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How much should Aussies pay for a divorce? Here's what to do with your money

How much does a divorce cost? (Source: Getty)

We’ve all heard of celebrities and wealthy couples paying millions of dollars in divorce legal fees. But how much can everyday Australians expect to pay when a marriage busts up?

Jacqueline Brauman, principal solicitor at TBA Law, says a sum between $15,000 to $20,000 is reasonable and would typically cover initial negotiations, initiating court proceedings, affidavits, lawyer costs at mediation and court filing fees.

That said, she’s also seen some women pay up to $70,000 in legal fees just to get to mediation stage with their former partners. This is prior to any settlement agreement being reached.

“Personally I think that people are getting ripped off all the time when it comes legal fees and their divorce,” says Brauman.

“When people are emotional sometimes they have to spend a lot of money to burn through those emotions and the legal system often takes advantage of that.”

While the number of Australians getting married today is less than it was a few years ago, divorce rates have increased.

The number of divorces granted increased by 2,428 (5.2 per cent) in 2017 with the average marriage lasting about 12 years, according to the latest available data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The median age at divorce for men stands at 45.5 years of age and 42.9 years for women.

Settling for less

Rebecca Jarrett-Dalton, mortgage broker at Two Red Shoes, says she often sees women settle for less in divorce proceedings out of fear from their partners, or fear about what legal costs might end up being.

“I see far too many, what I would call strong, intelligent women who simply give in for the sake of peace or a quick resolution and this does them no long term favours.

“I think there’s also a lot of fear and misinformation or even just lack of knowledge around the cost of advice which might lead to poor decisions being made.”

It’s possible for a divorce to cost as little as $1,500 if the situation is amicable and you handle the paperwork yourself without the help of a legal professional.

This covers the online application fee for the divorce; Family Court registration fees; and having a Sheriff to deliver the divorce papers to the partner you are divorcing.

The cost of using a solicitor or lawyer can vary wildly depending on the professional involved and the degree of acrimony between parties, but if you keep things friendly, expect to budget around $5,000 as a minimum.

“I would allow around $3,000 for a basic consent order, which is an agreement to split the assets, where you and your ex are really not disputing a lot,” says Jarrett-Dalton.

“Then another $1,000 to $2,000 for a divorce order if you wish the lawyers to lodge this for you.

“Then it may cost potentially $1,000 to $1500 for a conveyancer to transfer property for you,” says Jarrett-Dalton.

Of course it’s not just legal fees that people can expect to pay during a divorce: it’s new accommodation costs and even bills for psychologists for couples or any children involved, as therapy becomes increasingly the norm during relationship breakups.

“Other expenses you might have, if you are going to spilt superannuation you might need to see a financial adviser, which could be a few thousand dollars,” says Brauman.

“We highly recommend that people have a psychologist primarily because it is such an emotional process that people will ring and vent to their lawyer for half an hour at a time.

“So we highly recommend that people have external support that doesn’t include friends, because they can give off to the cuff advice which is like “my friend says this…” and goes back to the lawyer and ends up costing more,” she said.

How to prepare your finances for a divorce

So if you know that divorce is on the cards, here are some of the things that you can do to prepare yourself financially?

  1. Seek advice from any source available. There are some free initial legal resources such as legal aid and they can direct you to other compassionate lawyers. There is also divorce-coaching services which aim to help people through the process.

  2. Shop around for a lawyer who is happy to collect fees at the end of a settlement, as this will help you manage cash flow during the process.

  3. If there are kids involved, try to settle earlier rather than later to minimise the possibility of them being ‘used’ as a bargaining chip. Sometimes one party will try and ask for a 50/50 custody settlement if it means they will pay less child support. But if you settle the financials early on, then this is less likely to occur.

  4. Speak to a financial adviser, accountant or lender who can give you an idea of your financial capacity. This might even involve a stop at Centrelink.

  5. Involve trusted friends to form a support network. This will be a long and rocky process, and you will lose people along the way.

  6. Try and refrain from what we all refer to as vaguebooking or airing your dirty laundry on social media. The most valuable possession you will own at the end of this is your dignity if you can do this right.

Bianca Hartge-Hazelman is a women’s money columnist and founder of Financy and The Women’s Index.

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