Divorce: who pays the legal fees?

Article reference: UK-IA-FAM19
| 5 min read

People are rarely financially better off after a divorce for the simple reason that it is more expensive to maintain two homes than one. It is therefore likely that you will experience a drop in your standard of living after separating. Being realistic about this and trying to reach an agreement on as many financial and property issues as possible greatly reduces costs and stress.

Where there are children, their needs should be the starting point in deciding where everybody is going to live. Managing joint finances when you split up - making sure you know exactly what the assets, debts, income and outgoing of everybody are - is necessary in order to try and find a solution.

The cost of divorce process includes the divorce itself, the financial settlement (the agreement of how assets are divided and whether maintenance payments should be paid by one to the other) and childrens' arrangements. Those elements could cost each of you £5,000 or more.

This article explains how to lower the cost of your divorce and how costs are divided between the parties.

If you can, avoid court

Regardless of the reason for going to court, regardless of the strength of your argument, going to court is expensive and stressful. The outcome for you will always be uncertain.

Judges are humans too. Sometimes we forget that. Whether or not your injustice or needs seem clear to you, the decision a judge makes might be made on a bad day for him or her.

In every aspect of family law - divorce, children and money - the court has far greater discretion than in most other areas of law. You might find that something you think you had already agreed on before the hearing is varied by the judge.

On top of the judgment, there may be the legal costs of using your solicitors to pay as well. So, if ever possible, settle your disagreements out of court.

Who pays the costs in court proceedings?

Despite prevailing opinion, it really does matter who initiates divorce proceedings. If you are the one who is being divorced (the “respondent”), the Court might order you to pay the legal fees of both sides. This is unjust, but it is based on the old court principles that if you can prove your case before them, then you will also get your costs.

This may be useful for other cases and other judicial systems in the UK, but in the family courts, the result may be unfair.

How to split legal fees

If the divorce is agreed upon by both parties, it is possible to halve the legal fees between the two of you.

If your decision to divorce comes some time after you have started to live apart, you may already have recorded in a separation agreement that on divorce all fees are shared, or better that you do it yourselves.

Of course, it is possible that the person who petitions for the divorce will not seek a court order for costs against his or her spouse.

Cutting costs

The largest cost is usually your solicitor. Ask yourself whether you really need one.

If the divorce is undefended - that is, you both agree - there is little point using a solicitor as long as you agree on the division of your finances too.

It is quite possible to do your own divorce without any legal assistance. 

Using a solicitor does not make the divorce any more legal.

You can manage the entire process on your own with relative ease. Free forms and basic guidance notes are available from any divorce county court and court staff will help you with the procedure.

Further, you can also purchase legal advice and support online too.

Arrangements for children must be approved by the court, but the procedure is simple.

Some situations in which you might be able to forego the services of a solicitor are:

  • if you and your partner agree on the divorce and on the division of property

  • if both of you do not have substantial assets

  • if you are not challenging child maintenance

  • if your children are of legal age and not minors

However, if you still need financial assistance from your partner after the divorce, it may be better to get the help of a solicitor to take care of the monthly payments and help make the payments binding.

Legal aid

If you are on a low income or on income support and you are using a solicitor, you may be entitled to financial help with your legal costs.

This does not make getting a divorce free. Costs for legal aid may be recovered from your settlement. If, for example, you receive a share of the house you live in or a sum of money as part of your settlement, your legal costs may be taken out of that.

Further information and relevant documents

Next, you might like to read about maintenance payments from one of you to the other.

We also provide a consent order for financial settlement kit that includes detailed guidance notes as well as all the forms, examples and information you need to complete your own consent order.

Your will does not become void on divorce or separation (read here for more information). If you made a will after you married that leaves your estate to your wife or husband, then you will probably want to make a new one.

We provide a number of free templates that allow you to make a new will.

Please note that the information provided on this page:

  • Does not provide a complete or authoritative statement of the law;
  • Does not constitute legal advice by Net Lawman;
  • Does not create a contractual relationship;
  • Does not form part of any other advice, whether paid or free.
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