DIY (do-it-yourself) divorce or dissolution

If both of you have agreed to end your relationship and your finances are straightforward, you should be able to sort out a divorce or dissolution relatively quickly and cheaply. You still need to go through the legal process so you’re legally divorced or have dissolved your civil partnership, but you might 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.

Its important to know what is meant by “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. You must follow a specific procedure.

In most cases this is straightforward. Many people arrange their own divorce or dissolution with little or no legal advice.

However, there can be problems. Most difficulties in divorce or dissolution are to do with dividing up the family’s finances.

Negotiating your own financial agreement, with or without professional support, can seem the cheapest and easiest way to a settlement.

But it can be complex and there are many things you and your husband, wife or partner will need to consider.

It might 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 you make. It will also ensure that any agreement is legally binding.

In England and Wales, if you have not covered all the issues up front – or if you leave financial claims outstanding, problems can come back and disrupt your lives years after the divorce or dissolution was finalised.

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’s also no time limit for making a financial claim.

It’s 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 law is different. You can’t make a claim for financial provision after you have divorced.

It’s important to take advice from a family law specialist at the outset to make sure you don’t 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.

This is the law in England and Wales, and is unlikely to take less time 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 might 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 might 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 might 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’re likely to be able to sort out your divorce or dissolution yourself if:

  • There are no children aged under the age of 16.
  • 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.
  • You aren’t involved in any other court case that could end your marriage or civil partnership.
  • Neither of you has any mental illness or health problem that means you can’t make decisions about your money.
  • 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 can’t 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 might 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.

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, 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

Some companies offer divorce or dissolution services online (although they are rare in Northern Ireland).

These packages vary in price and offer different levels of help.

Always check what’s included: 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. They will also 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 might 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.

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