A divorce can have serious emotional consequences. It can also have a serious financial impact that you may not have planned for. The cost of divorce proceedings varies from one couple to another as there are multiple things to consider. Here’s how you can estimate the cost of your divorce to avoid any unwanted financial surprises.
An amicable, or uncontested, divorce, is “an application for divorce based on a draft agreement, that can reduce some of the delays and legal fees involved in divorce proceedings” (Justice Quebec, 2018). Spouses agree on the grounds and terms (for example, child support payments) and complete the necessary documents. Then, a judge certifies the agreement, settling all aspects and consequences of the separation, eliminating the need to go to court.
Amicable divorce is generally the cheaper option. According to Canadian Lawyer Magazine’s 2015 survey, the average divorce lawyer’s fees nationwide were $1,845 for this type of divorce. For Ontario, the average fees were $1,217.
The cost for court proceedings, however, depends on the province where you live. In Quebec, court fees to obtain a divorce total $413. The initial application for divorce is $302, plus an additional $101 for the joint application, plus another $10 federal registration fee payable to the Central Registry of Divorce Proceedings. In Ontario, court fees total $447. The first payment of $167 is due when the application is filed, which includes court fees of $157 and $10 collected for the federal Department of Justice. Additional court fees of $280 are then paid before the divorce is reviewed by the court.
In contrast to an amicable divorce, a contested divorce is where parties cannot agree, either about getting divorced or about the terms (such as the division of assets, allocation of debts, alimony, child support, or the custody of children.) A contested divorce is also much more expensive; the average cost rises to $13,638 nationwide and $8,747 for Ontario (Canadian Lawyer Magazine, 2015).
The more complex and contentious the divorce, the longer it takes. As Sylvie Schirm, an attorney in family law, explains, “The lawyers have to draft the proceedings, determine the alimony, calculate the assets and debts, divvy up the property, etc.” Family law legal proceedings can cost up $18,706 for one or two days and $35,950 for five days.
Some lawyers offer online divorce proceeding packages. Depending on your family situation and chosen options, you can expect to spend between $500 and $1,700 for these services.
According to Schirm, this can be a good option for simple cases (no children, no debts, etc.), but the proceedings are highly standardized with limited support—some packages don’t even include a meeting with a lawyer. Legal professionals, however, emphasize that each case is unique, and in an agreement, it’s often the details that make all the difference. This is where a legal professional’s expertise can really be a factor. While the use of a lawyer or notary may be recommended, parties are under no obligation to use one when filing a joint application.
Lawyers: If you choose to uses a lawyer, keep in mind that their fees are in addition to the legal costs in your province. In Quebec, the median hourly rate for a lawyer is between $184 and $331 while in Ontario rates can range from $219 for a lawyer called to the bar to $438 for 20-year calls.
Notaries: In Quebec, as of February 21, 2017, an amicable divorce can be done through a notary. Like with a lawyer, notary fees are in addition to legal costs and depend on the couple’s family situation and the number of meetings and modifications required. In Ontario, notaries do not have the capacity to handle amicable divorces. Ontario residents should consult a lawyer instead.
Bailiffs: Lawyers will generally use a bailiff to serve documents. The tariff of fees and transportation expenses are generally set by the province. In Quebec, for example, provincial law dictates fees of $0.63 and $0.86 per kilometre travelled, respectively. In Ontario, for up to three attempts to serve a document, whether or not successful, the fee is $100 for each person being served.
Experts: The cost of an expert’s services ranges from $2,000 to $15,000. There are a number of reasons you might consider an expert; for example, as Schirm explains, “You can hire a psychologist for a contested custody battle, following accusations of violence or drug use.”
Getting a divorce can lead to a lower combined income and the possible payment of alimony and/or compensatory allowance. When you separate your shared taxable household income, you individually pay more taxes. Each spouse assumes new expenses and potentially faces additional debts.
In the longer term, you also have to consider the rules governing the family patrimony in your province, as they apply to your retirement. An example of this is pension sharing.
The best way to keep a failed marriage from turning into a financial disaster is to agree in advance on as many points as possible regarding divorce and its consequences. You should quickly identify areas where you disagree and be open to negotiation once the process is underway.
With a focus on cooperation, family mediation can help you avoid litigation and lessen the financial burden of a divorce. Provinces have programs in place to assist in this area. For example, in Quebec, when a couple has at least one dependent child, the Ministère de la Justice du Québec provides five hours of free mediation with a certified family mediator. Provincial courts also offer a free psychosocial expertise service. In Ontario, there are no fees for mediation through Legal Aid Ontario, however, you must be financially eligible to qualify. In the case you don’t qualify, Legal Aid Ontario can help connect you with other free or sliding scale, court-based mediators.
In the case of a contested divorce, a low-income spouse may be eligible for provincial legal aid and receive free (or inexpensive) legal counsel. Consult with your province’s Legal Aid department to see if you qualify.
It is important to keep certain funds separate from your personal and family property, such as life insurance or inheritance money. These items are likely to be excluded from the list of assets divided between ex-spouses.
When it comes to childcare expenses or legal fees incurred to obtain child support, a parent can claim a tax deduction. As France Bourgie, a tax consultant at Fiscalité Cible points out, “Try to agree with your ex-spouse to have your taxes done by the same person to maximize your credits and refunds.”
A marriage or civil union contract, commonly referred to as a prenuptial agreement in the U.S., can establish, in advance, the terms of dividing possessions in the event of a divorce. Such agreements also specify the net worth and gross value of the possessions owned by each party at the time of marriage. It’s much simpler to plan and discuss these things when all is going well between spouses—to avoid problems further down the road. Even if couples are not married, they can draw up a cohabitation agreement to provide protection in case they separate.
Divorce can be a long and expensive process. Avoid taking the consequences of this decision lightly and be sure to seek professional help before things get complicated.
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