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Why DIY divorces just don’t add up

The bitter divorce battle between Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills finally came to an end this week, with the former model being awarded £24.3 million of her husband’s massive fortune.

Afterwards, Miss Mills declared herself “very, very happy” with the “incredible result”. Yet it quickly became clear that the result wasn’t nearly as incredible as it might have been, for it turns out that Heather had demanded £125m.

It raises the question, therefore, whether her decision to represent herself in court rather than use specialist lawyers was the right one?

I would argue it wasn’t. Sir Paul’s legal team did him proud, advising the ex-Beatle to take a gamble and renege on a £50m mutually-agreed settlement on the basis that they thought a judge would award a lot less. It proved sound advice – saving him some £25m.

The subsequent public airing of the full ruling underlined the difficulties of being a “litigant in person” as those unrepresented by lawyers are known. Mr Justice Bennett concluded that much of Miss Mills’ evidence had been “inconsistent”, “inaccurate” and “less than candid”.

Damning stuff, yes, but despite public perception – borne out by the judge – that Heather is something of a fantasist, it would be hard for most people to emerge unscathed from such a court ordeal. Under cross-examination, it’s easy to get confused and flustered – even if you’re not trying to bend the truth.

The soon-to-be ex-Lady McCartney put up a robust show, by the judge’s account, but there must have been times when she was simply out of her depth.

Yet according to one divorce lawyer quoted in the press this week, Heather’s decision to forsake expert lawyers and represent herself has led to a surge in couples opting to carry out their own “DIY divorces”.

Whilst I agree that more people are considering this route, I wouldn’t recommend it, especially for women, who come off worst when they try to save money by conducting their own divorce. My firm is increasingly being contacted by wives who have been persuaded by their estranged husbands to go through a divorce without the involvement of a solicitor, but who then belatedly realise, once the divorce has gone through, that they have lost out hugely in the financial stakes.

What comes to light later is that the men have been advised all along by a solicitor who helps the husband get a very advantageous deal.

Of course it costs money to hire a good lawyer, but it is generally the case that if you pay for legal expertise you will walk away with a much healthier bank balance than if you opted to go it alone.

The financial aspect apart, having a legal expert by your side during a traumatic time in your life takes some of the stress out of the process. A divorce lawyer knows the rules of engagement to a T and can be a reassuring presence when the fur begins to fly. He or she also has the training to present their client’s case in the best possible light. A litigant in person, even someone with Heather Mills’ fearlessness, can go to pieces if left to rely on their own wits during traumatic cross-examination.

So if you’re contemplating a DIY divorce, I would urge you to think again. A specialist lawyer will not only provide you with welcome support and advice, they will usually win for you a much better deal than you would win for yourself.

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