June 2016
Research and Statistics Division

Economic Consequences of Divorce and Separation

This fact sheet is based on publicly available data from Statistics Canada from 2009 to 2013, as well as academic studies conducted in Canada and Australia in 2008, 2009 and 2014.

Female lone-parent families have lower income than male lone-parent families

In Canada in 2013, the median after-tax income was $72,400 for couples without children and $85,000 for couples with children. It was $51,800 for male-led lone-parent families and $39,400 for female-led lone-parent families.Footnote 1 The median after-tax income of individuals either living alone or with unrelated others, such as a roommate or lodger, was $28,200.

Family debt is higher and net worth is lower among lone-parent families

Canadians in lone-parent families are more likely to have a higher total debt service ratioFootnote 2 than couples with children. In 2009, about 10% of all lone-parent families had a debt payment cost equal to 40% or more of their incomes; the rate for couples with children was 4%. In 2012, the net worthFootnote 3 of lone-parent families ($47,300) was much lower than the net worth of couples with children under 18 ($303,000) and couples without children or with children aged 18 and over ($408,600).Footnote 4

After divorce or separation, women’s income suffers more than men’s, particularly for those with dependent children

An American study suggests that women’s median income for the year of their separation or divorce dropped by about 30%, whereas men’s median income decreased by only 6%.Footnote 5

Research also indicates that women’s household income suffers more than men’s after divorce.Footnote 6 Although their income may rise in the years following divorce due to other factors, (e.g., re-partnering, increased labour force participation), women with dependent children were less likely than men to reach pre-divorce income within six years following the divorce.Footnote 7

Female lone-parent families rely more heavily on government transfers than male lone-parent families

Child benefits and other government transfersFootnote 8 represented a major component of the income of female lone-parent families with children under 6. In 2010, child benefits and other government transfers made up 36% of female lone-parent families’ income compared to 11% of male-led lone-parent families’ income.Footnote 9

Costs of separation or divorce

Very little research exists on the overall costs of separation and divorce in Canada.

With respect to legal costs, according to the results of Canadian Lawyer’s Legal Fees Survey,Footnote 10 on average, an uncontested divorce in Canada costs $1,845 in legal fees, while a contested divorce costs $13,638. On average, a trial that takes up to two days on family legal issues costs $18,706 and a trial that lasts up to five days costs $35,950.