What does a divorce really cost? How much are court fees and solicitor fees? And what are the ways you can pay for your divorce? Our guide answers these questions and more, offering everything you need to know about divorce costs and paying for your divorce.
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What does divorce cost?
The cost of divorce depends on a range of factors such as whether the divorce is contested by either partner, and what your solicitor’s fees are (see below for more information on the issues that may affect the cost of your divorce).
If your divorce is uncontested (i.e. both partner fundamentally agrees with the divorce), then the average cost starts from:
- £1,000 if you are the one seeking the divorce (the ‘petitioner’)
- £240 if you are the other spouse (the ‘respondent’)
If you also require a basic financial settlement where nothing is complicated or contested, you’ll could expect to pay an additional fee starting from £500.
If your divorce is contested and you have to go to court to settle matters, it could end up costing £10,000 or more depending on the complexity of your case. If it proceeds to a final hearing where a judge will make a decision on your case, solicitor’s and court fees could end up costing more than £25,000.
It’s worth noting however that the vast majority of couples do not go to court and instead agree the terms of their divorce between them with the help of their solicitors.
Alternatives such as mediation may in some cases cost less (see the mediation section below) especially if it helps you avoid going to court.
What are the basic court fees for divorce, and who pays them?
Typically, it is the person who starts divorce proceedings who pays the court fees. The current court fee to file for divorce or dissolution of your marriage in England and Wales is £550. This fee also applies when applying for an annulment.
Application for a consent order – the document that makes your financial arrangements legally binding – is £100.
Application for a financial order, when you haven’t been able to agree on how your finances will be divided, is £255.
If you agree with the divorce, you can complete and return the court paperwork and you won’t pay anything towards the fees. However, if you don’t agree you will need to complete paperwork explaining why you’re defending the divorce. Your court fee in this instance is £245.
Can I get help with court fees?
If you have a low income, are on certain benefits, or you don’t have much in the way of savings, you may be able to get help with your court fees.
To be eligible for help you will need to meet one or more of these criteria:
- You must have less than £3,000 in savings if you’re under the age of 61.
- You must be on income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Universal Credit (and earn less than £6,000 a year) or Pension Credit.
- You earn less than £1,085 per month before tax if you’re single (£1,245 if you have a partner). You can earn £245 extra for each child you have.
How much does a solicitor cost for a divorce?
The cost of a solicitor varies between legal firms. Fees will also be based on the complexity of the work, length of negotiations, and your location in the UK.
Some solicitors offer a ‘fixed fee’ option which will guide you through the basic steps of an uncontested divorce (see below for more information).
If your case is more complex, or you end up going to court, you will normally pay for a solicitor on an hourly basis. Hourly rates can range from approximately £150 per hour for a junior solicitor to more than £500 per hour for an experienced solicitor in London. Typically, Legal Secretaries and Paralegals within a firm will handle the more routine aspects of a case so the solicitor’s billed hours are reduced. It’s common for a law firm to ask a new client to pay some funds upfront or ‘on account’ and the solicitor will draw on those funds as they or their team bill their time to your case.
The total cost will depend on how much work your solicitor does for you. Costs will increase if you need to negotiate a financial settlement or the financial application goes to a final court hearing.
How much does mediation cost?
At mediation, you and your spouse attend sessions where a trained mediator will help you to arrive at an agreement amicably, with no need for court action.
Relationship support provider Relate say that mediation ‘generally costs far less than an often lengthy and costly court battle.’ Of course it is also possible that mediation would cost more than a straightforward divorce that does not involve the courts.
You’ll generally pay between £70 and £150 for an initial Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to establish whether your case is suitable for mediation. Attending this meeting is a legal requirement if your case later ends up in court.
The cost of mediation will depend on the number of sessions you have, and ranges from around £300 to more than £2,000.
Will a family law firm offer a ‘fixed fee’ divorce?
Some law firms offer a ‘fixed fee’ divorce option in certain cases.
The fixed fee option typically applies where the divorce is uncontested and there are no complications and no financial settlement to agree. If you and your ex-spouse can’t agree on certain issues, then you are likely to end up paying more.
It’s important to remember that a ‘fixed fee’ is not the same as a ‘fixed rate’. For example, your solicitor may charge you a fixed fee for a simple, uncontested divorce and then charge a fixed hourly rate for any additional work. A fixed rate simply means that you will pay a fixed amount for every hour your solicitor works for you.
Most solicitors will aim to give you an estimation of the total overall cost when you initially speak to them, based on the information that you provide.
What might affect the cost of my divorce?
A number of factors can affect the amount that your divorce will cost. These include:
- Whether the divorce is contested or uncontested
- Whether you use a junior or more experienced solicitor
- Whereabouts in the UK you are
- Whether you need to agree a financial settlement
- Whether you are the one seeking the divorce (petitioner) or the other spouse (respondent)
- Whether you or your spouse disagree with proceedings and so enter into extended negotiations
- Whether there are any elements to your marriage that may complicate matters, such as having children, complex assets, or an international aspect to your relationship.
