An awful lot has been said and written this year about changes to the family law system which has seen Legal Aid removed for most people in divorce cases. It has led, directly or indirectly, to a rise in the number of litigants in person as people try to avoid paying family lawyers to help in their cases, a push towards mediation and perhaps even contributed to a falling divorce rate. If people don’t feel they can afford to get divorced, maybe they will stay in an unhappy relationship.
However, divorce doesn’t have to be expensive. There is a misconception that it is going to cost thousands but if a few simple steps are taken, as highlighted in last week’s blog, you can keep costs down. That said, it can still seem like a lot of money for someone looking to divorce, with some outrageous – and often inaccurate – figures flying around.
Understanding what the costs are in divorce is the first thing to get straight, and at what stage the bills for those costs will drop through your letterbox. It is unlikely all the bills will wait until a financial settlement is reached and any monies owed have come in to you. You therefore need to be prepared to “pay as you go”.
With fixed fees, it will normally be fairly clear when the money is due or a payment schedule will be agreed. If you are paying a solicitor by the hour to work for you, find out when they bill. Will you get a monthly invoice and statement of account, or when certain milestones are reached?
Court fees will be due when you make an application to the court, for example when you actually apply for a divorce. Avoiding time in court is the best way to keep down costs but there are still certain set fees to pay for the court to, effectively, administrate and ratify your divorce.
Getting copies of official documents, like your marriage certificate, if you can’t find a copy, for instance, will incur modest costs – but these can add up. See what you can gather together yourself before rushing out to order new copies.
Costs will be incurred for any special services required, for instance a forensic accountant if your partner has complicated finances to go through, a private detective if you are trying to trace an absent husband or someone to serve papers on them if they are not responding to letter, calls or emails.
So once you have a handle on what the costs are, how do you fund your divorce case? There are a number of options available. Most people do manage to pay from savings or their regular income, and this is perhaps the preferable way to pay if you can afford it.
Credit cards, loans or overdrafts are another option if you can get the credit. Bills can be paid in full to the suppliers but the total sum paid off at your leisure in bite-sized chunks. Increasingly, we are also seeing loans from family and friends being used, particularly since the start of the economic downturn. Again a good option but not one that is realistic for everyone.
Then there are a couple of specialist legal options. You may qualify for a litigation loan if you are likely to receive a financial settlement but do not currently have the finds to pay for the divorce costs. The final option is to apply to the court for your spouse to cover your costs if they are in a better financial position. This is only likely to be applicable in a handful of cases though – and you will incur additional costs through the application itself.
Best bet is to speak to an experienced family lawyer. They will be able to give an idea of indicative costs and some will offer a free half hour consultation to go over these issues with you.
By Andrew Woolley