DIY Divorces are becoming increasingly popular – partly because the process itself was simplified through the introduction of No-Fault Divorce, but partly because couples believe than in working matters out on their own, they save money.
The cost-of-living crisis, housing crisis and the instability of social environments generally has directed more people down the route of what is also known as a ‘kitchen table divorce’.
Whilst money is one of the most central aspects of divorce, the immediacy of saving money in the short-term often trumps the sensibilities of divorcing couples when looking to the future.
Divorce, in many cases, involves long-term, important decisions around money, children, and living arrangements. Although it is possible to reach an agreement with an ex-partner without the advice of a lawyer, couples then face the risk of being surprised when their agreement is deemed unfair by the court.
The Problems of DIY Divorce
Firstly, financial settlements. Money always comes into play in divorces, whether it be cash in the bank, property or other assets.
It is a common misconception among the DIY divorcers that once their online divorce is finalised, they are no longer financially tied to one another, and neither party can make financial claims against the other.
However, without a consent order, where the financial agreement is made legally binding, the couple is not financially separated. The consent order must then be approved by a Judge. The Judge sees the consent order in the context of the D81 form which provides an overview of the ex-couple’s financial situation.
Without ensuring proper financial separation, money issues can resurface down the line, for example when one party receives an inheritance. This can lead to the other ex-spouse trying to make a claim on the money, involving the courts anyway.
Pensions are another area where DIY divorces fall down. Pensions are usually underestimated in divorce, and certainly their complications can put divorcing couples off the discussion.
Pension Sharing Orders are the most common way of dividing up the retirement pot and attempt to equalise what can be imbalanced pensions. On average, women retire with only 2/3 of the pension savings of men. New research from the University of Manchester revealed that almost ¾ of couples (estimated 71%) overlook pension sharing in divorce and women tend to suffer far more than men.
The gender pensions gap is a huge issue and flags up particularly in divorce proceedings. However, lack of understanding around this complicated, niche area means they can be avoided, particularly when a couple does not seek legal advice.
DIY divorce can also face obstacles even if the process is completed perfectly (in the eyes of the divorcing couple). When the agreement the couple has made reaches court, a Judge can refuse to create the consent order in the terms agreed by the couple.
This may be because the Judge deems the agreement to be unfair on either party. Orders made by the court are often needs based and not necessarily based on the contribution of each party to the marriage. It could also be rejected because the Judge does not have enough information on the current financial circumstances of each party.
In such cases, the court generally will work with the couple to reach a more suitable agreement, amending the existing order. Judges also are more likely to approve a consent order if they know that each party has sought legal advice.
Ultimately, whilst DIY divorces are gaining popularity, increasingly as a way to save money, this can backfire. Although it may seem like the cheaper option for couples, costs associated with not properly dealing with finances can soon become an issue.
Some couples decide on the kitchen table route because they wish to minimise interference in their generally amicable divorce – more so now that there is no need to apportion blame. It is, of course, feasible for couples to conclude a divorce settlement without the intervention of a lawyer.
However, realistically, divorcing partners are likely to come up against challenges and generally the advice of a lawyer is needed.
Molly Brindley is an Associate at Stowe Family Law.