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?
There are essentially two components to the overall divorce cost. 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). Add another $250-$500 if you get a solicitor to fill in the forms for you. The second component, separation cost, is what people are really thinking about when they discuss cost. How much will it cost me to divide the assets and get a court order regarding child access?
This one is a lot more tricky to answer and the bottom line is, no one can really tell you how much your separation will cost because it will rely heavily on you, your relationship with your ex partner and how much you use your lawyer(s) and other professionals to help you. Also when considering cost, there is the cost of giving away some, or even most, of your assets. On the flip side, you may be anticipating receiving some money which would offset the legal fees.
There is also of course the emotional cost of going through a separation and divorce, the impact on the children and so on. For the purposes of 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 – 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 $660 an hour. 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 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 (ie. can you pay?) as well as deciding whether or not they will take you on as a client (ie. do they like you).
So from that price point, you should be able to calculate approximately how much your legal fees are going to be, by working out how many hours of consultation you will need.
See how easy it is?
This figure will of course depend heavily on how quickly you can come to an agreement with your ex spouse. If everything is amicable and the division of assets and any time spent with the children is easily negotiated, it may cost less than $1500 to get consent orders drawn up and submitted by a solicitor.
The next stage is to go to dispute resolution (mediation) to sort out any outstanding issues. This 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 is very well spent. If you think your session is going to take longer than 90 minutes then it may be worth getting an independent mediator as needed as Relationships Australia limits sessions to 90 minutes and the waiting list is long (6+ weeks last I checked). Dispute resolution can cost anywhere from free to $1,000.
After dispute resolution, if you still haven’t worked out all the issues, the next step is to file application(s) to have your case heard in court. This is where it starts getting expensive and depends a lot on how you use your solicitor (if you use one – see Do I need a solicitor?). 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.
So to appear before a judge one time and get some interim orders, you should factor in roughly $5,000-$8,000 if your solicitor does all the paperwork for you and you you have a barrister appear for you in court.
After this, the sky is almost literally the limit. The next step would be to go back to court in the conciliation conference or directions hearing and this step would cost an additional $5,000-$8,000, bringing the total to somewhere around $10-15,000. To go to a full trial (and only 5% of cases usually do), you’re looking at paying at least $30,000.
Unless you’re almost guaranteed to be on the receiving end of any settlement, you will be asked to pay the solicitor a lump sum, in cash and in advance. An initial deposit of $2,000 or so 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 I had given my solicitor a nice chunk of cash already.
Paying $7,000 cash into a solicitors trust fund will make you want to reconsider negotiating with your spouse! Each side is responsible for paying their own legal fees so any way you can reduce those fees 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 you divorce, check out our Divorce Guide for men