A guide to divorce and its costs

21 July 2015 ( 18 March 2020 )

Our guide to the cost of divorce includes average costs and useful tips for older divorcees, plus pensions and maintenance payments information.



If your marriage or civil partnership has broken down, divorce or dissolution may be the next step. How much you’ll have to pay in legal and court fees depends on several factors, including your circumstances and where you live in the UK.

Divorce in England and Wales

It will cost £450 to file for divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership in England and Wales. If you don’t want to end your marriage or civil partnership, perhaps for religious reasons, you can file for judicial separation instead. This will cost £365.

Having filed, you need to pay £100 for a consent order, which is a legal document binding you and your ex to the finalised financial arrangement.

If you can’t agree on how your assets should be divided, you’ll need to apply for a financial order so the courts can reach a binding decision. This will cost £255.

Divorce in Scotland

What is known as a ‘simplified’ divorce or dissolution in Scotland costs £113 in a Sheriff Court, or £131 in the Court of Session. This method can apply if you don’t have children under the age of 16 and you and your ex-partner aren’t seeking a lump sum payment, nor any further financial obligations from each other post-divorce.

The fee for more complicated cases is £156 in a sheriff court or £173 in the Court of Session, plus a £49 fee for the decree, which is called a minute.

Divorce in Northern Ireland

The court fee for a divorce of dissolution in Northern Ireland is £249. If the matter is contested by your ex-partner it must be heard in the High Court and will cost £373. If not, it can be heard in a county court for £311. As in England and Wales, you can apply for a judicial separation for £365. It costs a further £93 to finalise your divorce or civil partnership.

If your financial affairs are complicated, you can also apply for ancillary relief to help with splitting finances. This costs £373 in the High Court or £296 in a county court.

Solicitors' costs

Where there are disputes, you may need a solicitor. Most legal firms provide a fixed-fee service, typically for uncontested financial settlements, excluding court costs. This arrangement doesn’t usually include tackling disputes over pensions and other complex issues.

The complicated nature of divorce sometimes means you may not be able to use a fixed-fee service. If so, you can expect to pay between £2,000 and £3,000 for a negotiated financial settlement, although costs in excess of £30,000 plus VAT are not unheard of in contentious cases.

There is no longer any legal aid funding available to pay for the cost of using a solicitor unless you have been a recent victim of domestic violence.

Find out how to protect your financial assets when you divorce

Online services

It’s worth seeing whether you could save money by using an online service, which can cost up to £400 if managed by a solicitor or between £40 and £200 if not. Be sure to check what you’re getting for your money, though, as services vary.

Collaborative lawyers

Collaborative family solicitors work with both parties, with the intention of resolving differences through mediation rather than using the courts. Their fees vary between around £8,000 and £15,000.

Mediation services

Mediators try to help couples resolve their disputes in an amicable manner, and so keep costs down. You can expect to pay anything from £50 to £120 an hour.

You can still receive legal aid funding to pay for mediation if you’re eligible for it. Although you won’t get legal advice, you can get information about the law to help you both reach a settlement. A mediated agreement isn’t legally binding but you can get it turned into a legal agreement by applying to the court.

Even if you are thinking of using a solicitor, it’s generally considered a good idea to try mediation first. If you can’t afford a solicitor this may be your best way to reach a settlement if you can get your ex to attend the sessions.

Rules for when you split up over 50

The number of divorces is falling – except among the over-50s. But if you’re over 50 and heading for a divorce, can you make sure that two individuals can live as comfortably as one couple did? Probably not. You will need two fridges not one, two televisions, two beds, perhaps two cars. And, of course, two places to live. That is all very hard to pay for from the same, perhaps unequal, incomes.

