Divorce: How to keep the lid on costs process?

05 October 2022 by National Bank
how much does a divorce cost

Divorce is the official way to separate from your spouse, but it comes at a cost. Any way you slice it, the process will take time, money and effort, but there are ways to cut costs. Marriage is a contract with legal, financial, tax and other implications. Here are the main costs of divorce proceedings and some tips on how to reduce them.

How much does a divorce cost in Canada?

Only a court can make your divorce official, following legal proceedings or through a divorce by consent application filed by both parties. The process can range from fairly simple to highly complex, but it is always recommended to seek the assistance of legal experts. Most people hire lawyers in these situations, but notaries can also help in certain cases for uncontested (or amicable) divorces. Professional fees may vary. Generally, you can expect to pay a few hundred dollars per hour for this type of service, but the costs may be higher. Legal fees are usually one of the biggest expenses you can expect in divorce proceedings. But be sure not to underestimate how much more your new life as a single person will cost you. See our post on the financial impact of a separation here.

As a general rule, the more complex your situation, the longer it will take to sort out—and the more expensive your divorce will be. More time means more fees.

Good to know: You can work out an agreement with your legal advisor to set a fixed rate for all your divorce proceedings, especially if your divorce is uncontested.

Why should you try for an uncontested divorce?

You and your ex can’t change your family circumstances—or the things you own together—overnight. But you do have control over how things go in court. You can save a lot of money by agreeing on as many terms as possible. The idea is to streamline and simplify the process. That way, the clock won’t keeping ticking as legal bills pile up.

Grounds for divorce

The first thing to agree on is the intent to divorce. For the court to agree to grant you a divorce, you and your spouse must both meet one of the criteria for marriage breakdown. If you both agree that the marriage has broken down, per the legal definition, you’ll avoid some complications from the start. However, if only one person wants a divorce, they will have to justify the request themselves, probably with the help of legal counsel, and at their own expense.

Good to know: The court can order a party to compensate the other for legal fees. In some cases, the court may grant one party an advance cost award to cover court fees.

Filing and uncontested divorce

Courts charge certain basic fees for filing an application. They vary from province to province, but you can expect to pay a few hundred dollars on top of your professional fees to get a divorce.

As a couple

If both parties agree to divorce, you can file a single divorce application with the court for both spouses. You will need to agree on all decisions related to the divorce, from the division of property to parenting time (custody) and child support. But even if both parties are in full agreement, it’s still best to consult a lawyer to draw up or revise documents to make sure they reflect your wishes. It is even possible for you and your ex to work with the same legal counsel.


If you decide not to file the application together, you have two options:

  1. The first spouse files an application, and the other can contest it.
  2. Each spouse files their own application, which may then be joined together in a single file.

In this situation, if both parties wish to be represented, they will be represented individually by their own legal counsel. This is the way to go if you do not agree on all the terms of your separation. You will still have a chance to consult with your legal advisor to negotiate and finalize some or all aspects of your divorce.

Preparing for the divorce trial

Once you have filed the application, you need to prepare for the trial. Being on friendly terms with your ex can help reduce costs. If you require a more complicated trial (e.g., need to call witnesses, file a lot of documents for analysis), preparation will be longer, more complex and likely more expensive.

Psychologists may be needed in complex cases involving custody or parental time, for example. Specialists qualified to assess the value of certain assets may also be called in. These services come at a price, and professional fees can often amount to several hundred dollars.

To resolve more pressing matters such as child support, parenting time (custody) or who gets to live in the family home, the judge may ask you to attend pretrial hearings.

The trial

Depending on how complex your situation is, the length of the trial can vary from a few hours to a few days. Keep in mind that the longer the trial, the more it could cost you in legal fees.

What about online divorce?

Some legal services will handle your divorce remotely with special online packages. Depending on your family situation and the options you chose, it may be a good way to get a set price to handle your legal needs.

These packages are very standardized, and the support they offer may be more limited. Some do not include any meetings with a lawyer. This option is worth considering if your situation is very straightforward, but don’t expect the same level of guidance and support as you would with personalized legal services.

How to cut down on divorce costs

Legal aid

If you are contesting the divorce and you have a low income, you may be eligible for provincial legal aid and the services of a lawyer pro bono.

Tax optimization

If you have custody of the child or have incurred legal fees, you can claim a tax deduction for child support.

How to anticipate the blow from my marriage?

A marriage contract can be used to set out how certain assets will be divided in the event of a divorce by specifying the net and gross value of assets owned by both parties at the time of marriage. However, that doesn’t mean you can go against what’s spelled out in your matrimonial regime or waive the division of family assets. Good communication is still the best way to settle a divorce so long as relations between you and your ex remain cordial.

To get a divorce, you’ll at least have to cover the court costs and likely some professional fees as well. It is definitely a major expense, but it is not the only financial consequence of separation. Whether or not you have children, you should take advantage of your new life on your own to review your savings strategy, budget, and insurance coverage.

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