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Love and Money: The true cost of breaking up

There are lots of reasons why you should stay with someone, but is ‘because you can’t afford to break up with them’ one of them? Unfortunately, this could be true for more people than you think!
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Reading time: 7 mins

If you’ve ever been married or engaged, then chances are someone has probably told you that a third of all marriages end in divorce. It’s a rubbish thing to say to a person who’s celebrating a big life event, but annoyingly, they are right. Over the last 50 years, 33.3% of marriages in England and Wales have ended in divorce, with 20.1% happening within the first 10 years.[1]

The point we’re making here is that, sadly, breakups happen. And they happen all. The. Time. And over the last year, things haven’t been easy for anyone. A survey by the UK charity, Relate, actually found that one in four people felt that lockdown had placed more stress on their relationship, which had created a ‘make or break’ environment.[2]

This was reflected in the number of divorce requests, with family law firms seeing a surge of 95% following the pandemic.[3] Around 20% of these said that the reason for the divorce was financial pressure – an even match for the number who said that they’d grown apart from their partner.[3]

So, if the love is gone what’s the cost of breaking up? Are you going to have to tap into your ISA savings to pay for it? We’ve done some digging and have a rather vague, but hopefully helpful answer!

How much does it cost to end a relationship?

The reality is that this depends massively on your personal situation. For example:

  • What is your current financial situation like?
  • Are there children involved?
  • Do you own your house together?
  • Are you married?
  • If you’re married, then is the divorce uncontested or not?

All of these things can have a serious impact on how much breaking up may cost you. To give you a rough idea, the average cost of a divorce in the UK stands at £14,561 which includes things like legal costs and any lifestyle changes. But if you own a house, then this could jump by an extra digit to £144,600 to buy a new home – and it’s still an eye-watering £35,000 if you were renting and had to move out.[4]

There’s even a difference in cost depending on whether you’re the one seeing the divorce (the petitioner) or if you’re the respondent – and it’s not a small difference either! The petitioner is likely to pay a total of £1,000 to £1,500 in solicitor and divorce centre fees, while the respondent would likely pay less - this is typically £240 to £600.[5] If you can’t reach an agreement, however, this could quickly go from thousands to tens of thousands in solicitors and court fees.

What about the children?

It’s a common question, and it’s not always about how they’ll take their parents splitting up. In the case of a divorce, there are often many more factors to consider. For example, living arrangements and child maintenance costs. The biggest factors that play into this are:

  • Your income
  • How many children do you have
  • How much time do they spend with you

Normally, the amount of child maintenance you’ll need to pay can be agreed between the parents, but for guidance, the default weekly amount is £38 for one child, £51 for two children, and £61 for three or more children.[6] If you want a more accurate idea of what you might be expected to pay, then you can use the Gov.uk website to calculate child maintenance. And of course, this doesn't include any money you may want to put away in your children's ISAs.

The things your ex won’t see

How many people haven’t splurged on a shopping spree after a breakup? Whether it’s giving yourself a makeover, diving into a new hobby, starting a new gym membership, or buying yourself another bike, there are financial outcomes of a breakup that aren’t strictly related, but really, they are.

Even if you weren’t married or living together, the cost of treating yourself afterwards with ‘post-breakup treats’ could end up costing you more than you think. For context, according to research, the average 17–25-year-old will spend £1,140 in the quest to mend their heartache.[7]

And then there’s the emotional side of things. While you can definitely buy yourself short-term happiness, it’s fleeting, it can be very expensive, and it probably won’t deliver quite the same results as going to therapy or having counselling.

Overcoming the cost of a breakup

There are a lot of very good reasons to stay with someone, but not being financially able to afford to leave them isn’t one of them. Even with the very cheapest DIY divorce, the £550 Divorce Court Fee isn’t something that everyone has available to them.

It’s not unheard of for people to ‘live together while separated’ or even have to put off divorce for months or even years before they’re able to afford the cost. And while a DIY divorce may be cheaper initially, over half of those divorced got no legal help which could create issues with the equal division of their assets – from the family home to their pensions.[8]

Preparing for the worst

This is going to sound really cold, but even if you’re head over heels for someone it’s always worth being prepared for the worst. That doesn’t mean emotionally bracing yourself for heartache, but instead having honest conversations about your money (as well as your emotions, of course!).

This could help you to avoid money fights with your partner and makes sure that you are both on the same level when it comes to your finances. While this may not stop a divorce in its tracks, if you’re both used to talking about money with each other then it can make this experience less stressful.

Controlling your emotional eating

After a divorce, your emotional eating may not be confined to ice cream. In fact, 31% of people eat into their savings for financial support after a breakup, and a further 26% say they use credit cards for this reason.[4]

While this period of your life is likely to be very emotionally demanding, it could become significantly more difficult if you’re not financially prepared for it. That means making sure that you have some level of financial independence, and ideally your own emergency savings to help cover some of the expenses.

Plan for the future

Whether a divorce has been sprung on you, or you’ve had plenty of time to process things, it’s important to think about what’s next. Thinking through your next steps is good for your mental wellbeing, so you may find it beneficial to set goals for where you want to be in the next few months, years, or even further into the future.

Restoring your financial independence will be very important early on, although it may take some time to adjust to your new income and outgoings. You may also want to rebuild your emergency savings (if you had to dip into it) before you start saving for the future. And the good news is that you can save money without giving up the things you love, but it’s all about careful planning.

Good luck!


  1. https://www.nimblefins.co.uk/divorce-statistics-uk
  2. https://www.relate.org.uk/blog/2020/4/24/we-must-be-ready-support-relationships-after-lockdown
  3. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/divorce-inquiries-rise-pandemic-women-b1843359.html
  4. https://www.aviva.com/newsroom/news-releases/2018/01/cost-of-divorce-and-separation-surpasses-14500-pounds-for-uk-couples/
  5. https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/blog/how-much-does-a-divorce-cost
  6. https://www.gov.uk/how-child-maintenance-is-worked-out
  7. https://www.savethestudent.org/save-money/health/cost-breakups-relationships.html
  8. https://resolution.org.uk/news/call-for-early-legal-advice-to-soften-blow-of-divorce/


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