Breaking up may be hard to do but the developers of a new app hope to at least make it much less expensive. As long as both parties are reasonable enough to communicate with each other, rather than lawyers, the founders of amicable claim the groundwork for divorce can be completed for “tens of pounds” per month rather than thousands in legal bills.

The app combines emotional support and legal information with the tools to allow a couple to do all the administration required to get to the point where they can apply to a court to be legally separated. This includes disclosing assets and agreeing how they will be shared, as well as new living and co-parenting arrangements.

This self-service approach can save a fortune compared to talking through lawyers. The app is currently in an open beta trial and its co-founders, family counsellor, Kate Daly and IT consultant, Pip Wilson, expect it to launch in September. It will be billed per person per month, with the average subscription expected to last three to six months before the process is complete.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, for November 2013, calculate that there are 115,000 divorces in England and Wales every year; as an average, 42% of marriages end in divorce. Costs can range from the low thousands per person, to up to £30,000 in a contested case that has to go to court to be resolved, according to the government’s money advice service.


Grown from experience
It was this potential for legal fees to rocket that prompted Kate Daly to come up with the idea for amicable.

“Our app is based on a bad experience I had with my own divorce which made me realise there just has to be a better way of separating,” she says.

“Everything about going down the legal route from the start encourages conflict. If someone goes to a lawyer, and that’s how the other party hears their relationship is over, people immediately dig their heels in and that gets worse when there’s an auditor’s forensic approach to what they own and how it’s going to be split. We go for a more conciliatory approach which encourages someone to help their partner understand that the relationship is over, so they can come to terms with it and reach the same stage before they decide on next steps.”

Focus on co-parenting
This follows the approach of a relationship breakdown conciliation service, Family Change, which Daly set up after her divorce. It helped people communicate face to face where the main priority was working towards being effective co-parents.

The idea for amicable was born while Daly was chatting with her friend, Pip Wilson, who had recently left BlueFin Solutions, an IT consultancy she had co-founded. Wilson was convinced the conciliatory approach could be built in to an app.

“There are three stages to divorce and the first two can be done at very low cost if both parties are reasonable,” says Wilson.

“We can help with the disclosure and arrangement stages. It’s basically a load of admin that you don’t need to pay a lawyer a couple of hundred pounds an hour to do. Even if one party ends up being completely unreasonable and the process can’t be completed on the app but has to go to a lawyer in the early stages, each partner can download their information from the app rather than pay for a solicitor to begin the process from scratch.”


The legal part
With finances as well as living and parental issues to deal with, the app can link up to a legal firm the developers have partnered with. This means couples can formalise what they have agreed in a consent order – which needs to be in place for the paperwork to go through court before a decree nissi and then decree absolute can be obtained. The total legal cost, when using amicable’s partners, is around £1,200.

“The way things stand, the only way to complete the third part of divorce is through a lawyer,” says Daly. “We offer guidance and a lawyer so couples simply send the paperwork via the app to them. We’re hoping to get the fees reduced at some stage but nearly half of the legal fees are court charges and so are unavoidable, no matter what route you take.”

Emotional support
While amicable is not the only online service to offer divorces, its co-founders claims it is the only app-based service containing all the necessary legal information as well as the emotional support to help the process go more smoothly.

“The true lesson I learned working face to face with couples is that divorce is presented as a legal issue but it’s actually an emotional problem with legal implications,” says Daly.

It is this experience in conciliation, as well as having co-founders with both psychology and IT backgrounds, which makes amicable believe they can take on what they describe as a “broken” legal system. The main challenge is whether people can be amicable while using the app: if one side does not want to be reasonable the app is no use, although you can still use it and download info up to the point either side wants to go to a lawyer.

After going live in September, amicable’s co-founders expect to spend the rest of the year evaluating user responses before seeking venture capital backing. They hope to fund a marketing drive and growth campaign next year, presenting a viable alternative to paying a solicitor £200 or £300 an hour for something that two reasonable people can do themselves.