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What are the dangers of a DIY divorce?

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DIY divorce seems to be all the rage to save costs but when you look at the pitfalls, it is likely to be a false economy.

It is an unfortunate fact of modern society that many marriages end in divorce. Following separation, most couples are driven by their emotions and worry about the cost of instructing solicitors to help them. An increasing number choose to manage divorce proceedings themselves which can cause complications along the way – and that simple act of cost-cutting can actually cost them dearly in the long run.

Not to put too fine a point on it, solicitors and legal executives train for years to learn the process, how to negotiate a settlement, different ways of looking at solutions and everything else. It is simply not realistic to think that someone with no training is going to be able to navigate their way as effectively through the course of a divorce without expert help and still reach the best possible settlement at the end. Those choosing DIY divorce may be accepting a worse end result than they might otherwise achieve.

For a start, the divorce forms themselves can be complicated and if not completed correctly can be rejected by the courts, causing delay, additional stress and higher costs.

DIY divorce doesn’t mean sorting the finances

When thinking about divorce, it is common to think about the proceedings as a whole and many people believe that “divorce proceedings” mean bringing an end to a marriage, dealing with the arrangements for the children and separating the financial ties they have with their former spouse. This is not entirely true. If a couple choose to deal with a divorce themselves, some may go through the divorce procedure and obtain the final decree from the court and believe all is finalised. This is not the case.

A divorce brings a legal end to the marriage itself and does mean that either party is free to remarry if they wish, but it does not bring an automatic end to any financial obligations they have to each other, or include any legal arrangements for the children. This could result in financial claims being brought by one party against the other some time after the divorce has concluded. So that Lottery win in a few years’ time could be eroded by an ex if you have not properly finalised the finances, for instance by agreeing a Consent Order (or Clean Break Order). These orders must be approved by the court to become legally enforceable. A lawyer will tell you about them and help you draw one up (there is no standard form to fill out). Those flying solo may not know about them until it is too late.

Another point to consider in any divorce is what happens if one party remarries before financial matters are resolved. If the Respondent to divorce proceedings remarries, this brings about an automatic ban from him or her asking the court to deal with financial matters. It does not, however, ban the spouse who started the divorce proceedings from still applying to the court for financial matters to be considered. This could have a huge impact on the former spouse but also on their new husband or wife. Again, DIY-ers may miss this point.

There are many pitfalls in a DIY divorce and it is always better to seek legal advice to ensure that all matters are fully concluded and to give you peace of mind that your divorce really does end all ties you have with your former spouse. A DIY divorce may seem an attractive cheaper option, but in the end it could cost a lot more.

Abby Smith
Divorce & family lawyer

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