In This Post
In this detailed guide I'll teach you what it really costs to get a divorce in the UK:
- How much a quick online divorce should cost
- How much you’ll pay in lawyer’s fees if you end up going to a full court trial
- My barrister’s top tips on how to save money on your divorce
Let’s get started...
<chaptertitleh2>How Much Does A Divorce Cost?<chaptertitleh2>
Do you want to know how much does a divorce cost? Then everything you need to know about the cost of divorce will be explained in this in depth guide.
What Is A Divorce Settlement?
In this chapter you’ll learn about the difference between the divorce process and the divorce settlement.
This is important, because the cost of these two elements of your divorce are VERY different.
Let’s dive in...
What’s The Difference Between The Divorce Process And The Divorce Settlement?
First things first…
There are two parts to every divorce
- The Divorce process, and;
- The Divorce settlement
The divorce process is what ends your marriage. From a legal perspective, it is simply the ending of your marriage contract.
It does nothing to sort out the finances between you and your partner.
For that, you need a <bloglink>divorce financial settlement.<bloglink>
This is where you both agree how to divide your assets and debts. Or, if you can’t agree, you ask the court to decide for you (more on that later).
Both elements come at a cost, and the price you’ll pay can vary hugely, depending on a number of factors.
Before we look into specific prices, let’s take a quick look at some of those broader factors that can increase or decrease the cost of your divorce.
What Factors Can Affect The Cost Of Your Divorce?
“Remember: When it comes to divorce, the more you agree, the less it will be”
<chaptertitleh4>The Average Cost Of Getting Divorced<chaptertitleh4>
In this chapter we’re going to look at the costs of your 3 main options for getting divorced, which are:
- Doing it yourself - the DIY route
- Using an online divorce service
- Using a lawyer
What Are My Options For Getting Divorced?
There are 3 main options for getting a divorce: doing it yourself; using an online divorce service; or using a lawyer.
Unsurprisingly, the DIY route is the cheapest option, and using a lawyer is most expensive. Online divorce services try to offer a half-way house between the professionalism of using a qualified lawyer, and the cost savings made by doing some of the work yourself.
Remember, this is just the cost for getting formally divorced (ie. completing the 5 stages of the divorce process).
In chapter 3 we’ll look at the separate costs of the <bloglink>divorce settlement process.<bloglink>
Option 1- Doing It Yourself (Free, plus court fees of £550)
Handling your divorce by yourself is the absolute cheapest route to untying the knot.
You do the work yourself, so there is no online service or lawyer’s fees to pay
It simply means visiting <bloglink>gov.uk/apply-for-divorce<bloglink>, filling out the form, and paying the court fee online, which is £550 (whatever route you choose, you’ll always have to pay this court fee).
Whoever makes the application is called “the Petitioner” (the other partner is called “the Respondent”), and it’s the Petitioner who pays the fee.
After the divorce petition is issued by the court, you'll then need to complete the remaining steps in the divorce process by applying to <bloglink>get your Decree Absolute.<bloglink>
Once the Decree Absolute is granted, that's it...
A divorce in the bag for just the court fee of £550.
Well, just like home DIY, doing things by yourself can be tricky!
This route really is only an option in the most straightforward divorce, where you and your partner pretty much agree on everything and just want to end the marriage.
Remember, you will receive no support from anyone during the process.
Indeed, it’s not uncommon for people to start the process and then realise they actually need help from a lawyer. Another common issue is the court rejecting the form because you have not provided enough information, or made errors.
So my advice is that if you’re going to take this route, it’s worth investing a little bit more cash in at least one advice session with a lawyer, as a safety check (especially when it comes to your finances). The cost of this session will usually be charged at the lawyer’s hourly rate, which we’ll discuss in chapter 3.
Option 2- Using An Online Divorce Service (£40 to £600, plus court fees)
If going full DIY is a bit daunting, there are now a wide range of online divorce services that can help you through the process.
These websites are the second cheapest option for getting a divorce, but it’s important to realise:
These companies are not law firms.
