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  • Paul Barrett, Wealth Manager

Will yours be a $1,000 divorce or a $500,000 divorce?

The cost of your divorce tends to correlate directly with your ability to negotiate to calmly, fairly and amicably with your ex-partner or spouse. As a wealth manager, whilst I know it isn’t always possible, particularly if you have a dishonest or high conflict ex-spouse, I cannot stress strongly enough that a fast, fair and reasonable divorce is financially the best option in almost all circumstances.

I have known couples with a complex asset pool of more than $25 million who have settled their divorce for under $50k. Those funds were distributed fairly evenly between costs on both sides for lawyers, mediators, wealth advisers and accountants to administer and facilitate the process. I have also known couples with an asset pool of $2 million who have chewed up almost 20% of their combined wealth in a monumental legal battle.

Whilst the financial toll of divorce can be heavy it often pales into insignificance in comparison to the emotional toll and the time commitment required to partake in a 2-3 year long legal battle, which can draw children, friends, family and business partners into the fray.

I always hope that clients consult with me whilst they are considering divorce, when I can encourage them to look at things from a long term financial perspective - to consider setting themselves up for post marriage life rather than "getting what they are entitled to”.

By putting some meaning around the numbers we can help them develop fair financial strategies which have a better chance of being settled quickly and amicably. They can be considered by both sides before the inevitable tension of legal proceedings take hold. In the process of divorce and separation whilst it is wise to have your agreements legally documented and therefore binding, it can also be wise to be largely in agreement before you enter the legal arena. It is an expensive place to do battle!

If you are wondering what your divorce might cost you here are three scenarios outlining the cost of divorce for different couples with an asset pool of $3 million - $4 million.

Couple 1 - $1200

This couple both owned their own business and a property when they entered the relationship. They ended their 15 year + marriage by sitting on the end of the bed and agreeing to split all of their assets, which included a house, a family trust and a SMFS fund and some shares, straight down the middle.

Whilst the husband earned significantly more money and the wife had taken care of the majority of childcare duties, the wife was a little younger and acknowledged that as a couple they had made significant contributions to her family. She didn’t feel it was fair that her husband should be disadvantaged by that. The only exception to this rule was that the husband expected to receive an inheritance of approximately $400K. The wife was unlikely to receive an inheritance, so it was agreed that $400K would be set aside specifically to fund the education of their one child through high school and university. All other childcare costs would be split equally moving forward.

It was agreed that the child would spend one week with his Mum and the next week with his Dad with flexibility around work and holidays.

The cost of this divorce: Approximately $1200 which was made up of a court lodgement fee and a cost of a Justice of the Peace to witness their documents.

Time taken to settle this divorce: Around 6 weeks from agreement to submitting the divorce application with the court. Another 6 months to sell the family property and to execute the split of assets.

Couple 2 - $300,000

This couple married young and both entered the relationship with few assets. They ended their 15 year + marriage by launching legal proceedings around 2 months after separation. Both the husband and wife retained legal representation at an approximate cost of $500 per hour. The couple had 3 children and their asset pool of approximately $3 million contained a home, a small amount of debt, a family trust, super fund, some cash and a business.

An initial offer of 62% of the assets was rejected by the wife who questioned the husband’s valuation of the business. During the coming months power over various assets was contested in court prior to settlement. Hundreds of questions around disclosure went back and forth month after month, and as the couple could not agree on parenting arrangements, negotiations on all matters were made and contested at length via legal letter ping pong.

After almost 2.5 years of negotiating via lawyers the wife agreed to a settlement where the children lived with her, she kept the house, the family car and a cash payment. This represented very close to the same $ value as the amount offered to her in the initial proposal 2.5 years prior. The husband retained ownership of the business and funds in superannuation and agreed to pay around one third of his annual income in child maintenance. During the course of the negotiations the husband received an inheritance of $300K. The entire amount went to fund legal costs on either side.

The cost of this divorce: Approximately $300,000 which was largely paid in legal fees.

Time taken to settle this divorce: Approximately 2.5 years to reach agreement and a further 6 months to finalise the transfer of assets. Several years on the couple have been back to court over parenting issues at further cost to both parties.

Couple 3 - $445,000

This couple came together in their late 30s and did not marry but had a child fairly early in the relationship. The relationship lasted 10 years. The woman entered the relationship with a property portfolio of around $1.5 million. The man who had been through a divorce and had a child from a previous relationship had few assets. During the course of their relationship the couple developed a number of properties together, which was financially supported by the woman’s equity in existing properties and interest payments from the man’s income. This along with the increasing value of existing properties added around $1.5 million of assets. The man became a shareholder in a business and the shares were sold around the time of the conclusion of the relationship for around $1 million.

The breakdown of the relationship was acrimonious. At the time the man’s income provided cashflow for the family, but he denied access to funds for the woman and refused to pay the private school fees for their child. Throughout the negotiations that man fought for a 50/50 spilt of the assets. The woman fought for a 70/30 split based on the fact that she had more assets at the beginning of the relationship and was taking primary financial responsibility for their child.

Lawyers were engaged by both parties and the matter did proceed to court. Matters were complicated by the fact that the woman continued to develop property, using equity in existing properties to fund the projects during the 3 years it took to finalise the matter, and the man was also claiming 50% of the profits made on those property developments. She claimed they made up her income as being a property developer was her career.

A judge made a ruling which effectively awarded around 65% of the value of assets (at the time of separation) to the woman and she officially became the child’s primary carer. In addition, the woman kept the profits made on the properties developed during the 3 years since separation.

The cost of this divorce: Approximately $350,000 paid in fees to lawyers, barristers and court costs. The man appealed this decision unsuccessfully in the High Court which took a further 16 months and cost an additional $95,000. Costs of $50,000 were awarded against him, however they were never paid to the woman who faced further legal costs to pursue them. Total cost for this separation was $445,000.

Time taken to settle this divorce: Approximately 4.5 years for final rulings and a further 6 months to finalise the transfer of assets.


We offer a FREE 2 hour consultation for those considering or going through a divorce. During this time we can help you assess what your financial priorities need to be, give advice on how to save money during the process and get you started thinking about what your life can look like on the other side of divorce. I'd love to help. You can contact me HERE.

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