How Britain’s DIY divorce boom can help you split up without costing the earth
A “do-it-yourself” approach can greatly reduce lawyers’ fees when getting divorced. But do be careful.
ritain is having a “divorce boom”, says Sophia Money-Coutts in The Daily Telegraph. The misery of lockdown sent Google searches for “divorce lawyer near me” up by 233% in the year to December 2020. “DIY divorces”, where couples seek little or no legal help, are also on the rise, says Esyllt Carr on the BBC.
One survey by family-law reform group Resolution found that 57% of divorces in the last five years went down this route. That can keep costs low – perhaps just the £550 application fee – but those with dependent children, or significant property and pensions, are likely to find that they need more help.
Those going the do-it-yourself route don’t always realise that “divorce, and dealing with the financial issues arising out of the divorce, are two distinct… legal processes”, says Adam Maguire of Shoosmiths LLP. The pronouncement of decree absolute (which ends a marriage) does not protect either side from future financial claims, even if everything has already been divided up.
While the split of assets may be amicable for now, obtain a consent order from a court so that the financial deal remains binding on both parties once you go your separate ways. One party inheriting money or losing their share of the spoils are two of the scenarios that can cause headaches later if a deal is not binding.
The average UK divorce costs £14,000, says Sally Williams for You Magazine. Lengthy contested divorces with significant assets at stake can be much pricier. It is little wonder that many are tempted by the DIY approach. Suzy Miller, divorce strategist and founder of the app Best Way to Divorce, advocates a “pick-and-mix approach” to getting help, says Williams.
Lawyers can be helpful for “initial advice” and “to translate the financial agreement into legal language”. Consider using legal assistance “selectively”, agrees Nicola Phipps of Wikivorce. That could mean filling in the divorce forms yourself, but seeking professional help for the financial settlement. If you need to cash in or transfer investments to your ex-partner then it is also worth getting advice from an independent financial adviser or accountant so that you are not hit with an unexpected capital gains tax (CGT) bill, as MoneyHelper points out.
A divorce and money calculator is available at moneyhelper.org.uk. Using it will help you draw together all the information you need before consulting a solicitor. Being well-prepared should mean fewer meetings and lower legal bills.
Divorce laws in England and Wales are changing. From next April it will be possible for couples to divorce without needing to show grounds such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour. The current requirement to blame one of the parties can mean that a divorce that started off amicably ends acrimoniously. That can then interfere with reaching a financial settlement.
Some divorcing couples will be tempted to wait for the change in the law, says Emma Lawler of Langleys Solicitors LLP. Just note that the new process will not be any quicker or simpler than the present one. Others think that avoiding “fault” will get them a better financial settlement. That is a “common misconception… It is in fact rare for the court to take into account a spouse’s behaviour when determining how your assets should be divided”.