DIY divorce

Reviewed by Julian Hawkhead, senior partner, Stowe Family Law

Man and a woman glaring at each other whilst using their laptops

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 property or other assets 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.

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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.

In principle, there is no reason why you should not be able to handle the divorce process itself, though the paperwork involved can be confusing. You will have to pay court fees, but there is guidance on the court website and you can process the entire application online.

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 apply for the divorce.

Since 6 April 2022, divorce has been on a no-fault basis to encourage amicable proceedings. The whole divorce process has become much simpler and easier, although this change does not make dealing with financial or children issues any 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 assets and 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 final order.

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 - or paying more than you should. You should also make sure that any joint assets (eg the family home) and 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. This does not have to be drawn up into a legal document, but it is worthwhile reaching an agreement with the other parent and having it written down to avoid any uncertainty in the future.

You'll also need to agree what child maintenance the non-resident parent pays. Often this is based on the amount of statutory child maintenance that the Child Maintenance Service would calculate.

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. You shouldn’t, however, just try to avoid lawyers. They understand the law and how it applies to you, so that you are fully informed about your rights. There is plenty of information out there and friends willing to give you their opinion, but it is not always reliable.

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 be considering 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.

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