10 things everyone needs to know about divorce
Whether an amicable separation or a bitterly fought divorce, the courts of England and Wales will almost always start with an equal division of assets and wealth. But there are exceptions to the rules and many misunderstandings of how the divorce process works. We asked our Family team to dispel some of the myths.
- There is no such thing as a ‘quickie divorce’
The popular press love to report on the latest celebrity being granted a ‘quickie divorce’. Unfortunately, there is no such thing. What journalists are referring to is the pronouncement of the decree nisi in open court – the mid-point of all divorce proceedings. Decree absolute, the final divorce certificate, can be issued six weeks afterwards, but in reality a divorce will typically take six months or more to conclude and longer if parties need to reach a financial settlement.
- Prenups are not legally binding
Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements are not legally binding in the UK but can carry weight and be enforced by the courts in certain circumstances. Couples considering a prenup should both make sure they take independent legal advice, that they fully understand the documents they are being asked to sign and were not forced into signing them, and that they were signed sufficiently in advance of the wedding day. Prenups should also anticipate and make provision for future events, such as the arrival of children.
- There is no such thing as common-law husband or wife
Couples that choose to live together but do not marry, known in legal circles as cohabiting, do not have the same rights as married couples should their relationship fall apart. Whilst the starting point for a married couple when divorcing is fairness and equality, cohabitees will only be entitled to the assets they owned before they lived together or a share of jointly owned property. There is no right to claim for personal financial support or for a share of pensions, and in many cases that sadly means the financially-weaker party could be left with very little.
- There is no ‘meal ticket for life’
Until recently, a divorced wife could, if assets allowed, expect a maintenance settlement for the rest of her life. Whilst that may still be the case in relatively long or high value marriages where a partner has never worked, the courts are now expecting wives and mothers to return to work to support, at least in part, themselves.
- London remains the divorce capital of the world
Despite the courts increasingly expecting wives to return to work, London remains the divorce capital of the world. The starting point of an equal share makes London an attractive destination for the weaker party in a relationship to file for divorce, often creating a race to file for divorce first. The courts will need to be satisfied that there is some connection to the UK before allowing a divorce to proceed.
- It is possible to have a ‘no fault’ divorce
There has been a vigorous campaign by the press and the legal profession to reform divorce laws to allow ‘no fault’ divorces – a campaign we support. Under current legislation it is possible to have a ‘no fault’ divorce but it is time-consuming – a couple will have to wait for two years if both parties agree and five years if they do not. This is currently being challenged in the courts.
- Divorce does not mean the end of contact with children
The courts will always look to the best interests of any children in divorce proceedings. That will include who they live with and contact arrangements with the other parent. Contact is typically agreed between the separating couples, but if they cannot reach an agreement the courts will make a decision that is in the child’s best interest.
- Its not just same sex couples that can enter into civil partnerships
Couples in same sex relationships have the option to get married or enter into a civil partnership. Both offer the same advantages and protections as marriage. Since the introduction of same sex marriages, the number of civil partnerships registered had fallen dramatically. However, it has recently been announced that heterosexual couples are now also able to choose to have a civil partnership, rather than get married, off the back of a legal challenge that highlighted an unintended inequality between heterosexual couples and same sex couples.
- It can be possible to revisit a divorce settlement
The divorce courts in England and Wales will allow a divorce settlement to be revisited should one party later find out that their former partner lied or was deliberately deceitful when asked to disclose their financial circumstances. Both parties are required by law to disclose the extent of their wealth in full. If one party refuses to or provides inadequate or incomplete disclosure they could be sent to prison. If it can be proven that one party deliberately lied or withheld information the courts can revisit and change a divorce settlement.
- Divorce does not have to end up in court
Many divorces are completely amicable with both parties completely in agreement as to who gets what. However, it is a highly emotive time in both parties’ lives and it is all too easy for emotions to bubble over. That does not mean, however, a divorce will end up in the courts. At Coffin Mew we will explore all options whether through arbitration, mediation or collaborative law processes where all parties work together with professional guidance to reach an amicable solution. In fact,
we will work hard to ensure a divorce does not end up in court.
If you would like to find out more please get in contact with our Family Law Team