Unfortunately, as well as being a highly emotional process, getting a divorce can also become a financial burden, costing, on average, well in excess of a £1,000.
Depending on individual circumstances this figure can end up much higher but, by the same token, it is also possible to spend significantly less than this.
Here we give an overview of the process of getting divorced, look at the various costs involved and offer advice on what you can do to minimise them.
What Are The Standard Court Fees?
Even in the most straightforward divorce cases, you still have to pay two different sets of court fees, once to get proceedings started and once to have your divorce finalised.
Filing for Divorce
If you are looking to initiate proceedings you need to petition for divorce. This involves filling in a divorce petition form giving some details of your situation and stating your grounds for divorce. This form should be sent to your nearest county court.
To have your petition filed and get the divorce started you will need to pay a court fee of £340. If the recipient of the petition fails to respond it won’t stop you being able to proceed but it could slow things up and you may incur further costs in having to have a bailiff serve the forms to them. To avoid this, if possible, it’s best to discuss matters with your spouse to secure their cooperation before beginning.
Obtaining a Decree Nisi and a Decree Absolute
If your spouse has no objections to your petition you then need to apply for a ‘Decree Nisi’. (If they dispute your petition you may need a court hearing or mediation).
You don’t have to pay anything to get a Decree Nisi, however you cannot get a ‘Decree Absolute’, the final stage in terminating your marriage, until at least 6 weeks after obtaining the Decree Nisi.
To have your divorce finalised you simply need a notice of application for a decree nisi to be made absolute and pay the £45 court fee. Once you’ve done this you’re marriage is over and you should inform any institutions who will need to know this and be sure to alter legal documents such as life insurance policies or wills that are based around your previous relationship.
Normally, even in uncontested divorces, you will have to have swear an affidavit during court proceedings. This has be done in front of a solicitor and costs £7.50.
Can I Get Help With Court Fees?
You can get a reduction or even a complete exemption from court fees if you are on a living on a low income or benefits. To apply for a remission or to claim back after having paid the fee you need to use an EX160 form. You can find full details of how to go about doing this with this guide to applying for a court fee remission.
Can I Get Help With The Paper Work?
If your divorce does remain uncontested, having it go through will simply be a matter of filing out the appropriate paper work. This is relatively straightforward and you can get written guidance on filling them out when you download them. (You can do this at the HM Courts and Tribunal Service’s form finder website.)
However if you do require help over the various hurdles in an uncontested divorce it can be acquired at relatively low cost. There are sites out there who will do all the paper work for you. For example www.quickie-divorce.com will take care of proceedings for £67.
Alternatively, you can get packages that include limited legal advice, guidance and checking of forms for under £300 including VAT, such as the Co-Op’s DIY divorce range.
Whilst this could make life a little easier, it should be stressed that the forms are simple and free guidance on filling them out is also easily available free of charge.
Working Together to Keep Costs Down
When you petition for divorce you can opt to demand that your spouse pays your divorce costs. Obviously, if they’re likely to agree this will save you the cost of the fees, however, the easiest way to keep the cost of a divorce down is to keep it uncontested.
By settling out of court quickly you can avoid having to use solicitors. If the divorce is contested you will need attended court hearings and will, as a result, will need help from legal professionals. You will have to consult a solicitor and will also probably need to use a barrister as well. If there are multiple hearings this can become incredibly expensive.
If you are able to work together you and your spouse can easily keep unavoidable costs to a minimum and completely avoid the need for expensive legal battles. For instance, one of you will need to a petitioner and one a respondent. It does not particularly matter who is which in terms of lasting affects, but if it is not agreed before hand it can create animosity as one party will feel they are on ‘the receiving end’ of things (not least because all the stated grounds of divorce will relate to their behaviour rather than the petitioners.)
This can mean the respondent feels the need to defend themselves. If they do, you will both need to go to a court hearing, which will take up more of your time and money. Alternatively, they may start their own divorce proceedings and give their own grounds for divorce. Again this adds more time and expense (there’s a £230 to pay) to the process.
