It goes without saying that divorce can be prohibitively expensive. It is therefore no surprise that most people going through divorce will be looking for ways to minimise that expense.
And that has given rise to a growing market of unregulated cut-price online providers of ‘quickie’ divorce services.
Unfortunately, consumer experiences of these services are not always what they should be.
It is therefore welcome that the Competition and Markets Authority (‘CMA’), the UK competition regulator, has launched a new investigation into online divorce services, as well as unregulated will-writing and pre-paid probate services.
The investigation follows complaints to the CMA about the services, including misleading claims about both the simplicity of cases and prices, and inadequate quality of service. Some complaints involved reports of vulnerable customers being subjected to pressure selling and coercion.
The CMA says that it “is keen to hear about people’s experiences with firms offering these services, over concerns that not all are complying with consumer protection law.”
The CMA is also concerned that, if a company ceases to operate, there is a risk that customers’ money or important documents may be lost.
Sarah Cardell, Chief Executive of the CMA, said:
“These services are essential to people, often at the most challenging times in their lives. The CMA is aware that rising living costs mean people are watching their spending, so shopping around for a more affordable option is attractive and sometimes a necessity.
“These may not be frequent purchases, but they are life-changing. That’s why it’s so important that we investigate so that people can select the right legal service for them – for divorce or probate or will-writing – with confidence. It’s essential that firms get the basics right, including complying with general consumer law which applies to all traders. Customers must get a fair deal.”
Another point to be made about these cheap online services is that they often try to ‘cream off’ the easy pickings of straightforward cases, where matters are agreed between the parties. But not all divorces are straightforward, and often a case that initially appears to be straightforward turns out to be anything but.
Obviously, some services may be perfectly reputable, but without proper regulation consumers have no way of knowing in advance the expertise of those offering the services, and can have difficulty seeking redress if things go wrong.
Hopefully the CMA investigation will address these issues, and ensure that consumers are properly protected.
[Family Law Cafe is a digital platform and uses regulated lawyers.]
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