Legal aid cuts being imposed from next week could spark a rise in “online divorces”, lawyers have claimed.
Fiona Wood, a partner at a family law firm, said the withdrawal of public funding for divorce cases would lead to an increase in the number of couples using internet divorce services.
The claim came as a survey found that more than a fifth of couples in their twenties would opt to divorce online in order to save money.
The Government wants to cut £350m a year from the £2.2bn legal aid bill, saying in many cases “courts should be a last resort, not a first”.
Legislation coming into force 2 April 2013 will withdraw public funding from civil cases such as divorces.
Ministers, however, insist legal aid will continue to be provided “to those who most need it”.
But Miss Wood, a partner at Pannone Solicitors, said young couples who were already wary of the high costs associated with ending a marriage would be particularly likely to seek cheaper alternatives.
She said: “More than a quarter of those people who were surveyed reported being put off the idea of divorce because of how expensive they believed the process to be.
“Such fears appear to have been particularly common among younger couples who might have relatively few assets and, therefore, want to keep the costs associated with divorce to a minimum.
“The fact that they will not be able to obtain legal aid to meet the costs of divorce means that even more couples are likely to be cost-conscious.”
There are several websites offering “quickie” divorces for as little as £37.
However, Miss Wood warned that they might not include legal safeguards such as financial orders, which could prevent former spouses from making “unlimited future claims”.
The survey of 2,000 men and women, carried out between August and September 2012 by ICM, found that 28 per cent of people would be put off a divorce by the size of legal costs.
Of the men and women surveyed, 11 per cent said they would not use a solicitor if they got divorced.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “At nearly £2 billion a year we have one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world. Even after the reforms we will still be spending around £1.7 billion a year on legal aid – £700 million on civil and family cases.
“Legal aid will still be provided in cases where domestic violence is involved, where people’s life or liberty is at stake, where they are at risk of physical harm or the loss of their home.
“But in many civil or family disputes – like divorce – people are generally arguing about facts, rather than the law, and so court should be a last resort. Mediation is a far simpler and cheaper approach for everyone and leads to better outcomes.”
SOURCE: The Telegraph