Complaints about divorce and family law are higher than in any other area of law, a study by the Legal Ombudsman finds.
The report shows that around a quarter of divorce complaints relate to cost, with one in five (21%) customers saying they were not given an estimate of fees at the beginning of a case.
The average cost of divorce is estimated to be £1,300 and the report highlights cases where people were forced to pay thousands of pounds above what was agreed.
Samantha Feely, from Northampton, was told to pay an additional £15,000 bill on top of what she had already paid in fees. The costs included £4,000 for photocopying.
“The amount of money for photocopying was obviously in my view grossly unfair, £4,000 – train tickets, time for them to travel to court even though they were going early in the morning, taxis … why can’t they get the tube?
“You get so far down the line that you’re at the point of no return and they know that. And it’s a very emotional time for all parties and I think that people are vulnerable.”
Divorce lawyer Vanessa Lloyd Platt welcomes the Legal Ombudsman’s report.
She says that about 30-40% of her work is in taking over cases from other firms and the “absolute horror stories” of customers being hit with large and unexpected fees.
However, she says that customers also have a responsibility to control costs themselves.
“If you instruct a builder and they give you an estimate and you ask them to do lots of other things we all know that estimate is going to increase. Similarly, if you go to a lawyer and you phone them 10 times a day and you make multiple applications to court, your costs will be out of proportion to the estimate.”
Cuts to legal aid are set to come in on April 1, and will mean 200,000 fewer people each year will be eligible for publicly-funded legal representation.
Consequently, the Ombudsman says it is now calling for lawyers to raise the quality of legal services and provide greater clarity over costs.