Back in 1970, 22% of marriages in England and Wales had ended by the 15th wedding anniversary. In 1995, 33% of couples ended up divorced after the same period of time. Today, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics estimate 42% of marriages end in divorce, with around half of these divorces expected to take place within the first 10 years of marriage (all figures are for England and Wales only).
The same Office for National Statistics report claims the most common grounds for couples divorcing in England and Wales is unreasonable behaviour (52% of all wives and 37% of all husbands petitioned for divorce on these grounds during 2015). Financial matters are also often cited as significant factors that can lead to divorce. But what about the costs involved in getting divorced or separating?
Divorce and finances
London law firm Seddons recently put a price on divorce, claiming it costs the average couple more than £70,000, much of which goes on legal fees, dividing shared assets such as houses and cars, paying off debts and finding alternative accommodation.
A report published by Relate also says divorce is costly to both men and women, but is disproportionately more costly to women. It's expensive for the taxpayer too, says the Relationship Foundation, which suggests family breakdown was estimated to cost £46 billion in 2013 through effects on health, extra housing support, lost work hours, legal aid and other related factors.
If you're going through a divorce or separation, it's often a good idea to get expert help from an independent financial adviser, who may be able to recommend the most tax-efficient ways of dividing your assets. In the meantime, here are some of the things you should be aware of:
Dividing your money
If you can come to an agreement between yourselves about how to divide your money and other assets, you can usually avoid going to court hearings. Try using the divorce and money calculator on the Money Advice Service's website - it can give you an idea of your financial situation and help you work out what you have, what you owe and how you could split things between you.
If you want to make your agreement legally binding, a solicitor can draft a consent order, a legal document that confirms your agreement. How much help you need from a solicitor will determine how much you'll end up paying in legal fees - you may want to do everything yourselves or have just a couple of advice sessions with a solicitor rather than having a lawyer help you throughout the entire process (which can end up very expensive).
To find a solicitor in England or Wales, visit the Resolution website or the Law Society website. In Scotland you can find a solicitor via the Family Law Association website or the Law Society of Scotland website. Meanwhile if you're in Northern Ireland, visit the Law Society of Northern Ireland website to find a solicitor.
If you need help coming to an agreement, you can find a mediator via the Family Mediation Council's website (some offer their services funded by legal aid). If you still can't agree, you can ask a court to make a financial order. This means you may have to go to court and attend a number of court hearings over a period of around 6 to 12 months. The court will decide how your assets will be divided based on a number of factors, including how long you've been married.
Both parents are responsible for the cost of their children after they separate, even if they weren't married or in a civil partnership. In most cases, the parent who moves out of the family home usually has to pay maintenance to the other parent who looks after the children.
The most cost-efficient way to do this is to have a family-based child arrangement, which is where you make the arrangement between yourselves (the details can be included in a consent order). If you can't come to an agreement, you can get free advice from Child Maintenance Options or apply to join a scheme run by the Child Maintenance Service (an application fee is payable).
Cost of divorce
Court fees vary depending on which part of the UK you live in. For instance in England and Wales it costs £550 for the court fee to file for a divorce or dissolution, whereas in Northern Ireland the same thing costs £220. Other costs include applications for consent orders or financial orders, and - if you're filing for a legal separation rather than divorcing or dissolving a civil partnership - a fee to file for judicial separation.
If you're receiving certain benefits or if your income and savings are below a certain level, you may be eligible for help with paying court fees. Visit Gov.uk for more information.
If you're separating from your partner but weren't married, you may have fewer rights than couples who divorce or dissolve a civil partnership - but there's no formal legal process to go through. If you have children, shared assets or shared debts, you may still need legal advice or help from a mediator to help you reach an agreement about how to sort out your finances. You may also need to consult a solicitor if you fail to agree how to split your money and assets.
Managing your new budget
Whether you were married or cohabiting, separating from your partner can have a major impact on how much money you have coming in and how much you need to spend. You may have to work out how to reduce your expenses on a day-to-day basis, as you may not have as much income as before. The best way to look at your finances is to draw up a budget - find out more by reading Budgeting: a guide to managing your money.
One thing you may be able to spend less on is Council Tax, as you may be able to claim a 25% discount if you're based in England, Wales or Scotland and are now the only adult living at your property. Find out more at Gov.uk. If you live in Northern Ireland you may be eligible for rates housing benefit or rates relief - for more information visit the nidirect website.
You may also be entitled to certain benefits if your income drops below a certain level after a divorce or separation, including tax credits and - if you're responsible for a child aged 16 or younger - Child Benefit. If you were already claiming tax credits, don't forget to report any changes in your circumstances to HM Revenue and Customs as soon as possible.
If you're experiencing financial difficulties or would like some advice about benefits, our support officers may be able to help. Contact us on +44 (0)1788 556 366 or chat to one of our advisors online 24 hours a day
And don't forget we also offer a 24-hour legal helpline for ICAEW members and their families. Call +44 (0) 1788 556 366 to arrange to speak to an expert advisor (UK only).