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Scots choose more amicable ways to divorce as court settlements wane

The Office for National Statistics’ latest civil justice statistics suggest Scots are searching for cheaper, quicker and more amicable ways to separate, with fewer Scots using the courts to divorce.

According to the latest figures, only 76,769 civil law cases were initiated across the Court of Session and sheriff courts in Scotland between 2014-15, the lowest since records began and 42% lower than 2008-2009.

Consensus Collaboration Scotland, a network of lawyers, family consultants and financial experts that specialise in out of court divorce settlements, point to an increase in collaborative divorces, rising legal costs, greater access to cheaper online divorce services, as well as changes in marriage and cohabitation rates, as contributing factors in the decline of court divorces in Scotland.

Anne Marie Douglas, a member of Consensus Collaboration Scotland and a partner with Inverness based family law firm Cowan Douglas, comments: “We have seen a rise in the number of
alternative dispute resolution methods over the past few years, including the number of collaborative divorces. More couples are choosing the collaborative approach to separation or divorce in order to minimise the conflict, stress and emotional damage that a court case can cause.”

The cost of divorce is also on the rise, forcing some couples to seek more cost effective alternatives to the courts. A recent study conducted by Aviva revealed that UK couples are spending more than
£44,000 on average when they divorce or separate, a 57% increase since Aviva last carried out the survey in 2006. At this time, the cost of divorce was around £28,000. The study revealed that although legal fees are generally stable if not declining, hidden costs such as moving house and child maintenance payments mean the overall price of separation has soared.

Falling marriage rates and the increase in cohabitation are also contributing factors. According to the Office for National Statistics and the Centre for Population Change, marriage rates have been on the decline since the 1970’s, while cohabitation has increased sharply in recent years. In 2013, there were 8.6% fewer marriages compared with the previous year and between 1983 and 2011, cohabitation
has increased from 6% to 25% for 25-34 year olds, a trend reflected across all age groups.

Anne Marie Douglas explains: “Austerity and rising costs are certainly contributing factors. Court divorces can be lengthy, expensive affairs, so if couples can find common ground and resolve matters out of court, they will do. We have also seen a decline in marriages, which naturally will lead to fewer divorces over time and more people are getting married later in life as well as cohabitating before they get married. This suggests people are a little older and wiser before they tie the knot, as well as having more experience living together. This could be why divorce rates across the UK are at their lowest ebb for 40 years.”

Many couples are also turning to technology to avoid the courts and resolve divorces quickly and cheaply, commonly known as the ‘quickie divorce’. According to research conducted by Divorce Depot in 2013, the number of people using smartphones to initiate a divorce increased by 50% between 2012-2013. In more recent years, a surge in divorce apps and online tools has made the process of getting divorced even easier. Apps such as Amicable, Wevorce and iSplit Divorce claim to resolve divorces in a matter of weeks for ‘tens of pounds’ per month. The Government also recently introduced regional Divorce Centres in 2015, designed to simplify the process and speed divorce cases up. Finding quicker and easier ways to divorce is certainly gaining momentum in the UK, but according to experts, seeking legal advice is still the recommended approach.

Anne-Marie said: “Nothing compares to professional legal advice. Ultimately, families should do what’s right for them and their children, in the most effective way, to ensure they have the happiest future. Quickie divorces are in the spotlight and they may seem like great shortcuts, but many have hidden costs, particularly relating to organising financial or child care arrangements.”

Consensus Collaboration Scotland has issued some reasons why separating couples should consider a collaborative divorce:

1. Minimises conflict by conducting all discussions in a non-confrontational, respectful manner, giving each person time to raise their concerns and issues;

2. Helps you put your children first by ensuring their well-being is a key priority;

3. Support from family consultants throughout the process minimises the emotional damage of separation;

4. Financial specialists help you understand the options available so you can make informed decisions and good economic choices for your future;

5. Gives you control over decision making through supported discussions, rather than leaving it to a judge.

Consensus Collaboration Scotland are a network of lawyers, financial planners and family consultants committed to a collaborative approach to dispute resolution, giving couples control over decision making and making sure they make good financial choices for the future.

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