How much does it cost to get divorced and can you DIY it?

TODAY is National Divorce Day – the time of year when couples are most likely to split up. 

There were more marriage breakdowns than usual over the past couple of years, as people found themselves stuck at home together for months on end through Covid lockdowns.

But breaking up can be expensive to do. It’s no wonder that more people are trying to DIY their divorce.

On average, divorce occurs after 12.3 years of marriage, according to the Ministry of Justice.

Some 44% of people who got married in 1989 are now divorced, 37% of those married in 1999, and 19% of those who tied the knot in 2009.

The average age to get divorced is 47.7 for men, and 45.3 for women.

But many couples who separate may put off getting legally divorced for fear it will be a long, complicated and expensive process.

Sarah Coles, personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, says: “If you rely on a lawyer for every little thing, and go all the way through the court process, it can easily cost £20,000 to £40,000 or more.

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“Every letter or phone call will add up, and given that lawyers tend to charge £200 to £400 an hour, the costs can be eye-watering.”

So how much does it cost to get divorced and do you need a pricey solicitor, or can you do-it-yourself?

Can you get a do-it-yourself divorce?

If you take a DIY route, the minimum cost will be £593, which is the fee for filing for divorce.

This will do the legal bit of ending your marriage, but will leave you and your partner to decide how to split your assets yourselves.

DIY divorces are usually only for very simple splits. For example, if you and your partner have already been separated for a number of years or if you’ve been married or in a civil partnership for a relatively short period.

It tends to be easier if there are no children involved, and if you can amicably discuss how to divide your assets as well as any debts.

But there is plenty of room for things to go wrong if you do this – not to mention lots of opportunity for disagreement at an already difficult time.

Making a mistake when it comes to dividing assets can prove costly.

Coles said: “You might, for example, not realise that some pensions can be as valuable as the family home, so may not think to split it.”

How do I get a DIY divorce?

If you take this route, you’ll need to download a couple of things from the government website.

The D8 form needs to be filled in to apply and you’ll need three copies – one for the court, and one each for you and your spouse.

The D183 leaflet explains the process.

You’ll need to fill in details such as the grounds for divorce, the name and address and of you and your spouse, and where and when the marriage took place.

You’ll also need a copy of your marriage of civil partnership certificate.

After you’ve submitted your application, you’ll receive a form from the court letting you know the petition was sent to the respondent (your spouse) and giving you a case number.

The petition is posted and the respondent has seven days to return the acknowledgement. The court will send you a copy of this once received.

What happens next?

The respondent can either ignore the petition, acknowledge it and say they intend to defend against it, or acknowledge and say they agree with the petition.

Once the court has looked at your papers, it will make a decision about whether to grant the divorce or not.

If granted, it will pronounce the decree nisi or conditional order, which is the time and date the judge will grant the divorce.

This is first of two decrees, or orders, before the divorce process is complete.

You’ll have to wait six weeks from this date before you can apply for the second, the decree absolute, which completes the process.

The six week delay was designed to allow couples a cooling period to make sure they want to go through with the divorce.

Is there a halfway house between DIY and solicitor?

Yes. You could do the legal bit yourself and then get a consent order drawn up by a solicitor splitting your assets.

This is legally binding and costs around £500, according to Coles.

You could also enlist a lawyer to provide more advice if you need it – which would increase the cost to as much as £2,500 but could give you greater peace of mind that everything has been done properly.

If you are struggling to come to an agreement with your spouse, you could consider mediation.

This is where you both sit in a room with one lawyer and try to find an arrangement that suits you both.

Mediation can cost £1,000 or less, said Coles.

Of course, you’ll have the standard divorce legal fees on top of any of these routes.

When should you use a professional?

Enlisting the help of a professional often makes things easier in more complicated splits.

This might be where there are children involved, a business, or a particularly valuable portfolio of assets such as a very expensive property.  

You may also find that involving the courts is the only option if you can’t come to an agreement with your ex.

Cole said: “If there are any disagreements, your situation is complicated, or if there is bad feeling between you, the risk is magnified.

“And without a formal splitting of the assets, your spouse can come back for more if your circumstances change, which could be a mistake with long-lasting implications. You could end up losing far more than you ever saved on legal fees.”

What to consider if you’re doing a DIY divorce

When you’ve joined up your finances with another person, there is a lot to unpick.

If you’ve written a will together, you should have a new one drawn up to make sure it reflects your most up-to-date wishes.  

Pensions often get forgotten in a break-up but these can be very valuable, and don't forgetinvestments, property and joint savings accounts.

If your salary is paid directly into a joint account, you’ll want to set up your own account as soon as possible and update your payment details with your employer.

You’ll also need to think about any debts. If you have a joint mortgage, car finance agreement or loan, for example.

There’s no such thing as a joint credit card – one of you will be the primary card holder and the other has an additional card.

If you’re the primary card holder, you’re liable for the spending – and the debt – on both cards.

Coles added: “If this is the case, it’s sensible to block both cards. If your ex is using the card for everyday spending, they need to know as soon as you’ve done it so they can find an alternative.”

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