We are nearing the most popular time of the year for divorce proceedings (immediately after the New Year), when couples in unhappy relationships decide to make a new start of it.
'Til irritation do us part
However, divorce is not always the cheapest of processes to go through.
According to Intelligent Divorce, even a straightforward divorce will run up legal fees in the region of £20,000, while a trip to court could hit £40,000.
So how can you call time on your marriage without spending a fortune?
Going the DIY route
You can keep the involvement of lawyers to a minimum by going down the DIY route with a divorce. Intelligent Divorce is one firm that offers this sort of service. Here's how it works: first, you follow the step-by-step guide on the website to get a full financial picture. At this point, you will then receive some advice from an experienced family law barrister to get an idea of what a 'fair' division of assets would be. You can then use that information to come to an agreement on how to settle your assets.
Intelligent Divorce argues that a lot of the time which solicitors will charge you for is just for them researching your finances, a step you can do on your own, saving money in the process.
While this is certainly a cheap way of getting divorced, with the co-operative service (where husband and wife do it together) costing £499 each, it's clearly not going to be appropriate for everyone.
Picking the right solicitor
It can be very tempting to just shop around for the cheapest quote when looking for legal advice, but remember that can be a false economy – you may save a couple of hundred pounds by going with a budget lawyer, but that may cost you thousands in the long run if they don't get you a good deal.
New rules established last year year mean that all divorcing and separating couples are referred to mediation before they are allowed to go to court. This means that an independent mediator will sit down with both parties and try to come to a final agreement on how the assets will be divided, and what will happen with any children (or pets!) the couple may have.
While the new rules mean that you must attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, they do not oblige you to commit to the process afterwards. Generally mediation will take two to four sessions. There is no standard fee for mediation, but it's worth remembering that while it will likely be cheaper than heading straight to court, it may be testing emotionally, having to spend hours in a room with your soon-to-be-ex arguing over the fine details of your split.
Collaboration works in a similar way to mediation, in that both parties sit down to work out who gets what, outside of the courtroom.
However, the difference is that the process can involve far more than just the two parties and an independent mediator. With collaboration, each party will not only have their lawyers present, but there may be all sorts of other professionals involved too, from accountants and life coaches to children's counsellors.
The idea is that this way, you reach the fairest outcome, whereas with mediation there is the risk that the 'dominant' party may force through a better deal than is merited (for example, an unfaithful husband may hand over more than he should out of guilt, or a housewife unfamiliar with the family's finances may get a raw deal).
The fact is that if you don't want to spend a fortune in legal fees, avoiding a day out in court is your best bet.
I want a pre-nup!
Whenever there is a high-profile break-up, there is always a discussion of whether there was a pre-nuptial agreement in place. This is basically where both parties agree how the finances will be handled should they split up. It tends to be something the very wealthy use to ensure that should they marry a mere mortal like you and me, we can't make off with all of their cash when it all goes awry.
Interestingly, women are the ones instigating more and more pre-nups. According to a study by Contact Law, almost two-thirds of the 200 solicitors they surveyed reported an increase in women enquiring about establishing a pre-nup over the past couple of years. Indeed, more than one in five are now at the behest of the bride-to-be.
It's worth remembering that a pre-nup is not actually legally binding in UK law. That said, they are legally 'persuasive' (in the words of Contact Law), and so long as the agreement meets certain criteria – demonstrating that independent legal advice was sought, a full financial disclosure, and establishing no undue pressure was put on either party – then there is a very good chance that the courts will uphold it.
So even before you head down the aisle, it pays to consider what should happen if the marriage doesn't last – it could save you a fortune in the long run! Read Rise of the pre-nup for more.