SINCE the exposure of hundreds of people’s names and details through the hacking of Ashley Madison, a website that encourages and facilitates extramarital affairs, it is now being said that divorce and separation cases are likely to be on the rise. Indeed, one London solicitor has already revealed that he has been asked for advice from a woman after her husband was named.
Time will tell whether any of this might have a major impact on the divorce rate globally and, more particularly on the incidence of divorce in Scotland.
Interestingly, for some time now, the number of divorces in Scotland has actually been on the decline.
Although numbers peaked in 2006-7, with 13,767 divorces when the law introduced shorter periods of separation, since that date, the number has fallen every year.
There is no suggestion that marriages have become any happier. Likewise, there is no suggestion that any fall in the marriage rate is the reason, with marriage rates having been fairly stable since the mid nineties.
One of the main reasons given may be the continuing impact of the recession.
Whilst many would say that financial problems, or relationship problems caused by finances, are at the very root of any divorce or separation, on the other hand, many couples are choosing not to separate or divorce, simply because they cannot afford to do so.
Couples are tending to stay under one roof on the basis that they cannot afford to run another.
The result is that many unhappy couples are staying under the same roof, under sufferance, waiting for the economic conditions to finally improve, to allow them to then find an appropriate exit strategy.
When that exit strategy is eventually found, a growing number of couples are then shopping around for a suitable and effective divorce service that will keep costs under control.
The do-it-yourself route can look attractive at first glance, with online providers advertising a “quickie” divorce (click and split) at low cost rates.
However, those taking this route would do well to remember that these rates cover divorce papers only and do not include the cost of sorting out financial or childcare arrangements. Perhaps then, not surprisingly, most couples still choose to consult a solicitor.
However, consulting a solicitor need not be as expensive as some might imagine and obtaining proper legal advice could well be cost effective in the long run.
In addition, many family law solicitors are now committed to settling divorce issues in a non-confrontational manner, in many cases, involving mediation and arbitration services.
Increasingly, family law solicitors are able to negotiate out-of-court settlements where the interests of any children always come first.
If couples cannot agree and end up in court, this is where costs can then run out of control.Rather than negotiating a settlement, both parties are effectively handing over their lives to a judge, who may not necessarily rule in their particular favour. Obviously, the more acrimonious the case, the higher the fees are likely to be.
The most cost-effective arrangements are where couples have agreed a basic settlement in advance and then sought legal advice to check that the fine detail of this seems fair and equitable in all the circumstances.
In addition, many solicitors are now offering an extensive range of fixed-fee options for those looking to control costs further.
Some family lawyers will now offer a free first meeting to discuss options and costs, including a comprehensive fixed price menu of services, from which they can calculate exactly how much the whole process is likely to cost.
Ashley Madison or not, divorce or separation is never easy to go through; but perhaps the process of them is now becoming a little more palatable.
• Ewan M Campbell is an associate and accredited specialist in family law at Russel + Aitken LLP www.russelaitken.com