1) Non-Muslim divorces
If both you and your spouse are non-Muslims, then your divorce proceedings will be heard at the High Court under Family Court, instead of a Shariah Court.
If a divorce is ‘uncontested’, it means that both parties agree to the divorce and on all related matters.
This includes the custody of children, spousal support and property. An uncontested divorce petition is relatively cheaper than a ‘contested’ one.
A ‘contested’ divorce means that one spouse may disagree to the divorce or other related issues, such as child and spousal support, the splitting of assets, etc.
When it comes to divorce costs, so many variables are at play that it is next to impossible to nail down an exact figure.
For instance, the number of petitions filed, choice of legal counsel, length of proceedings, etc can affect the costs and vary greatly with cases.
For the purpose of understanding divorce fees in general, here are the estimated figures for a non-Muslim divorce:
- Some of the court fees to take note of: Filing of a divorce petition (RM160); filing of an affidavit (RM18/piece); issuance of decree nisi (RM300); issuance of decree nisi absolute (RM150) (source: Fion Wong).
- Legal fees for non-contested cases: Cost for a joint petition (both parties are in agreement) is estimated to fall between RM3,000 to RM6,000 (source: TheStar).
- Legal fees for contested cases: Cost depends on a variety of reasons, especially the complexity; the challenging ones are estimated to fall between RM25,000 to RM50,000. Some of the more contentious cases can reach RM75,000 (source: TheStar).
Generally, non-contested, joint-petition cases are quicker to resolve, taking typically three to six months. For contested cases, proceedings can drag on – for years! And so will the costs.
2) Muslim divorces
If you and your spouse are of the Muslim faith, then your divorce (if contested) will be heard by the Shariah Court. These are the estimated fees for a Muslim divorce:
- Some of the fees to take note of: Warrant and Testimony AM 80 (RM25); Delivery of the warrant by the court (RM4); Interlocutory application - Outside the jurisdiction (if needed, RM23); Interlocutory application - Compensation Summon (if needed, RM13); Affidavit for an show-order for someone who is incarcerated (in prison) (if needed, RM13); Interlocutory order (for each order that is sent out, RM10) (source: Malaysian Digest).
- Legal fees for contested applications – Estimated costs are difficult to pin down due to various reasons such as when multiple petitions are filed, complexity and how heavily contested; costs can also depend on how rich or poor an individual is (up to the discretion of the lawyer hired to charge accordingly).
For both Muslim and non-Muslim divorces, mediation is a less costly (and sometimes faster!) way to negotiate settlements in in a divorce, with estimates ranging from RM5,000 to RM15,000 (source: TheStar).
2) Can you get through a divorce without a lawyer?
Since legal fees tend to form the bulk of divorce costs, it may lead some to wonder if they should represent themselves – and technically, they can.
Individuals can file court documents by themselves but it isn’t advisable, especially in contested cases and if they do not have the know-how.
Furthermore, good lawyers can assist with negotiating a better settlement and fight for your interests.
Still, if you feel that you are prepared to take on the challenges of representing yourself, you are certainly within your rights to do so.
4) The possibility of legal aid
In both Muslim and non-Muslim divorces, those who cannot afford legal representation can seek aid from the Government Legal Aid Department.
However, the services provided here are at a subsidised rate (it’s not FOC) and you will need to meet the financial criteria set.
For the Legal Aid Department, you will need to pass a financial test, where you will be asked to input your income, liabilities and other expenses for the year.
If your financial resources do not exceed RM50,000 per annum, you may qualify for legal aid. You can take the test here.
Note that since the Legal Aid Department is backed up with divorces cases (70% in 2017), your case may take longer than if you were to engage a lawyer on your own.
Other options include legal aid services offered by the Bar Council and Muslims may reach out to Sisters in Islam for legal advice.
5) What about support?
There are two basic types of support – child support and spousal support. Typically, the husband (though not always) will be asked to provide support for the wife and children, if any, but the amount is not set in stone.
It will be determined through negotiations by the lawyers of both parties or through the courts. Criteria for deciding on the support amount rests on the current income of the support provider, monthly expenses, etc.
For Muslims, there is added support (alimony) payable by the husband to the wife.
For instance, ‘Nafkah Iddah’ is paid to the wife for a ‘refrainment period’, typically three months following a divorce.
‘Nafkah Mut’ah’, on the other hand, is a lump sum that the husband pays to the wife – meant as a consolation if the divorce was filed by him (especially if without a valid reason).
Both support payments do not have a set figure in place and will be decided by the Shariah Court if the husband and wife are unable to settle on an amount.
6) Other costs to consider
In addition to court, legal fees, and support, other expenses that you may not have thought about could spring up.
For instance, if you have to make regular court appearances, do consider travel fees, childcare costs and possible lost wages or income from your business.
It’s clear that divorces can cost as much as, and sometimes even more, than a wedding.
While it is an unfortunate part of life, it is also a real possibility in most, if not all marriages. Thus, it’s important to consider all eventualities when you get into a marriage and that includes a costly and messy divorce.
One solution to lower divorce costs is a prenuptial agreement. This is a contract that states ownership/division of assets and monies upon divorce, among other agreements.
If you are about to get married, do consider getting one, as it may help limit the level of disagreement as well as time and costs spent on a divorce.