What to expect from your divorce
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Many people don’t realise the full financial responsibility a marriage brings, so when the relationship breaks down, they don’t necessarily have a full understanding of their rights
Sharon Giles, partner and head of the family law team at Willans LLP solicitors in Cheltenham, highlights what divorcing couples might expect and outlines why it is vital to take early legal advice.
Q: What are the main financial considerations in a divorce?
Because many clients don’t understand how far reaching the financial responsibilities are in a marriage, they don’t always take everything into account when they are facing divorce. They might not think to consider things like pensions or business interests, for example, or understand that just putting assets in their own name won’t protect them. Unravelling years of financial responsibility and interests can be really difficult. If a couple has a pre-nuptial agreement, this can help (particularly where one person came into the marriage with more assets) but even if you have one in place, both parties’ needs still have to be met on separation and if the court feels this isn’t happening then it can override the agreement.
Q: What advice do you give your clients who are considering divorce?
Firstly, I always ask them to think carefully about whether they really want a divorce. Then I try to reassure them. Most clients are worried about their financial positions, especially if they have been dependent on the other party, but we reassure them that they will be all right because the law will ensure that at least their basic needs are met. Then we invite them to give us a financial picture: they are each obliged to tell us about their own positions. We explain we will do everything we can to keep the situation out of court – to deal with it in a voluntary, calm setting, where they can focus on the practical implications.
Q: Do children come into the discussions?
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Yes, children are at the forefront of everything. We encourage clients to have their more difficult conversations out of earshot of their children; if necessary, in a supported environment, with their solicitor, or in a mediation setting. They need to start thinking early on about what the arrangements for the children are going to be. If one partner was the main carer then this is likely to continue. There is an expectation, however, that the children will continue to have a relationship with both parents. Between them they need to be sure the children’s finances are met and that any extra costs, beyond their basic needs of being housed, clothed and fed, are also factored in.
Q: What are the benefits of taking early legal advice?
There are lots of rumours and myths about marriage and divorce that are not quite accurate. Getting early, practical advice and understanding what to focus on and what to ignore will often bring about a much better chance of agreeing something sensibly without having to go to court. Where someone has preconceived ideas about what they might get out of a settlement, they can end up spending an awful lot of money pursuing those arguments and getting into an entrenched position which a little early understanding might help to avoid. Emotions run high during a marriage breakdown; lots of hurtful things are said and inaccurate statements get made. As seasoned solicitors, we can help filter through those less relevant arguments in hope to move forward constructively.
Q: What if it is important to keep costs down?
I have no objection to clients wanting to save money by dealing with their divorces online but failing to get any legal advice at all can lead to mistakes being made and avoidable problems faced later on. It is important to get any financial settlement agreement made into a financial order because that then dismisses the financial claims a marriage makes. Unless you have that, you still have potential financial responsibilities for each other – even if you just go through the motions of getting a divorce petition together and taking it to decree absolute you can still be financially responsible for your ex-spouse unless a financial settlement is in place. It may be that your finances are fairly basic, in which case it won’t cost a lot. In more complicated situations, it is worth investing the money in expert advice and doing the job thoroughly; the more complex your financial situation is then the more implications there might be on tax and valuation issues, and so on. We work collaboratively with other professionals and bring in whatever expert advice is required to help our clients make these important, life-changing decisions at a very difficult time in their lives.