Who pays divorce costs?

A divorce comes with costs, but who actually pays for these costs?

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Let’s be honest, divorce is never fun. A relationship or marriage ending can be a traumatic experience for all involved. Before proceeding with a divorce, it’s wise to be as familiar as possible with divorce regulations and procedures – including who is financially responsible for what – to make what is undoubtedly a very challenging time just a little easier to negotiate. 

Here is a brief breakdown of divorce costs and who is responsible for paying them.

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How much does a divorce cost?

Uncontested divorce

In an uncontested divorce, where both parties agree to the divorce and your finances are straightforward, costs can be low.

The first cost is a £550 court fee to apply for the divorce (which is non-negotiable for any divorce). If you prefer having a solicitor manage the process for you (including drafting and applying for the divorce petition), you will need to budget for an extra cost of between £450 and £950. 

A financial settlement accompanying a divorce petition will add to these costs. However, if you and your partner can reach an agreement regarding finances yourselves, you will simply have to pay a solicitor a fee of between £500 and £800 to draft a financial remedy consent order and a £50 fee to the court. 

Contested divorce

In a contested divorce, where you and your partner cannot reach an agreement, costs can be considerably higher.

You will have to involve the courts and apply for adjudication (a financial remedy order instead of a consent order). Here, you will pay a court fee of £255 and a fee for a solicitor, which can quickly mount up depending on the number of court appearances needed to settle all financial issues.

However, if you would like to stay out of the courts and therefore avoid paying hefty fees, you can opt to propose and discuss a financial settlement using mediation. The average cost for three mediation sessions is £1,200. Upon completing mediation, you will then pay a solicitor the £500 to £800 fee to draft a financial remedy consent order (or £1500 in the case of complex assets).

On top of the legal costs, almost all divorces also involve lifestyle costs such as moving and living expenses, which can add considerably to the cost of the divorce. Indeed, according to Aviva, divorcing couples in the UK spend an average of £14, 561 in legal and lifestyle costs.

Who pays for divorce costs?

Usually, the person who initiates divorce proceedings, known as the petitioner, is responsible for paying the majority of the costs of the divorce, including the £550 court fee and other costs associated with the preparation and submission of the divorce paperwork. The other party to the divorce, known as the respondent, is only responsible for paying their own legal fees (more specifically solicitors’ fees, which range between £240 to £600).

If you are the petitioner and have low income or are on certain benefits and may have difficulty paying the court fees, you can apply for help by filling and submitting Form EX160. If your application is successful, you may not have to pay a fee, or you may get some money off. You can also check out our tips on how to cover legal fees in a divorce when you have no money.

Undoubtedly, amicably agreeing to split costs can avoid additional divorce costs and acrimony. Of course, this might not always be possible. If you, as the petitioner, believe that the respondent is responsible for the breakdown of the marriage and therefore feel aggrieved about having to pay the legal costs, legal avenues exist for you to claim costs from the respondent. You can apply for a cost order that mandates the respondent to pay these costs.

Usually, the courts will only consider your claim if there are fault-based reasons for the divorce, such as adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour on the part of the respondent. The court will also take into account a lot of other factors including whether the costs being claimed are reasonable and the conduct of both parties before deciding whether and how the costs will be awarded.

Key takeaway

A divorce is understandably a stressful process, and the costs involved do not make things any easier. However, if both parties can agree to the divorce and agree to share the legal costs, they can massively reduce both the court time and total costs, making what is otherwise a stressful process much easier to navigate.

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