As the cost of living crisis rages on, the prices of everyday items and expenses continue to skyrocket. Many of us are rethinking our spending habits and cutting back on indulgences like shopping sprees. But financial strain can also take its toll on marriage, leading to relationship breakdowns when pressures on personal and joint finances become too much.
Some clients in unhappy marriages tell us that the idea of becoming financially independent of their partner is holding them back from breaking away. And then we talk to them about their legal entitlements and what life would likely look like after divorce, so they see the full picture.
Whether you are at the start of divorce proceedings or have been informally separated for some time, getting the right legal advice is key to understanding how finances will be separated and who might be entitled to what. Once you know that, you can decide what’s right for you.
Family law specialist and head of Thomas Mansfield’s family law team in Guildford, Kate Denham, said, “I’ve worked with clients who decide to remain living under the same roof because they simply can’t afford to live apart, financially. But continuing to live under the same roof is not an option for all. Every couple and every family is different, and the decision about what needs to happen in the best interests of those in a troubled or broken relationship – and their children – can’t come from a formula or a textbook. It’s why my colleagues and I spend time with clients, discussing their particular situation and their options. ”
“Can’t we just divorce and sort the money side later?”
Once two people have decided to divorce, momentum starts to build towards separate futures. A client might say: I don’t care about the money right now, I just want to be divorced.
It’s possible to finalise the divorce and delay the financial aspects, but Kate advises against it. “It may be tempting to either leave the finances completely or decide that you and your partner will try to agree matters between yourselves later on, without the benefit of legal advice. But that is the worst possible thing to do.”
“Circumstances can change and those changes can impact your financial settlement. Always seek legal advice on what is best for your particular circumstances. And get a financial order, approved and sealed by the Court alongside any divorce, even if you don’t intend to make any financial claims against your former partner – for maintenance payments, or a share of the family home, for example. Without a financial order there is no finality and your case remains open. That isn’t ideal, because firm financial arrangements aren’t in place for the future. Either party could apply to the court at a later stage and any agreements you thought were in place could be challenged. Uncertainty lingers, making it difficult to move on.”
And, Kate explains, there’s another reason to wrap your divorce up with a financial order from the court. “If you intend to remarry but didn’t obtain a financial order from the court on divorce, it is very important to first seek legal advice on protecting your interests. You could lose the right to pursue financial claims after any remarriage.”
Although divorce can and should be a straightforward process, there are still many misconceptions surrounding finances.
Valuation of assets
A common misconception during divorce proceedings is that if an agreement is reached and the value of assets (such as investments or property) changes suddenly, or if you accept high-risk assets as part of the settlement and the risk goes against you, you can apply to the court to overturn the order.
The court will only consider reopening settlements in very rare circumstances, such as when an unforeseeable and significant new event invalidates the main assumption on which the order was made. Even then, the application must be made promptly. General market fluctuations and changes in investments are not usually sufficient grounds for changing a previously agreed-upon settlement.
So it’s really important to have a thorough understanding of the nature and the value of the assets on the table. Kate says, “A ‘schedule of assets’ is the basis for any discussions, and it is essential to keep these figures up-to-date and to carefully evaluate them. In some situations, expert financial advice may be required. It is also crucial to carefully consider expenses and to review budgets.”
“As a specialist in this area, my role is to offer clients various options and help them think creatively to achieve the best possible settlement.”
Not everyone will see their pension, or their partner’s pension, as a divorce asset – particularly those whose retirement is a long way off.
But pensions can hold considerable value and should be disclosed as part of the settlement discussions (and bear in mind that our advice is always to only discuss settlement once there has been full disclosure between the parties).
“I have no idea how much my pension is worth” is a common client admission. And that’s completely understandable; valuing pensions, even in stable economic times, can be complex and often requires expert advice. Kate says, “The nature of pensions means their valuation is always changing, but the current financial crisis has added an extra layer of complexity.”
“I had a case last year where an agreement had been reached, but hadn’t been finalised. Because of market volatility in relation to gilt yields and annuity rates, we had to go back to the pension expert to recalculate the pension share. It was crucial to have up-to-date information before finalising the agreement and submitting it to the court for approval. We are now seeing these types of issues more frequently, especially because of the current financial climate.”
If you are contemplating divorce or separation, you may have already considered how your daily budget will be affected. Transitioning to a single budget can be complex and seeking expert legal guidance on financial separation is crucial for a smooth divorce.
The family law team at Thomas Mansfield will help you prepare to budget for the future and we’ll give you expert advice so you understand the financial impact of your divorce. Kate says, “Achieving the best possible outcome for our clients is our priority. At Thomas Mansfield, all advice provided by our specialist team is tailored to each client, and we’re particularly mindful of the ongoing financial crisis and its impact on individuals’ financial circumstances. We’ll work to get you the settlement terms and closure you need as quickly as we can, keeping our costs as low as they can be.”
One of the first things clients ask us is: how much will it cost me to have you on my side? We’d love to be able to point to a tariff, but divorce doesn’t work like that. Every case is different – some need more work and time than others. And so, depending on your financial situation and the complexity of the assets involved, fees can vary significantly. But we’ll always give you a good indication of likely cost, and keep you updated as things progress, so you’ll be able to budget for our fees.
To help you get started and understand whether divorce is the right course of action for you, Thomas Mansfield Family Law Solicitors provides a free initial consultation to new clients who meet the eligibility criteria. To discuss your case with our experts call 020 3811 2894 or complete our online enquiry form and one of our team will be in touch.