You could find trouble in store later on if you end things cheaply with a DIY-divorce

It may seem enticing – and cost-effective – to avoid paying lawyers’ fees and do it yourself, but there are drawbacks

Emotional turmoil is one thing, but when it comes to splitting up, divorce can lead to financial heartache as well. The cuts to legal aid in divorce cases came into force earlier this year, prompting a surge in couples who decided to go ahead on their own, in order to save as much money as possible. With legal fees on the rise it makes sense to keep costs to a minimum, but those who go through a divorce without advice could find there is trouble in store later on.

More than two in five marriages end in divorce, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. Ending things quickly and cheaply with a DIY-divorce is appealing but if there are any mistakes, it could ultimately cost you much more in the future. Moreover, many DIY services are only offering help with the paperwork, without giving you any legal advice; while this is cheap, it isn’t necessarily the right solution.

“Getting the paperwork right is crucial to avoid stressful and lengthy delays, and I’ve seen a huge number of what should be entirely straightforward, undefended divorce cases held back for 18 months and longer because of errors in paperwork, with the court having to return documents several times,” says myBarrister family law specialist Joanna Toch. 

Court fees are fixed and unavoidable. For example, it now costs £410 to start a divorce, but for many people the real problem is that legal fees are so high – an experienced, high-street family lawyer will charge upwards of £200 per hour plus VAT – and in April, legal aid was removed for all divorcing couples, except those affected by domestic violence, child protection matters and forced marriages.

With countless online DIY divorce services charging less than £100, it’s a no-brainer for many couples which route to take., for example, provides all the paperwork and guidance notes for £37, and if you pay an extra £20 they will complete the papers and send them to court for you. A similar service is available for £69 from

This may be suitable if you have a very straightforward, uncontested case – why pay an extortionate hourly rate to do the same thing through a lawyer? But problems arise, however, is if there are any complications such as custody issues, pensions, or if a property is owned jointly; these websites are likely to fall short and the couples using them may find they are completely out of their depth.

One common problem is finding a fair way to divide pensions, so that partners who have given up work to look after children don’t lose out. Without advice it’s all too easy to see how one party might end up without their fair share.

“Dividing the pension at divorce can be complicated, but in some situations it can be as valuable as the family home so it shouldn’t be overlooked,” says Sarah Pennells, founder of, a finance website for women. “I’ve had emails from women who have arranged their divorce without the involvement of a divorce lawyer and who haven’t realised how valuable their husband’s pension is.”

Another significant concern is that if there are no court orders to deal with specific financial matters, the door is open for either spouse to make a claim at any stage in the future.

These pitfalls don’t mean you automatically have to go down the more traditional – and for that you can read expensive – route. Collaborative family law, where each partner has their own lawyer and the finances and other aspects are sorted out around a table, can be cheaper than a traditional lawyer-led divorce. If as a couple you can maintain some kind of formal relationship, you can also use the services of a mediator. 

“Over two thirds of people beginning mediation reach an agreement, which is spectacularly efficient,” says Marc Lopatin, founder of, which brings together a network of experienced family lawyers and mediators. “The problem is that it is incredibly difficult to get people to the mediator.”

This type of mediation is a welcome and cost-effective alternative to going to court, as the legal fees are agreed beforehand and cost around half the price of instructing lawyers on hourly rates.

Some law firms offer their own fixed-fee deals if you need legal advice, including the Co-operative Legal Service’s “managed divorce” service which costs £570 for the petitioner and £360 for the respondent. There are also a number of online services offering a halfway house, with access to legal advice without paying through the nose. For example, charges a fixed fee of £499 plus VAT per person for co-operating couples; it helps with the paperwork and arranges advice from an impartial family law barrister to decide whether ongoing maintenance should be paid and if any pensions should be split. Once both parties are in agreement, this is turned into a legally binding consent order, drafted by solicitors.

Alternatively, the myBarrister website provides what is essentially pay-as-you-go access to barristers. So if you are willing to undertake some of the administration yourself, you can still speak to a barrister for advice at any point during the divorce proceedings; again, it agrees a fixed fee in advance, so you won’t get stung by unexpected costs.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at

Ed Miliband and David Cameron are neck and neck in the polls
election 2015Armando Iannucci: on how British politics is broken
Life and Style
Great minds like Einstein don't think alike
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

    Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

    £215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

    Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power