They generally call themselves “Legal services companies”. They may have lawyers on their staff, but the companies themselves are not regulated as law firms.
They usually offer two types of fixed price package for handling your divorce:
Online Divorce- Form Filling Services- £40 to £99
This is the most basic type of package where they complete the divorce application form for you, and then you submit it to the court yourself.
I would question whether you really need to pay for someone to input information onto a form for you, particularly when you can simply do this online yourself at the YouGov site.
But if you’re the kind of person who likes to pay for convenience, this may be the service for you.
Online Divorce- Managed Services- £150 to £400
Most of these websites also offer a range of higher priced options, where a member of their staff will complete the paperwork for you, submit it to court on your behalf, and also offer some guidance throughout the process (either via telephone or email support).
From what I can see, the options at the cheaper end of the range tend to be completed by non-lawyers (the sites use terms like “divorce managers”).
The higher priced packages often (but not always) means an actual solicitor will review your papers, and may give you some advice over the phone or via email.
But at these prices, don’t expect hours and hours of input from a qualified lawyer. They really just handle your application, and provide some basic advice.
There are two important points to make here:
- Just like DIY divorce, these services are really only appropriate for straightforward and uncontested divorces, where you and your partner largely agree (in fact, many of these services likely won’t take you on if your divorce is complicated).
- These services don’t include the £550 court fee, so if you’re the Petitioner you’ll still need to budget for that on top.
Option 3- Using A Divorce Lawyer (£600 to £1200, plus court fees)
The traditional way to get your divorce is to visit your local high street solicitor’s firm, though many people now also use one of the large online law firms.
Most of them will offer a fixed price package to process your divorce, which will generally include:
- One to one legal advice
- Preparing and completing all your divorce paperwork
- Submitting the paperwork to the court
If you’re the Petitioner, you can expect to pay in the region of £600 to £1200 (central London can often be a good bit more, with fixed fees in excess of £2000 not being uncommon)
It’s a bit cheaper if you’re the Respondent, often coming in somewhere between £300 to £600.
Like anything else in life, it’s worth calling round a few firms for quotes to compare prices. And again, these fixed fee services will generally not include the court fee, so the Petitioner will have to cover that additional cost of £550.
Remember, all 3 options here are just for the cost of processing an uncontested divorce. If the divorce is contested, or there are serious disputes over finances or children, you’ll need a solicitor who is likely to charge at their hourly rate.
The Average Cost Of A Clean Break Order Or A Consent Order (£300 to £3000+)
So, those are your 3 main options for actually getting a divorce (ie ending the marriage contract).
If you can agree your financial settlement with your partner, then you’ll want to <bloglink>formalise the agreement in a Consent Order or a Clean Break Order<bloglink>
A consent order is needed when you agree to share your <bloglink>finances.<bloglink> It details how your assets will be divided between you and makes that agreement legally binding.
A clean break order is when both choose to go your own way, and don’t want to share any assets (ie. you both simply keep what you already own). Again, a clean break order makes this agreement legally binding and prevents either of you from making a future claim against the other. Many people assume that the cost of a consent order or a clean break order is included in the divorce package they have ordered, but often they are not, so you should always ask at the outset.
Most of the online divorce services will offer a consent order from between £300-£600. Again, I would only really recommend using these online services where your finances are relatively straightforward.
If you are using your own solicitor, they are likely to charge somewhere in the region of £500 to £800 for a straightforward case. Which is not a huge amount more, considering that in this case you should be guaranteed to have a qualified solicitor drafting the agreement. Clean break orders are unlikely to cost much more than this, as they can’t really get any more complex (you are not sharing any assets).
But with a consent order, if your assets are a lot more complicated (for example including the <bloglink>sharing of pensions<bloglink>), then prices can easily rise to over £1500. In the most complex cases a consent order from an experienced family specialist could top £3000.
You’ll also need to have the agreement approved by the court for it to be legally binding. The court fee for this is £50, and most online services or solicitors will file the order at court for you.
