Can I Do My Own Divorce?

The short answer is yes, you can. Ninety percent of divorces in Canada do not need a lawyer — the couple divorcing do not have a complicated financial situation and agree that they want their marriage to end.

The legal requirements for a divorce are regulated by the federal Divorce Act of 1986; the process varies a little between provinces because of variations in the way provincial courts handle the steps.

Do You Really Want to Divorce?

This should always be your first question. There may be alternatives. Here in no special order are four:

  • A period of separation may give both of you a better perspective on your relationship and issues.
  • Marriage counsellors can and do help couple to identify and resolve issues, even when those issues sometimes seem impossible to fix.
  • Parenting classes can be very helpful if the introduction of children into the marriage is part of the stress.
  • Having a frank and open discussion with a money counsellor may be a better solution than splitting up.

If none of those options feels right, or you have “been there, tried that” and it didn’t work, here is what you need to know about doing your own divorce.

Reasons for Divorce

The only reason a court will grant a divorce in Canada is breakdown of the marriage. There are three reasons for breakdown in the Divorce Act:

  1. Separation: you and your spouse have lived separate and apart for at least one year.
  2. Adultery: you are claiming a divorce against your spouse because your spouse has had a volutary sexual relationship outside your marriage.
  3. Cruelty: Your spouse has committed acts of physical or mental cruelty on you.

Of the three reasons above, only separation should be used in a do-it-yourself divorce.

If adultery or cruelty is the reason you want a divorce, you should seek legal help. The same applies to spousal desertion. Cruelty, adultery, and desertion almost always result in legal conflict and you need a lawyer to help with such claims.

If you and your spouse mutually agree to live separate and apart for a year, you have the first step towards doing your own divorce application.

Separation Agreements

A separation agreement is a form of contract between you and your spouse. In it, the two of you reach a written agreement on the basic terms of your divorce. While a separation agreement is not an essential part of a do-it-yourself divorce, it can be very helpful in two ways:

  1. Working through the terms of a well-constructed separation agreement will make you and your spouse focus on the things the law requires you to agree upon for an uncontested divorce. If you cannot agree on the terms, counseling or the help of a lawyer will be needed.
  2. Presenting a proper separation agreement to the court during your divorce application helps reinforce to the court that you and your spouse have addressed the terms of the Divorce Act and agreed to abide by them.
Further Reference We provide a wide range of books and downloadable kits to help couples with divorce

See the complete list in our Web store.

36 thoughts on “Can I Do My Own Divorce?

    1. Judges look at the application in terms of content, to verify that issues including child and spousal support, together with division of assets, are done fairly and within the (support) guidelines. Sole applications and joint applications are not really different and I don't think one is a “stronger” or “better” approach than the other.

    1. Yes, it is possible, but you will probably require the help of a lawyer to convince the court. The law states you should be living “separate and apart” during the year.

  1. Yes you can be separated and live in the same house. As long as you both agree that you were not living as a married couple.

  2. Hi………the bank will not acknowledge our separation agreement from Self- Counsel… as it is not signed by a lawyer….as the bank needs the agreement for the mortgage……can the bank say no to this agreement?
    It is a legal document is it not?


  3. In a divorce, is one spouse responsible to pay 1/2 of the other spouse's student loans, a smaller portion of which includes living expenses.

  4. I have been separated for over 20 years. Do I need to inform my ex husband of my proceedings ? I also have the sole applicant forms from self counsel press, can I use them ? do I need to use the ex-parte even if our child is legal age? or can I skip that part? Also do I need to be separated legally first or can I just file for divorce? Also if he filed already how would I get my maiden name back ?

    1. Separation is not the same as divorce. If you and your husband never formally divorced then you should have him served with papers to complete the process. If you aren't sure where he is or there are other circumstances you should probably consult a lawyer.

      Also, your maiden name is yours to use when you want, but once you have a divorce certificate it will be really easy to get all the organizations you deal with to change it back right away.

    1. Hi Marian,

      Yes. Depending on the province in which you wish to file for divorce, there are different forms for situations with or without children (both included in the kits). Simply follow the instructions in the kit. Provided all matters related to the divorce, child custody, etc., can be agreed to by you and your spouse and won't require a court's intervention you shouldn't have any problems doing a do-it-yourself divorce.

