You can take a DIY approach to divorce, handling things yourself and avoiding any unnecessary fees. It's not always the right solution, particularly if children or large amounts of money are involved. But in more straightforward situations it is worth considering. You'll need to take the time to understand what's involved and be realistic about your own limitations
Is DIY divorce a good option?
Managing your own divorce isn't particularly easy, but it can be an option. You need to ask yourself whether you can cope with the negotiations and paperwork involved. You also need to take into account the risks of getting it wrong: for example, ending up accepting an unfair financial settlement.
A DIY divorce tends to be easiest after a relatively short marriage, where both partners have their own careers. A DIY approach is most likely to be suitable if:
- you both agree to the divorce and remain on reasonable terms, so you are able to negotiate agreement between yourselves;
- you can agree how to split your property and possessions and do not plan to make any further financial claims against each other;
- you have no children.
Before making a decision, you should ask yourself whether you need a divorce lawyer.
What DIY divorce involves
You need to sort out the same key issues as in any divorce:
- the divorce itself, bringing the marriage to an end;
- agreeing a fair financial settlement;
- the arrangements for any children you have.
Court staff can ensure that you have the right forms but cannot give you legal advice. You should make sure that you understand what is required so that you can fill in the forms correctly. Errors can lead to delays and additional costs.
Ideally, you and your spouse should agree which of you will petition for the divorce, and on what grounds. Some couples choose to separate for two years before filing for divorce, as this is generally the least confrontational option.
From Autumn 2021 (or perhaps later), divorce law will change. Divorce will be on a 'no-fault' basis, to encourage amicable proceedings. The whole divorce process will become much simpler and easier.
Finances and children
You'll need to reach agreement on your finances, even if that simply means that you both walk away with your own possessions. There is no set deadline for reaching agreement, but it can be a good idea to sort things out before the divorce is finalised with the decree absolute.
As a general rule, you should aim for a clean break where your financial agreement is sorted out once-and-for-all and you become financially independent from each other. To prevent future claims, you should have your agreement made legally binding with a consent order.
If there are significant sums of money involved, it may well be worth asking a lawyer to check any agreement to ensure that you aren't being shortchanged. You should also make sure that any joint debts (such as joint credit cards or a mortgage on the family home) are properly sorted out.
As far as any children are concerned, you should aim for an agreement that is in the children's best interests. You'll need to agree childcare arrangements, including which parent the children will continue to live with and what contact the non-resident parent will have.
Help with DIY and managed divorce
Even if you do want to manage the divorce yourself, you may find that you need help.
If you cannot immediately agree everything between yourselves, that does not mean that you need to start talking through lawyers or going to court. In these circumstances, you may find that family mediation helps you reach agreement on at least some of your differences.
If you do end up going to court, you are likely to be required to at least try a mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM). The more you can agree between yourselves, the lower costs will be and the more likely you are to reach an agreement that you both find acceptable.
You may want to consider using a cut-price online DIY or managed divorce service. Check what you are getting: these typically only cover the paperwork involved in the divorce process rather than helping with negotiating agreement or offering legal advice. With DIY providers, you generally complete the forms yourself whereas a managed divorce service completes and files the forms for you using the information you provide.
If at any stage you have concerns about a particular issue or feel that the DIY approach isn't working for you, you can ask a qualified family lawyer for advice.