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How much does divorce cost in the UK?

James Daley - Fairer Finance founder and Managing Director.

James Daley

Money expert and Founder of Fairer Finance

Last updated 04th September 2020

If you or your partner decide to end your marriage, it’s natural to be worried about the cost. In television and films, divorce is often portrayed as expensive and acrimonious. But the good news is that in the UK, the process is much simpler and cheaper than it once was. In fact, it’s possible to get the whole thing done and dusted for less than £1,000 for professional fees.

Around two in five marriages in the UK end in divorce and, of those that do, some 99% are uncontested – meaning that both people agree to end the marriage. Nevertheless, for the 1% that end up being disputed and resolved through the courts, the cost can run to tens of thousands of pounds.

Reasons for divorce

If you want to file for divorce, you must be able to give one of five reasons for doing so.

  • Your partner cheated on you (adultery)
  • Your partner behaved unreasonably
  • Your partner deserted you – left you on your own for a minimum of two years
  • You and your partner have been separated for at least two years and both consent to a divorce
  • You and your partner have been separated for more than five years. In this case, it doesn’t matter if you both agree

From 2021, new divorce laws are coming into force which will make it easier to divorce, as long as one person says that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

The cost of a simple divorce

If you and your partner both agree to a divorce and have relatively simple financial affairs, the cost does not have to be too high.

One of the largest costs, which you can’t avoid, is the fee you have to pay to the government’s Divorce Centre – which is currently £550. This is paid by the petitioner – the person who is asking for the divorce. But if the divorce is completely amicable, you can arrange to split all the costs down the middle.

Although it’s possible to do all the paperwork yourself – for no cost – most people engage a solicitor to help them draw up and file a consent order, which lays out how you and your partner have agreed to split the things that you own. There is a cost of £50 to get the courts to process your consent order.

If you’re looking to engage a solicitor, it’s possible to get all the help you need for between £400-£500 if your affairs are relatively straightforward. This means that it’s possible for the total cost of divorce to be no more than £1,000 for the petitioner.

Some solicitors offer fixed fee packages, while others charge by the hour, with average costs running at £120-£300 an hour, depending on which part of the country you’re in and how senior a lawyer you’re dealing with. If you have lots of financial assets – or any kind of complication to your financial affairs - you’re likely to have to pay higher fees to get your divorce sorted. You can find a solicitor using the Law Society’s website https://solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk/

The other party in the divorce is known as the respondent. Most respondents also want to get their own legal independent legal advice – but this need not cost any more than £300-£500 if the divorce is amicable and your affairs are fairly simple.

Even if your divorce is amicable, it can be worth investing some additional money in getting a “clean break” agreement drawn up. This means that what you agree during your settlement is final, and that neither party can come back and challenge the settlement in the courts in later years.

The cost of getting this agreement drawn up can cost an extra £500-£1,000 in legal fees.

Divorce and children

If you have children, then you’ll also need to come to an agreement on who pays what going forward, and also when each of you will see and look after the children.

To lay out your access rights, you’ll need to draw up a parenting plan. And if you can’t easily agree on how much money should be paid in terms of child maintenance, you can use the government’s child maintenance service, which will tell you how much you need to pay. There’s a useful calculator on the government website which tells you how much you should pay (www.gov.uk/calculate-child-maintenance).

This takes into account your income, how many children are involved and how much time each parent will be spending with the children.

The cost of divorce if you don’t agree

If you want to file for divorce, and your partner doesn’t want split up, you’ll only be able to get things moving if your partner cheated on you or acted unreasonably. Otherwise, you’ll need to have been separated for at least five years before you can get a divorce without the other person’s consent. However, new laws are scheduled to come into force in 2021 which make it easier to get divorced. If one partner says that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, the other partner will no longer be allowed to contest the divorce. And the time period from filing for divorce to completion will be redued to six months.

As things stand, if you think you have grounds for divorce and you want to pursue it, even though your partner doesn’t agree, this is when you’re likely to be heading to the courts.

If you can get your partner to agree to attending mediation, this will be a much cheaper way of resolving your differences. Professional mediators typically charge between £100 and £200 an hour – but it can be as much as £250 if they’re also a qualified lawyer. Mediators can also be crucial in helping couples who can’t agree on the financial settlement when they’re getting a divorce.

Mediators won’t tell you what to do. Instead, they’ll try and facilitate an agreement between you and your partner, which you’re both happy with.

If you decide that you still can’t come to an agreement through mediation, you can turn to the courts to make a decision for you. This is where divorce starts to get much more expensive.

The court will charge you a fee of £255 to adjudicate, and then legal fees can typically cost around £10,000 to £15,000.

If you’re still not happy at this point, there’s a chance to appeal one more time and take the case to a full contested hearing. If you carry onto this level, you can expect legal fees to run to somewhere between £25,000-£50,000.

Can I get help with my costs?

If you’re on a low income or are claiming certain benefits, you may not have to pay the divorce centre fee of £550.

To qualify for this support, you need to have no more than £3,000 in savings if you’re under 61 and no more than £16,000 if you’re over 61.

You’ll also need to be earning below £1,245 a month before tax – although you can add £245 on to this threshold for each child you have. Alternatively, you can also get help with your court fees if you are on any of the following benefits, as long as you meet the savings criteria:

  • Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
  • Income Support
  • Universal Credit (and you earn less than £6,000 a year)
  • Pension Credit (Guarantee Credit)
  • Scottish Civil Legal Aid (not Advice and Assistance, or Advice by Way of Representation)

You can check whether you qualify for support on the government’s website at https://www.gov.uk/get-help-with-court-fees.

Support with your solicitor’s fees is only available to a much smaller group of people. In England and Wales, you’ll need to have been a victim of domestic abuse, or you or your children will need to have been abducted for you to qualify for legal aid. You may also qualify if you’re at risk of being made homeless.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, legal aid is still available to a wider group of people – and whether you qualify will depend on how much you earn. If you live in Northern Ireland, you can check whether you might qualify for legal aid by visiting http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/legal-aid.

In Scotland, visit http://www.slab.org.uk/public/civil/calculator

Other costs of divorce

Of course court fees and legal fees are not the only costs that you’ll pay when you get a divorce.

On top of all the procedural costs, there will also be costs involved in sorting out new housing, cars and replacing other shared items. A good financial settlement should cover some of these costs – but it won’t cover all of them.

When you split up with a partner, things that you used to only needed one of need to be replicated. If you’re the partner leaving the family home, then even if you’re given your share of your property’s value, there’s still tax and legal costs involved in buying a new house. Alternatively, if you’re renting, you won’t be sharing the costs anymore. So even though you might be ok downsizing to a smaller place, your share of the rent is likely to be substantially higher.

Similarly, you may only have needed one car in the past but if it’s staying with your partner, you might need to buy a new one, even though you’ll only get given half of the value of the old one.

So if you are thinking about divorce, it’s well worth working out what these costs would be and how you meet them before you go ahead.

If you’re struggling to pay the bills associated with your separation and divorce, it’s worth considering using a 0% credit card or low cost personal loan to help cover the costs. If you’re a member of a credit union, they may also be able to offer you low cost credit.

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