Navigating a divorce in Australia involves various costs, starting with a hefty $1060 application fee—essential information for budgeting your path forward. The Norton Law Group is here to help you work out these details, help you anticipate the expenses accompanying the end of a marriage, from initial fees to potential mediation and legal costs, and answer the question, “How much does divorce cost in Australia?”
The cost of divorce at a glance…
- The application fee for divorce in Australia is $1060, with a reduced fee of $350 available for concession cardholders or those facing financial hardship, alongside potential additional costs throughout the process.
- Divorce paths include joint or solo applications with varying costs and requirements, such as mandatory attendance at court hearings for solo applications and additional fees for service of divorce papers.
- Legal representation fees in divorce cases can vary greatly depending on the lawyer’s experience, the case complexity, and billing practices such as hourly or fixed fees.
Breaking Down the Divorce Application Fee
Understanding the initial costs is paramount before embarking on the journey to end a marriage. The first expense you will encounter is the application fee. In Australia, this fee is set at $1060 (increased from $990 in July 2023). However, the government acknowledges that financial difficulties should not hinder those seeking to end a marriage. If you are a government concession cardholder or are facing financial hardship, you may be eligible for a reduced fee of $350.
Although the application fee makes up a significant portion of the initial divorce cost, there’s more to the story. Additional costs may arise depending on the circumstances of your case, such as third-party charges, postage, and court fees. Being aware of these potential costs is necessary, as they can inflate the overall expense of the divorce.
Eligibility for Reduced Fees
So, who is eligible for the reduced divorce application fee of $350?
First off, the reduced fee is available to those who hold certain government concession cards:
- A health care card
- A pensioner concession card
- A Commonwealth Seniors health card, or
- Any other card that verifies entitlement to a concession from Services Australia or the Department of Veteran Affairs
If you aren’t a holder of any of these cards, then you may also be eligible for the reduced divorce filing fee if:
- You have been granted legal aid
- You are the recipient of youth allowance, Austudy or ABSTUDY payments
- You are under 18 years old
- You are currently in prison or otherwise legally detained in a public institution.
If none of these apply to you, then your only remaining path to a reduced fee is to prove that you are experiencing financial hardship. According to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia, you may be eligible for a reduced fee “if your income, day-to-day living expenses, liabilities and assets are at such a level that payment of the full fee would cause you financial hardship.”
To demonstrate financial hardship, there is a three-part test that you must undertake that includes:
- Income test
- Assets test
- Day-to-day living expenses and liabilities test
Even if you don’t qualify for the reduced filing fee based on these tests, there are still some circumstances where paying the full divorce fee would cause financial hardship. This is considered on a case-by-case basis in your application form.
In summary, if you’re under financial strain, don’t let the full fee deter you from proceeding with your divorce application. If you have a strong case that you are genuinely unable to afford the full fee, you will likely be eligible to get the reduced fee.
The Cost of Your Divorce Path: Sole vs Joint Application
When initiating the divorce process, you have two options: a joint or a sole application.
A joint application means that you and your spouse (or your lawyers) will work together to prepare the application and ensure the accuracy of all the details therein. Because you and your spouse are filing jointly and both agree to the divorce, there is no need to serve the application to either party. There is also no need for you, your spouse, or your lawyers to attend a divorce hearing.
With a sole application, you (typically with the help of a solicitor) will need to prepare and serve the divorce application to your spouse or their lawyer and take time to attend the divorce hearing.
If you are certain your spouse will sign and return the divorce application, you can post it to them in a letter. However, if you are uncertain, the papers must be served by hand. If you engage a professional process server to serve the documents on your behalf (you can’t do it yourself), you can expect to pay between $100 and $150 for this service, depending on the agency you use.
With this in mind, you should consider whether you are pursuing a joint or sole application when considering total divorce costs.
Legal Representation: Understanding Divorce Lawyer Costs
Aside from filing fees and other administrative expenses, you might not be surprised to learn the most significant cost of pursuing a divorce is the expense of hiring a lawyer. While hiring a lawyer is not mandatory to finalise a divorce, it’s highly recommended to help you navigate the complexities of the process and advise you on your rights and entitlements when it comes to matters like property settlement and child custody.
Because every divorce is different, the answer to “How much does a divorce lawyer cost?” will vary depending on multiple factors, including:
- The seniority and experience of the lawyer
- If the lawyer is a dedicated family lawyer or an accredited family law specialist
- Whether the lawyer charges hourly or operates on a fixed-fee model
- The nature of your divorce and the complexity of any disputed issues (financial settlement, spousal maintenance, child support, etc.)
- Whether disputes can be handled through mediation/negotiation or end up being litigated in court
Bear in mind that the duration of divorce proceedings will heavily influence legal fees. This is because extended proceedings result in a higher accumulation of billable hours for lawyers who follow an hourly billing structure. Some firms, however, may opt for a fixed fee structure, offering cost projections at the outset of the proceedings and periodic billing during the process.
For a general guide on lawyer fees, the average hourly rate is typically reported at between $300 and $400 for senior family lawyers. Junior lawyers may cost less at around $100 per hour, but the level of service you can expect won’t be as high.
At The Norton Law Group, we offer flexible fee structures and fixed fee services for divorce cases to provide our clients with more assurance as to the cost of their representation. Request a free initial consultation to discuss our pricing and how we can help you resolve your divorce matter with affordable, specialist legal counsel.
Navigating Financial Settlements and Property Division
Financial settlements and property division are often the most intricate aspects of a divorce. Consent orders are instrumental in resolving these matters, aiding in managing the overall cost of your divorce by circumventing protracted litigation in court. This legally binding agreement aims to distribute assets and liabilities between parties involved in a divorce equitably.
