Many couples now file for divorce using the government’s online service. For these people the only fee is the court filing fee of £255. For those on a low income, there is help with fees available.
For those who feel unable to navigate the divorce process there are numerous firms of solicitors who will manage the paperwork on your behalf for a fixed fee.
Legal fees can escalate when there are arguments regarding arrangements for the children and/or how to share finances.
In 2014 Mr Justice Mostyn described as “madness” a couple who had spent a total of £920,000 arguing about assets worth £2.9m (nearly a third of their entire wealth!). In Mr Justice Mostyn’s view it was time rules came into force which imposed a costs cap on fees charged by lawyers and set fixed fees for each stage of litigation.
It’s not just in higher value cases that costs can become disproportionate. The case of RM v TM  involved a couple who had been married for 22 years. The only liquid asset was the £630,000 proceeds of sale of their family home. Of this, combined legal fees of £594,000 were incurred leaving them with c£5,000 each.
The rules Mr Justice Mostyn envisaged have not materialised, although new costs rules did come into place on 6th July 2020. Amongst these rules is a requirement for all parties to make an open settlement offer after a Financial Dispute Resolution (“FDR”) appointment. If there has been no FDR and the court hasn’t made a specific direction, then the parties are under a duty to make an open offer no less than 42 days before trial.
The existing costs rules still exist meaning that the Applicant is obliged to make an open proposal no less than 14 days before trial with the Respondent making an offer 7 days thereafter.
When considering whether or not to make a costs order, the court must take a broad view of the parties’ conduct throughout the litigation. A refusal to negotiate reasonably and responsibly could lead to a costs order being made against one party.
Sandra Marshall and Madeleine Young are both specialist family lawyers. Contact Sandra on 0118 955 9615 or Madeleine on 0118 955 9616 to discuss your matter on a no obligation basis.
Published on 14/10/2020