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Who pays the legal fees in a divorce?

The general rule on who pays the legal fees in a divorce is that each person getting divorced will pay their legal costs and the person applying for the divorce (the petitioner) will be responsible for covering the court fee (which is currently £550) and other fees.

Zoe Carter, Solicitor from the Stowe Family Law office in Cheltenham, joins us to explain in more detail about who pays the legal fees in a divorce? 

Does the petitioner always have to pay for the court fees?

No. In the majority of cases, the petitioner pays the court fee however some couples agree to split the court fees between them. You can also make an application for costs from the other person (further details below). 

Can the petitioner claim for the divorce court costs?

If you are the petitioner, you can make an application for costs from the other person (respondent). 

Normally, a claim for costs will only be successful in the event of a marriage breakdown where a fault-based reason, or ‘fact for divorce’ has been relied upon i.e. adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion. 

If you are on a low income or in receipt of state benefits including Jobseekers Allowance, Income Support, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance and Universal credit, you can apply to the court for help with these fees by completing an EX160 form “Apply for help with fees”.

How can the petitioner claim for divorce court costs? 

If the petitioner wishes to apply for costs against the respondent then best practice is to reach an agreement on costs before the petition is issued with the court.  If costs cannot be agreed at that stage the petitioner can include a claim for full costs in the petition itself.

If costs are agreed at the Decree Nisi stage, a ‘costs order’ can be made by agreement.  If costs cannot be agreed, the petitioner can continue with their application for costs and the court will need to determine the issue. The court will need to consider if the costs claimed are reasonable and will also look at the conduct of both parties before and during the divorce process.

Does a respondent have to pay for divorce court costs? 

If a costs order is made the respondent is under a legal obligation to comply and pay and if there is a failure to do so, this could result in enforcement action being necessary. 

It is strongly advised to try and reach an agreement on costs before the divorce is submitted to the court.  The overwhelming majority of cases proceed undefended so that no attendance at Court is required in connection with the divorce but the issue of costs is one that may see attendance at court necessary. 

Additional costs may also be incurred if complications arise in proceedings such as where a spouse does not file the Acknowledgement of Service with the court. 

Are there any other costs to consider in divorce?

Divorce often has two costs elements: the itemised court fees and the solicitor’s costs for negotiating a financial settlement and or child arrangements.  

It is difficult to forecast how much the solicitor’s cost will be at the outset as it depends on a number of factors including the willingness of both parties to negotiate and the complexity of the family finances and proposed child arrangements, if applicable.  

The majority of cases are resolved by negotiation, usually via solicitors, once the financial disclosure has taken place, with each party bearing their costs.  Whilst it is possible to apply for a costs order in certain circumstances, the outcome of such an application cannot be guaranteed and the usual course is that each party covers their own legal costs.

If a settlement is reached, we recommend the terms agreed are recorded in a consent order. There is a Court fee of £50 which has to be paid to the Court which is often split between the parties.

Is there a difference in costs in fault-based divorce, adultery or unreasonable behaviour? 

The Petitioner can apply for costs and the success of this will partly depend on which reason or “fact” is given in the petition.  

Normally a claim for costs will only be successful if there is a ‘fault-based’ reason so where there has been adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion.  

If ‘blame’ is not being attributed for the marriage breakdown then it is less likely that any claim for costs will be successful.

Is it recommended to claim for divorce court costs? Or can it hold up the process? 

If the Respondent does not agree to pay towards the costs of divorce then it could cause unnecessary issues which may in turn increase costs and delays.  

It is, therefore, best practice to try and reach an agreement regarding the cost of divorce before the divorce petition is even sent to the court to be issued. By doing this you can reduce the likelihood of the Respondent challenging the issue of costs later on down the line.

Get in touch

If you would like any advice who pays the legal fees in a divorce, divorce or other family law issues please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers. 

I specialise in Child Law matters acting regularly for both parents and grandparents with cases involving disputes relating to child arrangements such as where a child should live or who they should spend time with. I have represented parties where Children’s Services are involved and work closely with organisations supporting victims of domestic abuse to obtain orders to ensure their safety and safeguarding of children. I also advise on divorce and separation.

