DIY (do-it-yourself) divorce or dissolution

If your divorce or dissolution is amicable and your finances are straightforward, you should be able to sort everything out relatively quickly and cheaply. You still need to go through the legal process so you are legally divorced or have dissolved your civil partnership, but you may not need to use a solicitor all the way through.

What is a do-it-yourself divorce or dissolution?

This is where you and your ex-partner (husband, wife or civil partner) go through the divorce or dissolution process with little or no help from a solicitor.

It is important to know what someone means when they talk about “divorce” or “dissolution”, especially if you are looking to do your own divorce or dissolution.

Divorce or dissolution is often used as a general term to mean everything to do with a relationship breaking down. This includes:

  • formally ending the marriage or civil partnership
  • dividing the family’s finances
  • making arrangements for any children

A divorce or dissolution strictly means the legal process of formally ending a marriage or civil partnership. A specific procedure has to be followed. In most cases this is straightforward. Many people do their own divorce or dissolution with little or no legal assistance.

Most of the difficulties surrounding divorce or dissolution involve dividing up the family’s finances. Negotiating your own financial agreement, with or without professional support, can be the cheapest way to a settlement and can seem the easiest. But it can be a complex process with many aspects you and your husband, wife or partner will need to consider.

It may be helpful to have at least one “safety check” meeting with a specialist family lawyer. This will help you understand your rights and the full implications of any agreements and decisions that you make. It will also ensure that any agreement is legally binding.

In England and Wales, if you have not covered all the issues – or if you leave financial claims outstanding – then this can come back years after the actual divorce or dissolution and disrupt your lives later. This is because getting a divorce or dissolution does not end your ability to make a financial claim against your ex (or them against you). There is also no time limit for making a financial claim. It is crucial to make sure you have a binding court order setting out what the financial arrangements are – even if the court order simply confirms neither of you want to make a claim against the other.

In Scotland, the position is different. You cannot make a claim for financial provision after you have divorced. It is important to take advice from a family law specialist at the outset to make sure you do not lose this right.

How long does it take?

A do-it-yourself divorce or dissolution can’t take less than six weeks to complete from when the legal processes start in. It’s the law in England and Wales, and is unlikely to take less than this in Scotland or Northern Ireland. In reality, even a swift divorce or dissolution could take between four to six months.

Depending on how complex your financial situation is and what process you use to sort it out, a financial settlement could be agreed within months. But financial proceedings through the courts can often take a long time, particularly in England and Wales. It may take anything from nine months to two years to sort out the finances if you and your ex cannot agree them.

DIY divorce or dissolution in England, Wales or Northern Ireland

Anyone can opt for a do-it-yourself divorce or dissolution, but that doesn’t mean it’s suitable for everyone. As a guide, you may be able to sort out your divorce or dissolution and your finances yourself if:

  • your ex-partner (your ex-husband, wife or civil partner) agrees to a divorce or dissolution or you have been separated for five years or more
  • you have been married or in a civil partnership for a relatively short time, such as less than five years, but for at least one year in England or Wales, and for least two years in Northern Ireland
  • you do not have children or are able to sort out child arrangements
  • you have both lived in the same part of the UK for at least a year
  • you are able to discuss or negotiate how you will divide what you own and what you owe

DIY divorce or dissolution may not be a good idea if you and your ex-partner have any children under 18, a valuable home and/or pension(s) or complicated finances.

Simplified (do-it-yourself) divorce or dissolution in Scotland

The ‘simplified’ (do-it-yourself) divorce or dissolution procedure is available in law, but is not suitable for everyone. For example, you can’t use it if you have young children.

As a guide, you are likely to be able to sort out your divorce or dissolution yourself if:

  • you have been separated for at least a year and both of you agree to the divorce or dissolution, or you’ve been separated for at least two years
  • there are no children aged under the age of 16
  • neither of you has any mental illness or health problem that means you can’t make decisions about your money
  • you aren’t involved in any other court case that could end your marriage or civil partnership
  • you agree how your property and possessions should be split and are not making a financial claim against each other

Don’t use the ‘simplified’ procedure if you plan to make a claim against your ex-partner for a share of his or her assets or for regular payments. If you aren’t sure how your finances might be split, take legal advice first before using the ‘simplified procedure’. Or, follow the ‘ordinary’ divorce or dissolution procedure. Once you are divorced, you cannot bring a claim for a share of your ex’s assets.

Completing and submitting the forms yourself

If you want to, you can get, fill in and send in the court forms yourself. This will be the cheapest option as you only have to pay the court fees. If you’re on a low income, you may be exempt from these fees.

In England or Wales, you can get started by downloading form D8 – the form you need to divorce or dissolve your civil partnership – and leaflet D183, which will explain what you need to do. They are both available from the website.

In Northern Ireland, even if you choose a do-it-yourself divorce or dissolution, you have to appear in person before a judge as a ‘personal petitioner’ in either a county court or a High Court. You can download the forms to prepare for this from the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunal Service website.

In Scotland, you can download more information about the ‘simplified’ do-it-yourself procedure from the Scottish Courts websiteopens in new window.

Using an online DIY divorce or dissolution service

There are different types of online divorce or dissolution services on offer (although they are quite rare in Northern Ireland). These companies sell different packages, which vary in price and which offer different levels of help.

You should check what’s on offer: most will simply help you with the divorce or dissolution paperwork, and not with reaching a financial settlement.

To compete, many high street solicitors now offer a fixed fee for a divorce or dissolution and will offer fixed or capped fees to help sort out the finances.

Warning: if you don’t take any legal advice at all, you and your ex-partner may agree to split your finances in a way that’s very unfair to one partner or hard for one of both of you to stick to – and this might not be obvious at the time you separate.

Your next step

Consider what’s best for your circumstances in Your options for legal or financial advice on divorce or dissolution.