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What age did you get married? Your answer probably depends on your age.

In 1970, the average age for men to get married was 27, and for women 25. In 2018, that has risen to 38 for men and 36 for women.

So, as more and more couples decide to get married later in life, why has parliament just raised the minimum age for marriage to 18?

According to MP Pauline Latham, who sponsored the Bill:

“The whole motivation is mainly young girls who cannot sign any documents legally - because they're not of age - are being coerced into marriage … They are being married in this country - sometimes with a civil ceremony - but sometimes just a religious ceremony … At 16 you're not going to go against your parents because you're still so dependent on them. At 18 it's much easier to cope with standing up to your parents and say 'no this isn't what I want'."

The new Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 raises the minimum legal age for marriage and civil partnerships in England and Wales from 16 to 18. Previously, under the Marriage Act 1949, a marriage at age 16 could go ahead with parental consent.

 

Under 18s marriages in the UK

The numbers may be small, but they are significant. According to the Office for National Statistics, 183 people under the age of 18 got married with parental consent in 2017, of which 140 were girls.

The new Act applies to all marriages, including cultural and religious marriages that are not registered by the couple with a local council. With underage marriages not officially recorded, charities say that this amounts to an issue “hidden in plain sight”.

The Act doesn’t prevent young people cohabiting or entering into a committed relationship of course. However, for young people in a relationship, the new Act may just give them pause for thought before entering into a commitment as serious as marriage.

 

Facilitating a marriage

Campaigners have long argued that “parental consent” can be more a case of “parental coercion” amongst children married aged 16 or 17.

The Act now makes it an offence for an adult to facilitate a marriage involving children under the age of 18. This includes taking underage children abroad for a forced marriage, and applies even if the child has consented to the marriage. Anyone found guilty of helping to facilitate a forced marriage faces up to seven years in prison and a fine.

 

Age 18 – key to the door

In the UK, your 18th birthday is a big deal, marking your transition from childhood to adulthood. The tradition of giving a key to the door has shifted from age 21 to age 18 to reflect this. However, it’s not a fixed minimum age for many important elements of a young person’s life in England and Wales.

  • The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 years old. Up to age 18, convicted children are detained in a special secure centre.
  • Children can work from age 13 but not during school hours and no more than 12 hours per week.
  • Teenagers can apply for a provisional driving licence when they are 15 years and 9 months old, and start driving a car aged 17.
  • Young people can leave school aged 16 but must stay in full-time education, start an apprenticeship or work for 20hrs or more while in part-time education.
  • The age of sexual consent is 16.
  • You can apply for an adult passport when you are aged 16 or over.
  • If you are aged 16-18, you cannot legally work for longer than eight hours in a 24-hour period, or for more than 40 hours a week.
  • The legal drinking age is 18.
  • You can buy tobacco from age 18 (and there are plans to raise this to age 21)
  • You cannot (now) marry under the age of 18 in England and Wales.
  • You cannot vote in UK parliamentary elections until the age of 18.
  • You must be aged over 18 to stand as an MP for the UK parliament.

As family lawyers, we help many divorcing couples draw up financial agreements and co-parenting child arrangements for their children up to the age of 18.

 

Cohabiting, getting married or divorcing?

We’re here to help. As experienced family lawyers, we help couples at every stage of their relationships, including:

 

To discuss your situation in complete confidence:

A quick question: what percentage of unmarried men got married in 2018?

a) 20%

b) 10%

c) 2%

The surprising answer is c) - just 2%.

It’s part of the revealing set of marriages stats just released by the ONS (Office for National Statistics). The figures show that in 2018, the number of opposite sex marriages fell to its lowest rate on record, at:

  • 20.1 marriages per 1,000 unmarried men
  • 18.6 marriages per 1,000 unmarried women

Under 250,000 people got married in 2018. Approximately one in every 35 marriages was between a same sex couple.

 

 

Waiting longer to get hitched

On average, couples are waiting longer to get married.

The average age at marriage for opposite-sex couples in 2018 was:

38.1 years for men
35.8 years for women

 

 

For same-sex couples the average ages at marriage were:

40.4 years for men
36.9 years for women
It’s the top end of the age spectrum that is raising this average, as Kanak Ghosh, Vital Statistics Outputs Branch ONS notes:

“Despite this overall decline, more people are choosing to get married at older ages, particularly those aged 65 and over.”

