Divorce in uncertain times: top tips for keeping your legal fees to a minimum

September 30th 2022

With the rise in interest rates, prices of energy, fuel and food, many families are feeling under pressure. Financial pressure can take its toll on a marriage, with finances being one of the top 5 reasons couples argue.

There has been an increase in divorces and dissolutions recently, but it is hard to say whether this is down to the cost of living crisis or more a reflection of couples having waited for no fault divorce to become law.

Whatever the reason for a marriage breaking down, separating and getting divorced during a period of economic uncertainty can be particularly daunting.

Sometimes the spouse in a stronger financial position might prefer the idea of getting divorced in times of economic uncertainty, when valuations for their assets might be lower as they think this will minimise their liability in the financial settlement.

On the other hand, the spouse in a weaker financial position might think it’s best to divorce when valuations for assets are higher. The truth is there is no ideal time to get divorced. Any increase or reduction in assets tends to be proportionate as, for example, if house prices are low then perhaps the family home may sell for less, but purchasing an alternative property will also cost less.

Separation and divorce almost inevitably, prompts a drop in the standard of living experienced during the marriage. At a time of spiralling living costs, dividing one household into two can magnify the difference in standard of living.

So during these uncertain times, what can be done to keep legal fees to a minimum during a separation or divorce?

The first thing you might want to consider is, since no fault divorce became law in April 2022, the legal process to get divorced has become much simpler. You can complete this yourself via the government website.

However, the financial remedy side of the process, where you split your finances, is separate, and it is this part of the process that usually necessitates some legal advice and assistance.

How you choose to sort out the financial side of your divorce impacts how much your divorce will ultimately cost. For example, contested court proceedings involving barristers is likely to cost tens of thousands of pounds.

On the other hand, if you and your ex are able to reach an agreement yourselves, this is by far the cheapest option to resolve financial issues. If you want your arrangements to be legally binding, and ensure neither of you can make claims in the future, you will need a solicitor to turn your agreement into a consent order, for the court to approve.

If you are unable to reach an agreement direct with your ex, you may need solicitors to negotiate on your behalf. It is advisable to take a pragmatic and non-confrontational approach to negotiations wherever possible, as this often results in parties arriving at a resolution quicker and more amicably than they otherwise would have, thus saving their money for the future. Alternative dispute resolution such as mediation or arbitration should be considered if you are unable to reach an agreement between yourselves.

You can save money on legal fees by ensuring you only go to your solicitor for legal advice. Whilst your solicitor may be empathetic and supportive, you would benefit more from the skills and expertise of a counsellor or divorce coach for emotional support at their hourly rate rather than using your solicitor as emotional support. By using the services of a divorce coach or counsellor it may help you to see things clearly and provide your solicitor with clear instructions without emotions clouding your judgement, thereby reducing your legal fees.

Should you wait until the cost of living crisis is over before getting divorced? That is a decision for you but it is important to remember, as a rule of thumb in avoiding unnecessary expense, that it is less about the timing and more about the approach to separating that is most important factor to consider. Separation and divorce does not have to be a big expensive fight and there are often better ways to resolve any conflict than going to court.