DIY Divorce?

On the internet there is a whole host of websites offering “DIY Divorce” for a sum of money, usually far below what it would cost for a solicitor to handle your divorce. We have not tried any of them, so we do not know how far promises of “solicitor’s help by email” extend.

There is no law in England and Wales that says that parties have to have a solicitor in their divorce or civil partnership dissolution and both parties can represent themselves. Often, especially if both agree, only one former partner has a solicitor usually the one who starts the divorce or dissolution.

This page has free information on:

So why not do it yourself and buy the divorce or dissolution package online?

First, you can get all the forms and guidance notes for free from any branch of the Family Court or the Court Service website (see the section at the bottom), so there is no need to pay someone for it.

Secondly, the adverts may not tell you that you still need to pay court fees of £550. Please note that you may qualify for a total or partial fee remission. Again, the explanatory leaflet and the form are available online or from the court. The leaflet explains which benefits entitle to automatic fee remission and the income limits to qualify for fee remission if you are not on benefits.

How to Find a Branch of the Family Court?

You will need to find a branch of the Family Court near your home or work (or you can choose one anywhere in England or Wales). Branches of the Family Court in smaller towns are sometimes less busy and the process may be dealt with faster than in the large urban centres or at the Central Family Court in London. The Ministry of Justice Court Finder section lets you choose “divorce” or “civil partnership” in the box “Search by areas of law”, which then shows you a list of branches in your area. For a civil partnership dissolution previously only the courts in the following locations were authorised and it is possible that if you try to hand in your application elsewhere, the court staff will ask you to go to one of these branches:

  • Birmingham
  • Brighton
  • Bristol
  • Cardiff
  • Chester
  • Exeter
  • Leeds
  • Manchester
  • Newcastle and
  • the Central Family Court in London

Of course any branch dealing with divorce must accept a divorce petition to dissolve a same-sex marriage.

Court staff cannot give you legal advice (and they have no legal training), although we have come across some who tried (and failed), but they can check whether you have all the forms you need together when you hand them in. Otherwise you could post them.

What about Finances?

Even if you have agreed to make no financial claims against each other, there is no form you can use when you represent yourself to achieve a financial clean break between you and your former partner, to stop either of you from applying to the court for financial provision from the other later on. Please note that there is no limitation period for financial claims and if you do not get the court to dismiss the claims, your former partner may be able to come back for financial provision years later. See also the financial section for the dangers.

Theoretically you could pay the £255 court fee, make a financial application, each complete the 28-page disclosure form, “Form E” and then come to the first appointment 12-16 weeks later and ask the judge to draft a financial order for you. This would be a lot of work by comparison to getting a solicitor to draft a clean break consent order for you and completing a short financial information form. If you send a consent order to the court, the fee is also only £50.

Why get a Solicitor?

There are a number of reasons why you may prefer to get a solicitor. Here are some:

  • Divorce and civil partnership dissolution comes at a time that is stressful in most people’s lives anyway. A solicitor can provide help and guidance and take some of the stress off you that way.
  • If matters are not entirely agreed, your own emotions may cloud your judgment. Some parties who are representing themselves think, for instance, that financially they should get more than the other because the other walked out on the marriage. However, this is entirely irrelevant and such arguments could lead to the court ordering that party to pay the other’s legal fees, if the other person has lawyers.
  • If your former partner does not cooperate and does not return the acknowledgement of service form to the court, you could send the court bailiffs to serve them, but this often does not work. A solicitor can discuss other options with you. We have come across cases where someone had started the divorce themselves and then got stuck at this stage. We could help them to get their divorce.
  • You cannot easily get a financial clean break without a solicitor.
  • There is a lot to do if you want to do it yourself with a lot of forms to fill in. The procedure was essentially devised about 30 years ago and is archaic and complicated. A solicitor can explain this to you and deal with the paperwork for you.
  • If you plan a divorce or dissolution on behaviour, your solicitor can advise you how strong the particulars have to be to get the petition through and what you can leave out. That way, you do not need to raise issues, which could rub your former partner up the wrong way and stop them cooperating with the process.
  • You may not realise that you have a financial claim and are entitled to maintenance or a share of your former partner’s assets or pension.
  • Even if you have agreed a financial settlement, there may be pitfalls. For example, it may be difficult to guarantee that your former partner will stick to it if there is no order that is carefully drafted. For example a lot of people forget that they remain on the mortgage of a house, which their former partner has “taken over”. This means that they cannot easily get another mortgage when they want to buy their own home later on. It may then be difficult or even impossible to compel the former partner to do what it takes to get the mortgage into their sole name.
  • To get a health-check and strategic advice followed by expert guidance and someone taking the paperwork and the red tape off you, you are best served by a specialist family solicitor.

If you cannot agree on finances, the fastest and cheapest way to come to an agreement is mediation.

Forms and Guidance Leaflets

Court Service leaflet about Divorce

Divorce Petition

Guidance Notes

Leaflet about divorce

Guidance note Stage 2

Statement in support:

Application for decree nisi or conditional order

Guidance on applying for the final order

Application for decree absolute or final order

Note: We have no responsibility for the accuracy of Court Service leaflets or guidance. If you rely on them and there is a mistake you may have no redress for any consequential loss.

For advice on your specific circumstances contact Andrea Woelke at Alternative Family Law: ring us on 020 7407 4007 (+44 20 7407 4007 from abroad) or us (stating your full name, the full name of the other person in your case and your telephone number on which we can call you).

Please note that we do not have a contract to take on cases on legal aid. To check if you may be able to get legal aid please go to this government website and contact a solicitor who has a legal aid contract.

19 May 2016 by Andrea Woelke