Rule 1 - Avoid court

Although every divorce has to be granted by a judge, conflict in court is unnecessary and expensive. Legal fees and rent while couples argue will eat away at the assets to be shared. Judges will usually accept agreements that have been arrived at by consent unless they feel one party is being exploited. Every divorce is now normally preceded by mediation. This is not the same as reconciliation – trying to get couples back together – rather it is trying to reach agreement on a fair deal concerning finances or children.

Avoiding conflict will leave more – perhaps a lot more – to share. Remember, though, that either partner can empty a joint bank account and both are fully liable for joint debts.

Rule 2 - Know how it works

If a marriage ends in England and Wales, or in Northern Ireland, the starting point is that everything the two people owned is split down the middle. That applies to money, property and possessions. It applies regardless of who bought what – before or after the marriage – how much each earned, or who owns any savings or investments. It recognises that if one partner worked and the other did not, or earned a lot less, they still brought other things to the marriage which are counted equally. Only in rare circumstances is this rule broken. Dependent children can make things less clear, but in silver divorces they are much rarer.

In Scotland, the law provides for ‘fair’ division of property and it is normally only property acquired during the marriage that is split. For example, if one party inherits £100,000 during the marriage that will not be counted as common property whereas in the rest of the UK it would be.

In Northern Ireland, income inequalities can be reduced by a period of regular maintenance from the better-off partner to the other.

The same rules apply no matter why the divorce happened. Divorces now are ‘no fault’ – one can only be granted where the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The most commonly stated reason is that one or other behaved unreasonably. Adultery is another reason (except for civil partners or same-sex spouses, where unreasonable behaviour is normally used).

How to split your finances in a divorce 

Divorces can also go ahead after two years’ separation with consent of the other party or after five years’ separation without consent. In Scotland, if there are no children under 16 and no financial issues there is a simplified procedure for separation after one or two years.

The behaviour of the spouses will not normally affect property division. A home is often the largest asset. Regardless of who paid for it or who owns it, the value (after deducting any mortgage) will usually be split fifty-fifty, though that may not always be so in Scotland. Splitting the value of the home can mean that both parties have to live somewhere not so big or not so nice.

Rule 3 - Remember your pension

Many people forget that after their home, their pension could be their biggest asset. There are two types of pension. One that pays out at a certain age as a percentage of salary is called a Defined Benefit pension or simply DB. Money that is saved up in a personal pension pot or a SIPP is a Defined Contribution pension or DC. Many company schemes are now DC.

A DC pension should be valued to get a Cash Equivalent Transfer Value (CETV). On divorce, a share of that value would normally be transferred from one party to a pension in the other’s name.

With a DB pension there are two common ways to share it. ‘Earmarking’ means the other spouse can get a proportion of a pension already in payment or at pension age, and their share will survive the death of the other partner. Alternatively, the value can be split like a DC pension, using a CETV. However, pensions in the public sector, such as the police, are particularly valuable with a variety of other benefits and always require specialist advice from an actuary.

Pension rights can be offset against other rights. For example, one party might get more of the house in exchange for the other keeping more of the pension. It is possible that a small part of a state pension can be split too. Those rules are complex.

In Scotland, only the pension built up during the marriage counts as an asset to be split. You should always get legal advice on pensions.

Rule 4 - Take care with pre-nups

Pre-nuptial agreements that have been signed before a marriage, about who will get what if the marriage ends, are not legally binding, nor are agreements made during the marriage.

However, the court will usually accept one if both parties had separate legal advice and disclosed their finances fully, as long as there was no duress and the outcome is fair.

How to protect your finances in a divorce

Rule 5 - Move on

In a divorce, there may be anger and bitterness. Never consider that when things are being divided. Never argue about who gets what just to make a point. Try to settle as soon as possible, preferably with mediation. Breathe. And move on.

Find out what you need to know about splitting up and moving on

How to split your finances in a divorce

While breaking up is always difficult and emotional, no matter how old you are, older divorcees often face more complications as they have more assets to divide up, including pensions, property and investments.