Of course, there’s nothing to stop you drafting your own consent or clean break order (you can find both free and paid templates online). But I would generally warn against this, for two reasons:
- The court can reject the agreement if they don’t consider it to be fair. When you pay a professional, they should make sure the agreement between you is fair and reasonable, and will be accepted by the court.
- Once the agreement is approved by the court, you can’t simply change your mind. It’s now legally binding. So if you made a mistake, it can be very difficult (and expensive) to remedy.
<chaptertitleh4>The Average Cost Of A Divorce Settlement<chaptertitleh4>
In this chapter we’re going to cover the costs of the divorce settlement.
(ie. the more expensive part of your divorce).
- How much divorce lawyers charge, and;
- How much a full divorce court case will cost
Let’s get right to it...
So now you have a good idea what it will cost you to get a straightforward divorce, where you and your partner largely agree.
But what happens if you can’t agree?
Well, if one of you is contesting the divorce, or you just can’t agree how to divide your finances fairly, then you’re going to need a lawyer to represent you in court.
And that’s where things can start to get expensive.
But how much will is cost exactly?
Divorce Lawyer Costs: Hourly Billing vs Fixed Fees
The first thing to understand is how your lawyer is going to charge. There are two main methods in divorce cases that go to court:
- Hourly rates
- Fixed fees
Hourly rates do what they say on the tin. Your solicitor will have a set hourly rate, and they will bill you for every hour they work.
Bear in mind that this includes fractions of an hour. So if an email takes them 10 minutes, they will bill you 1/6th of their hourly rate.
Obviously, in a divorce case where you don’t know how long it will take, this can be a daunting prospect.
We’ll look at what hourly rates lawyers typically charge in a minute. But first, let's see how fixed fees can (sometimes) help control costs.
Will Your Lawyer Offer A Fixed Fee For Divorce?
As we saw in Chapter 2, fixed fee packages are very common for a straightforward divorce that doesn’t either go to court, or through <bloglink>the divorce mediation process<bloglink>.
But in more complex cases (for example where there are high value assets or <bloglink>if there is a prenuptial agreement in place<bloglink>), fixed fees are far harder to come by.
Basically, when the solicitor is not sure how long the divorce case will take, they are understandably reluctant to charge a pre-fixed amount.
But you can still sometimes negotiate a fixed fee, at least for some parts of your case.
For example, some lawyers may break the case up into distinct chunks, and cap the overall charges for each stage (eg pre-court work, pre-final hearing work etc). Barristers (who are specialists that represent you in court) also commonly charge a fixed daily rate, rather than charging by the hour.
These are options for controlling costs that you should explore with your lawyer from the outset. And once your solicitor understands the basics of your case, they should always be able to give you an overall estimate of the cost (usually within a range).
How Much Does A Divorce Lawyer Charge Per Hour?
If you’re going to court, it’s more likely than not that you’re going to end up paying an hourly rate.
But how much is a typical hourly rate?
Well, they can vary a lot, depending on two main factors:
- The solicitor’s experience
- The law firm’s location
Obviously, the more experienced the solicitor is, the more they are able to charge.
When it comes to location, as a rough rule of thumb, the higher the property prices are the more the local lawyers will cost. Basically, lawyers in expensive cities can charge more than those in small towns.
With that in mind, let’s look at what you can typically expect to pay on an hourly basis.
Bear in mind two things:
- These are rough estimates. Individual lawyers can charge a lot more or less if they choose.
- Not all work on your case is likely to be conducted by the same level of lawyer. For example, a junior may deal with routine emails and paperwork, while a more senior lawyer handles court proceedings.
How Much Will A Divorce Court Case Cost?
Of course, the second part of the puzzle is how many hours will your lawyer need to bill for?
Unfortunately, this is a bit like the age old question “how long is a piece of string?”. Every case will have its own complexities and nuances, and it’s not easy to give precise figures for the overall cost of a divorce.
