Weekly Family Law Update November 29, 2023

The perils of do-it-yourself online divorce

Obviously it is well known that divorce can be expensive. It is no surprise therefore that many people going through divorce will want to do everything they can to keep that expense to a minimum.

One tempting way to do this is to deal with the divorce yourself, without the expense of instructing a solicitor to do it for you.

The temptation is made greater nowadays by the availability of online divorce, whereby anyone can take divorce proceedings without having to leave the comfort of their home.

But this do-it yourself divorce strategy can have its risks, which could ultimately cost a person far more than the cost of seeking proper legal advice.

Divorce is about more than just dissolving the marriage

Many people who do their own online divorce fall into the trap of thinking that going through the online process is all there is to it. After all, at the end of the process you are divorced, aren’t you?

Well, yes you are, but there is more to a divorce than just dissolving the marriage.

In particular there is the matter of the financial settlement, which the online divorce process does not deal with.

The financial settlement includes dividing the assets between the parties, dealing with any maintenance requirements, and sorting out pensions.

Failing to deal with finances on divorce can have disastrous consequences and as we will see in a moment, the financial settlement must be final.

Why you must deal with finances as well

In most divorces there are assets that will need to be divided between the parties. These can include anything from the former matrimonial home, to cash in the bank, insurance policies and other valuable assets such as cars and jewellery.

Both parties will normally be entitled to a share of these assets, irrespective of who owns them, and irrespective of the parties’ respective financial contributions towards the marriage (it is often not understood that the law values the contribution to the marriage of a ‘homemaker’ who stays at home and looks after the home and any children equally to the contribution of a ‘breadwinner’, who brings most of the money into the marriage).

The most valuable of the assets will normally be the former matrimonial home. It is absolutely essential that this is dealt with, both in relation to the housing needs of the parties (and any dependent children), and in relation to a fair division of the assets.

Obviously, not sorting out a settlement in relation to the home could have serious implications for the future housing needs of one of the parties.

It is a similar case in relation to other valuable assets, especially if they were acquired during the marriage. Just because one of the parties may have acquired those assets doesn’t necessarily mean that they should keep them after the divorce – both parties are entitled to a fair share.

Perhaps one of the main financial aspects of a divorce that are overlooked are pensions. Very often one party will have substantially greater pension provision than the other. The party with less (or no) provision may for example be entitled to a share of the other party’s pension, and failing to claim it could have serious adverse financial implications for them in retirement.

Even if there are no assets it is still advisable to obtain a court order, as either party can still make a financial claim against the other after the divorce (until they remarry). No one wants this to happen, and an order can ensure that neither party can make such a claim in the future.

Lastly, the parties may have agreed a financial settlement and therefore think there is no need to see a solicitor. But advice should not only be taken to ensure that the agreement is fair, but to decide whether the agreement needs to be incorporated in a court order to ensure that it is final and enforceable. Preparing the order is a technical matter that will require the help of a lawyer.

The moral is simple: whatever your circumstances, do not go ahead with a do-it-yourself online divorce without taking expert legal advice regarding the financial settlement.