The good news is, there are steps you can take to help the process go more smoothly, and to avoid a financial meltdown. Here are some tips:

Calculate the value of your assets

If you do decide to sever the knot, the first thing you need to do is to calculate the value of net assets held by each party – and what they are worth.

To do this, you need to bring together all the paperwork relating to your cash, investments, property and pensions.  This will help you get an understanding of what you have to share out.

Generally speaking, for older couples who have been married for many years, the courts are likely to split assets equally. That said, working out the value of assets is not always straightforward.

The marital home

During a divorce, one of the big decisions you will need to make is who gets the house.

If you own the property jointly and one of you wants to remain in the property, that person will need to take on the existing mortgage (if there is one) – and will also need to buy out the partner who is moving out.

As this can involve some tough decisions and detailed calculations on affordability, professional advice is essential.

Don’t underestimate the value of pensions

While many people assume that the family home is the biggest asset to consider in a divorce, the value of pensions should not be underestimated.

Women need to pay particular attention to this area, as many have typically built up smaller pots than their husbands after taking a career break to have children.

The good news is, the pension freedom reforms introduced last year – which allow the over-55s to cash in their pots – have made it easier to split pensions. That said, you do need to tread carefully, as this could mean an unexpected tax bill.

At the same time, careful planning is especially important when it comes to pensions that come with guarantees, such as final salary schemes.

Pensions can be dealt with in a number of ways to reach a fair result. For example, the capital value might simply be split, or shared to give each partner a certain income.

Equally, the value of the pension may be offset against other capital, such as one partner taking a reduced share in the matrimonial home to keep their pension.

As before, expert advice and guidance is vital.

Sort out the liabilities

In addition to dividing up assets, you and your partner need to account for debts. As well as the mortgage, this may include credit cards and loans.

If your partner has run up debts in their name, the money to settle these can only be taken from their share of the assets. Crucially, however, if the debt is in a joint name, both partners are liable.

If you do have joint debts, this could have an impact on your credit report. For this reason, it is worth checking your credit report. You can do this with one of the three main credit reference agencies: Experian, Equifax or CallCredit.

How to check your credit report

Update your Will

While it may be one of the last things you want to think about, you need to update your Will after going through a divorce. This will ensure this vital document reflects your changing circumstances.

If you fail to do this, any existing Will that is in place will still apply; this could mean your ex-partner is still named as a significant beneficiary.

By getting your Will amended, you can ensure your assets go to the people you want them to when you pass away.

Equally, if your spouse was named as your executor in your Will, you will probably want to name a new executor as well.

What happens if you die without leaving a Will?

Revisit your lasting power of attorney

If your partner has lasting power of attorney in regard to your property and financial affairs, or to make decisions about your health and welfare, you may wish to transfer this power to someone else.

Seek advice

When going through a divorce, it is important that you make the right choices, as these decisions are likely to be irreversible.

With this in mind, it is well worth seeking advice from both financial and legal professionals to get the best guidance you possibly can throughout this process.

To find an adviser visit unbiased.co.uk and vouchedfor.co.uk. To find a solicitor visit solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk.

Getting your finances back on track

Once the dust has settled, you will need to learn how to take control of your finances again now that you are on your own.

This will involve you reviewing what assets you still have, and your new levels of disposable income.

You will then need to plan carefully and draw up a post-divorce budget to get your financial arrangements back on track.

How to work out the value of your pension

Over the years you may have paid into a number of workplace and personal pension schemes, as well as the additional state pension. You’ll need to track them all down and ask for a valuation for each one. The following pensions information can help you do so.

The valuation will be based on what your pension would be worth if you moved it elsewhere. Typically, the total will be below the current fund value because any charges or penalties for transferring out of the scheme will be included.

If you live in England, Northern Ireland or Wales ask your provider for a statement that gives you the cash equivalent transfer value.

If you live in Scotland, your pension value will be based on what was paid in after you married or entered into a civil partnership, up to the date of separation.

