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Ask the Expert: Navigating the Cost of Divorce

Written by
Written by
Accredited Financial Counsellor (AFCC), owner of Engineered Growth Financial Coaching, and former engineer

I help couples understand each other so that they can work together and create a plan. With this plan they gain clarity and control over their money so they can pay off their debts and reach their goals.

Christine Urbanowski

The cost of divorce can easily get out of hand. That’s why it’s one of the leading causes of unmanageable debt. Read as Financial Coach Christine walks our reader, Sarah, through how to manage the process so it goes as smoothly as possible.

The Question

Dear Experts,

Didn’t think I would ever be here, but here I am… a divorce.

How do I get through this and keep my mental and financial footing as stable as possible? For the sake of myself, but even more importantly my 2 kids.


Sarah K., Brampton, ON

The Answer

I’m really sorry to hear about your divorce. You are not alone. I’ve been there. Divorce is hard. No one gets married expecting to get divorced. Unfortunately, close to half of marriages end that way. To add to the difficulty the cost of divorce is high.

Your mental health

I’m actually going to start my answer to your question with how to keep your mental health as stable as possible. This is because if you (and your spouse) can be in a good place mentally, it can change the whole process and even save you thousands of dollars! We all make better decisions when we’re in a good head space. Here are some tips:


Counselling is not just for highly broken people who have suffered severe trauma, it can help everyone. This is especially true when going through something extra hard like divorce. Having a neutral person to support you in staying grounded through the divorce process, will be so beneficial. It may even save you money in the long run by helping you to communicate better with your partner and to make better decisions! 


Having a daily practice of mindfulness actually increases the grey matter in the prefrontal cortex. The area of the brain that is responsible for planning, problem-solving and controlling our emotions. This helps you stay in a rational state where you feel less stressed, communicate better and make more grounded decisions.  


This might not be where your head space is at right now but try to remember that this is hard for your spouse too. They are likely going through all the same emotions that you are experiencing. The more you can see things from their perspective as well, the easier it will be to work toward the common goal of separating.

Divorce Process Options

Now that you’re working on your mental health, hopefully saving money will come a little easier. The single biggest money saver, when going through a divorce, is agreeing on separation agreement terms out of court. Being in the best mindset possible will be your greatest asset to achieve that.

Here are the main options for getting divorced from cheapest to most expensive:

DIY Uncontested Divorce

By coming to an agreement together and filling out some forms, the divorce can be finalized for the cost of a court filing fee (about $500). Be prepared though, navigating things yourself can get tricky quickly. Especially when spousal support is expected or things like pension plans need to be shared.  That’s why, no matter how simple the divorce may seem, it is always a good idea to get some form of legal advice before venturing into this on your own.  Even so, this is definitely the cheapest option!

Collaborative law

When entering the collaborative law process, both parties agree to settle out of court. The collaborative law team of lawyers, financial professionals, counsellors and divorce coaches will guide you through the process. They’ll help you to come to an agreement on all the issues required. While this option costs more than doing things on your own, it’s much less expensive than going to court.


If you can’t come to an agreement on your own, you don’t necessarily have to go to court. The mediation process uses a third party to help both sides work through their differences. A mediator is a little bit like a referee and has the training to help guide the negotiating process. Mediators don’t give legal advice so both parties will typically have a lawyer to advise them. When working with the mediation process there is still the threat of going to court. Most family law lawyers will help with the mediation process.


You want to avoid going to court if at all possible because it can be super expensive. There are definitely cases where this is necessary to get a fair agreement and may even put you ahead of the game in the end. For example, if your spouse has been very secretive about their finances or if you cannot reach a reasonable agreement using another way.

Here are some tips to save on the cost of divorce:

Know that every interaction with your lawyer costs you

If you call them or send them an email, there will be a cost to you. The more you can figure things out on your own or call them with a bunch of questions at one time, the more money you will save.

Don’t get too nit-picky

When creating a list of your assets and their values, don’t get too nit-picky over the value. When it comes to the overall cost of divorce, it’s not worth creating a fight that leads to litigation over the value of the family van. Lawyer’s fees can eat up the difference pretty quickly.

No matter how you proceed with the divorce here are the things you will need to agree on:

  1. Parenting – Parenting time, responsibilities and decision-making around the children
  2. Child Support 
  3. Spousal Support
  4. Property Division 
  5. Debt Division

After the divorce

If you have never had to manage your finances before, this may be the most stressful part of all, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some tips to help you get started on your own:

Know what is coming in and what’s going out

Make a list of all of your income and expenses per month. Don’t forget about child support and spousal support. Remember that some expenses may only be annual or occasional, but should be saved for on a monthly basis.  

Plan for upcoming hidden costs

If you are moving from the family home there are a lot of costs that aren’t immediately obvious. For example, setting up new utilities and replacing things that your ex is keeping (dishes, furniture, cutlery etc). 

Assess whether you can keep the family home

If you are wanting to keep the matrimonial home, you may need some help in assessing whether this is a good financial decision or not. Owning a home can cost more than you think and may leave you feeling house poor and unable to do the things that you really value in life. It’s important to know your numbers first!

Getting a lump sum

If you are getting a lump sum from the sale of your house, make a plan before you start spending it. If you have never been good with money, this may be your chance at a fresh start and an opportunity to set yourself up for success.

Good luck Sarah!  I wish you all the best.  If you need extra help moving forward financially, consider finding an Accredited Financial Counsellor. They can help you work through this and put a plan together.  The cost of divorce is high but with some help, you can get through it!

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