Divorce: Where Do the Costs Lie?

Elizabeth Cockle

Cost is the single biggest fear related to divorce. It’s normal to wonder if you can afford to get divorced, how much the process will cost, and how you can minimize the expense.

“You may be surprised to learn that the biggest costs usually come after a divorce,” explains Calgary family lawyer Sean O’Neil. “These are related to establishing two separate households, arranging for child-care, and the cost of separating or liquidating your assets.”

On average, an uncontested divorce—where both parties agree on all issues—costs approximately $1,500 to $2,500. Expenses begin to accumulate when parties disagree on the terms laid out in the Application for Divorce, filed by the initiating spouse.

If you’re contemplating divorce, or in the process of getting divorced, it pays to know which situations can lead to the biggest expenses.

When conflicts arise over child custody

Conflicts over custody and access can be among the most expensive and difficult to resolve. The parties can try to settle these issues by themselves, or with the support of mediators, parenting advisors, or psychologists. In extreme cases, the court may order the parties to conduct a bilateral or parenting assessment to assist them in arriving at an informed decision. The cost of such an assessment can easily exceed $10,000 and may or may not be shared between the parties.

When assets must be identified and valued

When one or both parties own significant assets, the worth of these must be calculated in order to reach a fair settlement. Certain assets can be particularly difficult to value, such as private businesses. In cases when one partner has hidden or misrepresented assets, extra time will be required to search out these assets before they can be valued, which adds to overall costs.

As with custody issues, experts may be hired to determine values, including appraisers, accountants, and business valuators.

When one party is entitled to spousal support

“This situation tends to cause the most conflict,” says Mr. O’Neil. “People understand that children need to be looked after, and they understand the basic fairness of a 50/50 split of matrimonial property. What they do not like is the concept that they may have to support a spouse—a person for whom they no longer feel any affection—for many years.”

While the courts keep attempting to add some certainty to the process of quantifying spousal support, this area continues to give rise to significant disagreements.

To arrive at an award of spousal support, the court will consider the following criteria:
  1. How long were the parties married?
  2. Are there any children of the marriage?
  3. Do both parties work?
  4. Is there significant income disparity between the parties?
  5. Did the recipient spouse give up career opportunities to stay home with the children?
  6. Does the recipient spouse need the money?

Throughout the divorce process, a rule of thumb is that “conflict costs.” Another factor to remember is that conflict adds emotional strain to an already stressful situation, particularly when children are involved.

A consultation with a lawyer to learn your rights and obligations and to establish a strategy in advance can save a lot of money. Be prepared to agree to reasonable positions. Recognize the strength of the other parties’ arguments. Try not to antagonize or insult your spouse. All of these actions should help save you minimize costs in the process.


Sean O’Neil is a Calgary barrister and solicitor focusing on family law, adoption law; child custody, child support, divorce, and visitation rights. He can be contacted at 403-910-0401 or www.oneillaw.ca for more information.

Elizabeth Cockle writes and edits for professional services firms and B2B companies. She cuts through the clutter of legalese, financialese, and corporatese to create marketing copy that speaks to clients in language they understand. She can be reached at 416-466-8171 or www.ecwriting.com.
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