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December 03, 2019

The dangers of DIY divorce

The dangers of DIY divorce

Date updated:

Divorce can be stressful and with the rising cost of living it’s increasingly tempting for separating couples to try and save money by getting a ‘do-it-yourself’ divorce. However, there is a real danger that cutting corners now could cost you dearly in the longer term.

The divorce process is now almost exclusively online for both solicitors and unrepresented applicants. You don’t necessarily need a solicitor to deal with this administrative process so it can be tempting to go without bespoke advice on the issues surrounding divorce, but be warned, doing-it-yourself without any input from a solicitor could end up costing you more in the long run both financially and emotionally.

Divorce in the wider sense can be a highly complex matter and not as straightforward as you might think. Even when the break up is reasonably amicable and there are no children involved or sizeable assets, things can quickly become more complicated. You may have managed to agree matters with your husband or wife and know exactly how you wish to divide your matrimonial assets, but it’s a very risky strategy to assume that your ex-partner will always be good on their word or has told you everything you need to know about their personal finances. You could miss out on what you are entitled to, such as pension provision, spousal maintenance or business-related payments. You may not be aware of all the options open to you, the long-term implications of your choices or the tax consequences of your arrangements.

Arrangements for children and decisions about how your finances should be divided are not included as part of the administrative divorce process and will need to be dealt with separately. That’s why if you are separating or divorcing, it’s vital that any important decisions about your property and finances are properly thought through and recorded in a court order or deed of separation. Without finalising matters through the Court, there is nothing to stop your ex pursuing you one year, two years or even decades down the line.

Case in point

The case of Wyatt a few years ago highlights the dangers of failing to dismiss financial claims on divorce and inadvertently leaving loose ends that come back to bite at a later date.

Ms Wyatt and Mr Vince were married in 1981. They had one child together but had few assets at the time of their separation in 1984 and therefore did not worry about finalising their financial settlement in a court order when they divorced.

However, fast forward 3 decades and Mr Vince is now a self-made millionaire having built up his own green energy company with a multi-million pound turnover. After lengthy litigation, Ms Wyatt received a settlement of £300,000 together with £325,000 towards her significant legal costs. Taking his own costs into account too, this was an expensive outcome for Mr Vince; it would have cost him just a few hundred pounds to have shut down this claim at the point of divorce.

Making a clean break

This case reinforces how important it is to file a ‘Clean Break Consent Order’ – failure to do so can result in both parties at risk of having to financially support their ex-spouse further down the line. It is a common myth that Decree Absolute alone brings potential financial claims to an end.

Agreeing a divorce settlement is one step but unless you enter into a formal agreement and get a Clean Break Consent Order your former partner could make a claim for a share of your assets, property, income or pensions in the future.

In a Consent Order both parties set out the financial agreement they have reached and the Clean Break Order formally dismisses the right for them to ask for more money from each other in the future. The Clean Break usually operates in relation to both capital and income, but of course in some cases, ongoing maintenance for one spouse is agreed and appropriate so only a capital clean break is ordered until the maintenance comes to an end.

Put simply, without a Clean Break Order in place, if you win the lottery, receive a substantial inheritance or just get a better paid job and start earning more, your ex- spouse might be able to claim a share of your new-found wealth.

The danger for those embarking on their own, “cheaper” DIY divorce is that they may not be aware of the importance of a Clean Break Order or realise they need one without help and advice from a specialist divorce lawyer.

There are many pitfalls in a DIY divorce. It is always better to seek specialist legal advice to achieve the best possible outcome for you and your family even if you have agreed how you want to proceed. An expert divorce lawyer will advise you how to ensure all matters are fully concluded and work with you to provide complete peace of mind that any possible loose ends have been tied up.

If you need advice on any aspect of divorce and separation whether it is issues concerning your children or the division of money and assets, we can help. We specialise in complex family matters and have the in-depth knowledge and expertise to provide creative solutions to any divorce issues you have.