The Co-operative supermarket has caused controversy after announcing plans to sell a DIY divorce kit for £99. It is part of the new Co-operative family law service, launched today in almost 3,000 supermarkets and bank branches. This particular deal is designed to provide access to divorce for those who cannot afford expensive lawyers.
So if this a godsend for hard-pressed, unhappy couples, or is it a risk?
DIY divorceThe pack is designed to be convenient and cheap, it can be picked up as part of the weekly shop, and for those who take the most basic service, it provides access to a legal hotline, and a pack with all the forms required to make the divorce legally binding.
Couples can also pay for added extras, including £50 to have a lawyer check through the documents, or a further £150 for an hour of legal advice. Anyone using this service will also have to pay the court fees.
It could prove a godsend for coupes - especially as cuts in legal aid have made it harder for divorcing couples to get help with the split.
RisksHowever, there are a couple of risks that you need to be very careful of. The first is that your situation may be too complicated to agree and handle yourself.
If a couple has children, then access and custody are major issues that need careful negotiation. Not every divorcing couple is on good enough terms to agree this themselves, so there's every chance that they will need expert help in order to agree. Without help, they may set something up which is unfair or unworkable.
If they share assets, have a house together, and one or both have a pension, suddenly there are a huge number of things to split, and the process is not straightforward. The house may have to be sold, or a mortgage renegotiated - both of which are not straightforward in the current market.
Pensions are often a tricky area. Mike Morrison, head of pensions development, AXA Wealth, says: "Pensions will often be one of the most significant financial assets in a marriage (perhaps after the family home) and are therefore available to be taken into account in any financial settlement when couples divorce.What may have looked like it was going to be a comfortable retirement could be drastically changed if one of the party's pension scheme becomes subject to a pension sharing order in favour of the other. In such circumstances, professional financial advice could be vital, and it may be a good idea to take advice even before starting the divorce process to avoid any unforeseen consequences."
The risk is that unless you understand the value of everything you have together, and the financial implications of any arrangements, there is a good chance that you will end up making some poor decisions, and possibly leave yourself fighting for more further down the track. This could prove far more expensive than getting it right in the first place would have been.
It is worth thinking carefully about the level of help you really need in your own circumstances.
Too easy?The second issue has been raised by family campaigners, who say that a cheap DIY divorce makes the process too easy and cheap, and will encourage more couples to head for divorce rather than try to work things out.
This, however, seems too simplistic. It seems far-fetched to argue that a couple wouldn't try to work things out, and would throw their lives into the air, and give up everything they share together, just because the Co-operative services mean you can do it a few hundred pounds cheaper.
Plus, of course, while this is an easily accessible DIY divorce pack, it is far from the only one. They have been available on the shelves of the local stationers, or online for years. This just brings the service to a supermarket.
But what do you think? Is this a useful service, or a dangerous one? Let us know in the comments.