How to sort out your finances on divorce or dissolution

When you begin the process of divorce or dissolving your civil partnership, you might be wondering how much you’ll be able to sort out on your own – and whether you need a solicitor. This will depend on several things, including how easy you and your ex-partner find it to discuss financial issues.

Working out how much professional help you need

When working out how much help you need, there are several options:

  1. You can arrange everything on your own or use an online service.
  2. You can arrange for one or two advice sessions with a solicitor, but sort out the form filling and paperwork yourself.
  3. You can use a mediator – an impartial third party – to help you and your ex-partner (husband, wife or civil partner) to reach an agreement.
  4. You can use a solicitor to help you throughout the whole process. If you have lots of face-to-face meetings and phone calls, and especially if it takes many months for you to agree, sorting out your financial settlement could get very expensive. If you can, try to avoid arguing with your ex-partner through your solicitor.

Assessing when separating your finances could be easier

There’s no straightforward rule about when you might be better off sorting out your divorce or dissolution on your own and when you might be better using professional help.

However, lots of break-ups become bitter or lengthy because couples can’t agree how to split the finances.

And in that case, you might need some professional help.

Reaching an agreement about your finances is likely to be easier if:

  • You both agree to the divorce or dissolution
  • You don’t have children or your children are grown up and don’t financially depend on you
  • One of you doesn’t financially depend on the other
  • You agree how your property and pensions should be split or you can discuss the different options amicably with your ex-partner

Sorting out your divorce or dissolution yourself

If you live in England or Wales, you can choose to sort out your divorce or dissolution entirely on your own or you can use a low-cost, online service.

More people are doing this, although most still use a solicitor, mediator or other professional for help or advice.

In Scotland, the do-it-yourself option is set out in law and called ‘simplified’ divorce or dissolution. Only certain couples can use this procedure.

For example, you can’t use it if you have children under the age of 16 or if you are making a financial claim against each other (such as, for a share of the house or pension).

In Northern Ireland, you have to appear in person before a judge in either a county court or a High Court when you divorce or dissolve your civil partnership.

However, you can appear in court as a ‘personal petitioner’, without having to use a solicitor.

The advantage of sorting out your divorce or dissolution yourself is that it’s cheaper and you have direct control over what you do.

But unless you and your ex-partner can agree who gets what fairly and without arguing, it might not be the best option.

Read more in DIY (do-it-yourself) divorce or dissolution.

Signs that separating your finances may be complicated

If your financial position is complicated, separating your finances and reaching an agreement could take some time and you are likely to need professional help. See if any of these apply to you. The more that you tick, the more likely it is that separating could be complicated.

  • One (or both) of you owns a business.
  • One of you depends financially on the other.
  • One of you does not agree to the divorce or dissolution.
  • You have children who still financially depend on you.
  • You have been married or in a civil partnership for more than five years.
  • One of you has a medical problem or disability that affects your ability to earn an income.
  • One of you has given up work to bring up your children, which affects your ability to earn an income.
  • One of you has more assets than the other (for example, the house is in one person’s name, or one of you has built up a much bigger pension than the other).

Do’s and don’ts of divorce or dissolution

Unless your split is amicable, it might be tempting to ‘punish’ your ex-partner when you are negotiating your financial settlement.

Try to follow these tips:

Do

  • Try to reach agreement with your ex-partner about who will pay bills in the short term
  • Try to agree as much as you can with your ex-partner – it will save time and money
  • Be aware that what you think is ‘fair’ and how your money might be divided in law can be two completely different things

Don’t

  • Don’t try and get back at your ex-partner by doing things like running up debts on joint accounts, freezing an account without telling them or not making payments you’ve agreed to
  • Don’t make a decision that could make you feel better in the short term, but which could be bad for you – and your ex-partner – in the long term
  • Don’t ignore bills or letters from your bank or companies you owe money to. The earlier you contact them or ask an advice charity for help, the more options you are likely to have

If you have debt problems, read more in Deal with problem debt after separation.

International divorce or dissolution

The law on divorce and dissolution varies around the UK.

Depending on where you were each born and have lived in the past, you might be able to get divorced or dissolve your civil partnership in a different part of the UK to where you currently live.

You might also be able to get divorced or dissolve your civil partnership in a country outside of the UK if you or your ex-partner was born or lived there.

If you want to do this, talk to a solicitor who specialises in international divorce or dissolution.

Read more in our guide International divorce or dissolution.

Separation agreements instead of divorce or dissolution

A separation agreement is useful if you haven’t yet decided whether to divorce or dissolve your civil partnership, or if you can’t yet do so.

It’s an agreement that – typically – sets out the financial arrangements that you’ll put in place while you are separated.

Your next step

Depending on the nature of your divorce or dissolution and how complicated it is likely to be, you can choose one of the options outlined above.

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