I can do a DIY divorce online, but should I?

The introduction of “no fault” divorce in 2022, aimed at reducing conflict between separating couples, commenced after the launch of the government’s online divorce portal. Whilst ending a marriage should never be a frivolous decision, the online system for divorce has made it easier and cheaper for couples to start the divorce process themselves and there is no requirement to instruct a solicitor. But just because you can divorce online without legal advice, does not mean that it is a good idea to do so.

There are many pitfalls that are easy to fall into if professional legal advice is not obtained that can have long term financial and emotional consequences. So, whilst commencing proceedings online yourself might be a good way to start the divorce process, we explain when and why seeking legal advice might be a good idea.

Divorce and Financial Settlements

Whilst the online portal has made the commencement of divorce proceedings easier, solicitors are still required when it comes to formally sorting out financial matters which can be dealt with in a number of ways. The most common are as follows:-

  • The husband and wife reach an agreement between themselves;
  • The husband and wife attend mediation and reach an agreement which is then reflected in a document called a Memorandum of Understanding;
  • The husband and wife exchange voluntary financial disclosure and then enter into solicitor-led negotiations via correspondence or a round table meeting;
  • One spouse issues financial remedy proceedings with the Court.

Save for when Court proceedings are issued (when the result is a Financial Order from the Court) the intention is an agreement will be reached between the parties that will then be drawn up into a Consent Order, which is drafted by a solicitor. The Consent Order is then submitted to the Court and once approved becomes legally binding.

If you don’t take legal advice or representation in respect of financial matters, you may not receive a fair financial settlement or a legally binding order which could affect your future security. If you do not have a Consent Order in place then you leave yourself open to financial claims from your ex-spouse in relation to income, capital and pensions both now and in the future.

Divorce and Children

It is important to note that if you apply for a divorce online without using a lawyer, and you have children, the Court will not make any decisions regarding child arrangements. If you require assistance in respect of arrangements for your children and how they will spend their time with you and your ex-spouse, then that will require entirely separate proceedings and you may wish to use solicitors to help advise on the best course of action to try and reach an agreement with the other parent regarding child arrangements. If an agreement cannot be reached between the parents, we will suggest that mediation is attempted (save in exceptional circumstances), which is a requirement before Court proceedings can be issued. If mediation is not successful, then there may be no choice but to seek the assistance of the Court by making a formal application.

Your circumstances aren’t straightforward

If any of the circumstances below apply, then a DIY online divorce probably isn’t the best way to commence proceedings:

  • You do not know the current address of your spouse;
  • You believe that your spouse will evade and deliberately try to delay the divorce proceedings or not respond/ cooperate during the process;
  • There have been allegations of domestic abuse;
  • There are issues surrounding jurisdiction (international considerations).

If you have a solicitor on board, they can help address these issues. If you have started the divorce yourself online and then get into difficulties a solicitor can later take over your divorce and deal with matters for you, however this can result in further delays. This is why it’s important to get legal advice from the outset, even if you later do decide to start the divorce yourself online.

How we can help with your divorce

You may be surprised to hear that even though we are specialist divorce and family lawyers we often encourage our clients to start the divorce process themselves online, as we know money can be tight when a marriage ends. But, there is a reason our clients come back to us for advice – we know the law, the procedures, the potential pitfalls, and the important things to consider.

We can focus all of our time on the process and take away some of the stress that comes with ending a marriage. We have years of experience in resolving the two biggest areas of conflict – children and finances – so we can advise what sort of arrangements the law would consider fair and the different types of court orders that can be made. It’s our job to ensure that you make well informed decisions, and we work hard to help you achieve a divorce efficiently and amicably.

So yes, you can do a DIY divorce online without seeking legal advice, but be careful, as decisions will have to be made that will have long-term consequences.

If you would like any advice on the above, or any aspect of Family Law, then please contact our Divorce & Family team in Lower Earley on T: 0118 975 6622 or Henley T: 01491 570 900. We offer a fixed fee appointment where one of our Family & Divorce solicitors would be happy to discuss the above, or any other legal matters.