Go to any dinner party, and you’re bound to run into someone who’s got a story about their divorce – often because it’s an acrimonious one. Keep chatting a little longer, and soon enough the conversation is bound to turn to how much it all cost.
If divorce is also on your horizon, this might alarm you. The good news is that “untying” the marital knot is a well-established legal process in Canada. It starts with some standard forms to fill out, and basic procedures to follow. So that portion of the fees will be fairly predictable.
But other factors dictate the rest. Here is a breakdown of what those added fees might be, for an average divorce in Ontario.
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First, there are the filing fees, which are government-imposed. They are an unavoidable administrative aspect of getting a divorce. Once you have paid them, you can submit your divorce documents into the appropriate court system. In Ontario, it’s the Superior Court of Justice, which hears divorce matters in the province.
Some of the current initial filing fees for matters heard by that court include:
- $202 – For an initial application for a divorce.
- $161 – Responding to an existing application.
- $202 – Answering an application that includes a request for a divorce.
- $402 – Scheduling an application for a hearing.
These are just the early, “foot-in-the-door” fees. They do not include the costs of preparing those court materials – only the cost of filing them. Your lawyer must prepare the documents in a format that allows them to be filed online.
Note that if your Family matter falls under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Court of Justice (which hears a narrow range of Family matters, except for divorce), then you are in luck: There is currently no fee to file documents with that court.
Filing fees represent only the initial outlay. The much costlier part of divorce comes later, as the file proceeds through the court system. Although every divorce will be different, you can count on a bill in the thousands – often many thousands.
For an uncontested divorce, the fees will generally be less than $3,000. A contested divorce, on the other hand, usually starts above the $10,000 mark and can skyrocket from there. If your divorce ends up in court before a judge for a determination of a long list of legal issues, then you can count on paying upwards of $50,000.
The relatively large increase for a contested divorce, even in the initial stages, can be caused by many things. The main ones are the extent of your collective assets and investments, and the level of conflict between you and your spouse.
What Drives the Costs Up?
A good rule of thumb is this: The more expansive your wealth as a couple, the more your divorce will likely cost. This is due to the time and effort needed to untangle your financial affairs.
If your holdings include several homes and recreational properties, a significant investment portfolio, RRSP and pensions, corporate holdings (etc.), then your disclosure obligations to each other will be more extensive. You and your spouse will both need to spend time and money to prepare and exchange financial information. You will likely need to hire auditors and tax experts, appraisers (both for personal assets and businesses), and then have expert reports prepared.
Then, each of your lawyers will have to sift through, review, and analyze it all. They will have to evaluate your respective rights and obligations. They will have to work with each other to find any common ground. All of this takes place even before you set foot in the courtroom.
And the higher the conflict between you and your spouse, the more time and money these steps will take.
Types of Misbehaviour
On that point, here is some misbehaviour that is proven to make divorce more expensive than perhaps it needs to be. For example:
- Deliberately delaying the proceedings;
- Trying to thwart the process;
- Failing to make full financial disclosure (which includes forcing the other side to bring motions to compel you to do so);
- Bringing unnecessary motions, or forcing the other side to bring them;
- Behaving unreasonably in terms of the litigation strategy; and
- Communicating with your lawyer excessively (especially because you are impatient with the process).
Conversely, What Keeps the Costs Down?
It bears repeating: The extent of your assets and the tenor of your divorce process, will directly influence how much it costs you. The more cooperative, the better. And if you and your spouse are able to agree to getting an uncontested divorce – and have a solid separation agreement in place – then this is the cheapest options, without a doubt.
Technology has also helped. Especially with the pandemic-inspired switch to virtual hearings (conducted through online technology like Zoom), the process has never been more streamlined, or more accessible. This translates into a cost-savings, since there are fewer paper-based filings to prepare and submit (in favour of online applications). There are also fewer in-person attendances for court, which can reduce the cost of your respective lawyers’ travel time.
Believe it or not, divorce has never been so affordable.
Is There a Flat Fee Available?
Especially in litigation, nothing can be predicted with certainty. Every Family matter is as unique as the parties involved. Every divorce is different. That means the costs will vary accordingly.
But here at the Shulman Law Firm, we know our clients like to have as much advance information and clarity as possible. We do have a set “base” fee for an uncontested divorce, currently set at $2,500 plus HST. However – and we must emphasize – there may be additional fees and disbursements, depending on the time and complexity of the matter. (And this base fee is also subject to change).
For a further idea about our current rates, they can be found online here.