Divorce can be expensive. It’s also often unavoidable, which means if you’re going to get through your divorce without doing major financial damage then you need to have an outstanding understanding of the costs, rather than just settling on a number in your head which tells you what you think your divorce “should” cost.
Reducing the cost of divorce takes planning, organization, and a commitment to taking the right steps. It can take a fair amount of emotional management and it requires an excellent understanding of the process.
The “Average” Cost?
Every divorce case is absolutely different. A quick, “uncontested” divorce can cost less than $2000. A highly combative divorce including a contentious custody battle and a massive fight over assets or alimony can cost nearly $40,000. Certain divorce actions, such as the formation of separation agreements, can cost $1000 to $3000 depending on the extent of the legal work required to complete those actions.
None of these figures include the ongoing costs of divorce, such as spousal support you might have to pay or assets you might lose. These things are likely to happen anyway, but your costs in these areas can be far higher if your divorce is handled poorly.
The process you choose, the lawyer you choose, and your own stance during the divorce can all make a huge difference in whether you get a quick, inexpensive divorce or lose massive amounts of money.
What is An Uncontested Divorce vs. a Contested Divorce?
Many people misunderstand the concept of the “uncontested divorce.” They tend to believe that this term means “both spouses are willing to get divorced.”
In reality, in Alberta, you can divorce a spouse with or without their approval or permission as long as you meet some important legal requirements.
Thus, an “uncontested” divorce is a divorce where you and your spouse agree on the resolution of all the major issues of the divorce. When you divorce your spouse, or when your spouse divorces you, their petition will include their initial proposal for how they think assets should be divided. It will also make a proposal about spousal support, child support, child custody, and visitation.
If your spouse just signs off on the paperwork and agrees to all these terms then the divorce is “uncontested.” This is pretty rare, but it does happen.
If your spouse answers with an alternative arrangement on even one of these points, then you have a contested divorce.
A contested divorce generally starts with an attempt to settle the matter out of court. Lawyers on both sides of the case will attempt to negotiate a settlement both parties can live with. A judge then looks over the settlement and signs off on it. If neither party can agree then divorce litigation begins.
Why is Divorce So Costly?
Family law lawyers charge by the hour. If negotiations fail then hours and hours of litigation preparation, arguing and fighting, court time, phone calls, emails, research, discovery, tracking down money, securing evidence, and taking depositions all cost you a great deal of money.
This is why mediation and collaborative divorce tend to be the most economical options if a truly uncontested divorce isn’t possible or desirable. These options tend to keep the fighting to a bare minimum, keep both sides out of litigation, and keep the process from stalling out.
Believe it or not, most lawyers do not want to see you drag the process out. While it racks up our billable hours we’re ethically bound to act in your best interests, and unless a child’s life or wellbeing is at stake letting this process take any longer than it has to is rarely in your best interests. By the same token, if we suspect your spouse is hiding assets we’ll want to pursue that for you. We also can’t do much about a spouse who keeps making demands we know the court won’t sign off on, or who keeps refusing to sign the paperwork at the last minute. Some emotionally abusive spouses do use the process itself as a framework for abuse and we’re alert to that behavior as well.
Sometimes, litigation truly is your only option.
How Much Does a Divorce Lawyer Cost in Alberta?
It depends on the amount of experience and the track record of the lawyer. You can get an inexperienced lawyer for $330 an hour, but you’ll be dealing with that lack of experience throughout your divorce process.
A lawyer with twice as much experience may have a much higher hourly rate, sometimes as much as $700 or more. Yet that same lawyer will often result in a much less expensive divorce simply because they know how to cut through superfluous action and resolve a divorce case quickly.
Someone with 20 years of experience who knows every divorce judge in Edmonton will be able to quickly assess your case and give you a realistic “worst case” and a realistic “best case.” You can then decide together that you’ll accept any settlement that falls between those two poles, as any such settlement would be reasonable. You can talk about your goals and what matters most to you during the upcoming negotiations. You can then trust that person will be a shrewd enough negotiator to help you get very close to those goals.
By contrast, someone who is very new might have legal theories to help them guide those same conversations but might not have a lot of practical knowledge. They might be easier to intimidate during the negotiation and fold too early…or fight too hard.
Nowhere is “you get what you pay for” more applicable than when you’re having a divorce in Alberta.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Divorce in Alberta?
In most cases, you will need to have been legally separated for at least one year before you can begin the divorce process. You can then expect it to take 4 to 6 months for the divorce process to complete.
There are situations that can make a divorce take longer, but few divorces take longer than one year.
What is The Cheapest Way To Get a Divorce in Alberta?
The cheapest ways are through collaborative divorce or mediation.
In mediation, a trained mediator sits each side down in a room and listens to what everyone has to say. The mediator then separates both parties into separate rooms.
This individual, who is usually a lawyer or a judge trained in family law mediation, will then go between each side in the hopes of working out a deal within a single day.
Mediation is cheaper because it doesn’t take as long as divorce litigation and both parties tend to go into the process with the mindset that they’re going to come to some sort of agreement.
A collaborative divorce is somewhat similar. Both parties agree to voluntarily disclose all relevant information, which cuts down on the need for discovery. Both sides agree to negotiate a settlement in good faith. Both sides agree to avoid threatening litigation.
Both of these types of divorces are excellent options for spouses who have a vested interest in remaining cooperative co-parents in their children’s lives, as it lays a framework for what life will look like going forward.
These types of divorces are not possible in every case. If your ex is abusive than a collaborative divorce probably isn’t appropriate in your case. These divorces are also sometimes impossible when one or both parties are ruled by their emotions too deeply to engage in the process in good faith.
How Can You Lower The Cost of Divorce in Alberta?
First, you can be organized right from the beginning. Come to all meetings prepared with all of your paperwork and documentation. Be ready to discuss your situation from top to bottom from your first meeting. Second, know exactly what your goals are. Is it more important to you to get spousal support or to keep the house? Are you looking for 50/50 co-parenting or are you trying to protect your children from your ex? Know what’s negotiable and what isn’t.
Have realistic expectations. You’re going to lose some of your assets. If you’re the parent who earns more you’re probably going to pay child support. The other parent is probably going to get visitation or even joint custody. The courts have absolutely zero interest in punishing your spouse for their behavior, even if they cheated on you. Ask your lawyer to help you see what’s possible and legal and proceed from there with a clear head. Letting anger rule your divorce only hurts you and your pocketbook in the long run.
Why Trust Us With Our Family Law Case?
Most of our team members have decades of experience helping Edmonton residents navigate their divorce cases. We have experience with complex high net worth divorces, business owner divorces, and farm divorces, too.
We’re known as some of Alberta’s toughest litigators and savviest negotiators. We’re also known for being responsive, empathetic, and devoted to protecting your best interests.
Call (587) 689-3333 to get started today.