Beware the perils of the DIY divorce

​In theory, you don't need a solicitor to get divorced. You could either do it yourself online or use an internet company, with some companies advising that they will process the paperwork for as little as £67. This may sound like a bargain, but only until you become aware of the risks of the DIY divorce.

Bigamy is pretty rare. A more common issue is failure to secure a binding financial settlement with your former spouse.

When Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker and Danielle Bux divorced a couple of years ago, they did so without instructing lawyers. Instead, they used an online service costing a few hundred pounds. The reason they gave was that the divorce was "very amicable".

Given that you can meet your next spouse, find a new house or even sell some of your body parts online, were Gary and Danielle wise to go down the internet route to untie the knot?

I would say a firm "no". For one thing, it may not be quite as straightforward as you think.

Take the case of Andrew McLeod-Baikie, who was no doubt rather pleased with himself when he paid £600 online to divorce his wife Susan in 2011. In due course, Andrew married wife number two, Helen, and posted pictures of the wedding online. These came to Susan's attention and she duly reported Andrew to the police on the basis that she and him were still married as the decree absolute had not been granted.

Andrew pleaded guilty to bigamy and was fined £400 plus he was ordered to pay costs of £440. His marriage to Helen was annulled. "My client paid for and went through a process over the internet and he understood that he was divorced," said his solicitor. "He received paperwork and showed it to the vicar who went on to marry him. He should have paid more attention to the paperwork he received, because, clearly, the decree absolute had not been granted."

Bigamy is pretty rare. A more common issue is failure to secure a binding financial settlement with your former spouse. A recent report suggests that nearly three quarters of divorcing couples do not enter into a formal financial settlement. (It is worth pointing out here that online 'quickie' divorce websites will usually not get involved in the financial settlement between the parties. In addition, the so called "quickie" divorce is a myth. All divorces, whether being dealt with in person, online or through a solicitor have to go through the same process to ultimately obtain the decree absolute.)

Instead, many couples rely on informal terms agreed between them. This could be storing up problems for the future as without a court order there is nothing to stop either party applying to court for a financial settlement at a later date.

This is exactly what happened in two well-publicised cases. In 2010, Nigel Page and his partner Justine Laycock won £56m on the lottery. Page's wife had left him 10 years earlier and although they were divorced, they had not formalised their financial arrangement. She made a claim against him and received £2m in an out of court settlement.

More recently, in 2016, green energy tycoon Dale Vince was ordered to pay his former wife Kathleen Wyatt £300,000 some 20 years after they divorced. This was despite the fact that he didn't set up his successful Ecotricity business (worth an estimated £50m) until more than 10 years after they split up.

At the very least, couples should instruct independent solicitors to prepare a formal consent order (a financial remedy order) and apply to the court for this to be sealed by a judge. In doing so, the judge will ensure that the agreement is fair, taking into account the parties' financial position as disclosed to the court.

Even before this stage though, anyone getting divorced would be well advised to take legal advice so that they have an idea what the court is likely to consider fair and what settlement would be reasonable to agree to.

In short, you can do your own divorce, but the risks are considerable. Many years down the line, when your previous marriage is but a distant memory, this could come back to bite you if no financial agreement was sealed by the court during your divorce proceedings.

To discuss any issues relating to divorce, please contact Mark Goldstein now at [email protected]