The crippling cost of divorce

The cost of divorce can be crippling for those nearing retirement or already out of the workforce, thanks to the diminishing opportunity to earn sufficient income to recover from the legal expenses.

The price you pay for dissolving a marriage begins with unavoidable court fees. The Federal Circuit Court of Australia charges $1275 simply to apply for a divorce.

Depending on your financial circumstances, this can be reduced, but you will have to prove you cannot afford the higher fee.

The court has many types of charges on top of the fee to nullify a marriage, from $395 for a conciliation hearing to $1360, if you want to appeal.

If your divorce is going to be messy, necessitating a hearing, further court fees apply, and these can run into the thousands, depending on the procedures that must be carried out if there is a dispute.

And we haven’t even begun to talk about other legal costs. The cheapest divorces involve an amicable split mediated by a non-lawyer third party.

If you can’t agree on how to split your assets then calling in the big guns will set you back thousands of dollars just for a couple of meetings and telephone calls. If you can find a lawyer who charges less than $500 an hour to talk to you and work on your case, then you have scored a bargain.

Fortunately, unless your circumstances are very complicated, there is unlikely to be more than one or two court hearings. That is in part because since 1975, the no-fault law was introduced in Australia, eliminating the need to prove one spouse had wronged the other. Nowadays, the only reason you need to cite for wanting your marriage dissolved is that you and your spouse have irreconcilable differences.

However, there are various legal steps that need to be taken before the final hearing, making the whole process lengthy.

First, you must remain separated for 12 months and be able to prove it before filing for divorce. Thereafter, the legal cogs can grind for anywhere between three months to a year or more.

If you do need court representation, what you pay will depend on whether you have a junior or senior counsel. There are schedules of fees that you can use as a guide to estimate the total legal cost, but your lawyer may charge more.

According to guidance from the Law Institute of Victoria, a simple mention of your matter in court should cost $278. Preparation for a full-day hearing can set you back more than $4000.

Up to the hearing, a lawyer can be expected to charge a minimum of around $2000 for paperwork and advice. But there are more than 15 items on the schedule to cover the specific requirements of certain cases. It is important to get an estimate from a lawyer before you hire one, especially if your case is going to be contested.

Try to consider all the scenarios that may affect your application or your response to your spouse’s application, as unplanned circumstances and unexpected action by your spouse could lead to legal fees spiralling out of control.

Have you been through a costly divorce? If so, what was the greatest expense?

Related articles:
Divorce recovery takes 5 years
Retirement and divorce
Surviving divorce financially

Disclaimer: All content on YourLifeChoices website is of a general nature and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. It has been prepared with due care but no guarantees are provided for the ongoing accuracy or relevance. Before making a decision based on this information, you should consider its appropriateness in regard to your own circumstances. You should seek professional advice from a financial planner, lawyer or tax agent in relation to any aspects that affect your financial and legal circumstances.

YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices Writers
YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.
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