How to get divorced for less than €200

A low-cost divorce is possible if the couple can reach amicable agreement. But that’s the one thing many separating couples can’t do

It's 20 years since Ireland voted for divorce. An Irish Times series, Divorced Ireland, explores the effects of that vote on Irish life, then and since. To read the full series click here

The key to a low-cost divorce is, perhaps, the one thing most people seeking a divorce have long since lost: the ability to reach agreement. And the absence of agreement can see the costs attached to breaking an attachment mount alarmingly quickly.

If a couple can reach agreement on a divorce and do the whole thing themselves without involving legal representatives they could end up paying less than €200 each. If the divorce becomes contentious and bitter and the litigation is used as a revenge tool or bargaining chip then the costs could easily climb to more than €30,000. And well beyond that if things get really nasty.

The first and cheapest way for a couple to bring a legal end to their marriage is the DIY option. This route is most commonly taken by young couples with no children, or older ones whose children have long since grown up and all the issues have been dealt with.

It might work if a couple already have a properly functioning judicial separation in place or have already agreed on the details of their separation. In such circumstances the courts services are extremely helpful and will do as much as they can to guide people through the legal maze.

If that seems too daunting there is a middle ground between DIY and full-blown legal representation. Companies such as Irish Divorce Service will do some of the work for people in search of a cheaper split. It sets the cost of a DIY Divorce at €349.95 once it is self-managed by the client or €499.95 for the fully managed alternative.

Such firms are not solicitors and are not in a position to offer legal advice or opinions. They help in preparing documentation but when it comes to court a person is on their own.

DIY - or even DIY with a bit of help - does not work so well when things are not agreed. The obstacles to a smooth divorce include custody issues and access to children, problems with maintenance or complex pension issues, as well as the fair and equitable division of property .

The biggest obstacle is money.

And that is why employing a solicitor to work out an agreement in a person’s long-term interests - and deal with the legal representatives of their spouse which can be tricky in many circumstances - might be crucial.

It will cost at least €5,000 for a non-contentious divorce, and good solicitors will facilitate clients by allowing them to pay in stages so they aren’t hit with a massive bill at the end bill at the end of the process

Unless assets amount to more than €5 milloin the case is most likely to be heard in the Circuit Court; a case running in the Circuit Court for two days will cost at least €15,000 and most likely substantially more than that if barristers, psychologists and other experts are involved.

Family lawyer Josepha Madigan has written a book on the topic, called Appropriate Dispute Resolution and at its core it focuses on the need for couples to be adult about their divorce and to reach consent in an equitable manner for the sake of their children and themselves.

“Money is at the root of most of the contentious divorces I have seen,” she says. “You have emotions riding high and people using litigation as revenge.”

“I have seen people spend a huge amount of time and money on divorce and then there is all the collateral damage that comes with the resentment. In many ways my book is working against people in my profession but I have to be able to sleep at night.”

There is a degree of assistance available from the State in the form of legal aid. It is not free but if a person’s income is below a certain threshold than they may be able to be represented by a solicitor throughout the process for as little as €130.

This aid is open only to those whose income is less than €18,000 a year and the waiting lists for preliminary appointments vary wildly from area to area. Some urban areas have waiting lists of as much as one year, while the lists in rural towns can be less than six weeks.

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