Nevertheless, I’ve put together some broad estimates, depending on the stage that your case might get to (remember, most couples settle at some point during the court process, rather than going all the way to a final trial).
If The Case Resolves At Or Before The First Directions Appointment (£3,000 to £15,000)
The first court hearing in a disputed divorce case is called the “First Direction Appointment” (FDA). It’s largely an administrative hearing, where a timetable is set and some ground rules are laid; although sometimes it can be used as a settlement hearing, if the parties are able to agree at that stage.
At least 14 days before the First Directions Appointment both parties must also have completed their <bloglink>"Form E"<bloglink>, which is a detailed court form recording all your financial information and assets.
If your case settles at or before the First Directions Appointment you can expect to pay between £3000 to £15,000 in legal fees. Obviously, the earlier you settle during this process, the more you will save.
A substantial amount of cases do manage to settle during this phase. The reality of incurring legal expenses, and the fact that court is now involved, often helps convince an unwilling partner to start compromising. Completion of the Form E also puts both of your finances down in black and white, and gives you a solid basis to start negotiations.
If The Case Resolves At Or Before The Financial Dispute Resolution Hearing (£15,000 to £40,000)
The second hearing is the “Financial Dispute Resolution” hearing (FDR). The FDR is kind of like a judge led negotiation session, and is usually held about 3 to 4 months after the FDA. The judge will look objectively at the documents you and your partner have provided to the court, and will hear arguments from either of your lawyers.
The judge will then give an indication of what they think the settlement would likely be, if the case were to go all the way to a trial.
In essence, they'll say something like "If this were to go all the way to trial, I would expect the wife to get X and the husband to get Y"
This indication is not binding- you can ignore it and go on to a full trial if you choose. But often, simply hearing the opinion of an experience judge is enough to convince a couple to compromise.
This is also where you start incurring significant additional fees paying for a barrister, who are specialist lawyers that deal with court hearings and trials, so the motivation to settled become stronger. If your case resolves at or before the FDR you can expect to pay between £15,000 to £40,000 in total in legal fees.
The vast majority of cases do settle at or before the FDR; as most people rightly pay good attention to what an experienced divorce judge has to say. However, the court can’t force you to settle at this stage, and if you don’t agree the case will go on to a full trial.
If The Case Goes To A Full Trial (£30,000 to £75,000+)
The last hearing is the full trial, which can be up to 6 to 12 months after the FDR.
This is a full formal hearing, with all the evidence heard and considered by the court. You and your partner will both give live evidence, and may also call other witnesses on our behalf.
Your lawyers will both make detailed arguments to the court in support of your case. The trial can last several days, or even weeks. At the end of the trial a judgement will be given determining the final financial settlement. This decision will be binding on the parties.
If your case goes all the way to a full trial, you can expect to pay between £30,000 and £75,000 in total in legal fees.
Is Going to Court Worth The Cost?
So now you have an idea just how much a full divorce court case can cost when you have lawyers billing hourly rates.
Remember, these are just estimates, and are for a mid-range family solicitors, outside of central London. If you have a particularly complex or High Net Worth divorce, legal fees can easily run into six figures.
As you can see, it’s not cheap.
However, sometimes taking court action is the only way to force an unreasonable partner to the negotiating table. There is a cost to under-settling your case too, and spending money on legal fees can more than pay for itself if it gets you a fair settlement.
For example, spending £15,000 on a lawyer if it gains you £50,000 more from the settlement is clearly a good investment.
Of course, many people don't have the funds to pay for a lawyer upfront, even if using a lawyer could win them more money in the long run.
But there is a solution.
In Chapter 6, I’ll teach you about the legal funding options that can help you pay your legal fees upfront.
Or, if you’d like to know more straight away, check out my guide to divorce funding solutions…
<chaptertitleh4>The Average Cost Of Divorce Mediation Or Arbitration<chaptertitleh4>
If the cost of going to Court worries you, then in this chapter I’ll teach you about two alternatives that can save you money, while still helping you reach an agreement.
