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Bills and Break-Ups: The Financial Cost of Conflict in Divorce

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The break-up of a marriage can exact a significant price on those involved. Children, family, friends and even pets can all be affected to some degree in addition to the husband and wife.

To the emotional toll can be added the financial elements of separation - lump sums, property transfers, maintenance and pensions.

There are other costs, however, which consumer agencies now claim can ratchet up the amounts immediately associated with divorce. The Consumer Credit Counselling Service has revealed that two-thirds of the women they spoke to admitted having got into debt during their divorce.

Even though fewer men disclosed similar difficulties, those husbands who ran up debts went further into the red than their female counterparts.

Since 2008, the recession has stretched the finances of some couples to breaking point. Last year, my colleague Fiona Wood detailed how one-quarter of divorces being handled by Pannone involved disputes about personal debt accrued on HP deals, credit cards and personal loans.

With finances tight and the prospects tough beyond the apparent security which marriage was traditionally seen as offering, the inclination can be to dig in one's heels and hold out for as favourable a settlement as possible.

Doing so, however, takes up not just time but cash. Lengthening the time taken to formally end a marriage increases the strain on available resources. During a divorce, husband and wife may live apart, meaning that there are two homes and possibly two cars to maintain as well as amounts taken up by caring for any children and living expenses.

Disputes also, of course, involve legal bills for contesting future financial arrangements which can increase if spouses are insistent on taking those arguments to court. Myself and my colleagues have seen cases in which couples have been determined to prolong rows about pets, supermarket loyalty card points and inexpensive items from the home.

They have rejected our advice about the disproportionate cost both in legal fees and potential damage to the chance of having a civil relationship with their former spouse after the ink has dried on the decree absolute.

It needn't be so bitter and so expensive, though. There are less stressful and costly ways to resolve ownership of what's in the joint marital pot. All divorcing couples are now made aware of the opportunity to have mediation while collaborative law - in which spouses sit together with their lawyers and try to come to rather quicker and less combative solutions - can also help prevent matters becoming acrimonious.

Based on my experience and those of my colleagues, I think that it is vitally important that couples try and think as constructively as possible when divorcing. It is essential to weigh up those issues on which spouses don't want to give ground and those on which they are prepared to compromise.

The cost involved in having a disputed divorce has to be tallied against the potential benefit.

It can be difficult enough for couples to start over after ending a marriage. Those involved need to consider whether it makes sense or is sustainable to try and rebuild one's life with the additional burden of unnecessary debt.

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