How much does getting divorced cost?

There are always some costs associated with getting divorced but it need not be a tremendously expensive undertaking, especially if the law firm offers a fixed reduced-fee divorce. Most couples succeed in reaching an agreement on dividing their assets, paying maintenance and looking after any children without drawn-out legal proceedings, and for them divorce is a mostly bureaucratic process, centred around the filling out of forms and payment of the standard £550 court fee.

Costs can start to climb, however, if the soon-to-be former couple fail to reach an agreement between themselves and argue over who should get what. Sometimes couples separate in rancorous circumstances: and agreement is always difficult when emotions are running high. A family court may need to intervene to ensure a fair division of the money and respect for the children’s right to a relationship with both their parents.

Other common problems include one party suspecting the other of trying to hide assets or money, or one spouse pressuring the other into agreeing things that were not – or would not be – in their best interests. The wealthier party may be dragging their feet and not paying their fair share, neglecting child support or the mortgage payments perhaps, leaving the estranged spouse struggling.

If you find yourself facing such a stressful situation, you may need to consider legal action. The first step on the road towards doing so is to seek legal advice from a solicitor. But what if you’re worried about paying the bills?

Can I get legal aid for my divorce?

Probably not – unless you have been unlucky enough to experience domestic abuse, domestic violence or the abduction of your child by the other parent. Legal aid used to be more freely available for divorce disputes but it was severely restricted by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, which came into force in April 2013.

However, the government is keen to encourage arguing couples to mediate, so funding is available for sessions with a professional mediator. But for this to have any chance of success, both parties must be willing to fully commit to the process. A couple at loggerheads is unlikely to gain much from mediation. And most mediators are not legally trained and so cannot advise on legal matters.

What if I can’t afford a solicitor?

When legal aid was available for most family disputes, nobody had to worry about paying for a solicitor: either they could afford to so or they would receive public funding. Things are more complicated now.

If you need legal representation for a difficult divorce, but think you may struggle to pay the fees, there are a few possibilities worth exploring:

  • Seek advice rather than ongoing representation. In other words, book one or more appointments or two with a family solicitor to discuss your situation and receive advice but do not ‘instruct’ or hire them. This is a cost-effective way to ensure you have a clear understanding of your legal situation and that you are moving in the right direction – especially if you plan to represent yourself in court.
  • Discuss your financial situation with a solicitor. In some situations, if there are significant assets at stake, you may be able to reach an agreement in which you pay your legal costs from your eventual financial settlement. This is sometimes referred to as a ‘Sears Tooth’ agreement.
  • If your ex-partner is reasonably wealthy, the courts may order to him or her to pay your legal costs. Alternatively, your estranged spouse may agree to do so voluntarily, for the sake of reaching a financial settlement and finalising the divorce within a particular timeframe.
  • If you decide to borrow money to fund your case, we recommend taking a moderate and sensible approach. Proceed with caution and avoid high interest commercial loans if you possibly can. If you have friends or family willing and able to lend you money, so much the better – but it is still sensible to write down the terms of any agreement you reach with them in order to avoid the possibility of complications in the future.

My ex isn’t paying maintenance – what can I do?

Some people find themselves facing a different kind of problem – just getting by while their divorce moves forward. If they were financially dependent on the other spouse, separation may have meant a sudden loss of income if the separation was not an amicable one. Maintenance awards do not become binding until the financial settlement has been finalised. So, what do you do if your ex refuses to come to an agreement in the meantime – or what if they appear to agree but then drag their feet or fail to pay the full amount?

Answer: you can ask the courts to award you temporary maintenance until a final settlement is reached. This is known as ‘maintenance pending suit’ and it is as legally binding as any other kind, just time-limited.

This is a complex issue. We recommend exploring all your options and seeking advice as soon as you can from a family law specialist. Here at Major Family Law, we offer a fixed fee package of £250, plus VAT and the court fee (see above), to handle an uncontested divorce petition within England.

Image by Tristan Martin via Flickr (Creative Commons