The UK divorce rate is on the rise amid the cost-of-living crisis.
Rising bills are being blamed for driving Britain’s couples apart, said The Times, as divorce cases hit their highest level for a decade. “Simply, a strained marriage can become even more so when the purse strings have to tighten,” the newspaper said.
New rules that aim to reduce legal battles and the time it takes to separate could also be contributing to the rise in the divorce rate. No-fault divorces were introduced in April 2022, removing the need for someone to take the legal blame for a separation.
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There were 24,273 divorce applications made between October and December 2022 under the new legislation, according to the Ministry of Justice, up 5% on the same period in 2021.
The costs of a divorce, from legal fees to submitting official documents, “can run into the tens of thousands of pounds”, said The Times Money Mentor, and going through a divorce, or the dissolution of a civil partnership, “can still be as draining on your emotions as it can be on your finances”.
Here is how to keep the costs of divorce down.
How much does divorce cost?
The average cost of a divorce in the UK stands at £14,561, according to MoneyHelper. That covers expenses such as paying for solicitors, and court and legal document fees.
There are lots of financial implications beyond the legal costs, though.
Decisions need to be made on everything from dividing pensions and investments to who pays the mortgage, explained MoneyWeek, which could mean selling the family home, putting you “at the mercy of the housing market”.
Separating your “intertwined finances” is important when the marriage comes to an end, added the financial website. This means closing joint accounts and ensuring that your credit reports reflect your change of circumstances.
What is the cheapest way to get divorced?
The absolute minimum you have to pay to get divorced is the mandatory £593 application fee, “after that it depends on your circumstances and legal fees,” said The Times Money Mentor.
Your divorce could be “relatively quick and cheap” if both parties agree that the marriage is over, explained MoneyHelper. This is known as a “DIY divorce” where the couple go through the process with little or no help from a solicitor.
Many couples arrange their own divorce or dissolution with minimal legal advice, the financial guidance website added, but there can be problems especially when it comes to issues such as children, property, and money.
“Working out your own financial agreement, with or without professional support, can seem the cheapest and easiest way to a settlement,” the website said, but it can be complex, so it may be worth “at least one safety check meeting with a specialist family lawyer”.
If you need to use a solicitor, said MoneyNerd, the person applying for the divorce – the petitioner – will pay somewhere between £500 and £1,000 in lawyer fees on average. The respondent will also pay their own solicitor fees, “which are typically between £250 and £600”.
How to lower divorce costs
The introduction of “no-fault” divorces aimed to “stop a blame culture and create an environment where both parties respect each other throughout the process”, said MoneyNerd, “which could make splitting finances and assets easier” and therefore hopefully make the process cheaper and quicker.
Rather than adding hours to your solicitor’s timesheet, consider using a mediator, who can help you and your ex agree how to split money and property without taking sides.
“Mediation is not relationship counselling”, explained Gov.uk. However, it can help you agree on how you’ll divide your assets and can be quicker and cheaper than asking a court to decide for you.
You’ll need to attend a mediation information assessment meeting (MIAM) before you start mediation to decide if this route is right for you. A MIAM costs around £120. A mediator’s decision isn’t legally binding, but you can get a court order to approve it.
Depending on how many sessions are needed, said MoneyHelper, costs for mediation can range from £300 to £1,500 – “a small sliver compared to the thousands and thousands you’re charged if your divorce goes to court”.
Arbitration is also increasingly common, said Good Housekeeping. An arbitrator may charge £5,000 to £8,000 but is “much quicker than going to court” and the decision is final and binding. You can find an arbitrator at the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators.
Legal aid is no longer available in divorce cases but people on low incomes or benefits may be able to access it for mediation or to pay certain court fees. There are also organisations and charities that can provide support and advice, such Family Lives and Citizens Advice.
Make sure you build a strong network of support from family or friends who can help with the emotional aspect of your divorce, added The Times Money Mentor. After all, “your solicitor is not your counsellor.”
Marc Shoffman is an award-winning freelance journalist, specialising in business, property and personal finance. He has a master’s degree in financial journalism from City University and has previously written for FTAdviser, ThisIsMoney, The Mail on Sunday and MoneyWeek.
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