Can I borrow money from friends and family to pay for my divorce?
If you don’t have enough savings to pay for your divorce costs, you can borrow them from friends or family. This is quite common.
If you have relatives or friends prepared to lend you the money this can often be the cheapest method of borrowing. If necessary, you can have a legal document drawn up with payment terms. You may then agree to repay the loan from the proceeds of any financial settlement.
Can I get a bank loan to pay for my divorce?
If you have a good credit score, then your bank may agree an unsecured loan to enable you to pay your divorce costs.
Personal loans and some credit cards can offer preferential rates and you can pay back the borrowing on monthly terms that you can afford.
You may also be able to extend your mortgage to raise the money you need to pay your divorce fees. Bear in mind that any loan you secure on your home puts your property at risk if you fail to keep up repayments.
What is litigation funding?
There are a number of UK lenders that offer specialist ‘litigation funding’. These are loans that are designed to pay for legal costs, and often you will agree to repay the loan based on your financial settlement.
Lenders may also agree to ‘roll up’ interest into the final payment, meaning you won’t make any repayments until your case is settled. Other plans let you avoid paying interest for a fixed period of time.
Specialist lenders will let you choose a payment plan based on your own requirements, and loans are often flexible as it can be hard to predict the exact cost of any legal action.
What is a legal services order?
A legal services order is an interim order which compels one spouse to pay the other’s legal costs.
A court can make this type of order when they require one spouse to pay the other a fixed amount for the purpose of enabling the applicant to pay for legal services associated with the divorce proceedings. A legal services order can be made for a specified period or just for a certain part of the proceedings.
This type of order can be a one-off payment, instalments, or a payment to be made at a later date. It can also be varied if there is a significant change in circumstances since the order was made.
An applicant for a legal service order would have to demonstrate that they do not have sufficient funds to pay for legal representation, and that the other party does. They would also have to have been rejected for a litigation loan, not be entitled to Legal Aid, and confirm that their solicitor is not prepared to enter a Sears Tooth Agreement (see the section below regarding Sears Tooth Agreements).
What is a Sears Tooth Agreement and can I use one for my divorce?
If you are concerned about paying your legal fees, you may be able to negotiate a Sears Tooth Agreement with your solicitor.
Under this arrangement, instead of paying up-front fees, you sign a legal contract committing to paying your solicitor’s fee from the divorce settlement. The solicitor funds your case and you guarantee to pay them by assigning part of your financial settlement.
Not all solicitors will agree to a Sears Tooth Agreement, and many will only do so in certain circumstances. For example, if there is doubt over the success of your case or there are insufficient funds in the marriage, a solicitor may be reluctant to enter into this type of agreement.
Typically, you will consider such an arrangement if you have exhausted other options, your solicitor agrees to it, and you expect a reasonable financial settlement from the divorce. This settlement also needs to be in liquid or easily realisable assets.
Can I get legal aid to help me pay for my divorce?
Changes to the Legal Aid system in England and Wales that came into effect in April 2013 drastically reduced the availability of Legal Aid in certain cases.
Most forms of family law, including divorce settlements, were removed from the Legal Aid scheme except for a limited number of extreme circumstances.
Legal Aid for a divorce case is now only available if you can prove that you are a victim of domestic violence or if Social Services have concerns about the safety of your children.
As well as the above, you will also have to be financially eligible for Legal Aid. You’ll need to meet criteria regarding your income, savings and investments, and benefits that you receive.
Are there any other ways I can get help with legal costs?
If you’re struggling to afford the costs associated with your divorce, there are some other options you may be able to consider:
- Charities – you may be able to benefit from free, reduced cost or fixed fee advice through a charity. Speak to your local Citizens Advice to find out more.
- Law centre – you may be able to get legal advice from a solicitor or legal adviser at a law centre. Search online for your local law centre.
- Universities – some universities provide legal advice via their law school. This helps students get real-world experience while being supervised by qualified professionals.
- Crowdfunding – if your circumstances are likely to engage the general public, you could create your own crowdfunding campaign and ask for donations to help your cause. Most crowdfunding platforms will charge a small percentage of the money you raise.
Can my divorce lawyer work on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis?
A solicitor cannot work for you on a ‘no win, no fee’, this type of arrangement is unlawful for family law disputes.
In ‘no win, no fee’ cases, the solicitor’s finances are directly affected by the outcome of a case, and it means their judgement could be compromised when pursuing family cases.
The information on this website is to be considered a guide and is therefore not legal advice. You use this information with the understanding that Wiselaw does not accept liability for any direct or indirect losses as a result of anyone relying on or acting upon the information on this website. Whilst we endeavour to provide accurate information, Wiselaw does not accept liability for any errors or omissions on this website.