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Divorce takes a psychological and financial toll

By: By Lucy Haines

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Feb 05, 2014 06:00 am

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Divorce may be an uncomfortable topic but it’s also a fact of life, affecting an estimated 40 per cent of marriages by the 30th anniversary mark. The emotional toll of a split on the couple and any children of the union can’t be underestimated, but there’s also another huge wallop – a financial one.

The numbers tell the tale. When a couple separates, expenses can increase by upwards of $30,000 a year because of the need to support two households instead of one – no more shared bills or insurance discounts. Instead, it’s double the furniture and utility bills, plus child (and sometimes spousal) support.

And then there’s the cost to make the legal break. In the 2012 survey done by Canadian Lawyer magazine for Canada’s western provinces, the average cost of legal services looked like this: uncontested divorce $1,442; contested divorce $16,001; separation agreement $1,785; child custody and support agreement $2,011.

Lee Olesen, a St. Albert family law lawyer, said the reality is that a couple’s standard of living will almost always drop with divorce. “And the cost of the divorce itself can vary greatly depending on how agreeable the couple is,” Olesen said. “As soon as you start fighting, legal costs escalate.”

No matter how simple a divorce – no children, no shared property – dissolving a marriage will cost several hundred dollars at minimum. As elsewhere in Canada, Alberta law dictates varying court fees, plus a process server fee. Couples also have to be separated for one year before a divorce can be finalized.

“Most of the time, people have to sell the family home, and generally it’s a 50/50 split for all matrimonial property, including all assets and debts,” Olesen said. “It can drag on, as people figure out what they have and who wants to keep what. There’s really no average time to get a divorce – even filing what’s called an uncontested desk divorce takes about four months at best.”

Lawyers take a retainer and bill hourly for all work done on a divorce file, and Olesen agrees the costs can grow quickly when couples have issues with property and children. “But for the judge, the number one guiding principle in divorce is always, ‘what’s in the best interest of the children’?”

Legal Aid can be an option for those who qualify, but other inexpensive avenues exist too. Online, untietheknot.ca is a Canada-wide divorce document service that charges a flat rate plus a court filing fee for couples whose divorce is uncontested, with no issues over children or finances.

With several offices across the province, the Alberta based Affordable Divorce sees paralegals and mediators doing all the paperwork and filing that divorcing couples could do on their own, but saving them the hassle of going to court themselves.

“We’re not lawyers, so we can’t give legal advice, but we’re extremely busy,” said Neil Kelly, a paralegal with Affordable Divorce. “It has to be an uncontested agreement, but our mediation service can help if a couple is close to an agreement too.” Services here start at $1,000 for a divorce with no children – all fees included.


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