How much does a divorce cost in Australia?
The cost of divorce in Australia
The average cost of a divorce in Australia is variable and can be anywhere between $330 and $1,405, plus the cost of legal representation. It depends on whether the separating parties file for divorce with or without legal representation, and the complexity of the divorce itself. A divorce application can be filed without the aid of legal representation, in which case the only applicable fee is the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia’s (‘Court’) filing fee as described below. Issues with parties’ deciding to file without obtaining legal advice are that the application does not contain the required information or may be faulty, important documents may be missed and the impact of divorce on financial settlement is not comprehended by the parties. It should also be noted that divorce is separate from a property settlement or parenting arrangement. Divorce is simply the legal dissolution of the parties’ marriage.
Joint versus Sole Applications
There are two (2) options when filing the initial application for divorce, namely:-
- The parties file jointly; or
- One party files solely.
A joint application requires additional time taken for the parties or their lawyers to liaise with one another, to ensure all the details and facts in the application are agreed by both parties. As the application is agreed and filed jointly, there is no need to serve the application on either party. The parties and/or their lawyers do not need to attend the divorce hearing, as the matter will be dealt with “on the papers” in Chambers.
In contrast, a sole application requires additional time taken to attend Court for the divorce hearing and to serve the application on the applying party’s ex-partner. Service of the application will incur an additional fee.
The costs incurred to attend Court in a sole application and to liaise with the other party in a joint application are comparable. As such, the key difference between the fees for a joint and sole application is the fee for personal service by a service agent to effect personal service of the application on the other party. Personal service will be required where the other party has not instructed their lawyer (if they are represented) to accept service on their behalf. The fee for personal service varies depending on the service company and the location of the person to be served, however can attract fees of approximately $150.
Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia Filing Fees
In divorce or nullity applications there are no exemptions from the Court’s filing fees, however there are options for reduced filing fees. The court filing fee must be paid separately and directly to the Court, and it is a separate fee from the fees incurred having legal representation prepare, advise and conduct legal work on the application. The Court fees for a divorce or nullity application are:
FAMILY LAW FILING FEES
|Application for divorce
|Application for divorce – reduced fee
|Decree of nullity
|Decree of Nullity – reduced fee
Exemption from Filing Fees
A party is entitled to apply for a reduction in their divorce filing fee in the following circumstances:
- They hold any of the following cards issued by the Department of Human Services including:
- Health care card;
- Pensioner concession card;
- Commonwealth seniors health card; and
- Any other card issued by the Department of Human Services or the Department of Veterans’ Affairs that certifies your entitlement to Commonwealth health concessions; or
- They have been granted Legal Aid;
- They are receiving youth allowance, Austudy or ABSTUDY payments;
- They are under eighteen (18) years old or younger;
- They are an inmate of a prison; or
- They are otherwise legally detained in a public institution.
A party may still be eligible for a reduced fee even where none of the above applies, if their income, day-to-day living expense, liabilities and assets were such that the filing fee would cause them financial hardship. The Court outlines a three (3) part test which allows a party experiencing financial hardship to see whether they qualify for the reduced fee.
Circumstances where a person does not meet all three (3) parts of the test does not immediately preclude them from the reduced fee. For example, a person may exceed the allowable income, but also have very high living expenses that negate the benefit of them having that income – in this situation, the person may still qualify for financial hardship.
The three-part test includes the calculation of a person’s:
- Gross Income including but not limited to wages, salary, self-employment, fringe benefits, rental income, salary sacrifice (superannuation contributions), Centrelink pensions or benefits, Department of Veterans’ Affairs payments, income from financial investments and income stream products, foreign income, private trusts and companies, and compensation. If you have a dependant spouse or child(ren) under eighteen (18) years of age, the amount of allowable income before tax is scaled.
- Total Assets including any liquid assets (cash, bonds and/or convertible shares) owned must be less than five (5) times the payable filing fee.
- Day-to-day living expenses and liabilities are tested determining whether a person has surplus income after paying their day-to-day and living expenses.
The legal fees payable are variable in circumstances where one or both parties to a separation have obtained legal representation. Depending on the skill, seniority and experience of the lawyer acting will come with a different fee, except in circumstances where a law firm offers a fixed fee. The costs incurred by a client who engages a lawyer to prepare and file their divorce application are similar in sole and joint applications, because the lawyer will either need to appear at the divorce hearing in a sole application or will need to liaise with the other party more in a joint application.
Divorce should not be confused with the financial settlement of the parties. Financial settlement is more complex and in circumstances where the parties do not come to a settlement between themselves, is more likely to incur much higher legal fees. The work involved to prepare and file a divorce application is likely to take a number of hours and may take legal representation anywhere between two (2) and six (6) hours depending on whether it is a simple or more complex divorce. For example, parties who separate but live under the same roof for the duration of the separation are required to file an additional Affidavit which details their separation.
Ultimately, the cost of divorce in Australia is variable and dependent upon a number of factors, however in the simpler and more amicable divorces where the parties are confident in filing themselves, the cost of divorce comes down to the Court’s filing fee.
Seeking legal advice
If you are seeking legal advice regarding your divorce, Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers have an experienced team who can advise you. We can also help you with property settlement and coordinating a parenting plan if there are children involved.
Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers offer specialist family law advice and are based in St Leonards on Sydney’s North Shore. If you have recently separated or have a Family Law enquiry, please contact us on (02) 9437 0010 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss your matter in complete confidence. We have a dedicated team of experienced family lawyers to handle your matter effectively and efficiently, providing you with reliable, direct and practical advice.
About the Authors:
Lisa Wagner is Managing Director and Principal of Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers. Lisa is an Accredited Family Law specialist holding honours degrees in economics and law. She is also a Collaboratively trained Family Lawyer, a Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner, and a Parenting Coordinator. Lisa has over 30 years’ experience as a specialist family lawyer, experienced litigator and skilful negotiator in all family law matters; working for the majority of that time in Sydney’s CBD as well as on Sydney’s lower North Shore and Northern Beaches.
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Emilia Turnbull is a family lawyer at Doolan Wagner Family Lawyers. Emilia holds a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Security Studies from Macquarie University and a Master of Laws specialising in International Human Rights Law from the University of NSW.
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These posts are only intended as an overview or comment on current issues that may interest you and are not legal advice. If there are any matters that you would like us to advise you on, then please contact us.