Divorce vs Counselling: A Cost Comparison


Divorce Statistics

Frequency of Divorce1: In May 2004, Statistics Canada, reporting on figures for 2002, stated that:

  • 37.6% of Canadian marriages end in divorce prior to the 30th wedding anniversary.
  • The corresponding figure for Alberta marriages was 41.9%.

The figures for stepfamilies are much more stark.  For example, Fergusson, Horwood & Lawton (1988), in a major longitudinal study, found that:

  • 30% of stepfamilies end in separation within the first 2 years (compared to 6% of equivalent first marriage families), and 
  • 50% (compared with 15%) end in separation by 6 years.

The Cost of Divorce1: Canadian Lawyer Magazine, in an article entitled "The Going Rate 2003", reported the results of their annual (2003) survey of Canadian legal fees as follow:

Uncontested Divorce $540 to $1,610
  Contested divorce    $2,600 to $18,900
   Separation Agreement    $540 to $2,470
  Child Custody and Support    $1,490 to $13,990

Their Alberta respondents to their survey reported the following average costs:

Uncontested Divorce $1,740    [Range: $820 to $2,620]
Contested divorce    $23,730
    Separation Agreement    $2,500
Child Custody and Support    $15,950

The highest cost for a contested divorce reported by their Alberta respondents was $150,000. [Yes, $150,000 is correct--and that was in 2003.]

Assuming your divorce: was a) contested, b) involved a separation agreement, and c) included Child Custody and Support issues, in 2003 you would have been looking at about $35,000 in legal costs. The fees involved with the sale of your home, revisions to important documents (e.g., wills, etc.) and so on, are above and beyond this figure. Read on to see how this plays out.

According to a Canadian study conducted by Decima Research 2, divorce is one of the most expensive events that can happen in a person's life. Their respondents reported that because of their divorce:

  • 35 per cent went into debt

  • 22 per cent had to seek financial support from family and friends

  • 28 per cent had to sell household items or personal assets

  • 27 per cent had to redeem financial investments.

Divorce may seem like a simple solution, but:

  • the costs are monumental,
  • you'll will still have to deal with your (prior) spouse until the kids achieve their independence, and
  • if you are a male, you stand to come away from the process feeling victimized because family courts are not known to be sympathetic towards males.

Counselling Statistics

Counselling: Based upon our search of marital therapists on the Web, most work around the assumption that marital counselling will require 20 or fewer (weekly) sessions. In the province of Alberta, where brief and single session therapy has been an intensive focus for counselling professionals for many years, most therapists assume that marital counselling is likely to require six to ten sessions.

Costs of Counselling: The "suggested rate" for marital counselling by a Registered Psychologist in the province of Alberta in 2008 was $170 per hour. [Click here for the current rate for Registered Alberta Psychologists.] Some very skilful marital therapists are available at significantly lower rates. Many employ a "sliding scale" where the fee you pay is determined by your income level. Some (e.g., those employed by government agencies such as Alberta Mental Health Services) provide services without any direct costs to you. In addition, these days, the cost of counselling is often covered in full, or in part, by an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) or an Employee and Family Assistance Plan (EFAP) that is provided through the employer; or as a feature of an extended health care plan (such as Blue Cross).

In summary, the cost of marital counselling by a skilled professional will range from $0.00 to about $3,500.

Cost of Courses: Building Stepfamilies That Work is a course for stepfamily couples that has been provided by the Stepfamily Foundation of Alberta since 1998. Over 95% of all couples who have taken Building Stepfamilies That Work since it has been offered remain together today as a couple. The vast majority of these couples would encourage you to take the course to learn what you need to know to succeed in your relationship as a couple, and to succeed as a stepfamily. The cost is $1,500 for the couple. This fee may be covered in full or in part by your EAP, EFAP or extended health care plan. A home-study version of the course will soon be available for a significantly reduced cost.


Think about what you really want to accomplish. If you are intent on failing, the statistics above indicate that you probably won't need much help. 

If, however, your goal is to succeed, success is virtually guaranteed if: 

    a) you learn what you need to learn about stepfamilies, and 

    b) you put what you learn into action. 

It's that simple--and a lot cheaper.


1. Miller, Marla S.  The High Cost of Divorce.

2. Ross Cravit, Cynthia  Marriage builds wealth, while divorce is as hard on the pocketbook as it is on the heart.

3. Fergusson, D.M., Horwood, L.J., & Lawton, J.M. (1988). The influence of family order and selection factors on the stability of first and second families. Christchurch Child Development Study, Christchurch School of Medicine, Christchurch, New Zealand.

The information contained on this page is for the personal use of stepfamily members visiting this web site. All other use, reproduction, distribution or storage of this work, in whole or in part, by any and all means, without the express written permission of the author, is strictly prohibited.


Stepfamily Foundation of Alberta