How much will your divorce cost?
How long is a piece of string?
Don’t you hate it when people answer a question with a question?
Ok, to get serious, there are essentially two components to the overall cost of divorce in Australia. The first component I can answer very easily – How much does a divorce cost? $930. That’s the court filing fee in Victoria (although if you qualify, you only pay $310). I’m sure costs in other states are roughly similar. Add another $500-$1000 if you get a solicitor to fill in the forms for you.
The second component – the cost of separation and divorce – is what people are really asking about when they discuss cost. How much will it cost me to divide our assets and get final court orders regarding child access?
This one is a lot more tricky to answer. The bottom line is, no one can really tell you how much the process will cost from start to finish because it will rely heavily on you, your relationship with your ex-partner, and how much you use or don’t use your lawyer(s) and other professionals to help you. Also, when considering cost, do you include the cost of giving away some, or even most, of your assets? Or, if you’re anticipating being on the receiving end of some money, it might not cost you anything, and you end up in a better financial position overall.
Of course, other costs are arguably higher than the financial cost – namely the emotional cost of going through a separation and divorce, the impact on the children, and so on. But for this discussion, we will only consider the financial cost of the legal and professional fees.
So, getting down to business – A family law solicitor is going to cost you at least $330 an hour – for an entry-level solicitor. I’ve never heard of a cheaper rate, but you may be lucky and find a solicitor who charges less. For a senior lawyer or partner of a firm, you may pay somewhere around $770 an hour or more. Some firms give the first half an hour to a full hour free but don’t expect much actual advice in this initial consultation. This first meeting is treated more like a two-way interview – you’re assessing their suitability to represent you, but the solicitor is also assessing your capacity to retain a solicitor (i.e., can you pay?) as well as for deciding whether or not they will take you on as a client (i.e., do they like you).
So starting with that information, you should be able to easily calculate approximately how much your legal fees will be by working out how many hours of consultation you will need and multiplying it by the hourly rate.
See how easy that is?
This figure will, of course, depend heavily on how quickly you can agree with your ex-spouse. If everything is amicable and the division of assets and any time spent with the children is easily negotiated, and everything goes as smooth as silk, it may cost less than $1500 to get consent orders drawn up and submitted by a solicitor.
If the road is a little rockier, the next stage would be to go to dispute resolution (mediation) to sort out any outstanding issues. The process itself can be relatively cheap ($70/hr) if you use someone like Relationships Australia or a lot more expensive if you use an independent mediator.
Money spent here can be very well spent if you’re thinking about return on investment (ROI), as it may help diffuse a tense situation which in turn makes things happen more smoothly. Or if your relationship is high conflict, it could be money down the drain – but in any case, it’s a necessary step on the windy path of divorce in Australia if you need to go to court.
If you think your session is going to take longer than 90 minutes (and you think that the process is actually helping), then it may be worth getting an independent mediator as Relationships Australia limits sessions to 90 minutes and the waiting list is long (6+ weeks last I checked).
The dispute resolution can cost anywhere from free to $1,000.
Off to Court
After dispute resolution, if you still haven’t worked out all the issues, the next step is to apply to have your case heard in court. This is where it starts getting very expensive very fast and depends a lot on how you use your solicitor (if you use one – see Do I need a solicitor?). Your solicitor will need to prepare and file the court documents and handle any correspondence with the other party.
When you actually get to court, you will be paying for a different lawyer (a barrister) to appear before the judge, which is usually more expensive again and adds to the cost. Barristers charge per day and can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000+ per day, plus the cost of your solicitor “briefing” your barrister to bring them up to speed on your case.
So to appear before a judge one time and get some interim orders, you should factor in roughly $5,000-$9,000 if your solicitor does all the paperwork for you and you have a barrister appear for you in court.
After this, the sky is almost the limit. You can go back to court a few more times and pay $5-9k each time. The court can order a child psychological evaluation, and the court could decide where that is done. If performed by a private practice, it could cost another $4k, and you need to pay that too (although the cost is usually split 50/50 but not always). If your child(ren) are older, they may need their own lawyer, in which case somebody is paying for that too.
This would bring the total to somewhere around $15-20,000. If both of you still can’t decide this, you would go to a full trial (and only 5% of cases usually do), you’re looking at probably a full day or possibly multiple days in court paying at least $10,000 per day in preparation time between you, your solicitor, your barrister, and court fees.
Unless you’re almost guaranteed to be on the receiving end of any settlement, you will usually be asked to pay the solicitor a lump sum in cash and in advance. An initial deposit of $2,000 or more into their trust account before a solicitor will even look at your case and start sending letters is fairly normal. Once you have made a few payments on time, I found that they will let you start paying in arrears, but that was only after giving my solicitor a nice chunk of cash already.
Paying $10,000 cash into a solicitor’s trust fund will make you pause and want to reconsider negotiating with your spouse! Each side is generally responsible for paying their own legal fees, so most people want to reduce these in any way possible as it is after-tax money straight into your pocket.
If you would like to find out more about how to reduce your legal costs and learn techniques to achieve the best possible outcome for your divorce, check out our Divorce Guide for men (and women who are interested in using the same techniques!)