Property settlements include various assets, including:
- Superannuation entitlements
These assets are all taken into consideration during the settlement process. If the parties cannot reach an agreement on asset division, the family court will intervene to decide on what is deemed fair based on various factors, including initial assets, earnings, health, age, and future earning potential.
Considering all these, it’s a good idea to factor in the cost of a property settlement when calculating your divorce expenses.
This is where a specialist family lawyer can really help. A family law specialist can help you predict how much you may be obliged to sacrifice to your ex-partner, especially if they are also working with a lawyer to help them seek the best possible settlement.
The Role and Cost of Consent Orders
Consent orders hold significant importance in divorce proceedings. They facilitate the resolution of financial matters between separating couples without the necessity of litigation (saving a lot of time and money for both parties). For couples with children, consent orders also play a role in fostering improved post-separation parenting relationships.
A big advantage of consent orders over parenting plans is that consent orders are lodged with the court and are not easily changed. Once the court seals the consent order, it becomes legally enforceable.
The process of obtaining a consent order involves the following steps:
- Drafting the orders
- Reaching an agreement with your former partner
- Submitting the proposed agreement to the Family Court of Australia
- Obtaining court approval for the consent order
The application fee for consent orders is $195. Because consent orders need to be lodged with the court, it’s highly recommended that they are drafted and reviewed with the consultancy of a family law expert.
In Australia, most lawyers will charge a fixed fee for helping you draft consent orders. This fee generally ranges between $2000 to $6000, depending on the firm you engage and the complexity of your property and parenting matters.
Spousal Support and Child Maintenance Considerations
Considerations pertaining to spousal support and child maintenance can considerably affect the overall cost of a divorce.
Here are some key points to keep in mind:
- Spousal maintenance refers to a payment made by one partner to the other in order to assist with covering living expenses (also known as alimony payments).
- This support is typically provided for a specific duration until the recipient is able to achieve financial independence.
- In certain rare instances, it may be mandated to be paid indefinitely.
Child support payments, on the other hand, entail the provision of financial support from one partner to the other for the benefit of their children. Child support is determined through an administrative assessment conducted by Services Australia. This assessment uses a standardised formula to assess the adjusted income of the eligible parent and the percentage of care provided.
Note that this formula is only used to calculate child support when you and your ex partner cannot come to a fair and equitable agreement outside of court. With regard to the overall cost of divorce, it is usually cheaper to come to a good-faith agreement about the amount of support provided rather than have it mandated by the court.
The Cost of Dispute Resolution & Mediation
Because divorce (and litigating divorce matters in court) is often costly, stressful, time-consuming, and damaging to children, Australian family law seeks to minimise the number of couples that pursue a divorce and the number of cases that need to be heard in court.
Because of this, the law encourages separating couples to participate in dispute resolution to resolve matters outside of the legal system.
Even if you know you are definitely going to pursue a divorce, the court requires you and your spouse to engage in dispute resolution if your marriage is considered short-term (generally married for less than five years).
Family law mediation is a form of dispute resolution where a licensed mediator, with or without lawyers present, works with both parties to find a mutually agreeable compromise for family law matters in dispute. In accordance with the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), engaging in mediation is compulsory before taking parenting matters to court (it is optional but highly encouraged for property matters, too).
There are multiple private and government-funded avenues for pursuing dispute resolution and mediation. Fees vary between practitioners, but family dispute resolution typically costs between $150 to $300 per hour. Some practitioners may price in blocks of multiple hours or use a sliding scale based on your gross annual income as a couple.
The Norton Law Group provides expert family law mediation services to address complex family law matters. We provide an effective, non-judgemental process that allows you and your ex-partner to resolve specific issues or come to a complete resolution, helping you both avoid the expense and stress of litigation.
Free Resources and Expert Consultations
While managing the divorce process and trying to predict the costs involved can be daunting, you need not face it alone. Numerous free resources are available to assist you in family law matters, such as the Family Relationship Advice Line, the Family Court of Australia, and articles from reputed family law firms, like this article and the rest of our blog at The Norton Law Group.
With that said, the best advice you can get will come directly from experienced divorce lawyers. At The Norton Law Group, our specialist family lawyers in Sydney will use their expertise to help you understand and minimise the cost of your divorce while ensuring you get a positive, lasting result that lets you move on with the rest of your life.
Contact us today to get started with a first free initial consultation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the cheapest way to divorce in Australia?
The cheapest way to divorce in Australia is to file a joint application, simplifying the process and allowing cost-sharing between spouses. In addition, the cheapest possible divorce would require both parties to agree privately on all matters related to finances, property and parenting arrangements without engaging a lawyer or mediator.
Do you have to pay for a divorce in Australia?
Yes, in Australia, everyone who applies for a divorce is required to pay a Government filing fee. This is a Federal Government charge with no exceptions.
Does the wife get half in a divorce in Australia?
Nothing in Australian family law mandates that either spouse get exactly half of all marital assets. In Australia, marital properties are divided with the goal of arriving at an equitable distribution rather than an exact 50-50 split.
What is the average cost of a divorce in Australia?
According to this frequently cited article by Money Magazine, the average cost of a divorce in Australia ranges between $50,000 and $100,000. However, this range is arrived at by assuming that the divorce is being entirely litigated through the family court system and fees for court-mandated mediation. There is no need for a divorce to incur such high expenses when experienced lawyers are engaged to help parties settle outside of court.
What is the official divorce application fee in Australia?
The official divorce application fee in Australia is $1060. The reduced fee is $350 for those eligible.