Six ways to cut the cost of divorce

The post-Christmas period usually sees more people filing for divorce than any other time of the year, as family and financial pressures push many couples over the edge. So if you are facing a divorce, what can you do to minimise the cost? Ruth Jackson explains.

Monday was Divorce Day. Doesn't sound good does it? Well it isn't. The first working day after each Christmas holiday usually sees more divorces filed for than any other day of the year. Think about it and it makes total sense. Christmas involves spending at least a week with each other (and your children and possibly your in-laws too) but without the distractions of work and normal socialising. That's a state of affairs that can very fast turn any cracks in a relationship into uncrossable chasms. Add in present-buying and the kind of financial troubles many of us have had over the last year, and the fights start piling up as fast as the bills.

However, the great irony of divorce is that it takes the financial problems that cause rows and makes them a thousand times worse. Not only does the (probably insufficient) money that sustained one household now have to support two, but it has to pay the lawyers as well

So if you are facing a divorce and you really can't see a better path - what can you do to minimise the cost?

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Choose your solicitor carefully

Legal fees can mount up fast, so make sure you are handing your hard-earned cash over to the right person. The best way to be sure you get a good lawyer is to find one via personal recommendations. If you can't do that, ask your Citizens Advice Bureau or contact Resolution. Resolution is an association of marital lawyers who adhere to a code of practice that promotes a non-confrontational approach to divorce. They try to help you reach a settlement in the least litigious way possible. That makes sense simply because the less litigious your divorce is, the cheaper it should be.

Try and be nice

All divorces don't have to end in a court battle. Opt for mediation or collaborative law as a way to sort out your divorce and it will be cheaper and, "both offer a more dignified approach," says Daniel Eames, a divorce lawyer at Clarke Willmott. The other benefit is that if you avoid the courtroom, your divorce can remain a far more private affair.

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If you are beyond the point of being civil with your soon-to-be-ex partner, then court is probably unavoidable. But don't just thrash it out in the nearest courthouse. If you are a foreign national or have foreign property, choosing the right country to get divorced in can "dramatically affect the outcome," says Eames. If you are the wealthy partner then you will want to avoid English courts if you can - they are far more generous when it comes to settlements than most other countries. So much so, that if you have some Scottish blood it can even be worth heading north of the border for your divorce hearings.

If you can't escape going to court in England, at least try and avoid London courts, says Eames: they tend to be more generous than other parts of the country.

Don't keep calling your lawyer

Solicitors charge for their time; whether that's their time spent travelling to court hearings, writing letters on your behalf or even just listening to you rant on the phone. So don't call unless you really need to. If you really want to tell someone all about how you feel, get a therapist it'll be cheaper.

Sever your financial ties

As soon as you know there is no chance of reconciliation with your partner, close your joint bank accounts and cancel any joint credit cards. Courts rarely take into account any 'misuse' of these accounts when dividing assets. Also, don't forget to revise your will and make the necessary changes to any death-in-service benefits/life policies/pensions. And if your property is owned in both your names and passes automatically to your spouse upon your death, get that changed too.

Don't move in with your new squeeze

If you are lucky enough to have found love with someone new, do not move in with them until your divorce is settled. If you do, their income/assets may well be taken into account in your divorce settlement.

Get an IFA

Given all the financial upheaval of a divorce, this is often a good time to employ a good independent financial adviser (IFA), one who can help you structure any financial settlements and then work out how to live with them. For a list of IFAs who charge fees rather than working on commission, see here. Otherwise you might consult Resolution they train IFAs to help with their policy of non-confrontational divorce.

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Ruth Jackson-Kirby

Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance. 

Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.

Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping among many other titles both online and offline.