Who Pays the Divorce Costs?

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The total cost of a divorce depends on several things, not least how amicably you can reach an agreement with your spouse. Most divorces have two elements – court fees and solicitor’s costs.

It can be difficult to forecast solicitor’s fees at the start of a case as it relies on factors such as the willingness of both parties to engage in the process and the complexity of family finances and child arrangements to be agreed upon as well as the individual solicitor’s fee level.  But your solicitor should be able to give you an estimate of the costs you can expect after your first meeting.

Typically, each party pays for their own legal costs and the person applying for the divorce (the petitioner), pays the court fee, which is currently £592. Read more about divorce costs here.

Of course, there is nothing to stop you agreeing with your spouse to split the court fees between you. But if that is not possible, you may be able to ask the court for help with the fee if you are on a low income or in receipt of certain state benefits or Universal credit.

It is important to bear in mind that an unexpected claim for costs from the petitioner may cause the respondent (their spouse) to withdraw their consent to the divorce petition, which might delay the issue of the decree absolute.

Can I apply for divorce costs from the other person?

If you are the petitioner, you can make a claim for costs from the other person. Solicitors will generally try to reach an agreement with your spouse or their solicitors about costs before issuing the divorce petition, but if costs cannot be agreed, you can claim full costs in the petition.

If costs are not agreed, you can still continue with your application for them, ultimately leading to the court deciding the issue. The court looks at what is reasonable and the conduct of both parties before and during the divorce process when making its decision.

Usually, a claim for costs will only be successful in a fault-based petition, e.g., adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or desertion. If the marriage has broken down and no blame is attributed, (e.g., separation) you will not normally be able to claim costs.

Does the respondent have to pay for divorce costs?

It is advisable to agree costs as soon as possible, ideally before the petition is submitted to the court. Otherwise, it may be necessary for the court to arrange a hearing about this issue.

If the court makes a costs order against a respondent, then they are under a legal duty to pay the fees. If the respondent fails to pay as ordered, it could cause enforcement action to be taken.

In most cases where costs have been agreed, the court will make a Costs Order at the Decree Nisi stage.

Can I get legal aid for my divorce?

Legal aid is no longer available in England or Wales to pay the legal costs of a divorce unless there has been domestic abuse, violence, or child abduction. This includes coercive control and financial abuse.

If you are on a low income or in receipt of certain state benefits and using a solicitor, you may be entitled to help with your legal costs. This does not mean the divorce is free. Costs for legal aid may be recovered from any financial settlement you receive, such as a share of the house you live in, or a sum of money.

What if I can’t get legal aid?

In England or Wales, some solicitor’s will let clients pay their legal fees once their divorce has been finalised or when they have reached a financial settlement. This type of funding is sometimes called a ‘Sears Tooth agreement’ and is named after the law firm that first offered it. Not all firms offer this type of agreement as it can be risky for them, and of those that do will not offer it to all their clients. That said, it is always worth asking your solicitor whether it is available in your case.

Who pays for mediation?

Mediation offers both parties the opportunity to air feelings within a safe environment overseen by a trained mediator who assists you to communicate effectively and come to an agreement. But mediation comes at a cost, and unless you qualify for legal aid, you will have to pay privately. Legal aid is subject to strict eligibility requirements, and your solicitor will be able to explain these to you.

If your partner qualifies for legal aid, the mediation service may provide certain levels of help free of charge, but you will need to ask the mediation service local to you if this is a service they offer.

Costs of mediation vary from region to region, but broadly speaking it is cheaper and quicker than going to court. And any agreement reached is legally binding, which means both parties have to stick to the terms of the agreement by law.

Tips for controlling the costs of divorce

It is always sensible to be as prepared as possible. The following suggestions may help to control the costs of the divorce:

  • Think about splitting the costs of the divorce between you and your spouse (both the solicitor’s costs and the court fees).
  • Agree a fixed fee with your solicitor – at each stage of your divorce ask your solicitor for a fixed fee. Make sure you know what is included in the fixed fee and what is not, such as court fees or other disbursements (photocopying large documents, solicitor’s travel costs, car parking, etc).
  • Understand who is working on your case. The charges levied by your solicitor depend on their level of experience. For example, you can expect a partner or senior solicitor to charge more than an associate solicitor. And a legal executive, whilst less expensive than a solicitor, will be more expensive than a paralegal.
  • Give clear instructions. It cannot be stressed enough that you should make sure your solicitor is clear what you want and hope to achieve. Ambiguous statements or changing your mind may cause unnecessary work and time delays.
  • Consider all options available to you for resolving any disputes.
  • Do your homework – typically divorce involves dividing financial assets. By anticipating financial disclosure you can get ahead of the curve by gathering together such things as copy bank statements, pension details, housing valuation and mortgage details.
  • Do as much of the preparation work yourself as you can.
  • Try not to allow emotions to cloud the facts – easier said than done but using your solicitor as a source of emotional relief quickly ramps up costs.
  • Do not seek to be argumentative with your partner through your solicitor – arguing over unnecessary issues via solicitors’ letters adds cost for no gain.
  • Try to be reasonable and realistic and listen to the advice of your solicitor who will have the skill and experience to guide you through this anxious time.


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