How to handle your finances during a divorce

7 min read

 

Share

From application fees to splitting your money and assets, there are lots of financial things to consider when you end your marriage.

If you’re thinking about getting divorced, your financial situation can change significantly. You might be wondering how you sort everything out, what you can do yourself and what you’ll need help with.

Divorce can be a difficult time, and sometimes quite complicated, so it’s worth getting clued up on the process and what you’ll need to consider when it comes to your finances.

Purple scales

Checking you’re eligible for a divorce

First things first you’ll need to check that you can actually get a divorce. This is important as there are certain conditions you’ll have to meet. You can check the full list of conditions, and the alternatives if you’re not able to get a divorce, at GOV.UK if you live in England or Wales – these are slightly different for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

You don’t have to get legal advice to get a divorce, but it might be worth looking into it at this stage if you think you need some help. Take a look at the Money Advice Service website for more information on whether you should seek professional advice.

Sorting out your finances

There are a few different ways you can go about splitting your money and assets, and this depends on your personal situation and where you live.

Coming to an agreement yourselves

The simplest way to do it is to come to an agreement with your husband or wife about how you’re going to divide everything up. You’ll need to consider things like:

  • Your money (including any savings, debts, pensions and investments)
  • Your property
  • Your assets (including any cars, furniture and possessions)
  • Your business (if you’re self-employed)

It’s worth taking the time to think about what your priorities are and what you can be flexible on before you discuss things together. The Money Advice Service’s divorce and money calculator is a useful tool to help you to get an idea of your financial situation and how you might split everything. If you agree on how to do this, you can usually avoid having to go to court.

Using a mediator

If you need help agreeing on things, an independent mediator can help – and it’s often quicker and cheaper than using a solicitor. A mediator doesn’t take sides or decide on anything. Their job is to help you communicate, find a solution that works for you both and explain how you can make an agreement legally binding. Visit the Family Mediation Council website to find a mediator in your area and ask about costs. It’s worth checking to see if you’re entitled to legal aid to help pay for mediation.

Getting a solicitor

You can also employ a solicitor to help you. Although it’s more expensive than mediation, it can be a good option if you’ve got a more complicated situation, as they’ll help you negotiate. Visit the Law Society (England and Wales), the Law Society of Scotland or the Law Society of Northern Ireland to find a local legal adviser or solicitor. They should explain the costs (many offer a fixed fee) and what your options are – again remember to check if you’re eligible for legal aid to help with payment. You also have the option of using a collaborative lawyer or a family arbitrator.

Going to court

If none of the options above are suitable or help you come to an agreement you can go to court, where the judge will decide on how to split your money and assets for you. In lots of cases, you’ll have to prove that you’ve attended a meeting to see if mediation is right for you before you apply to go to court. It’s worth remembering that legal aid doesn’t help with court costs apart from in particular circumstances, such as cases of domestic abuse. 

Marbles

Making other arrangements

The information above relates to your finances, but you’ll also need to decide on a few other things at this point as well.

If you have children, you’ll need to make arrangements for where they’ll live, how much time they’ll spend with each parent and how you’ll support them. Visit GOV.UK (England and Wales), mygov.scot (Scotland) or nidirect (Northern Ireland) for more information. And, if you have any pets, you’ll have to agree on who’ll keep them. The Money Advice Service provides guidance on what the court would do about your pets if you can’t agree.

You may also have to think about your living arrangements while you’re going through a divorce. Again, there is information about this on at GOV.UK.

Applying for a divorce

The divorce process is different depending on where you live in the UK, and so are the costs. Visit the Money Advice Service website to find out what costs might apply to you. Remember, if you’re on a low income or claiming benefits you may be entitled to help with the fees. You can check this at GOV.UK for England and Wales, and the Scottish Legal Aid Board for Scotland. Solicitors are responsible for working out whether you qualify for legal aid in Northern Ireland.

England and Wales

In England and Wales, you can apply for a divorce by post or online. Make sure you’ve got your husband or wife’s full name and address and your original marriage certificate (or a certified copy) to hand.

To apply online go to GOV.UK and follow the instructions. To apply by post you’ll need to fill out a divorce application form (visit your local Citizens Advice branch or call the Adviceline on 03444 111 444 if you need any help). Make four copies of the form and send three to your local divorce centre (find your nearest one at GOV.UK), keeping one for yourself. They’ll send a copy to your husband or wife. If adultery is your reason for getting a divorce, and you’re naming the person, then you’ll need to send four copies to the centre.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, you can still apply for a divorce yourself but at some point you’ll have to go to court to attend a hearing. To start the process, you can arrange a personal petitioner interview. You’ll need to bring your marriage certificate and any other required documents, as well as your ‘petition’, where you give your reasons for divorce. The interview is optional, but it can help to provide guidance on how to complete everything properly. After the interview, you’ll need to finalise your petition and complete the relevant forms to send off.

For more information about the process and everything you’ll need to prepare, read the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service’s Getting a Divorce/Dissolution of a Civil Partnership guide. You can also seek support and guidance from Advice NI if you need more help.

Scotland

In Scotland, you can either apply for a ‘simplified procedure’ (DIY divorce) or an ‘ordinary procedure’. With the DIY option you’ll need to complete a form to apply to the sheriff court for a divorce. There’s useful guidance on the Scottish Courts website on the simplified procedure process and who’s eligible. If you don’t meet the criteria for the simplified procedure, you’ll need to use the ordinary procedure. Instead of completing an application form, the process is more complex and begins in court, so you’re advised to seek legal help.  Again, you can find information on the ordinary procedure on the Scottish Courts website.

There’s also lots of helpful guidance around how to apply for a divorce on the Citizens Advice Scotland website, or you can look up your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau for free, independent and confidential advice.

The next steps

There are a few more steps to go through after you’ve submitted your divorce application, and again these depend on where you live. You can find more information about this on the websites and resources mentioned above for England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Let everyone know

There are a few organisations that you may need to inform if you get a divorce. Depending on your situation, this could include your bank or any other financial services companies you hold products with, like your pension, mortgage or insurance provider – this is particularly important if you hold any joint accounts or you and your ex-partner both know account details. It may also be necessary to inform your local council, the Post Office, your utilities provider, HMRC, the Home Office, the Passport Office or the DVLA.

If you claim benefits, you’ll also need to report your change in circumstances.

Getting advice and support

Divorce can really take its toll on you emotionally, as well as practically and financially. These organisations can help with any extra support you might need: 

  • Relate: the UK's largest provider of relationship support.
  • Sorting Out Separation: a free online resource for parents and couples dealing with divorce or separation.
  • Gingerbread: information and learning programmes to help single parents support themselves and their family.
  • Family Lives: professional support and advice for all aspects of family life.
  • Women’s Aid: a national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children.
  • Men’s Advice Line: advice and support for men experiencing domestic abuse.

More on managing your finances