How to get divorced without losing a fortune to lawyers


Divorce can be, and often is, expensive.

It's not uncommon to spend tens of thousands of dollars sorting out parenting and financial arrangements following separation. You may have heard stories of people spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars fighting former spouses in long drawn-out cases where the lawyers are the only "winners".

Is it worth it? Usually not.

how to get divorced on a budget

The longer and messier the argument, the more assets are reduced so that, in the end, everybody loses.

In some cases, where there are issues with no simple answer, the investment in the debate may be worth it. However, these are the vast minority, and usually, the fight is fuelled by emotion.

How then, can you avoid being drawn into an unnecessarily costly divorce process?

1. Communicate directly

Communicate and reach agreement directly with your former spouse about as many issues as possible.

This may be hard where there has been a painful break-up, but if you can remove the emotion and have "business-like" discussions, you won't need to pay a lawyer to deal with those issues.

Ideally, a lawyer should be appointed to provide preliminary advice and then formalise an agreement at the end. Engaging a mediator can also be a helpful (and economical) way to keep discussions on track.

2. Financial transparency

Be informed about your own and your former spouse's financial position.

Not understanding each other's finances during and/or after the relationship, can create mistrust and suspicion of hidden assets. This can be expensive to disprove.

3. Joint valuations

Ensure valuations/appraisals or other financial information is obtained jointly.

If done separately, there can often be a difference between asset values, which will only draw out the dispute, leading to more cost.

4. Manage expectations

Remove expectations of being rewarded, compensated or penalised for what one party did (or didn't do) during the marriage.

This will only lead to dispute and disappointment. The law will generally take the view that the efforts of each spouse during a relationship is equal, irrespective of whether they worked, cared for children or both.

Where one party has brought in more assets to the relationship, or received significant external contributions, be realistic about how these are taken into account.

5. Get professional advice early

While it's important to talk to and have the support of friends and family, remember to take non-professional advice (including internet advice) with a grain of salt. Instead, consult a reputable and experienced family lawyer, early;

6. Be wary

When it comes to getting advice, do your research. Be wary of the cheap lawyer who "dabbles" in family law, as opposed to specialising in the field, and find a lawyer who is genuinely resolution focused. Many lawyers say they are but will quickly bring out the heavy artillery and demand a hefty upfront retainer escalating costs quickly.

While sometimes necessary, heavy artillery should only ever be a last resort.

7. Formalise the agreement

If you reach an agreement, you may think formalising and properly documenting this won't be worth it - but, it is a worthwhile insurance policy.

If you don't, it may leave the door open to further claims down the track, ultimately costing more than it would have to formalise the agreement in the first place;

8. Don't sweat the small stuff 

Think big picture about what you're trying to achieve.

Penny pinching and time grabbing with children will fuel conflict and heighten the chances of conflict about bigger, more important issues, ultimately resulting in higher legal costs.

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Josephine Sergi is the head of family law at Kalus Kenny Intelex. She has more than 15 years' experience in family law both as a lawyer and paralegal. Josephine holds a Bachelor of Laws (Honours), Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice and Masters of Applied Law (Family Law). She is a member of the Law Institute of Victoria, the Family Law Section of the Law Council of Australia, Victorian Women Lawyers, the Australian Italian Lawyers Association, and ALTO - Australian-Italian Leaders of Tomorrow. She is also a contributing author of the Australian chapter of the Lexology Private Clients Guide.
Straight Shooter
May 6, 2023 8.37am

It's such an unfair system for parents gifts to their own children to be subject to family law split. I wonder why there is no campaign for the law to be changed to protect family assets within the blood ties.

I understand by doing up a loan agreement may help, but a gift is a gift, why should the parties have to fake it to protect it?