There are plenty of DIY divorce products and services on the market. In fact, some solicitors offer no-frills packages that are essentially DIY divorces with some limited legal support and back-up.
So is there any point in spending money on legal fees when you can do it yourself?
In some cases, such as an amicable divorce where there are no children and there is no real dispute as to how assets should be divided, there may well be some merit to the DIY approach. On the other hand, where matters are more complicated or where they are likely to be contentious, there may be good reason for each spouse to get a solicitor involved.
Although the court procedures for a divorce are not overly complex, you do need to follow them. You cannot get a divorce without a court order, and there is certain information and paperwork you need to provide to the court in order to get the order.
DIY applicants (or litigants in person, to use the legal phrase) will need to familiarise themselves with the requirements — much as non-mechanics planning to service their own cars will need to consult vehicle manuals. Although court personnel are often helpful, they cannot provide legal advice. They can give you the necessary tools, but they cannot tell you how you should use them.
Since UK law does not currently permit a “no-fault” divorce, you will need to be prepared to demonstrate to the court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. That means you will have to demonstrate that there has been adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion or separation. You will need to remember, however, that you are working with established legal concepts — so, for instance, certain behaviour that you regard as unreasonable might not be unreasonable in the legal sense.
For couples with young children, divorce is often very difficult. As part of the court proceedings, you will need to provide a Statement of Arrangements for your children. It may be that in an amicable divorce, the parties are able to agree arrangements that will be mutually acceptable and that the court will be able to approve.
If there is a dispute, however, as to one spouse’s contact with the children or financial arrangements for children, you may find that a solicitor can provide some significant assistance when it comes to negotiating with your spouse. A solicitor will be able to provide you with objective advice, negotiate with your spouse on a more arms-length basis, and provide the benefit of experience with similar disputes. A solicitor will likely be familiar with a variety of solutions or alternatives that may not occur to the layperson who is handling a divorce for the first time.
Allocation of assets / financial matters
There are a number of issues that can arise when it comes to splitting assets between the parties. Who gets to live in the marital home? What about assets that one spouse had prior to the marriage and has continued to regard as purely his or hers? What about child support? If, during the marriage, one spouse has been the bread-winner and the other has maintained the home, what is the home-maker expected to do for financial support?
As with issues relating to children, financial issues can lead to dispute and acrimony, which can make DIY negotiation difficult. Here again, an experienced solicitor will have seen many types of similar disputes and can bring an arms-length and objective approach to the process.
You will be responsible for your own mistakes
As with other life events where there are legal implications, if you use a solicitor for your divorce you get two levels of protection against mistakes. First, the solicitor’s training and experience mean that he is probably less likely to make a mistake than you would be doing it yourself. Second, if he does make a mistake, you might have a claim against him for negligence — and he is required to carry professional indemnity insurance to cover such claims where they are valid.
By contrast, if you handle your divorce yourself and you make an error, it is unlikely that you will have recourse to any compensation.
If you want to take the DIY approach, there are some good sources of help. HM Court Service has a lot of information on its website that is aimed at the DIY divorce litigant. Your local Citizens Advice Bureau may also be able to provide assistance.