Divorcing fairly – sorting out money and property

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February 25, 2024
Andrew Stout Family law

With no fault divorce now available to couples wishing to end a marriage, it is perhaps  all too easy to think that you don’t need to involve a solicitor, especially if the divorce is a mutual decision.

However, there are many more elements to be considered when divorcing than just obtaining the final divorce order. Andy Stout, Partner and Family Law solicitor has noticed an increase in divorcing couples who fail to obtain consent orders to finalise their financial arrangements, often leading to significant inequalities between the parties.

Divorce, property and finances

Perhaps there aren’t many assets to divide up once mortgages and debts have been considered, but it’s very important that couples take full account of all their assets, including pension pots and their long-term earnings prospects when finalising a divorce, to ensure a fair outcome is reached for all.

In November 2023, a report called Fair Shares? Sorting out money and property on divorce was published. It elicited responses from nearly 2,500 recent divorcees about the financial and property arrangements they had or hadn’t made.

For Andy, one of the most shocking statistics resulting from the research was that only 32 per cent of the 100,000 or so couples that divorced each year in England and Wales used the legal system to reach a financial settlement. The rest reached their own settlement, or just didn’t bother at all.

42 per cent of those divorcees surveyed said  that a fear of the perceived costs had put them off seeking legal advice but this oversight in not obtaining a ‘clean break’ consent order could have far-reaching consequences, notes Andy.

Financial outcomes following divorce

With regards to family finances, the lack of financial and legal knowledge surrounding the values of pension pots, equity in the home, and a clear knowledge of each other’s finances meant that there was often significant financial inequality between the partners following the divorce.

The research showed evidence to suggest that where property and financial arrangements had been finalised either by a solicitor or through the courts, there was a clear association between using legal services and women, especially mothers and older women, getting a fairer deal in the divorce.

Where legal advice was sought pension positions were adequately addressed, wives were more likely to receive ongoing financial support, have the home transferred to them, or receive a higher percentage of the proceeds of sale.

The consequences of divorcing without a consent order

Without a legally binding consent order made by the court which conclusively deals with the agreed financial arrangements, divorcing couples are putting themselves at risk of financial claims in the future from an ex-spouse, even against assets that come into existence after separation.

The case of Wyatt v Vince is a cautionary tale in this respect. Ms Wyatt and Mr Vince married in 1981, separated in 1984 and their divorce was eventually finalised in 1992. When the couple were together, they lived a very modest lifestyle and had few assets to share. As a result, a consent order for their finances was not obtained when they divorced. They had a child together, in addition to the child Ms Wyatt brought to the marriage and Mr Vince continued to support them as best he could, given that he lived in a camper van and moved around a lot.

In 1985 Mr Vince went on to form the green energy company Ecotricity and by 2015, had amassed significant personal wealth, with the company being valued in excess of £60m.

20 years after their divorce, Ms Wyatt started legal proceedings to pursue a financial claim for provision against Mr Vince. He then applied for her application to be struck out. However, despite the length of time since the divorce, as Ms Wyatt had not remarried, the Supreme Court allowed her application to proceed as it was ‘legally recognisable’. In addition, because of her penurious financial circumstances, Mr Vince was ordered to meet her legal costs in pursing the claim against him. In 2016, Ms Wyatt received a lump sum order of £300,000 payable to herself, retained the payment on account of £200,000 from her ex-husband and an award of £125,000 towards her legal costs.

Andy comments, that although an extreme example, this case highlights how important it is that divorcing couples should always seek legal advice to ensure they are accessing all the relevant and affordable information available to them. Only then can they both reach a fair settlement. And no matter what the current financial circumstances are, divorcing couples should always obtain a ‘clean break’ consent order to prevent future financial claims arising.

The Family Law experts at Tallents Solicitors are available to discuss your circumstances in confidence. They also offer a free, phone-in clinic at Southwell every Tuesday evening between 5pm-7pm; just call 01636 813411. If you would rather speak with a solicitor face-to-face, then Tallents Solicitors also offers an initial fixed-fee, one-hour meeting at Newark for £100 +VAT, which also includes written confirmation of the advice given.


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This legal content of this article is correct at the date of publishing. We recommend you seek legal advice with regards to your personal circumstances before acting.


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Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

consent orders divorcing fairly Fair Shares financial arrangements financial settlement no fault divorce Wyatt V Vince
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