that all these people (over 47,000 in the past year) are negotiating the divorce process without any assistance. Some may be using solicitors in an “unbundled” way, or relying on self-help books or online guides. It seems likely to me, though, that many are turning to online providers like Online Divorce and Quickie Divorce for assistance and, as the LSCP report shows, most that do are happy with the service they receive.
If the current trend continues, we can expect more than half of petitioners to be unrepresented by this time next year. With that in mind, I think we really do need to ask ourselves: is online divorce the new normal?