How much does a divorce cost?

Malcolm Gittoes-Caesar

The toll that litigation takes on a person cannot always be measured in financial terms. Justice Kirby (formerly of The High Court of Australia) discussed in Queensland v J L Holdings, the burden placed upon judges to free litigants from the anxiety, distraction and disruption that litigation causes individuals which, for the most part, can’t necessarily be quantified in monetary terms. Family law proceedings are emotionally draining and there is an unquantifiable emotional cost, but what is the financial cost of divorce to the individual and society in the context of family law proceedings and family violence?

It is hard to leave an abusive relationship at the best of times. The task increases in complexity if a sufferer of domestic violence doesn’t have an income. It will often be the case that the difference between escaping or remaining trapped in a violent relationship will be whether or not you can maintain your job (or obtain employment) and support yourself. On the other hand, it can be difficult to maintain a job when you require time from work to move house, settle children into new schools, meet with lawyers and attend court hearings. 

In 2009, the Department of Social Services reported that violence against women and their children would cost the Australian economy an estimated $13.6 billion that year. Without appropriate action to address violence against women and their children, an estimated three-quarters of a million Australian women will experience and report violence in the period of 2012-2022, costing the Australian economy an estimated $15.6 billion.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) on Monday 14 November, 2016 commenced its case in the Fair Work Commission, for a modern award that would entitle those that suffer from family and domestic violence 10 days of paid leave.  The Labor Party has proposed that employment standards would include five days paid domestic and family violence leave. This would see employees suffering from family violence, retaining their jobs and income in their time of need and giving them time to obtain alternative accommodation without the fear of losing their job.

Some have argued that family violence leave would be too great a cost to the economy (costing up to $2 billion a year). However, new reports challenge these forecasts and estimate that the cost would be between $80 million to $120 million across the entire economy. That would seem a reasonable cost for society to assume, given the depth of the problem of family violence and the universal acceptance that we, as a society, should do all that we can to alleviate, and hopefully eradicate it.

Beside the costs to society as a whole, research has shown that divorce is an expensive life event for the individual. Divorce, for the most part, occurs during parties prime wealth accumulation ages. On average, divorced parents aged between 45 and 64 have 25% less in assets then those who remained married and it takes divorced parties up to five years to recover from the financial impact of divorce. This costs society up to $14 billion in government assistances and, importantly, court costs. 

Divorce is not pretty and not preferable in any circumstance (and the understatement of this is readily acknowledged), however it would seem that, if brought in, family violence leave will be instrumental in assisting sufferers of family violence to re-establish their lives and ultimately reducing the cost of divorce to society. 

If you would like to know more about the potential cost of family violence and divorce, please contact our Divorce Lawyers and family violence experts in ParramattaNorwest and Penrith: