How much does divorce cost in the UK?
Money expert and Founder of Fairer Finance
Last updated 27th April 2023
6 min read
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 £600.
If you're in a civil partnership, the process of ending your union is the same, but it's known as a dissolution, rather than a divorce.
New simpler process
New rules that came into force in 2022 have made it much easier to get a divorce than it once was.
Under the old rules, you could only file for divorce if your partner had cheated on you, deserted you, or behaved unreasonably. Alternatively, you would need to have been separated for a minimum of two years – and five if both parties didn't consent to the divorce.
Today, anyone can apply for divorce as long as they've been married for at least a year, and they believe their relationship has permanently broken down.
It's no longer possible to contest a divorce, other than on grounds of jurisdiction – for example, if you were married outside of the UK. So you can apply for a divorce even if your partner doesn't consent, and the process is quick and simple.
The cost of a simple divorce
If you have relatively simple financial affairs, the cost of a divorce can be very reasonable.
The main cost, which you can’t avoid, is the court fee – which is currently £593. If you file for divorce together, you can agree to split this fee. But if you apply for divorce on your own, you will need to pay the whole fee.
The government simplified the divorce process in 2022, and it's now very easy to complete the whole application online.
Even if your affairs are fairly simple, you may want to engage a specialist solicitor. This shouldn't cost more than £400-500 if your affairs are straightforward.
Some solicitors offer fixed fee packages, while others charge by the hour. 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(solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk opens in a new tab)
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.
How long does divorce take?
The fastest you can process a divorce is six months.
You'll need to wait 20 weeks from when you start your application before you can get what's called a conditional order. This is where the court decides if your divorce can go ahead.
This time is designed to give couples a chance to make sure they want to proceed – and at the end of the 20 weeks, you'll be notified by the court that you can now apply for your conditional order.
After that, you'll need to wait six weeks and one day to apply for the final order. And once that's issued, the divorce is complete.
What if my partner doesn't want a divorce?
Under the new 2022 rules, only one person needs to want a divorce.
If you make a sole application, the papers will be served to your partner and they will have 14 days to respond. If they don't, you can ask for the court bailiff to serve the papers to your partner – although there is a fee for this. If your partner can't be traced, you can ask the court to proceed without their involvement.
There are now only three reasons that a divorce can be contested – the marriage didn't exist in the first place, the couple have already divorced, or the court doesn't have jurisdiction.
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(www.gov.uk opens in a new tab)).
This takes into account your income, how many children are involved and how much time each parent will be spending with the children.
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 court fee of £593.
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 £1,345 a month. You can earn an extra £265 a month 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 gov.uk/get-help-with-court-fees(www.gov.uk opens in a new tab).
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 nidirect.gov.uk/legal-aid(www.nidirect.gov.uk opens in a new tab). In Scotland, visit slab.org.uk's eligibility estimator(www.slab.org.uk opens in a new tab).
If you find yourself in debt after a costly divorce whilst approaching retirement, read our guide on how to manage any debt you might have.
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 need one of will have 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 okay 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.