So your minds are made up – you and your spouse have decided to separate. Brace yourself: the average cost of divorce is estimated to be £13,000 (and it’s not unusual for some separations to reach costs of up to £50,000). Yet if the divorce is amicable, high costs can be avoided. In fact the process can be completed for just a few hundred pounds by cutting out expensive solicitors and going for a DIY divorce.
- Is a DIY divorce right for you?
- How do you go about it?
- The divorce process explained
- When do you need legal advice?
DIY divorce is not for everyone. If the split is not amicable, or if there are any major disagreements over the division of assets, then the involvement of solicitors is inevitable.
There are many things to consider when getting divorced – even if the split is amicable there may still be disagreements that need to be resolved. Do you agree on what happens to the children and their access arrangements? What happens to your home? There may also be the issue of maintenance payments to sort out, in addition to deciding what happens to your current assets.
However, if the following points apply to you, conducting a DIY divorce is certainly feasible.
- You and your partner agree on both the divorce and the division of property
- You are not challenging the level of child support or maintenance
- Your children are of legal age – 18 or over (though this is preferable, rather than essential.)
If this is your situation then a DIY divorce could save both you and your partner a large amount of money.
Many divorces don’t require either of you to appear in court, and can quite often be done entirely by post. You can get all the necessary forms from your local county court and fill them in yourself. It’s quite common for people to make mistakes when filling in these forms on their own, so we’ve gone through the basic process (and where to get hold of the main forms) below.
Alternatively, you can have the administrative process managed for you to a certain extent, by getting guidance from a company like Divorce Online. They will provide you with all the forms, a guide, plus support and advice from £65. Alternatively, they’ll manage the whole process for you for £189.
Unfortunately there are also court fees, which everyone who gets divorced has to pay. The fees currently stand at a minimum of £550.
- You can download and complete the divorce petition from The Court Service website (also obtainable from your local County Court). You will be asked about the grounds for the divorce: unreasonable behaviour, adultery, two years’ separation with consent, two years’ desertion, or five years’ separation without consent.
- Many divorces come under ‘unreasonable behaviour’. This doesn’t have to be over the top – the legal system requires a specific reason. It can even include things like spending too long at the office, or leading independent lives that leaves the other feeling isolated or cut off.
- It doesn’t matter who charges who with unreasonable behaviour. People often think that if they don’t ‘defend’ a divorce based on unreasonable behaviour, they will suffer in some way when it comes to the division of property or custody of the children. But the reason for the divorce has no impact on issues like these in the vast majority of cases.
- The court will then supply the appropriate form. You must send three copies of the Petition to the court, and your original marriage certificate. You must also send a Statement of Arrangements form for any children you have. You’ll be known as the Petitioner.
- The Respondent (your spouse) will receive a copy of your Petition, a copy of the Statement of Arrangements for the children, a Notice of Proceedings and a document called the Acknowledgement of Service. This confirms that he or she has received the Petition.
- The Respondent must send you the signed Acknowledgement of Service with his or her consent to the divorce. Your husband or wife has eight days to acknowledge receipt of the Petition.
- The court will send you a Notice of Issue of Petition.
- You send to the court a document called Application for Directions for Trial and an Affidavit of Evidence (where you swear the accuracy of the Petition). The court usually supplies these forms.
- A district judge will examine the divorce papers and the proposed arrangements for the children. If the judge is satisfied, a certificate of entitlement to a decree will be given.
- The court will pronounce a ‘Decree Nisi’ (the first stage of the actual divorce). This will only be granted if a) the judge is satisfied there are proper grounds for divorce, and b) the judge is confident that financial and childcare matters have been resolved, or are clearly being resolved. You may not be required to attend court for this. A Decree Nisi does not mean that you are divorced.
- After six weeks you send the court an Application for Decree Nisi to be made a ‘Decree Absolute’ on another form (available from the court or online). When the court sends the Decree Absolute the divorce is complete.
- There will be court fees to pay (currently £550) but the DIY approach avoids solicitor’s costs, which would be in addition to the court fees. If you feel that you need more support, Divorce Online offers you a pack and guidance from £65.
- Although you don’t technically have to agree on all things financial to get as far as the Decree Nisi, it’s best to have this sorted before you get to that stage. A good idea would be to speak to a professional family mediator beforehand to help you reach an agreement. Find an accredited mediator near you at The Family Mediators Association.
It’s best you don’t go down the DIY divorce route unless you’re sure you and your partner are on the same page. It’s easier if there’s not much money involved, you haven’t been married for long, or there are no children.
Therefore, you may want to seek some initial legal advice before deciding to do the divorce yourself. There’s no obligation to pay the solicitor to carry out the whole process, but if you’ve any doubts, it’s a small price to pay to ensure you are protecting yourself both legally and financially.
If you still need financial assistance from your partner after you divorce, it’s probably wise to enlist the help of a solicitor to take care of the monthly payments and make them legally binding.
Also, if you are planning on splitting up pension assets, you will need the services of a solicitor. This can only be done after specific court orders have been made.
You can find an excellent family law solicitor through Contact Law. Ideally, ask for a Resolution accredited specialist. Not only will they have the expertise required, but Resolution’s code of practice promotes a constructive and non-confrontational approach amongst its membership.
Can I get help with legal fees?
Possibly. The Legal Services Commission is responsible for The Community Legal Service, which can help fund individuals who need help with non-criminal (civil) legal cases.
These funded services are only available from solicitors (or advice agencies) contracted with the Legal Services Commission.
You may qualify for free legal advice and assistance if you meet certain criteria (such as your income being below a certain level) and if your case is covered by the legal aid scheme. If you do not meet these criteria, you may be asked to pay a contribution towards legal advice.
For more information on the legal aid scheme and on how to apply for legal aid, visit the Legal Services Commission website. We also recommend that you make an appointment at your nearest Citizen’s Advice Bureau. They will give you expert free advice on what aid you may receive, as well as general legal and financial advice on the divorce process.
But the fact remains: if a divorce is not defended, the process from a legal point of view is straightforward. It doesn’t require costly solicitors to be on hand every step of the way.