There are a number of different representation options for a divorce:
A mediator is not a party’s legal representative. A mediator is an independent third party, usually a trained professional, who manages the mediation process.
A solicitor is a lawyer who provides legal services directly to clients, and should normally:
- Have undertaken the Legal Practice Course;
- Have undertaken any necessary period of recognized training (often called a ‘training contract’);
- Have been admitted to the Roll of solicitors; and
- Be regulated by the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority, working under a valid practicing certificate.
Solicitors are also able to represent clients before a judge in certain courts. It is, however, common for solicitors to instruct a barrister to represent their client as an advocate at court.
This term is used to mean a solicitor who has obtained the Higher Rights of Audience qualification. This means that they are able to exercise rights of audience in the higher courts, and can therefore represent their client as an advocate in all course, as a barrister is able to do.
Unless they are a direct access barrister (for which see below), a barrister is a lawyer who provides legal services only upon instruction by a solicitor.
A barrister will usually:
- Have undertaken the Bar Professional Training Course;
- Have undertaken a period of training known as ‘pupillage’;
- Be regulated by the Bar Standards Board.
Barristers are often self-employed, working in shared facilities known as ‘Chambers’, though they can also be found employed ‘in-house’. Barristers cannot normally conduct litigation, and are therefore usually instructed to provide a written opinion on a case, or advocacy services at court hearings, arbitration, private FDRs and, sometimes, round-table meetings.
Direct access barrister
A ‘direct access’ or public access’ barrister has undertaken public access training. This allows them to provide services directly to a lay client, rather than through the instruction of a solicitor as intermediary. They are also able to apply to extend their practicing certificate to allow them to conduct litigation on a lay client’s behalf.
You can therefore engage a direct access barrister to draft letters and documents for you, negotiate on your behalf, and represent you at court.
Do it yourself
For those who do not wish to instruct a lawyer at all, there is the option of representing yourself in the court process as a litigant in person. Court forms can be obtained from the HMCTS website, and the other side, and the court, will then correspond with you directly.
There are also some companies who offer ‘quickie divorce’ packages, usually online. What this means in practice is that you will pay the company a fixed fee to complete the necessary forms for you, or they will sell you a kit containing the necessary forms, for you to complete, with some generic instructions.
In relation to the divorce itself, there will still be the usual waiting time for the court to issue the petition (usually a number of days), and to process the various other forms which must be lodged. Once you have obtained decree nisi, there must, by law, be a six week wait before you may apply for the decree absolute. Therefore even a ‘DIY divorce’ will take over six weeks to finalise.
In relation to finances, such services are usually only available where the parties are agreed on how to divide their assets, because they are not giving you legal advice. To reach an agreement without any legal advice runs the risk of agreeing to a settlement that is less favorable that you might otherwise have obtained.
Although this means that you will not incur a lawyer’s fees, there is the obvious and significant disadvantage of not having expert advice, and the risk of failing to present your case to its best advantage, making procedural errors, or reaching an agreement which is not in your own best interests.
The process of dealing with financial claims is far more complicated than the divorce itself, and any prospective litigant in person should be aware that the court process can be complicated and time-consuming.