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Pitfalls of the DIY divorce

With everyone feeling the pinch in the current economic climate, it is not surprising that more people are taking matters into their own hands when applying for divorce or separation.

The introduction of no-fault divorce in 2022 has simplified the procedure slightly, and this has certainly seen more people forgo the use of a solicitor and do it themselves.

There are benefits to DIY divorce. You only need to pay the court fee of £593, and by completing the applications yourself, you can reduce your legal costs.

There are, however, some serious pitfalls. I have dealt with several cases where a minor mistake by a DIY divorcer has led to delays and my general involvement (and fees) untying the knots. Family solicitors know the application like the back of their hands and are very capable at navigating some of the more unclear sections that some might find onerous. Rectifying mistakes in applications is a timely process, unassisted by an overstretched court administration team. For information, it can take the court several weeks to respond to the most basic inquiries, and trying to speak to court staff requires hours of waiting on hold.

The biggest pitfall arises when individuals get divorced but do not deal with their finances at the same time. It is very important for anyone considering divorce to understand that dissolving the marriage or civil partnership is only part of the job.

When meeting new clients, the first thing I always explain is that dealing with the divorce and dealing with the finances are separate issues. Progressing a divorce matter is now a relatively straightforward online process, whereas coming to an agreement in respect of the matrimonial finances is a completely different ballgame. Even in amicable cases where there is a simple agreement, there are still a lot of I’s to be dotted and T’s to be crossed, with some potentially serious ramifications if the timing is off. Financial matters are finalised upon receipt of a Financial Remedy Order. These are either drafted and agreed upon between the parties before being approved by the court or made by the court following financial remedy proceedings. These documents are vitally important and often very complex, so they should be drafted by qualified legal professionals to ensure they are all-encompassing and enforceable.

Not dealing with finances at all leaves both parties vulnerable to their ex-spouse making a financial claim against their assets later down the line, possibly when either party’s finances are drastically different. Divorce does not end people’s financial commitments to their ex-spouse, especially when there are children in the marriage. There is no time limit for making a financial claim after a divorce, and the only two things that can prevent someone from making an application are their remarriage or the existence of a Financial Remedy Order. It is, therefore, critical that the finances are dealt with at the time of divorce.

There are also possible problems if you finalise your divorce prematurely while sorting out your finances. For example, in cases involving a pension share, a technical situation can arise if the party sharing their pension dies after the divorce is finalised but before the Pension Sharing Order becomes enforceable. In such a case, the individual due to benefit from the pension share might not receive the incoming pension credits and could also lose the protection of any widow’s pension rights or benefits. While very unlikely, this possible pitfall serves as a warning to only apply for the final order in the divorce (the order that finally ends the marriage) after financial matters have been finalised.

To labour on one takeaway point, if you are considering a divorce (or are currently in the middle of one), you should seek the assistance of a family solicitor to deal with the finances and obtain a court sealed financial remedy order to avoid any future pitfalls.

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Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.