With divorces costs sometimes reaching thousands of pounds it makes sense to know what the options are and how much they will cost Read on to find out what a divorce is, the different ways to go about getting one and the costs involved.
The three stages of divorce
In basic terms there are three parts to getting divorced:
1. Dissolution of the marriage: Obtaining the legal pieces of paper – decree nisi (divorce pending) and decree absolute (finalised & free to re-marry).
2. Children’s arrangements: Deciding how you will each care for any children, where they will live and how they will be supported.
3. Financial arrangements: Deciding how you will divide your assets and liabilities, and where you will live.
All three parts (or two, if you don’t have children) need to be addressed in order for a judge to stamp your divorce and issue a decree nisi.
Part one can be straightforward (which is why sometimes you can obtain a divorce for £99 upwards + court fees of £410).
Part two and three are often trickier. You can use a lawyer to turn these agreements into “Consent Order” – but there are cheaper and better alternatives.
Your spend on the divorce process should be proportionate to the assets under discussion. Being pragmatic, strategic and emotionally prepared eases the burden on any children, makes the process more amicable and, can save a huge amount of money.
What options are available?
There are several different ways to obtain a divorce. The most suitable one will depend on your personal circumstances.
Use a Mediator or Family Consultant (FC)
Family mediation is where an independent, trained professional helps you and your ex to work out agreements for your children or your finances.
A Mediator may help you collate your financial documents on which you are basing your financial decisions or assist in helping you create a parenting plan.
A FC may work similarly to a mediator but will have psychological qualification rather than a mediation qualification. Their emphasis will be on emotional support, resolving conflict and focusing on the future.
Mediators and FCs will often work with local non-conflict lawyers and be able to recommend a lawyer who will work to get your agreement translated into a legal document.
FC’s usually charge from about £75- £200 per hour. Mediators have wide charging scale but on average expect to pay anywhere from £100 per hour to £250 plus if they are a lawyer-mediator (a mediator who is also a qualified lawyer) and don’t forget that a good proportion will add VAT. One mediator or FC is needed per couple.
Use a solicitor
Using a solicitor is a common option but can also be an expensive one. A solicitor will manage the entire process (points 1,2 &3 above) including dealings with the court (as necessary) and your partner’s solicitor.
Collaborative lawyers are those that are committed to a non-confrontational approach. A collaborative process involves you and your respective lawyers meeting together to work things out face to face. FCs and other advisors (eg IFAs) are often involved to give independent neutral advice.
Resolution is a national organisation of family lawyers committed to non-confrontational divorce and separation. Many Resolution solicitors offer a free or fixed fee initial meeting to discuss your situation.
Many Solicitors offer an ‘unbundled’ solicitor service to deal with specific issues or to draw up paperwork when you have used an alternative approach to making agreements for parts 2&3 above. It may be possible to get fixed fee quotes for this type of service. Solicitors usually charge between £100 – £350 p/h plus VAT.
This is a cost effective option but carries risks and requires time, effort (& emotional headspace) on your part in understanding the legal process and where to find accurate information. There are many bits of the process that it makes sense to do yourself but others where you may feel better served by seeking advice.
Costs are low but court fees are payable as are some admin fees if you use a website service. There are a number of helpful services to assist if you decide the DIY route is for you; Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Wikki Divorce and the Government’s own websites (MOJ or Separation Matters).
Use an online service
There are a growing number of web-based online services. Some are a simplified way of accessing a solicitor and allow you to sign-up, correspond and pay for services on line.
These web-based services offer a range of packages eg, checking you’ve filled in your divorce petition correctly, writing a consent order or a full managed service where they will deal with correspondence with your partner’s solicitor. All their fees are exclusive of court fees.
Going to court
If you can’t agree, perhaps because you are in an abusive or violent relationship (and it is not safe to negotiate), or because your partner refuses to negotiate with you or to disclose their assets, puts family assets beyond your reach or is not making reasonable proposals in negotiations or mediation, then you may have to apply to the court for a financial order.
Before you can go to court you are required to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAM). MIAMS are one-to-one meetings conducted by mediators and the aim is to see if mediation could be used to help you make agreements, rather than have the court make them for you.
Courts are required to know that mediation has been considered before they are able to process your application. If, after your MIAM, it’s considered that mediation is not suitable in your case, the mediator will supply you with a form confirming that you have attended a MIAM. A court will then allow you to issue proceedings. Only one of you is required to attend a MIAM.
The costs of hiring a solicitor for a court process are high and you may need representation by a barrister if the case going to a final hearing. Novitas loans estimate that the average cost of divorce in London is £40,000 per person (£80K total) and outside London £13,000 per person. Many people are choosing to represent themselves in front of the judge, to avoid these costs.
Appoint an arbitrator
A new approach gathering momentum is family arbitration. A family arbitrator can be appointed to to make a final and binding decision on any financial and property issues that you have not been able to reach agreement on.
Appointing an arbitrator reduces the time and expense of going to court but is still an expensive option compared to more cooperative approaches. Arbitrators charge by the hour and rates vary widely as it is a relatively new field.
The amicable app*
‘amicable’ is an iPhone app (other devices will follow) for divorcing and separating couples. The app is designed to help people reach an amicable divorce, save on legal fees, divide their assets and make arrangements for their children. The app is being developed to help with all three parts of divorce and make the journey through the process as simple and painless as possible by enabling you to dip in and out as and when you are ready to complete each next step. The focus is on keeping enough of a relationship between partners so that couples can effectively co-parent their children in the future, something that can be hard to imagine when you are at the start of separation or divorce.
Whatever process you choose, whatever is right for you and your family, we are on-hand to help you climb that steep learning curve and become a savvy consumer in the divorce services market so please do get in touch.