Research undertaken by Resolution, the national organisation of family lawyers in 2020, has highlighted increasing numbers of people are choosing to go it alone on divorce. This is without the support of legal or other professional help, the so-called "DIY divorce".
While this might initially be seen as a consequence of the removal of Legal Aid from all but a very few family law cases, the divorce process itself has also become easier for the general public to access. This is a result of an online divorce service which HMCTS has been running over the last few years, working alongside traditional paper-based divorce petitions.
Use of the online service is set to become mandatory on 13 September 2021 for legal professionals. As a firm which was involved in the piloting of the online service, we have been issuing divorce petitions for clients online for some time. We have certainly seen improvements in the speed at which the process is handled, compared to the old centralised divorce units, even with the backlogs created by the pandemic.
However, with more people choosing the "DIY divorce" option, they may miss out on the advice they need in order to understand what is actually required of them to address their financial issues and to avoid being exposed to potential claims in future.
The divorce, and dealing with the financial issues arising out of the divorce, are two distinct (but inextricably linked) legal processes. It is now all too easy for someone to go through the divorce process and get to the stage were decree absolute has been pronounced, bringing the marriage to an end, without considering what might need to be done in respect of the finances. This leaves them at considerable risk.
Often, where couples have been able to divide up their assets amicably, and have dealt with the divorce themselves rather than using a lawyer, it may not even occur to them there is a further step to be taken to ensure any agreement they have reached in respect of their finances is binding on each of them and that they cannot later change their minds. We have dealt with numerous cases whereby the fallout of this omission later comes back to haunt one of the parties.
In short, decree absolute does not bring an end to the financial claims that can be made against either party, regardless of whether the couple have already divided everything up. This can cause real issues where, for example, one of the parties later comes into some money, such as an inheritance, or where one of the parties has, whether through fault of their own or otherwise, lost the money they received on the split.
Any agreement reached needs to be made binding by way of a consent order, which a lawyer can help with. Indeed, it is often easier to do this where the parties are amicable as opposed to not doing it because they are amicable. This is because if that changes, the parties may no longer be in agreement on the terms, making it more difficult to obtain the financial security a consent order provides.
If the financial claims have not been dealt with, the door will remain open for claims to be made, even long after the divorce and the pronouncement of decree absolute. A lawyer can help you ensure that all these loose ends are properly tied up, even if you are confident enough to do the divorce element yourself.
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