How to get a DIY divorce - benefits and pitfalls explained
It's common knowledge that getting a divorce is not a cheap undertaking.
As well as the emotional implications of separating from your spouse, ending a marriage can be financially damaging for both parties. That's why, for some, a "DIY divorce" is an appealing solution.
What is a DIY divorce?
A DIY divorce is where you and your ex-spouse go through the divorce or dissolution process with little or no help from a solicitor.
Most difficulties in divorce or dissolution emerge when it comes to dividing up the family's finances. And certainly negotiating your own financial agreement can appear to be the easiest - and cheapest - way to reach a settlement, considering that solicitor's costs can reach £30,000 for a settlement that goes to court, per the Money Advice Service.
It makes sense then that DIY divorces have risen in popularity in recent years. This, of course, is partly due to the fact that they can be conducted with little bureaucratic difficulty online.
So, if you're thinking about opting for a DIY divorce - or if you're just curious, this is what you need to know.
How to get a DIY divorce
Visiting the government website will allow you to complete the divorce petition form online. You can also apply by post, which involves downloading and sending off a D8 form. Applying online or by post, will cost £550.
In order to fill out the form, you will require your partner's full name, and address. You will also need your marriage certificate, and evidence that you've changed your name, if you chose to do so. Then, you need to include the grounds on which you are divorcing on.
In the UK, a "fault" based system is still in use, which means that you need to provide tangible evidence as to why your marriage has deteriorated, and cannot be saved.
The grounds for divorce or dissolution include:
- Adultery. The government states that you can only claim this if you or your spouse had sex with someone of the opposite sex. You cannot cite adultery as a reason if you lived together as a couple for more than six months after the allegations came to light.
- Unreasonable behaviour. This can include physical and verbal abuse, drug use, or financial issues
- Desertion. You can use this as a reason if your partner has left you for at least two years.
- You've been separated for at least two years. In this case, your partner must agree.
- You've been separated for five years. Here, your partner does not have to agree.
Four Nine obtained quotes from Katie Spooner - Partner and Head of Family at law firm Winckworth Sherwood - on DIY divorces. She touched on both the benefits and pitfalls of the process, and warned that in some instances, the undertaking can be greater than erstwhile couples expect.
What are the disadvantages of DIY divorce?
Spooner says that while many people opt for DIY divorce with the hope of getting a "quickie divorce," the reality is quite difficult.
"The judiciary have recently reported that where people represent themselves, the time required to resolve issues relating to divorce is significantly greater than it would be if the parties were represented," Spooner states. "As a result, the increase in people representing themselves has contributed to the ‘clogging up’ of the family court system."
"Sensible, solution-focused advice can get you out of the marriage more quickly, more cleanly and potentially better protected," she adds. "It is important to remember that taking legal advice does not mean you will end up in court. Mediation, round table negotiations and alternative dispute resolution are all available routes that could work more favourably for you than attempting to do it yourself.
Of course, much of this is dependent on understanding your legal rights, which - per Spooner - is the "key to achieving a fair and sustainable settlement, whether in relation to finances or child arrangements."
Spooner was also keen to stress that it's essential to have a full and detailed picture of both parties' financial situations when getting a DIY divorce.
"If you are doing it yourself, you will need to consider if there has been proper disclosure," she says. "Are you confident that you have the full facts and financial information to enable you to agree an appropriate settlement? You should consider whether you are clear on your ex’s pension assets, income structure or investment portfolio."
The bottom line
If you're separating on good terms, and are confident on your finances, a DIY divorce may be the best option. However, if you don't have the full financial picture and are experiencing a breakdown in communication, it may be best to go down the legal route. As Spooner concludes:
"Going through a divorce can be highly emotional and stressful at the best of times. It is important to make sure not to get carried away with point-scoring negotiations and impractical proposals that are unsustainable or not financially viable."