Getting married? Get a pre-nup!

If you’re getting married this year, top of your wedding preparation list should be a pre-nup. This is particularly relevant if you are getting married later. Professional couples are more likely to have accrued assets in their own right from work and personal endeavour, or through inheritance from parents or relatives. This range and value of assets makes a pre-nuptial agreement even more appropriate, to make sure there is a record of who brought what to the marriage.

Contact us to discuss arranging a pre-nup today:

- Call us

- Email us

 

Marriage rates and the unmarried population

Marriage rates are a useful stat as the ONS explains:

“Marriage rates take into account the changes in the size of the unmarried adult population as well as the number of marriages. Therefore, they provide a better indication of changing trends.”

While the number of marriages may fluctuate, the divorce rate may fluctuate too, and so will the size of the unmarried population.

The figures also represent a rather one-sided viewpoint of marriage, as the ONS recognizes:

“This long-term decline is a likely consequence of increasing numbers of men and women delaying marriage, or couples choosing to cohabit rather than marry, either as a precursor to marriage or as an alternative.”

It’s interesting to note that amongst those who did get married, almost 94% or men and 93% of women were cohabiting before they got married.

 

Cohabiting agreements and divorce settlements

The ONS divorce statistics for 2019 revealed that opposite-sex marriages on average lasted for 12.3 years. Should your marriage or civil partnership end, you will have certain rights which will be reflected in your financial divorce settlement.

The same is not true if you are cohabiting. A cohabitation agreement sets out your financial relationship so that should you split up, assets accrued before you lived together and during your relationship can be taken into account. It can help safeguard your property, your assets, and the future for your children whether from your current relationship or a previous one.

The complexities of family law issues around this area are much greater. Proper legal advice should be sought before drawing up or signing any agreement.

If you’d like to discuss creating a cohabitation agreement, call us to arrange your initial 1-hour reduced fee consultation, with 30 free minutes included.

 

Looking ahead: more marriages or less?

With the delays in marriage ceremony availability due to COVID, one would reasonably expect marriage rates to fall sharply in 2020, but potentially rise in 2021 as ceremonies resume without restrictions. Given the time the ONS takes to produce figures, it’ll be at least a couple of years before we see if this is correct!

Equally, given that the divorce rate rose in 2019 by 18.4% prior to the pandemic, 2020 could see another rise due to lockdown pressures. However, the corresponding increase in the backlog for court hearings could affect that rise. We’ll also see the first effects of no-fault divorce start to have an effect from late 2021 (hopefully).

woman in kitchen stressed at the change in lifestyle becoming a step parent

It is estimated that 1 in 3 of all UK families are now step families. That’s almost 7 million families in the UK. So it’s small wonder that the documentary following the challenges faced by footballer Rio Ferdinand and his second wife Kate has struck such a chord. 

In ”Rio and Kate Ferdinand: Becoming a Stepfamily”, former TOWIE star Kate was open and honest about the family’s challenges both before and after she married Rio in 2019. Rio’s wife Rebecca Ellison had died from breast cancer in 2015, leaving Rio to bring up their three children. The documentary follows on from Rio’s BAFTA winning documentary filmed after the death of his wife, Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum And Dad.

 

First time mum

Like so many step parents, Kate needed to become part of a family still very much coming to terms with their grief. She revealed how she felt that she was also grieving for someone she had never known. Interviewed on ITV’s This Morning, she also explained how she found almost every part of being a step mother a challenge:

“I couldn't cook, (in) a house that wasn't my own… I think I found everything hard. I used to get myself into such a state.”  

Many step parents will empathise with Kate’s lack of experience as a mum:

“I was used to just looking after me. Looking after three kids and worrying about them before myself was something I've never done before.”

There was also the hurdle of no “background” knowledge: 

“The doctors, they’d ask "Have the children have chicken pox?" and I would say, "I don't know". I found myself not having answers to a lot of things. It was difficult.”

No picture-perfect life

LGFL Director and Legal 500 recommended family lawyer Rita Gupta found the programme to be compelling viewing:

“I was really touched by this documentary and the raw and very genuine emotion that was shown. Despite the fact that I am a Liverpool fan, I really admire Rio and Kate for being so open and brave about the challenges in their life. Rather than portraying some fake view of their picture perfect life, they have been honest and will have touched the hearts of many people. Families are becomingly increasingly complex with more and more step families, and step parents can play such a pivotal role in the lives of children.”

