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Who pays the divorce fees?

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 £593) and other fees.

Read more about the difference between the Petitioner and Respondent

Unfortunately, the cut in Legal Aid funding for the majority of family law cases in 2013 means that for most people, their only option is to fund their case privately.

However, there are several ways to get help with paying your legal fees.

  • How much does a financial settlement in a divorce cost?

    We recommend you approach the financial aspect of your case on the basis that you and your spouse will each meet your own costs.

    In terms of negotiating a financial settlement, it is more difficult to be precise about costs. However, a solicitor should always provide you with a cost estimate before embarking down this route.

    You and your ex-partner might agree on how to divide your assets, but this agreement is not legally binding unless a court approves a consent order.

    If the assets in the case are minimal, or the parties have already decided who gets what, then it may just be a case of getting a solicitor to draw up a clean break consent order to prevent either party from claiming against the other in the future.

    The document still needs to be prepared carefully and approved by the court. Legal fees could range from £1250 to £2500 to get this completed.

    You can read more about consent orders here:
    https://www.stowefamilylaw.co.uk/divorce/divorce-guides/what-is-a-consent-order/
    https://www.stowefamilylaw.co.uk/blog/2020/09/22/what-is-a-consent-order/

    However, if there is a dispute, achieving a financial settlement could require considerable work.

    It is likely you will need to go through a disclosure exercise to establish what assets each party has to achieve a fair settlement. Depending on the assets’ complexity, this may be a complicated process or relatively straightforward.

    Read more about financial disclosure in divorce. 

    Often, the more complex the family finances, the greater the costs to reach a settlement.

    It may be necessary to obtain independent expert advice concerning the value of a property, business interests, pensions or other assets which will have cost implications.

    The usual arrangement is each party meets one half of the fee payable to an expert. Most cases are resolved by negotiation — generally via solicitors — once mutual financial disclosure has taken place.

    Read more about companies and divorce. 

    Once a comprehensive settlement is reached, this may be set out in a draft Consent Order and sent to the court for approval.

    Ultimately if no agreement can be reached, then the court will need to decide who gets what. If a case goes all the way to a final hearing, which is very rare, it would not be unusual for legal fees to be over £20,000.

    Therefore, it is important to always think about the cost-benefit analysis. There is little point in spending thousands of pounds fighting over something worth less than that.

  • How much does a child arrangements case in a divorce cost?

    In terms of child arrangements, the cost will depend on the nature of the dispute.

    Ultimately, if the case ends up in court, it is likely to cost several thousand pounds, considerably more if the case goes all the way to a final hearing. On top of this, there may also be barrister’s fees to pay.

    The best approach, wherever possible, is to keep things amicable and consider the court process only as a last resort.

    Other routes are available to resolve matters by agreement, for example, family mediation, collaborative law or a round-table meeting with respective lawyers to negotiate an agreement.

  • Can I share the cost with my spouse?

    If you reach an agreement, particularly where only one of you intends to appoint a solicitor, it is often the case that the legal costs incurred are shared.

    Otherwise, if you are the petitioner and you are pursuing a fault-based divorce, e.g. adultery or unreasonable behaviour, then you can look to claim your divorce costs from your spouse regardless of whether there is an agreement.

  • Can the petitioner claim for the divorce costs?

    If you are the petitioner ( the person who has started divorce proceedings), you can make an application for costs from the other person (respondent).

    Typically, 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.

  • How can the petitioner claim divorce 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 upon at this 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.  If costs cannot be agreed upon, the petitioner can continue with their application for costs, and the court will decide.

    Whilst it is possible to apply for a costs order in certain circumstances, the application’s outcome cannot be guaranteed.

    At each stage of the court process, both parties are required to provide a breakdown of their costs. This will enable you to compare your outlay with that of your spouse.

    The court will consider if the costs claimed are reasonable and look at both parties’ conduct before and during the divorce process.

    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.

  • Is it recommended to claim for divorce court costs?

    If the respondent does not agree to pay towards the divorce costs, it could cause unnecessary issues, which may 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 respondent’s likelihood of challenging the issue of costs later on down the line.

Tips for controlling the cost of divorce:

Discuss potential costs with your solicitor before you begin.

Ask about additional costs, for example, court fees and disbursements (barrister’s fees, lawyer’s travel costs, photocopying large documents, etc.)

Give clear instructions. Ensure that your lawyer is clear about what you want to achieve. Changing your mind can result in unnecessary time delays.

Consider all options for resolving disputes – your lawyer will discuss this with you. For example, family mediation may help you reach an agreement, or collaborative lawyers can help you negotiate without the need to go to court.

Read more about mediation.

Do your homework. Your solicitor will need full financial disclosure from you, so you can prepare by gathering together documents and information that is required.  The more you can prepare and provide information, the less your solicitor will need to do, which will reduce costs.

Think about where you and your children will live after you are divorced. Can you afford to stay in your home? If you sell the house, can you afford to buy a new property?

Find out from a mortgage adviser what your mortgage capacity is, and speak to estate agents to find how many suitable properties there are in your area.

You can read more about dividing the family home here.

Return all paperwork promptly so your solicitor does not have to spend time chasing things up.

If you need some help and support throughout the divorce process, consider using qualified divorce counsellors who can help guide you through the potential emotional traumas. They charge at a much lower hourly rate than a qualified lawyer.

What is the average cost of a divorce in the UK?

Many people considering separating might be put off from pursuing divorce proceedings because they fear it may be an expensive process.

If separation is very acrimonious, and/or there are complexities such as foreign assets, family businesses or trust assets, resolving the dispute can be costly. However, in straightforward cases, especially where both parties are reasonable, there is no reason why the process should cost you too much.

The benefit of accessing proper legal advice, and having a final order drawn up to make your financial or child arrangements agreement legally binding, is worth investing in.

Therefore, as long as both parties cooperate, a solicitor can give you an accurate estimate as to what your divorce is likely to cost.

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