When your biggest assets and future finances are at stake, would you risk a DIY divorce? Annabel Humphreys, an associate in the West End Family Team, takes a look at whether doing your own divorce actually saves you any money in the long term.”
It would not be unreasonable, at least not currently, to think that everything is getting more expensive. Mortgage rates, rent, energy bills, food, travel, you name it, the chances are the price has probably increased. It is therefore, not surprising that many separating couples are tempted to opt for a “DIY divorce” in an effort to save money on legal fees.
In fact, the rise in do-it-yourself divorces speaks for itself. In 2022, a national law firm undertook a survey which revealed that over 70% of people said they would consider a DIY divorce. With this staggering statistic it is essential to take a closer look at whether any cost saving in divorcing without legal advice outweighs the potential (and very real) pitfalls.
Potential errors in DIY divorce forms
Straight off the bat, it is a common misconception among clients that the divorce process also aims to resolve the couple’s finances.
The divorce procedures, the financial procedures and the child arrangement procedures are three very separate processes and if a couple obtain their final order before having reached a financial settlement the implications can be dire. Only a few examples include:
- Tax implications
There are times when transferring assets between spouses is an integral part of the financial settlement. For the most part, the UK tax regime tends to exempt transfers between spouses from tax charges such as capital gains tax and SDLT. Having already divorced before reaching an agreement can see the loss in any potential tax savings.
If a spouse decides to remarry and they do not have a financial agreement in place from their previous divorce, then there are only very exceptional circumstances in which they can make any claims in the future from their ex-spouse, even if these claims would have reasonable within their original divorce settlement.
- Not remarrying
On the other hand, if a spouse does not remarry then without a financial settlement it leaves open the possibility that their ex-spouse can make a claim against you in the future.
Whilst this might seem worth gambling on at the time, particularly if the parties have little assets, if one party receives inheritance after the divorce, wins the lottery or comes into money in some other way such as perhaps one party starts a successful business venture or an existing business takes off, this spouse is left exposed.
The landmark case of Wyatt v Vince demonstrates this clearly. Here, the Supreme Court allowed an ex-wife to pursue a hefty financial claim against her ex-husband almost 20 years after their divorce.
Mistakes in legal paperwork is difficult to rectify
Whilst the paperwork to apply for divorce is now easily found online on the HMCTS portal, it is not always simple to complete. The legal implications can vary wildly depending on the individual circumstances of each couple and completing the application without legal advice could leave some couples unaware of their legal position.
On the financial side of things, the paperwork only becomes harder to complete and more crucial to get right.
The standard form people will complete when sorting out their finances on divorce includes the Form E, consisting of 30 pages. If information on that form is incorrect, incomplete or (whether intentional or not) misrepresentative and later needs to be relied upon in court, it can present numerous (and costly) problems in seeking to rectify.
Even if the matter does not proceed to court and the parties obtain a private settlement, if the information on the Form E is later discovered to be incorrect it can prejudice a parties’ entire agreement and re-open the potential for litigation.
People often do not know what they are entitled to
All family law is nuanced. It deals with families and the beauty (and complexity) of this means that almost every single family is different – whether that be from a personal or financial perspective. Whilst Google can be a very good starting point for understanding some basic legal principles, as soon as application of the law is required, you should take what you read with a pinch of salt.
The courts, when deciding on a couple’s financial settlement, look at the section 25 factors of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. These factors take into account “all the circumstances of the case” and so it is almost guaranteed that whatever one person achieved in their divorce settlement will not apply to all.
The analysis behind what parties can expect to achieve in a financial settlement is an art not a science and if you want to know what you may or may not be entitled to, it is highly likely you would benefit from the advice and analysis of an experienced family solicitor.
Whilst it is understandable that more and more couples in the UK are choosing to divorce without legal assistance, this is, generally, not advisable. The monetary benefit of foregoing solicitor’s fees can easily be offset by expenses incurred as a result of improperly filed legal documents or unfair settlements decided upon without thorough examination and analysis.
When a party’s family home, life-time savings and future finances are at stake, it always pays to receive adequate advice to ensure that you have made the right choice. This is best done with the assistance of a legal professional who can offer advice, experience and emotional support during this process.
If you would like to discuss any of the above, our team of specialist family law solicitors are more than happy to have a chat with you about your situation. Please contact us by email or telephone to arrange an initial consultation.