Adversarial Divorce Costs!
Every New Year brings a bumper crop of divorce enquiries for law firms and online divorce providers in the traditional post-Xmas break up season, the true cost of rushing into an adversarial divorce is still one of the best kept secrets in town.
The current difference in cost is estimated at £65,000 – money which could be better spent on university fees for the children, according to the UK’s campaigner for Alternative Divorce, Suzy Miller.
Suzy Miller of Divorce in a Box, has recently published on her website a realistic summary of the cost of adversarial divorce compared to mediated or collaborative divorce, because she says she is “fed up with the fluffy image of stay-out-of-court routes through family break up and the myths that surround them.” The mother of three, who has appeared on BBC Breakfast Television as an example of a healthy extended family, sharing Xmas with her children’s father and his new wife and child, campaigns to raise awareness of mediation and collaborative law and warns couples to avoid wherever possible from mimicking those celebrities who use aggressive divorce lawyers.
Her vision is “to make adversarial divorce as unacceptable as smoking in Church” and she is the new moderator on the Divorce Online “Divorce Travel Guide” forum.
Clear evidence from mediation studies on the harm adversarial divorce does to children in the long term seems to be not getting through to the public. Back in 2009 a Mishcon de Reya study showed parents are willing to drag their children into the divorce process even when they acknowledge that the result is harmful to the children. In almost a quarter of cases one parent forced their child to lie to the other parent. More than one in 12 children had considered suicide as an escape and a third had turned to drug or alcohol abuse, according to the survey. One in 10 of the children resorted to crime.
According to Suzy Miller, the financial cost of divorce is “like measuring a ball of string that never stops unraveling. Apart from the initial costs of separate homes, cars, holidays, you also have the post-divorce costs of going back to court to argue over variance of maintenance, child access disputes, arrears/refusal to pay maintenance or child support. Add into that the emotional costs – which affect your work-life – the process can impact on your income, especially if depression kicks in. You may even end up paying for private detectives, barristers and DNA tests to prove paternity, if things get really nasty.”
Suzy was frustrated by not getting a straight answer from the lawyers about the cost difference between mediated and collaborative divorce, compared to the adversarial going to court route. She also wants to bust some of the big myths about adversarial divorce being the best way to get a more favorable divorce settlement.
The Study of Divorce Outcomes by Mary G. Marcus, Ph.D. and Walter Marcus have shown that women using mediation end up with higher maintenance payments over a long period of time, than women who go through the courts. And that’s not taking into account the cost of court hearings and legal fees which can fritter away money better targeted on university fees or investing it in starting up a new business.
“The most irritating phrase I hear” complains Suzy Miller, “is that mediation ‘only works for some people’. I know that domestic violence is one of the reasons for refusing Mediation during divorce, but even in that circumstance mediation can offer a very empowering way for the abused person to feel supported by the mediator and able to create a sustainable settlement with their ex partner, in a situation where the power balance is less skewed than in the home situation. Court experience can be deeply traumatic, especially when children become part of what the parents are fighting over, and if the abuser-ex chooses to self-represent, that can make court appearances even more horrible for an ex-partner.”
Suzy also encourages people who access online divorce options to not be disheartened if filling in the paperwork suddenly becomes complex. “If you need to get agreement first on how you will be CoParenting, then mediation can be used just for that part as an impartial advisor is going to be really useful. If you have complex property issues and pensions to sort out, then talk to a specialised Financial Planner (not the same as a normal IFA) and once you have sorted the parenting aspects and the finances, then using an online divorce option is suddenly not complex at all! I offer access to all these useful people through Divorce in a Box and through my Divorce Experts online directory.”
But what about the cost difference? How can that be calculated?
Suzy added up the cost range of an adversarial divorce by taking the average cost of a London divorce from a good source: Novitas launched a fund in 2012 to help cover the rising cost of divorces and provide an annual return of 8 per scent for investors. Novitas calculated that the average cost in London just to pay the solicitors is £40,000 for each set of solicitors fees – so that’s £80,000 for the couple in legal fees alone.
She then looked at the collaborative divorce costs of journalist Martha Roberts who wrote about her ‘happy divorce’ in the Daily Mail, of £15,000 total – which is much more than the £1,500 that many collaborative divorces can cost, as it all depends on how complex the financial arrangements are and how many sessions it takes for the couple to agree on a settlement. But Suzy chose this higher figure as she wanted to give adversarial divorce a fair trial – and even on this basis the difference in cost is £65,000.
Mediation is much less expensive still, as no lawyers need to be present at the meetings, and costs are usually between £500 and £3,000 for a mediated divorce.
But the creator of Divorce in a Box – a travel guide to stay-out-of-court divorce – warns that just looking at the numbers is not giving a realistic view of the situation. “Mediation and Collaborative Law can seem tougher to couples who don’t want to sit in the same room with each other, and even knowing the harm done to their children if they become adversarial is not always enough to stop them going down that route. People need to be realistic and get the necessary support and help to navigate a stay-out-of-court journey.”
What kind of support? Suzy suggests that it can be as simple as dealing with depression and anger by joining a gym or getting a personal trainer, working with a life coach or parenting expert, investigating start up business opportunities (to reduce the fear of lack of income post-divorce), working with a financial planner to create a detailed and accurate financial plan for both parents including who will cover university fees, and how much they can afford to spend on cars and holidays over the ensuing years, without running out of money. None of these are the job of a traditional divorce lawyer.
“It may sound like a lot of different experts compared to just using two adversarial lawyers” Suzy admits; “but think of it this way. If you pay to use mediation plus a whole host of useful experts who will help you complete the process successfully, you will have learned and gained a great deal from going through the process, and still saved yourself at least £65,000 in lawyers fees.”
Suzy will be encouraging some of her Divorce in a Box experts to join in with discussions in the Divorce Online forum, so that they can offer useful advice and guidance to divorcing individuals seeking help.
Cost of adversarial divorce
* Novitas Divorce Litigation Fund http://www.ftadviser.com/2012/05/30/investments/alternative-investments/novitas-fund-aims-to-help-divorce-couples-mTQkCq4yC85BrgHT9IzBBL/article.html
** Cost of collaborative divorce
Martha Roberts: My Happy Divorce http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/you/article-1344638/Collaborative-family-law-Why-divorce-neednt-hard-do.html
Mishcon De Reya study 2009
BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8361684.stm
Study of Divorce Outcomes: Mary G. Marcus, Ph.D. and Walter Marcus http://www.divorcemediation.norwalk.ct.us/study_of_divorce_outcomes.htm