We have always said that we would feedback lessons learned from complaints to the profession, consumers, regulators and policy makers. Our latest ‘thematic report’ aims to do this by looking at issues around family law complaints and focusing on divorce. Along with the report, we’ve also produced a fact sheet to help consumers and republished our costs guides for lawyers.

Please use the links below to read an online version of the report and our case studies. Alternatively you can download the report the consumer guide and costs guide for professionals as PDF documents..

Case studies

"Little did she know it would end in tears and considerable worry over her family's welfare, not to mention an invoice for £4,000 worth of photocopying..."

read Miss A's story


Family law accounted for around 18% of the 7,500 or so complaints handled by the Legal Ombudsman in 2011-2012, making it the most complained about area of law. These levels of complaints reflects the results of a recent BDRC report which found that dissatisfaction levels in divorce cases are higher at 13% than other areas of law which have an average of 7%.

This report aims to explore some of the issues that give rise to the higher levels of dissatisfaction in this area of law and look at how lawyers and consumers can prevent and respond to these issues.

What can lawyers – and consumers – do to avoid finding themselves in disputes about the service that has been provided? Continue reading »


There are some obvious reasons why divorce gives rise to a relatively higher number of complaints. Divorce can be a deeply emotional event. Even the most consensual separation is likely to involve feelings of sadness, disappointment, and guilt, and separation may be non-consensual, involving allegations of betrayal, abuse, and infidelity. Strong emotions can naturally colour and shape the customer's approach to their legal service. Continue reading »

Managing cost

The largest area for complaints on divorce is cost; around one quarter of the divorce complaints we deal with are on this issue. A BDRC legal benchmarking study recently estimated the average cost of divorce at around £1300 per person. However, divorces range from the relatively straightforward to the complex. Moreover, the cost of divorce and the money spent on divorce lawyers can vary significantly. There are a number of reasons why the cost of obtaining a divorce can become an area for dispute. Continue reading »

On the meter

One of the reasons why costs can spiral out of control lies in the emotional rawness of many of those going through divorce proceedings. Divorce is often a lonely time, where someone is facing very real uncertainties and taking important decisions, yet in a state of deep emotion. In those circumstances, it is common for people to become inflexible or change their minds (and thus their instructions) during the divorce process. It is also common for them to rely heavily on the one individual who is both an expert in how to negotiate the process and who is seen to be on their side: their lawyer. Continue reading »

Issues of quality

In many of the complaints we investigate, money is the central issue. However, issues of quality are also significant.

Whether or not a lawyer has a reputation for delivering quality is clearly vitally important to customers: in the BDRC study 62% of legal service users said that reputation was key – making it the biggest single driver for choosing a lawyer. Continue reading »

Putting it right

Central to the Legal Ombudsman's approach to instances of poor service is seeking to put the complainant back in the position they would have been in had the service been adequate. That is not always possible. In many cases we see, although there has been poor service, it is of a relatively minor sort and there is no connection between the service failures we identify and the disappointing case outcome that may have prompted the complaint in the first place. Minor delays, unimportant slips and overcharging are unlikely to have had any real effect on the judge's decision yet they can be blamed by unhappy complainants for the fact that they did not get the settlement they sought. It is therefore not uncommon for an ombudsman's decision to be rejected by the complainant even where poor service has been identified. Continue reading »

The matrimonial market

The sorts of themes this report has been discussing are the product of the existing divorce market. However, that market is changing rapidly. How should consumers react and how should lawyers respond? Will those developments help or hinder the situation? Continue reading »


As this report illustrates, there are very good reasons why we can expect there to be more complaints about divorce than almost any other area of law. However, it is possible for lawyers and customers to manage the risks inherent in divorce better. Continue reading »

Case studies

The report draws upon eight Legal Ombudsman investigations. Four of the case studies are about costs and how these can spiral out of control resulting in unexpected bills for consumers. Two are about the general quality of service which has been provided by lawyers and the impact that this had, and the final two show how consumers themselves can have unrealistic expectations and misunderstand what their lawyer should reasonably be expected to do. Continue reading »