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In the recent decision in Chai v Peng  EWHC 750 (Fam) the Court made a ruling with regards to whether the English Courts had jurisdiction. Mr Justice Holman spoke in his judgment of “eye-watering” legal fees of £1.6 million, especially given that preliminary issues were still not yet decided. This of course is an exceptional case and is by no means the norm. However, it certainly raises the question as to what are reasonable fees for a divorce?
There are three separate stages to a divorce. The first of these is the actual divorce process. The contract of marriage creates legal relations between a husband and wife. The divorce process simply terminates or ends that legal relationship.
The fees for a standard, uncontested divorce should be fairly manageable. The Court fee is £455 and our fees are usually £600 plus VAT, provided that the matter is uncomplicated. However, you are likely to pay considerably more at a city firm. For example, a recent client of this firm transferred her case to us from a well-known city firm. It was noted that her solicitor and her husband’s solicitor, also at a city firm, had spent over three months arguing on the wording of the statement of arrangements for children form and incurred fees running into the thousands of pounds in this wholly unnecessary exercise. The legal fees she spent on this issue alone were entirely disproportionate when common sense and a pragmatic approach were required.
The second part of a divorce concerns the children of the marriage. Section 1 (5) of the Children Act 1989 provides that: “where a Court is considering whether or not to make one or more orders under this Act with respect to a child, it shall not make the order or any of the orders unless it considers that doing so would be better for the child than making no order at all.”
The preference is clearly for the parents to reach an amicable and mutually agreeable arrangement in respect of their children. There are cases in which the parents require judicial intervention to resolve contentious issues and the legal fees for this will depend on how complex these issues are and how long the case takes to resolve.
The Court fee to issue any application is £210. Legal fees in contact cases will start at £1,200 plus VAT, and can increase substantially if the case is not settled at the first hearing and subsequent hearings are required. The Court process can be arduously slow with the Court seeking review hearings at each stage of increase or development in the contact. However, Judges and Cafcass officers are now becoming more robust since the decision in Re A  EWCA Civ 1104. This case highlights the difficulty faced by a father seeking regular and stable contact with his children. The proceedings have lasted 12 years and are still not concluded at the time of writing.
In a recent case dealt with by this firm, following the judgment in Re A, the Judge accepted the evidence presented by our client (the father), which strenuously defended the false allegations made by the mother, such that at the first hearing the Judge barred the mother from relying on her allegations to obstruct contact in the future.
However, my client’s evidence had to be collected and pieced together succinctly, but in sufficient detail, within two days of the mother’s application being served on him. The time taken to prepare the detailed statement in advance of the first hearing eventually proved cost effective for my client as he avoided the long assessment and investigation procedures to clear his name and to allow him to progress onto the important issue of contact.
Other children issues that require a set procedure to determine a contested issue, such as internal or international relocation, medical treatment or residence, have a set process if an agreement cannot be reached: an application; a first hearing; an assessment by Cafcass; filing of evidence; a pre-trial review hearing; and a final hearing. It is possible to agree the fees of each of these sections so as to limit the costs and to keep them manageable.
The third part of the divorce process is the financial settlement. The first stage is always to have full financial disclosure. The court’s helpful form E can be utilized by both parties in providing full and comprehensive disclosure of their financial situation. Following exchange of this, negotiations can lead to a settlement. The cost of this process may be limited to £1,000 plus VAT and a small fee for the consent order to conclude the agreement into a binding Court order.
In the absence of an agreement, the process involves an application to the Court, completion of form E’s and attendance at the first hearing. The costs of this stage can generally be limited and, for a standard case can be agreed at £2,000.00 plus VAT.
If a settlement is not possible at the first hearing then the matter will progress to further evidence and an arbitration type hearing. The costs of this can also be limited and agreed in advance.
Should settlement not be achieved, the matter will progress to a final hearing. The final hearing can be costly and so all efforts must be made to settle the case in advance of any final hearing. Careful management of the evidence and the costs will ensure that your legal fees will not be disproportionate to the assets and the relevant issues in your case.
In any divorce, each party will want the best legal representation and often there is a temptation to hire one of the expensive city firms. However, as long as you have an experienced family solicitor, your needs will be well met and your fees should be a fraction of what the city firms would charge. We have had a number of cases that have started off with city firms but, after the fees become prohibitively expensive, clients have transferred to us and we are more than able to secure an excellent settlement at a reasonable price.
One such example was where a city firm was acting to the detriment of their own client’s interest. In a period of only 6 months the wife’s legal fees were in excess of £34,000. The husband’s costs were a whole lot more, with over £45,000 being unpaid. As a result, the husband’s solicitors sued him for the outstanding fees causing him to file for bankruptcy, thereby defeating the parties’ claims by losing both income and assets to the trustee in bankruptcy.
Your solicitor should act in your interest, diffuse contested issues and direct you to a sensible and pragmatic solution. The aim should be to conclude your dispute as efficiently and effectively as possible so that you can get on with the main business of living again. This should be done at a reasonable and proportionate cost.
This article is for information purposes only and is not legal advice. It should not be acted or relied upon and legal advice should be sought before applying any of the information in this article to any facts or circumstances.