One option available to married couples seeking a divorce is to simply ‘do it yourself’. However, handling complex legal situations without the aid of a trained expert is fraught with hidden dangers, and may ultimately lead to a divorce that is both costly and drawn out.
This page examines what it means to undertake a DIY divorce and looks at some of the drawbacks to this risky practice.
What is a DIY divorce?
In a DIY divorce, the divorcing couple takes it upon themselves to arrange the divorce without resort to legal representation, which would take the form of a solicitor.
In practice, it entails acquiring the proper divorce paperwork, correctly filling out the relevant sections according to the decisions agreed by both parties, and returning the documents to the proper authorities, namely the courts, at the appropriate time.
There are many circumstances in which DIY divorces are not practical. These include:
- when there is disagreement over finances
- when there are assets to resolve such as pensions or property – applying for decree absolute too early could adversely affect the financial claims
- one party lives abroad or the whereabouts is unknown
A DIY divorce is only suitable for couples who are in complete agreement about the manner in which they wish to separate. However, even these circumstances can lead to conflict, as a divorce on its own does not prevent either of the participants from making a financial claim. Financial claims can also be made at any point after the divorce has been finalised, regardless of whether it has been decades since the couple officially separated. Even if couples reach a financial agreement themselves, the financial claims will remain open unless there is a clean break in place, meaning that the other party can pursue further, additional, claims in the future.
DIY divorce financial settlements
It can be the case that a couple has agreed to split on amicable terms. This will usually entail a spoken agreement in relation to the distribution of assets.
However, such an arrangement is not legally binding. To produce an agreement that cannot be contested at a later date requires a ‘consent order’. Such an order can only be drawn up by a solicitor.
Consent orders arrange for the allocation of the assets such as:
- maintenance payments
An order can also be used to confirm that both parties do not wish to make any claims against each other.
A consent order can only be approved by the court if it is sent at the correct time; namely, after the decree nisi has been pronounced. A solicitor will help you to follow this procedure.
What is ‘the remarriage trap’?
Once a divorced person remarries, they are unable to apply for a financial provision order or property adjustment order under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. Unless the claiming parties’ financial claims are already set out before the court (either by way of court application or within the divorce petition itself), the act effectively prevents the party who has remarried from applying for an order that, for example, deals with the selling or transfer of property, lump sums or spousal maintenance.
Therefore, it is particularly important that divorce documents are completed correctly before being sent for processing by the court.
How easy is a DIY divorce?
Due to the processes that must be followed in a divorce within the UK, an uncontested divorce with no complications usually takes between seven to nine months.
Any financial complexities can increase that timescale.
Couples who decide to proceed through the divorce process on their own are advised to arrange at least one meeting with a solicitor in order for both parties to fully understand their rights and the implications of any arrangements they have agreed upon.