Get in touch


  1. surjit dhillon says:

    if a person is suffering a nervous breakdown due to his wife placing various orders agaist him ie non -molestation to keep him away from his own property and children and making him homeless surely he has some rights rather being disposed off ,is it not correct that the courts should consider the malicious nature in which his wife is taking his life apart and hoping he just comits suicide under pressure. does he have no rights?
    and if he wishes to reject her application for divorce being homeless and pennyless because of her actions why should he have to pay for court costs.Is there any family law solicitor who can help him if hes no longer capable of taking care of his affairs?Please point me in the right direction

    • Jessica says:

      If a claim is made against me for legal costs, does this simply relate to the court fee’s or does this include the petitioners solicitors fees too?

  2. David says:

    There is an offer from the respondent to cover 50% of the court fee for a online filing, with the total cost being £550, split equally.

    This has been declined by the other party and is insisting on using a solicitor for the divorce process at a must greater cost (there are no assets or property shares, all financial affairs are resolved). Can the respondent be forced to pay these costs. Seems unreasonable when they have offered to pay 50% of the cost to file online.

    I would appreciate anyone’s knowledge on the matter. Thank you.

  3. Stephen McGeough says:

    I wish to get a divorce on unreasonable behaviour and claim costs from my wife as she was spending over £120 a week on drugs. I work nights so do not disturb is only off between 10.10am and 12.15pm

    • Sally Shakespeare says:

      Hi Stephen. Thanks for your enquiry. I have passed your details on to our Client Care team who will be in touch. Best wishes

  4. Jen says:

    How do I word a letter to my Husbands solicitor asking for full court cost in our divorce. I petitioned on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour as He is physically, mentally and financially Abusive.
    I have a solicitor dealing with finances but not the Divorce element.

    • Sally Shakespeare says:

      Hi Jen
      Thank you for your query. I have passed this on to our Client Care team who will be in touch. Best wishes

  5. Antony says:

    If a claim is made against me for costs, does this simply relate to the court fee’s, or does this include also the petitioners legal representation costs too?

    • Sally Shakespeare says:

      Hi Antony. Thank you for your query. I’ve passed this on to our Client Care team who will be in touch. Best wishes

  6. laura Datkiewicz says:

    Hi my father is going through a divorce and the divorce has been agreed but not the financial side of things. The claimant is asking for half of the divorce and her legal costs of over 5k to be paid by the respondent. Please can someone help me.

    • Sally Shakespeare says:

      Hi Laura. Thank you for your query. I have passed this on to our Client Care Team who will be in touch. Best wishes

  7. Daniel scott says:

    My wife is divorcing me for adultery and ordered for me to pay part or all of the court fees. How much is this roughly and also the house is still in both our names

    • Sally Shakespeare says:

      Thanks for your question Dan. I’ve passed your query on to our Client Care Team for advice. Kind regards

  8. Keith says:

    I have been told to pay petitioner cost, I didn’t attend the court hearing I thought the judge will see am on benefit and raising 2 kids alone and decide otherwise. My husband was abusive hence I fled from home with support from women Aid. He filed for divorce sighting unreasonable behaviour and was granted. What should I do not to pay the cost ?

    • Sally Shakespeare says:

      Thank you for your question. I have passed this on to our client care team who may be able to help. Kind regards

  9. Jenn says:

    My husband filed a divorce for unreasonable behaviours and I received a letter from the court states that the applicant is also applying to claim the costs of the divorce from the respondent. Does it mean he wants me to pay for the court fee £550? Thank you

    • Sally Shakespeare says:

      Thanks for your query which I have passed on to our Client Care team to respond. Kind regards

  10. Adele says:

    Hi, so I am looking to file for a divorce. My ex husband has been holding this to due to his financial situation as we have agreed to go half on the court fee £275 each. My question is if I were to file for divorce can I have it in there for him to then okay his half or do I pay full amount and then he is ordered to pay me? There is no bad feelings any longer and no battles to be had but I do just want it dealt with. Any advice would be great before I proceed with my application. Thank you

    • Sally Shakespeare says:

      Hi. Thanks for your question which I have passed to our Client Care Team who will be in touch. Best wishes

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