Getting a valuation for a defined contribution or money purchase pension is relatively straightforward. However, working out the value of a final salary or other salary-related schemes can be complicated. If you have this type of pension, it may be worth getting help from a specialist financial adviser or an actuary.

How to split your pension

Once you’ve got the value of all your pensions you need to think about how you will divide them between you. There are five main options and you should take legal or financial advice to work out which one is best for both of you.

You will usually need to apply to the court so that it can set out legally what the arrangement is and when it will start.

Pension sharing

You are entitled to a share of one or more of your ex’s pensions. You can either join their scheme or a proportion of its value is transferred to a scheme in your name.

Pension offsetting

The value of the pension is weighed against another asset, such as the family home. If you choose this option, your ex could be awarded a larger share of the property in return for you keeping your pension. However, they will have to make their own retirement arrangements. If they’re close to retirement and haven’t made any pension arrangements of their own, they may not agree to offsetting.

Pension earmarking

Pension earmarking means one of you receives a lump sum or income from the other person’s pension when they start to draw on it. However, the pension holder may decide not to take their pension straight away or carry on working, leaving the other person without a retirement income. If you’re dependent on pension earmarking and you remarry, you will lose your right to carry on receiving the pension and if your ex dies, your income is likely to stop.

Deferred lump sum

You receive a lump sum when the pension holder retires. This option is not available in Scotland.

Deferred pension sharing

If your ex is below the age at which they can receive a pension and you are already receiving one, you can ask the court to make a Deferred Pension Sharing Order. This allows you to receive an unreduced pension until they reach the age at which they can start to receive a pension too. This option is not available in Scotland.

What if you have retired?

You can still split pensions if your ex has already retired, but it won’t be possible for a tax free lump sum to be taken from their pension – even if they took a lump sum.

Maintenance payments for an ex-spouse – a reader’s Q&A

Question:

Is there a time limit on maintenance payments? My husband divorced his first wife in 1979 and we married in 1981. We have, however, been together since 1972, when he separated from her.

For all those years he paid maintenance to her and his two daughters, until their education finished in the mid-Eighties.

At that time, his ex-wife asked for more money for herself, and the maintenance was put up to £14 a week by court order – which he is still paying 28 years later.

My husband’s former wife and his daughters remained in the matrimonial home until the girls had finished their education, when the house was sold and the proceeds divided.

We feel as if we have more than done our duty to her, but daren’t apply to the court to try to get this payment stopped in case it is increased.

My husband and his ex-wife are now both 78 years old. Surely enough is enough?

Answer:

Your husband’s divorce took place many years ago, and there have been changes to the divorce laws since then.

Under the current rules there are, in short, two ways of dividing assets and income in the wake of a marriage split.

The first is to opt for a ‘clean break’, where everything is divided up at the time of the divorce and neither party can come back for more.

The other is for a court to impose a maintenance order, whereby one party makes periodical payments to support the other. 

A maintenance order is always used where children are involved. If you come to a voluntary maintenance arrangement, it is a good idea to have it ratified by a court.

Unless a specific term has been set for spousal support to end – such as when the children reach a certain age and the former wife can go back to work – the level of maintenance established at the outset will continue as long as financial circumstances remain unaltered or until the former spouse remarries or dies. 

Applying to have maintenance support reassessed

Either side can, however, apply for a change to the order, including a clean break. 

If you fear that, by applying to court, your husband’s maintenance payments could be increased, this suggests that his ex-wife is not well off and that, comparatively, you and your husband are – otherwise no such increase would be made. If the ex-wife has only her state pension and £14 a week to live on, then that is really not a lot of money. 

If you, however, are struggling to make payments and your husband’s ex-wife has ample to live off from other sources, then certainly return to the court to have the level reassessed. A solicitor will be able to advise you better.

All information - including information provided by the Money Advice Service - accurate at the time of publication


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.