Divorce costs (2)

The cost of divorce can be more less fixed for obtaining a divorce – ie the first of the three legal issues mentioned on the previous page – because in practice the overwhelming number of divorces are not contested and proceed, essentially, by agreement. Fully contested divorces are very uncommon and would have to be charged for on the same basis as any other contested matter just as the other two contentious matters mentioned previously normally are.

Assuming that it is not contested, the first element of divorce costs is the court fee. There is a court fee of (currently) £593 to issue the divorce petition which has to be paid to the court. The courts revise these fees periodically. This fee includes obtaining the decree absolute for which a separate fee used to be payable. This fee therefore needs to be paid in all cases (unless one happens to be ‘fees exempt’ which may be the case for a petitioner on benefits or on a low income).

It should perhaps be mentioned that these figures are not cast in stone. For instance, sometimes the Respondent (ie the person who receives the divorce petition as opposed to the person who issues it – called “the Petitioner”) fails to respond to the petition and so it may be necessary to arrange personal service by means of a bailiff or some other course may need to be adopted. Steps like these may incur additional court fees (and possibly legal costs) but in the majority of cases the “disbursements” are the £593 court fee to issue the petition.

After the court fees have been taken into account then come the solicitors charges. What a solicitor charges varies from solicitor to solicitor and the client is recommended to get a firm quote on this in advance. It is likely to be in the region of £400 or so plus VAT so the total cost of obtaining a divorce will probably be something in the order of £1,100 once the court fees & VAT etc have been taken into account.

Normally this firm charges £400 for an uncontested divorce where there are no complications and, of course, the court fee of £593 also needs to be paid. This firm does not charge VAT.

There is no especial reason why these divorce charges cannot be shared equally between the Petitioner and the Respondent (because the Respondent usually incurs no significant separate legal expense in obtaining the divorce) and this can often be agreed. Such an agreement sometimes takes the form of, “All right, I will not defend if you agree not to ask for the costs from me”, and that may well be acceptable but in fact the costs can be split in whatever proportion the parties wish to agree upon. Sometimes the Respondent will be a non-working wife and the Petitioner will agree to bear the costs and at other times the divorce is “amicable” and the Petitioner and Respondent bear the divorce costs equally. (At other times the Petitioner wants the full pound of flesh and demands all the divorce costs. This is understandable but also often counter productive unless there are good reasons for it on other grounds).

It is worth mentioning this because currently the most common ground for divorce is “unreasonable behaviour“. The reason this is so is because it enables the parties to get an “instant divorce” and it really does not matter who divorces whom for what. That does not normally affect any subsequent issue – such as questions of maintenance or relating to the children, for example – and so it is sufficient that one of the parties petitions based on the unreasonable behaviour of the other. In practice when a marriage breaks down it is not so difficult to find examples of unreasonable behaviour on both sides and very often it is “six of one and half a dozen of the other.” The important thing is simply that the marriage be brought to an end because that is what is best for both parties and it really does not matter who issues the petition in many cases. It is, however, simpler and cheaper if only one party does it and the other just indicates to the court that he/she will not defend the petition.

So long as it is explained neither party usually has much difficulty in accepting this. It does need to be explained, though, because no-one really likes receiving a petition based on their unreasonable behaviour and a very common reaction is, “I’m not having this. I’m going to defend it and issue a petition based on your unreasonable behaviour.” In most cases there would be no purpose in doing this and it would be counterproductive in that it would just serve to increase costs, delay the whole proceedings and the parties would be divorced just the same at the end of the day. Only the lawyers would gain.

It is worth explaining this in some detail because the normal rule in divorces involving unreasonable behaviour is that, unless there is agreement between the parties to the contrary, the courts order the Respondent to pay the whole of the divorce costs. Very often this is not what the parties themselves want and the fact that the Respondent may be ordered to pay the court costs is frequently a deterrent to returning the papers to the court quickly or at all. It is therefore frequently helpful for the subject of who is to pay what costs to be agreed at this point if it has not been agreed before.

Incidentally, it is normally unwise for a Respondent to return the Acknowledgement of Service (the document which the court requests be returned) without agreeing the subject of the costs. If one fails to do this the court makes the usual order that the Respondent do pay the divorce costs and it will be appreciated that when the Petitioner’s solicitor submits a bill which he knows is not going to be paid by his own client there is a risk that the bill might be higher than it would have been had there been agreement. It is worth bearing this in mind.

People very often have the most exaggerated fears about the costs of divorce and, although it would be wrong to suggest that at least a few of the horror stories might not be true, the costs are generally more modest than one might imagine. Also, choosing the right lawyer can save a great deal of money in the long term so it pays to choose carefully.

Please continue for details of the cost of divorce within the context of resolving the financial issues arising from divorce or in respect of disputes involving children.

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