Divorce may be the end of a marriage, but it doesn’t always sever ties between two people.
There are often reasons to remain in contact. It’s also common for financial obligations to continue long after a divorce has been finalised. This is especially so where there are children who need to be supported, but also where the lower-earning half of the couple needs help with the day-to-day cost of living. Payments from one person to the other are known as ‘spousal maintenance’. (This isn’t the same as child maintenance which is specifically put towards the living costs of children of the relationship who are under 16, or who are under 20 and still in full-time education.)
Spousal maintenance isn’t a feature of all divorces. Sometimes the parties will agree a ‘clean break’, allowing them to more effectively separate their lives for the future. This type of order can be a hugely positive, and necessary, arrangement for some. But the idea does need to be carefully thought through before terms are discussed and the court is asked to formalise the separation terms.
What is a clean break?
A clean break means that both parties to the divorce walk away without any ongoing financial liabilities towards one another. Child maintenance arrangements may still be in place, but neither spouse will be entitled to receive finances from, or to bring a financial claim against, the other.
Why think about a clean break?
A clean break can be an appealing prospect for those that have no need to rely on their former partner and who want to be financially, as well as practically and emotionally, independent. Equally, it can be a way of someone putting their future finances out of reach of an ex-partner (more about this below).
A clean break order is one potential form of financial settlement to consider alongside different arrangements for dividing assets on divorce. It’s something we discuss carefully with clients when looking at their needs, their overall situation and the full extent of their options.
When might a clean break be suitable?
Some marriages are easier to pick apart than others. Those that have fewer jointly-owned assets can (on paper) be especially suited to a clean break order, but a significant amount will depend on individual circumstances. For example, a relatively newly married couple may not have built up a significant set of joint assets, but one half of the couple may earn far less than the other, making him or her in need of spousal maintenance post-divorce. For that person, a clean break would not be a good outcome.
How can a clean break protect assets?
One really important aspect of a clean break is that it prevents one party laying claim to assets that come into the other’s possession post-divorce. So, for example, a future inheritance payment or a lottery win would not be shared with an ex-husband or ex-wife if a clean break order were in place. Both parties head into the future with certainty; they know that what’s theirs, for now and in the years ahead, remains so.
What if one party wants a clean break and the other doesn’t?
A clean break needs to be agreed; it isn’t something that can be forced through. We have advised clients who are keen for this arrangement but whose partners resist. Sometimes it can be worth exploring mediation as a way of talking through the possibility of making a clean break. However, if one partner isn’t cooperative, there may be little you could do to get them onboard. In that situation, it would be worth looking carefully at why they want a different outcome and what could be done to agree a resolution so that these big decisions are not placed in the hands of a judge. (Court is always best avoided where possible, mainly for reasons for cost, time, and its potentially negative impact on relationships.)
How do I know if a clean break is right for me?
Talking this through with your family law solicitor will help you see not just what may be possible, but also what you need as you head out of marriage. Perhaps you need spousal maintenance. Perhaps you need to avoid the ongoing possibility of your ex claiming a share of your income, your pension, your property. Your situation, and that of your former partner, will need to be carefully considered so that the best outcome – ideally the one that allows you both to move on, on terms that are as fair and constructive as possible – can be achieved.