- Divorce arbitration
These options can be a LOT cheaper than a full on court case.
Let’s check out the costs...
The Cost Of Divorce Mediation (£750 to £2000 per person)
In divorce mediation, you and your partner hire a neutral third party (the mediator) who will help you work through the issues and try to reach agreement.
They will not decide for you- You and your partner ultimately still need to agree on a settlement.
But, having an experienced and objective third party evaluate your positions and give unbiased guidance can often help couples reach common ground.
Mediators tend to charge either by the session or by the hour, with mediators who are also qualified lawyers usually charging more. Hourly rates of between £120 to £250 are fairly standard.
The overall cost of your mediation process will depend on the number of sessions you have- three or four sessions is commonly needed (though it can be less), costing anywhere between £750 to £2000 in total, per person. You'll also need to attend an initial assessment session before you start mediation, called the <bloglink>mediation information and assessment meeting (MIAM).<bloglink>
As you can see, this is a lot less than it would cost to go through the courts.
Of course you can’t force an unwilling partner to mediate, and you get what you pay for. Mediation does not offer you all the powers of the court, such as being able to enforce disclosure of finances or assets.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that, if your mediation falls apart and you just can’t agree, you may still end up going to court, and have now lost more money on an unsuccessful mediation process.
What are the attitudes going into the mediation?
If one of you is dead set against it, it may not work out as a good investment. But if you are both willing to try, and just need some help from a neutral person to reach agreement, mediation can be a very cost effective way to reslove your divorce settlement.
The Cost Of Divorce Arbitration (£1,500 to £20,000+)
Arbitration is like a private court process.
You hire a specialist (who are often qualified lawyers, or retired judges), and they act like a court judge.
The main difference between mediation and arbitration is that the arbitrator will make a final decision for you. Once they’ve looked at all the evidence and heard all the arguments, the arbitrator will decide what the divorce settlement should be, just like a court judgement.
The main advantages over actually going to court are that it’s much quicker, it’s private, and it’s cheaper.
How much cheaper depends on whether your arbitration is decided;
- On the papers, or;
- At a full hearing
Divorce Arbitration: On The Papers
An “On the papers” process means the arbitrator will simply decide your case on all the documents and evidence you and your partner submit to them. You or your lawyer can also submit any written arguments you may have.
There is no hearing and no live evidence, and this saves a lot of expense.
Most arbitrators will charge somewhere between £1500 to £4000 for a papers based decision.
Divorce Arbitration: At A Full Hearing
If you choose to have a full hearing, you will be able to make more detailed arguments before the arbitrator.
The arbitrator will commonly charge somewhere between £2000 to £5000 for a full hearing. The differences in price will usually come down to how many days the arbitration takes.
In addition, most people will hire a lawyer to represent them at an arbitration hearing, just as they would in court. Most lawyers will charge somewhere between £3000 to £10,000, depending on the length and complexity of the hearing.
Remember, just like mediation, arbitration is a voluntary process. So you can’t force an unwilling partner to participate. However, unlike mediation, if your partner does agree to participate, then the arbitrator’s decision will be final and binding on them.
<chaptertitleh4>Top Tips For Saving On Divorce Costs<chaptertitleh4>
In this chapter I’m going to give you my best advice for saving money on your divorce costs, including:
- My barrister’s top tips for saving on your divorce costs
- How to get divorce legal aid or help with your court fees
- How to keep on top on top of your lawyer’s billing
Saving On Divorce Costs: Some Simple Steps
When going through a divorce, there are some really simple steps you can take to help reduce your costs.
Let’s check them out...
Could You Get Help with Divorce Court Fees Or Divorce Legal Aid?
Divorce Legal Aid
If you are on a lower income and meet certain criteria, you may be eligible for legal aid, which is where the government helps you pay your legal fees.
Due to recent government cut backs, it’s now pretty hard to get legal aid for family cases. But if you meet the following criteria, you should ask your lawyer if you might be eligible:
- You are at risk of homelessness (eg. your <bloglink>spouse is threatening to throw you out<bloglink>).
