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What can go wrong with a DIY divorce? And how can you deal with it?

Posted on 12th November, 2016


Now that legal aid is no longer available for family proceedings (divorce, separation, finances, disputes about children) more and more people have been forced to represent themselves in proceedings.


It is perfectly possible to represent yourself, often with completely satisfactory results.  But there are also plenty of things that can crop up that aren’t so easy to deal with - and that can actively go wrong.


Here are just some of the problems you might come up against:


   1.  Filling in the paper work


This is the first problem you might come up against.  If you need to issue a court application (which is necessary for a divorce and may be necessary in other matters such as finances and resolving disputes about children) you will need to fill in the relevant court form.  What might not be so easy is working out what form to use and, even when you’ve done that, working out what to put in each section of the form is a bit of a minefield.  A prime example (and a tip, so take note if you’re representing yourself) is the section of a Divorce Application (or Divorce Petition) which asks where the marriage took place.  If you don’t write the place of the marriage exactly as it appears on your marriage certificate, the application will be sent back to you and this will cause delays. 

  1. Working out what you are and aren’t allowed to do

A lot of people think that, if they’ve both agreed that a divorce is necessary, they can just go ahead and get one.  You often hear of celebrities in the USA who divorce based on “irreconcilable differences” so that neither of them is blaming the other.  Sadly, in Wales and in England, this option isn’t available (though there are calls for the law to change).  If you want to divorce without waiting 2 years after separation, the only options available to you are either adultery or unreasonable behaviour, meaning that essentially one of you will have to make allegations against the other.  This can be a difficult point to address with your ex, especially if you have to do it yourself rather than through a representative. But there are ways of dealing with this – for example you can try to word the allegation so that it is more acceptable to both parties.

  1. Quickie divorce

This is another misapprehension a lot of people have, after reading all the media reports of celebrities who are granted a “quickie divorce” in some miraculously short time-scale – perhaps 30 seconds.  This isn’t possible.  For anyone – not even celebrities.  A divorce can be done quickly, but what could realistically be considered quick is nothing like 30 seconds.  Realistically, you aren’t going to be divorced in anything less than 4 – 6 months.  And that is only if both of you cooperate, and complete and send back all the paperwork straightaway.

When the press talk about these quickie divorces, they are usually talking about the pronouncement of the Decree Nisi (which doesn’t mean that the divorcing couple are finally divorced) or the Decree Absolute (which is final).  Both of those decrees will be pronounced by a Judge in open court and that pronouncement will usually take seconds.  But there will have been work (and, of course, time) involved in getting to that stage.  And even after the Decree Nisi is pronounced, the divorcing couple will have to wait 6 weeks until they can apply for the Decree Absolute.  So a quickie divorce, as the press would have it, is not a possibility even for celebrities.

  1. What if your ex won’t sign

You sometimes see this in the soaps – one person won’t “give” the other a divorce so they think they can’t get divorced.  But that just isn’t true.  As long as you’ve got grounds for your divorce (ie if it’s within 2 years of separation, there is either adultery or unreasonable behaviour by the other person - if it’s more than 2 years since separation, there are different options available) then you can apply to the court for a divorce.  The other person then has to respond within a certain timescale.  You may think that if they don’t respond, you can’t get divorced but in fact there are plenty of options available to you.  For example, if you can demonstrate that the other person has received the paperwork but is just ignoring it (for instance, maybe they texted you to say they’d had it but they wouldn’t be signing) you can use that in your application to the court to proceed without them having formally returned the paperwork.  If you can’t prove they’ve had it, you could apply for the court bailiff to personally deliver the paperwork to them – then there will be independent evidence that they’ve had it and you can ask to court to proceed without them signing.  There are plenty of options and an uncooperative ex doesn’t have to control your ability to get a divorce.

  1. What about other issues …?

You might just be concentrating on getting your divorce sorted.  Maybe you’ve met someone else and you want to get remarried, or maybe you just want closure now that the marriage is over.  But there might be issues outside the divorce that you might not have thought about.  There are implications for any Will you might have made when you were married, so that will need thinking about.  You might not have issued a financial application in the divorce, maybe because you and your ex have agreed everything.  But not getting things formally resolved could come back to bite you in the future.  If there isn’t a final order, one of you could potentially issue an application for a share of the other’s assets in the future.  And if you get remarried without a final order dealing with finances, you could be leaving yourself in a position of having no ability to claim in the future.












Paula Tanner  

Former solicitor and founder of Ethos Family Solutions – the affordable alternative to a solicitor.


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