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How much does a divorce cost?

In 2006, Norwich Union (now called Aviva) published a study on the Cost of Divorce.

The study said the average divorce costs a couple around £39,000 -- this figure includes things like the cost of setting up a new home, buying personal items (e.g., a second car), and lost personal savings.

As for legal fees, the study estimated that on average each divorcee spends around £1,800.

 Divorce cost

 Average divorce
 cost per person
 (£)

 Legal fees

 1,818

 Maintenance payments

 3,456


 Setting up a new home

 5,146

 Child care costs

 196

 Buying a second car

 3,221

 Treats (e.g., a holiday,
 shopping spree, etc)

 2,335.68

 First year’s mortgage or rent

 6,000


 Personal savings

 16,660

 Total


 38,832.68

Legal costs vary greatly, of course, depending on the solicitor you choose, the complexity of the issues that arise, how much you and your partner can agree about things, and which jurisdiction you divorce in (NB. the UK has three legal systems -- England and Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland -- and divorce costs vary significantly in each).

With divorce lawyers charging anywhere between £100 and £500 per hour (plus VAT), costs can rise significantly where a couple have significant assets and are in dispute over how these should be divided up.

Moreover, if you live in Scotland there’s a good chance you qualify for legal aid, which means your legal costs are subsidised by the state. Around three quarters of adults north of the border now qualify for legal aid. Read ‘Paying the costs of divorce on a low income’ below to learn more.

DIY / ‘do-it-yourself’ divorce

DIY or ‘do-it-yourself’ divorce services may be a good way to lower the costs of splitting up. The costs vary depending on where you live.

DIY divorce in England and Wales

In England and Wales, services cost between £50 to £200. Bear in mind, however, there are other legal costs to consider, such as standard court fees of £340. Also, DIY divorce is only appropriate if your situation is straightforward and you are good at paperwork and figures.

DIY divorce in Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, you should contact the Northern Ireland Court Service and tell them you intend to file as a personal petitioner. Generally, if your partner does not want a divorce or you disagree about something, a personal petition is not appropriate -- speak to a solicitor instead.

DIY divorce in Scotland

In Scotland, do-it-yourself is a completely separate divorce procedure -- also known as simplified divorce. If you qualify for a ‘DIY’ divorce, the court filing fee is £90. The person who asks for the divorce (i.e., the ‘pursuer’) is responsible for paying this. Generally, a solicitor is not required for a DIY divorce. You can obtain further information about the simplified divorce procedure (and how it differs from the ordinary divorce procedure) on FindLaw and necessary forms on the Scottish courts website.

Is DIY divorce right for me?

There are plenty of DIY divorce products and services on the market. In fact, some solicitors offer no-frills packages that are essentially DIY divorces with some limited legal support and back-up.

So is there any point in spending money on legal fees when you can do it yourself?

In some cases, such as an amicable divorce where there are no children and there is no real dispute as to how assets should be divided, there may well be some merit to the DIY approach.

On the other hand, where matters are more complicated or where they are likely to be contentious, there may be good reason for each spouse to get a solicitor involved.

Read the article DIY divorce or solicitor? to learn more.

Retaining a solicitor

If you decide to seek the help of a solicitor rather than pursue a DIY divorce or apply for legal aid (see below), always ask for an estimate of costs and the hourly charging rate when you first see them -- but be prepared for this estimate to change as your case goes on.

You should also ask for an estimate of ‘disbursements’ / ‘outlays’ -- or costs that the solicitor will have to pay out on your behalf, such as court fees, barristers’ or advocates’ fees, and property valuations.

Paying the costs of divorce on a low income

In England

If you live in England and are on a low income, you should complete a Fees Exemption form and request a waiver of court costs. You may also qualify for Legal Aid. For more information, speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau and/or visit the Civil Legal Advice page on the GOV.uk website.

In Northern Ireland

If you are on a low income in Northern Ireland, you should apply for a fees exemption and request a waiver of court costs. You may also qualify for Legal Aid. For more information, speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau and visit the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission website.

In Scotland

In Scotland, around three quarters of adults now qualify for legal aid. If your income, after paying essential expenses such as your mortgage, tax and childcare, is £25,000 or less, you may qualify. Visit the Scottish Legal Aid Board website for more information.

You can also complete a Fees Exemption form and request a waiver of court costs. For more information, speak to your local Citizens Advice Bureau and visit the Scottish courts website.

Claiming costs from your partner

You may be able to get part of your costs back from your partner. Courts do not normally order one party to pay the other’s legal costs in divorce cases, however, so you should always budget for these yourself.

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