There has been much spoken about the real cost of divorce in the United Kingdom:-
- What do divorce costs mean?
- What does it actually apply to?
- What is the cost of the actual divorce as opposed to divorce lawyers’ costs or fees?
- What is the average cost of a divorce?
- What are the divorce Court fees or the general Court costs for a divorce?
It should be noted that the average cost of the divorce petition in the UK will very much depend on whether a lawyer is used, whether it is uncontested and the nature of the divorce lawyer appointed. The average cost of a divorce petition can vary between £500 plus VAT plus Court fees of £550 [which includes the fee for Decree Absolute] and £1,500 plus VAT plus Court fees. Any more than that will be dependent on whether there is an intention to defend or other difficulties involved or jurisdictional aspects.
If there is a question as to the jurisdiction in the UK or proceedings have been started in another jurisdiction that can cause a dispute, then the costs of the petition itself can mount up to in excess of £10,000 to £20,000 plus VAT. If all goes to plan and both parties have jurisdiction and the divorce proceeds in the UK then the average Court costs are £550 for the Divorce Petition and Decree Absolute and £225 for a Consent Order.
The costs of the divorce petition are separate from the costs of the divorce lawyer in dealing with the financial or other aspect of the matter which can include dealing with children’s matters – where the children are to live etc., which can inexorably put up the costs involved. Each lawyer in the UK charges their own rate of divorce costs or fees. These can be ascertained beforehand before any appointment is made with them or by phoning round and asking what the costs are that are charged by them. Some lawyers based in central London will charge £500 plus VAT or more per hour.
Those based outside of London will have a lesser fee that is anything between £150 plus VAT to £350 plus VAT. The cost of the divorce lawyer will of course depend on the rates charged by the firm and also the experience of the lawyer concerned. The more experienced the lawyer the more likely the costs will be. This of course does not include the cost of any third parties namely a barrister, who will be arguing the case in the Court or assisting with negotiations if necessary or will simply advise one of the parties as to the parameters of a settlement. Their fees can vary again based on the amount that their Chambers charge or their experience.
The average divorce costs can range depending on what methodology is utilised to deal with the case generally. If mediation is followed, and the sessions are restricted, and the hourly rate is restricted then this will be a far cheaper method than going to Court. However, it is always recommended that the parties take legal advice either before, during and certainly after mediation in order to draw up the appropriate settlement with the correct wording. Sometimes an agreement made in mediation can fall apart if the mediator has not considered all of the implications that may then be considered by the lawyers when drafting. If the matter proceeds on the basis that the parties have exchanged their financial information between solicitors again the cost will vary dependent on the questions raised by the other side and how far examination of the other parties’ finances is taken.
If matters can be agreed readily then again costs can be restricted to between £5,000 to £10,000 plus VAT. If however the negotiations between solicitors break down and the matter has to proceed to Court in any event, then costs would have been incurred that cannot be recouped. Arbitration is a system against which there is no appeal and that the parties would meet the costs of the arbitrator between them jointly again leading up to the arbitration enormous costs could have been incurred in preparing for this. Accordingly, it is difficult to determine the average costs of a divorce because this will very much depend on the lawyers concerned, their approach to the case, the parties’ concerns and their approach to the case and genuine desire to bring matters to a close.
If one or other of the parties feels exceedingly aggrieved, it will be less likely that agreement can be achieved. In arbitration once the decision has been made it cannot be appealed against and the parties will have to follow the decision of the arbitrator to be made into an order.
As to the Court based approach, the average costs of this must be set out by solicitors in their initial letter to their client under Law Society directives. This will then ensure that the parties know the parameters of the divorce at least. If the solicitor is going to exceed the amount set out in the letter giving the average costs then they have to indicate this to the client before any Court hearings and set out the reasons for this. It may be that circumstances such as injunctions, applications to prevent a party moving assets out of the jurisdiction, or emergency hearings can lead to lots of costs being incurred over a short period of time outside of solicitors’ estimates because of the circumstances.
Applications for interim maintenance i.e., maintenance whilst the case is going on and until it is finally dealt with can also put up the legal costs. It is therefore suggested that if it is possible to agree interim maintenance i.e., that the status quo should continue to any hearing it will obviously save costs. The average Court fees until the First Appointment is approximately £10,000 to £15,000 plus VAT:
- The average fees for dealing with the financial aspects of your case until a Form A is issued are usually between £3,000 – £7,000 plus VAT plus disbursements. This assumes that a Form A is issued reasonably promptly. If there is a voluntary exchange of Forms E before a Form A is issued, then costs are likely to be higher, in which case a separate estimate would normally be provided to you.
- From Form A to First Appointment the average fees are likely to be between £11,000 – £16,000 plus VAT plus disbursements and Counsel’s fees which would usually be notified to you once known. If it becomes clear during the course of your matter that this estimate is likely to be exceeded you would in normal circumstances be duly notified.
- The average fees from First Appointment to FDR will amount to approximately a further £10,000 – £25,000 plus VAT plus disbursements. This does not include a case of high net worth or payments for disbursements ie payments to a third party on your behalf, for example for valuations of properties, companies, forensic reports etc. In addition, this does not include Counsel’s fees which would be duly notified to you.
(iv) The average fees from FDR to Final Hearing will have to be calculated once the full extent of the financial circumstances are known and have been disclosed. Following FDR an estimate would be provided. On an average basis for an average case i.e. one not of high net worth, the anticipated costs from FDR to Final Hearing is likely to be 1.5 times the amount of costs that have been incurred up to and including the FDR.
- If there are no financial proceedings then the monies on account will be utilised to deal with voluntary disclosure and/or negotiations.You should be regularly kept appraised of costs and updated estimates.
Fees in relation to children’s matters can also vary.
- In children’s matters, the monies required would allow dealing with issuing or defending any application or dealing with negotiations.Again you should be regularly kept appraised of costs and updated estimates.
- If it is necessary for there to be an application for interim maintenance as part of the overall ancillary relief matter, this will add to your costs. The expense of this interim application will depend on the amount of time taken but the approximate costs are between £7,000 – £12,000 plus VAT plusdisbursements and counsel’s fees, which should be notified to you once known. If there are a substantial number of companies, accounts, pensions and policies involved that need investigation, then it will alter the estimate. Again, you should be kept regularly appraised of costs and updated estimates.
- In the event that your case relates to a variation of maintenance, then costs will vary depending on whether matters are settled without issuing proceedings. In the event that proceedings are issued the costs in be in line with those set out above at a.(ii) – (v) for dealing with the financial aspects of your case. Again you should be regularly kept appraised of costs and updated estimates.
If it is necessary to obtain valuations of any of the assets this will again be an added disbursement. In some cases it will be necessary to appoint a forensic accountant to look into valuations of the business or businesses or the overall financial picture. If an accountant is required, then an estimate should be provided for an initial report. Thereafter, further estimates will be given for any further work by them as deemed necessary for your case.
As can be seen legal costs can vary dramatically due to the circumstances, the nature of the applications being made and the costs of the lawyers concerned. In order to reduce costs it is recommended that you produce a history of all matters relating to finances, children etc., from the earliest possible time to minimise the amount of legal fees and to ensure that the factual information that you give to your lawyer is correct. If you give continuous information that is incorrect and needs correcting it will add to your costs. The more visits you have and phone calls to your lawyer will also put up the costs of your divorce. Please do not feel compelled to send emails five times a day. Send one email a day or if this can be even further restricted do so. Emails, text messages etc., are all matters in which costs can be incurred.
Also remember this is not a war to be won or lost. Compromise is the buzzword.