- You’ve suffered domestic abuse within the last 5 years.
- Social services have expressed concerns about the safety of your children.
You will also need to pass a financial assessment, and will need a divorce lawyer that accepts legal aid (not all do).
If you are eligible, you can also use legal aid for family mediation.
To see if you might be eligible, you can check out the government's <bloglink>legal aid checker<bloglink>.
Help With Divorce Court Fees
A similar government scheme is available to help those with limited resources pay for their court fees (note: this is just helping you with court fees, not lawyer fees- but every little helps).
To be eligible you must meet the following criteria:
To see if you might be eligible, you can check out the government's <bloglink>court fee checker<bloglink>.
How To Keep On Top Of Your Legal Bills
Lawyers and law firms are heavily regulated.
There are strict rules they must follow when it comes to billing and fees.
As a minimum, your lawyer must provide you with the following information:
At The Outset Of Your Case
Your solicitor should inform you, in writing, how much your case is likely to cost or, if this cannot be predicted, how the cost will be calculated (eg. by giving their hourly rate and an indication of how many hours are likely to be needed).
During Your Case
You should be kept up-to-date with the costs throughout your case. It’s not acceptable for your lawyer to just sit back and let huge fees accrue, without keeping you in the loop.
If your costs are likely to go beyond the lawyer’s initial estimate, or beyond any budget you have given them, they should warn you before they incur those additional costs.
At The End Of Your Case
After your case is completed, your solicitor must give you a written bill, setting out all their charges and the dates work was done. The bill should provide enough information to allow you to decide whether the charges are reasonable.
Challenging Your Lawyer’s Bill
But what if you think your lawyer’s bill isn’t reasonable?
Well, there are two ways you can challenge a solicitor’s bill:
1. Complain To The Legal Ombudsman
If you are unhappy with your bill you can complain, for free, to the <bloglink>Legal Ombudsman<bloglink>. They will then investigate for you, and if they agree the bill was unreasonable, they will inform the solicitors. More often than not, this is enough to convince the solicitors to refund you any overcharged fees. If not, then you can seek a court order to enforce the Ombudsman’s decision.
Note though, that before applying to the Ombudsman, you must first have made a formal complaint to your lawyer, following their complaints procedure.
2. Apply To Court For A Detailed Assessment
You can also <bloglink>go directly to the courts<bloglink> and ask them to make a ‘detailed assessment’ of your lawyer’s bill if you think it’s unreasonable. If they agree, they can reduce your bill and order repayment from the solicitors. While this route is somewhat more drastic than the Ombudsman (you’ll need to go directly to the courts yourself), if you are successful you'll have the benefit of immediately obtaining an enforceable court order.
<chaptertitleh4>How To Pay For Your Divorce<chaptertitleh4>
I suspect you realise by now: Divorce isn’t cheap.
In fact, the costs are often more than most people can afford to pay upfront.
So, in this chapter you’ll learn about your different financing options.
I’m also going to teach you about the little known world of divorce funding; which is a great new option people are using to help pay for their divorce.
Let’s dive in...
Common Ways Of Paying For A Divorce
Let's take a look at some of the traditional ways people pay for their divorce:
The New Option: Specialist Divorce Funding
A new range of specialist lenders can now provide funding to help pay for the costs of your divorce.
They can provide you with upfront funding to pay for a lawyer and other legal costs, such as court fees. They charge simple, competitive interest rates, and you only repay at the end of your claim, directly from your settlement amount.
Unlike high street banks, these lenders are dedicated specialists who only lend for divorce and family law cases, and who work hand in hand with your chosen lawyer. They can provide funding for the whole of your case, and there’s no need for a credit check, as they lend based on the strength of your claim. Some can even provide help with your day to day living costs, as an alternative to <bloglink>interim maintenance<bloglink>.
Specialist funding is rapidly becoming one of the most convenient and cost-effective ways to fund your divorce.
Check out my Divorce Funding page to learn more: