DIY (do-it-yourself) divorce or dissolution

If you’ve both agreed to end your relationship and your finances are straightforward, your divorce or dissolution should be relatively quick and cheap. You still need to go through the legal process, but you might not need a solicitor throughout.

What is a DIY 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’s important to understand what’s meant by ‘divorce’ or ‘dissolution’, especially if you’re planning to do your own.

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 means the legal process of ending a marriage or civil partnership. There is a specific procedure to follow.

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

But there can be problems. Most 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 make sure that any agreement is legally binding.

In England and Wales

If you haven’t covered all the issues – or if you leave financial claims outstanding – there can be problems later. This can disrupt your lives years after the divorce or dissolution was finalised.

This is because getting a divorce or dissolution doesn’t 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 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’ve divorced.

It’s important to get advice from a family law specialist at the start to make sure you don’t lose this right.

In Northern Ireland

The obligation to maintain a dependent spouse continues after divorce, even where no maintenance order was made at that time. The obligation of spousal maintenance only terminates on the death or remarriage of the receiving spouse.

Although a court is unlikely to impose a maintenance payment where a dependent spouse is cohabiting with a new partner in circumstances similar to that of husband and wife.

How long does it take?

A DIY divorce or dissolution can’t take less than six weeks to complete from when the legal processes start.

This is the law in England and Wales. And it’s unlikely to take less time in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

A financial settlement could be agreed within months. This depends on how complicated your financial situation is, and what process you use to sort it out.

But financial proceedings through the courts can often take a long time – especially in England and Wales.

It might take anything from nine months to two years to sort out the finances if you and your ex-partner can’t agree.

DIY divorce or dissolution in England, Wales or Northern Ireland

Anyone can opt for a DIY 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 agrees to a divorce or dissolution, or you’ve been separated for five years or more
  • you’ve been married or in a civil partnership for a relatively short time. For example, less than five years – but for at least one year in England or Wales, and for least two years in Northern Ireland
  • you don’t have children or are able to sort out child arrangements
  • you’ve both lived in the same part of the UK for at least a year
  • you’re able to discuss or negotiate how you’ll 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:

  • children under 18
  • a valuable home
  • business
  • pension(s)
  • complicated finances.

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

The ‘simplified’ (do-it-yourself) divorce or dissolution procedure isn’t 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 under the age of 16
  • you’ve 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’re not 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 to split your property and possessions, and aren’t making a financial claim against each other.

It’s best not to 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’re not sure how to split your finances, it’s worth getting legal advice before using the ‘simplified’ procedure. Or, follow the ‘ordinary’ divorce or dissolution procedure.

Once you’re divorced, you can’t bring a claim for a share of your ex-partner'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 get money off your fees. 

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In England or Wales

You can start by downloading from GOV.UK:

  • form D8 – the one you need to divorce or dissolve your civil partnership; and
  • leaflet D183 – explaining what you need to do.

In Northern Ireland

Even if you choose a DIY divorce or dissolution, you have to appear 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

When it comes to filling out the divorce forms, you can arrange an interview with the Matrimonial Office of the Royal Courts of Justice. Their staff can check that you’ve filled in your forms correctly - bear in mind that they can’t offer legal advice. There is a small fee for this service. 

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The rules for divorce in Northern Ireland are very similar to those in England, Scotland and Wales. But the most obvious difference is that a couple can’t petition within the first two years of the marriage. (In England and Wales, it’s one year. And there’s no time limit in in Scotland.)

In Scotland

There’s more information about the ‘simplified’ (do-it-yourself) procedure on the Scottish Courts website

Using an online DIY divorce or dissolution service

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

These packages vary in price and offer different levels of help. It’s always worth checking what’s included. Most will simply help you with the divorce or dissolution paperwork – but not with reaching a financial settlement.

Many high street solicitors now also offer a fixed fee for a divorce or dissolution. They’ll also offer fixed or capped fees to help sort out the finances.

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Whatever your circumstances or plans, move forward with MoneyHelper.

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