  5. Hi there
    I purchased the Ontario Divorce Kit a couple of years ago – 18th edition, and am now getting around to starting the process. I'm looking for the online updates to the forms that are included in the kit. Could you direct me?
    Would there be significant changes to the forms between then and now?
    Would using old versions of the forms be grounds for rejection at the court offices?

    Thanks for your time

  6. Hi………the bank will not acknowledge our separation agreement from Self- Counsel… as it is not signed by a lawyer….as the bank needs the agreement for the mortgage……can the bank say no to this agreement? _It is a legal document is it not? _Thanks _

    1. The Separation Agreement when properly signed an witnessed per the instructions in the book is recognized by divorce courts across Canada (except Quebec, which has different laws) and has been widely used for more than a decade. It is also actionable under contract law, for example if the agreement stipulates a certain amount of money be paid monthly in support payments and an ex-spouse ceases such payments, it is possible to start an action to collect. The courts do not require a lawyer or notary to sign the document.In this case, you should ask the bank if a notarized statement by both spouses that they did indeed sign the Separation Agreement (copy attached) would be sufficient, as it sounds as if the bank is doubting the validity of the signatures. Richard DaySelf-Counsel Press

  7. Hello, my daughter has been separated for about two months from her husband because of his adultery (more than once to a few different women) and his contrary lifestyle. She is expecting their first child. All matters seem to be uncontested including child support, visitation rights, division of assets, etc.. My questions are; 1) Can the divorce be fast tracked rather than waiting a year?, and 2) Would the divorce kit work in this case? They both want to get on with life. I am her father and spent many years doing litigation and collections through the courts so, although I am not a lawyer, I am quite familiar with working with the courts.

    1. Don, the Federal rules for an uncontested divorce require the 12 months “living separate and apart” so that will not work in this case, and neither will our kits. So long as her spouse agrees to proceed, it should be possible to seek a divorce on grounds of adultery, and obtain a similar result to an uncontested divorce, but we believe you will need some legal assistance to go down that road. Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  8. It has been a year since my seperation . We both want to get a divorce and file jointly. My ex has moved out of the country and I can only communicate via email. She will mail me her signed papers, can I then sign them and submit them to the registry?

  9. Yes, she can mail you her signed papers but you should first check with the registry whether they will want her to have her signing notarised.Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  10. My ex and I have lived apart for 14 years. He has been living with someone for the past 10, and so have I.
    Our children are both grown ups now.
    When I fill out the Divorce Kit paperwork and send it to him, does he need to have his signature notarised or just witnessed?

  11. If you follow the steps in the divorce kit, you will see a section describing how you need to “serve” the papers on your ex. It is a quite straightforward process. Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  12. Hello, I'm doing my own divorce preparation here in Canada as I live here for over 12 months. Am separated from my husband for more than 32 years and never lived in a marriage kind of relationship. I sent an Affidavit of Personal Service delivered to him by one of my relative in my country and confirmed that he received it and he knew and is not against it. Do I need to have the affidavit back here with me? Does it need notarization from lawyer in my country before they send it back to me?

  13. Assuming you are using one of our provincial divorce kits, the procedures and legal requirements for proper handling of the Affidavit of Personal Service are spelled out in detail in the kit. Any deviation from those steps would almost certainly cause the application to be rejected in the courts. Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

    1. If you and your ex are not in agreement on issues such as child support and access, and spousal support (both covered by federal legislation) and/or issues like property, then yes your spouse will want to have a lawyer as well. Bear in mind that the cost of lawyers can be greater than anything you might save in a disputed divorce. A divorce by agreement, without involving lawyers, is a less costly approach, if you can agree on key issues. Richard Day

  14. What if I already have sole custody and guardianship and there is a life time police inforced restraining order. I do not know where he is and I dont want him knowing where I am. Can I file myself. Does he have to be served?

    1. There s a process involving searching for someone and then declaring to the divorce court that the person could not be found. Your best approach to do this successfully is to work with a lawyer, both because the search needs to be documented to the court and because a lawyer can help you keep your location anonymous. Richard DayPublisherSelf-Counsel Press

  15. We married 6 years ago. She left me 4 years ago, and I have no idea of her whereabouts. She left B.C. and I don't know where she lives. What are my options.

    1. This is a fairly common situation. There is a legal process in BC called “substitutional service” in which the divorce court requires certain searches to be undertaken to confirm and document that the person cannot be found/does not respond. This requires an application to the divorce court and affidavits to be signed by a lawyer. So the process is no do-it-yourself, and we recommend you contact a divorce lawyer to help. Richard Day

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