If you are able to decide between you how you’ll spilt the costs and you understand from the outset that it makes no difference who divorces whom or on what grounds you can avoid things being drawn out of an unnecessary desire to ‘set the record straight’.
(It should be noted that under certain grounds for divorce the respondent will normally be told to pay the costs instead of the petitioner by the court. However this does not need to be a problem, as long as you agree to just split costs before hand. If you’re the respondent you don’t need to worry about this as counting as an admission of guilt that could be taken into account with consideration to how assets will be split or how custody might work. This would only apply in cases of very extreme unreasonable behaviour.)
What About Fixed Fees Divorces From Solicitors’ Firms?
If you want legal professionals rather than an online service, you can hire a solicitor to take your case for a set fee of around between £1,000 and £1,500 (it will be about half this if you are the respondent rather than the petitioner).
This will normally cover;
- Some level of consultation
- Completion of all forms
- Court fees
As you can see from the above list, aside from the fact that you will get a consultation, there is very little included here that you cannot do for fee yourself or at low cost, so think carefully about whether you need such help.
These fixed fees are only usually available for straightforward, undefended divorces and the fees will not cover any work relating to getting your financial arrangements in order (splitting assets, property and pensions etc) or arranging custody of children.
Can I Apply For Legal Aid?
Legal Aid used to be available to help those on low incomes take legal action to overcome problems in their lives. However as of April 2013 this has been comprehensively cut in a wide range of areas, divorce included.
You now only will only be eligible for legal aid to help with the cost of a divorce in cases where domestic violence, or a significant of violence, can be proven. As a result about 200,000 more cases a year will have to be paid for privately.
More Complicated Cases
Whilst attaining the legally recognised status of divorced is fairly easy, unless you can do it with your spouse, sorting out financial arrangements and custody is not so easy. Even if your relationship has stayed amicable, if you have assets such as property and if there are children involved you will need the help of legal representatives to help ensure you get a fair deal. Even if this does not entail fighting it out in court, at around £100 an hour, mediation behind closed doors can still be costly.
Obviously, how much you will end up paying in such cases will vary according to your circumstances but there are various things you can do to try and stop costs spiraling out of your reach.
The most important is to get a very clear estimate of how much your case is going to cost and to establish how you’ll be expected to meet this estimate. For example, by having fees reviewed and paid monthly can ensure you aren’t hit by an astronomical bill out of the blue.
Secondly, you should be prepared to put in as much effort as possible handling tasks that you can perform yourself to ensure they aren’t done on your solicitor’s time. For example, your solicitor will require fairly detailed information about your finances. If you can get organised and do this for them you can avoid being charged for having them do it.
You also need to be smart with your communications. Letters and phone calls to your solicitor between scheduled meetings will cost you. It’s best to save anything you need to say until you’re face to face and raise it as part of a planned agenda. On the other hand, you need to able to respond quickly to communication from your solicitor or they may have to bill you for time spent trying to get their instructions.
Being able to come to a quick agreement with your spouse wherever you can will also speed things up and help keep costs manageable.
Problems With The Industry
In February of 2013 the legal ombudsman warned that solicitors were not doing enough to help clients keep costs down and act in their best interests. Indeed, close to 20% of all complaints about legal professionals related to divorce cases making it the single worst performing area of law.
A quarter of these complaints related to cost. In one famous case which recently garnered much media attention a woman was presented with a bill which was £15,000 higher than the original quote she received. Amongst the hard to decipher list of costs it was discovered she’d been charged £4,000 for photocopying.
The report, entitled The Cost of Separation, found that two key problems were to be found in solicitors failing to keep their clients updated on the size of the bill they’re amassing and, perhaps more worryingly, failing to advise their customers to take a more conciliatory, less expensive approach wherever possible.
Given that lengthy legal battles can costs the best part of £100,000 it’s vital couples should be aware of how much they can save buy avoiding the necessity for court judgments.
The key is to, as stated above, take a DIY approach to your divorce and, where this is not possible to demand a clear outline on price from the start and to keep constant tabs on the price. Always be aware that pursuing an aggressive course of action with regards to settlements will be costly and does not guarantee you a favorable result.