 

Legal advice for step parents

If you’re a step parent and need legal advice, call us to make an appointment to discuss your particular situation. 

 

Support for step parents

In the documentary, Rio and Kate revealed how talking to other step parents really helped them. If you are looking for support as a step parent, these organisations can help:

“We recognise that the best way to support families is to provide professional, non-judgmental support and advice in a way that all members of the family can freely access. We provide this through our 24 hour helpline, extensive advice on our website, our email and live chat services, befriending services, and parenting/relationship support groups.”

“Many callers get in touch with us when they are at the end of their tether and feel like they can't cope anymore. Sometimes callers are embarrassed about asking for help but they soon find that just talking things through can really make a difference. If you have a problem, don't wait until you feel things get out of control.”

“The Childless Stepmums Forum was created to help women with stepfamilies and no children of their own come to terms with their new environment.” 

You can find details of more organisations here:

Woman with shh fingers and hand around man's head - adultery

In February 2020, Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas died at the truly magnificent age of 103. Most famous for his film roles as the slave Spartacus and the ambitious boxer in The Champion, Douglas was married to his second wife Anne Buydens for 65 years. (He had divorced his first wife, Diana Dill, in 1961.)

What made his second, long-lasting marriage exceptional was that Douglas had numerous affairs during that time. These included liaisons with top Hollywood stars Rita Hayworth and Marlene Dietrich, and rising stars of the day including Linda Darnel, Evelyn Keyes, Marilyn Maxwell, and Ann Sothern. He even had a one-night stand with Joan Crawford, which did not progress further!

Douglas never hid these affairs from his wife, who was quoted as saying:

“As a European, I understood it was unrealistic to expect total fidelity in a marriage."

However, this approach to infidelity is rare in our experience and takes away from the hurt and devastation that this can cause. Whilst some marriages do survive infidelity, for the majority it signifies the end of the road.

 

Grounds for divorce

At the current time, the single ground for a divorce in England and Wales is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. The spouse that starts divorce proceedings must establish that one of the following five facts has caused the marriage to break down:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • 2 years separation (with consent)
  • 5 years separation (no consent)

 

Adultery in marriage

You need to prove that your spouse has had sex with another person of the opposite sex to divorce on the grounds of adultery. Therefore if you are in a same sex marriage, you cannot neither commit adultery nor cite it as a fact. This in itself seems antiquated and unfair given that same sex marriages are now legal. How is adultery any more acceptable in those marriages?

For Mrs Douglas the second, proving adultery wouldn’t have been much of a problem. However, for many spouses it is difficult, impractical or too antagonistic, so the fact of unreasonable behaviour is used instead. If your spouse won’t admit the adultery, then you can still cite the adultery within the Unreasonable Behaviour petition.

If you do want to cite adultery, you must petition for a divorce within six months of first becoming aware of your spouse’s adultery, if you are living together. This is especially important if you are trying to give the marriage another chance. If you live with your spouse for a period exceeding six months, or periods together exceeding six months, you can’t petition for adultery. It is a strange quirk of law that you cannot petition for a divorce on the grounds that you yourself have committed adultery.

 

Naming the third party

As Resolution lawyers, we never recommend naming the third party, regardless of how tempting this is. This adds to the acrimony and hurt of already stressful proceedings. Furthermore, at LGFL we have advanced confidentiality checks. We ask from the outset whether any new clients have any connections to the firm, and would not act or advise in these circumstances.

 

No-fault divorce

The new Divorce Bill will sweep away the need for proof of adultery, or indeed any of the other facts. The new Bill will replace all these with the requirement of a statement made by one spouse that “the marriage has broken down irretrievably.”

This Bill is currently progressing through the House of Lords, but is meeting resistance as some believe it makes divorce easier. (Watch this space for a detailed article on the new Bill and its implications for divorce in 2020 and beyond.)

 

Proving adultery - the Brighton way

Divorce equality has been a hard-fought battle. In 1923, women were finally able to divorce on the same grounds as men, which was adultery. Then, as now, they needed to provide proof, and a whole ‘industry’ sprung up to provide an answer, a staged scene of infidelity in a seaside hotel. In his satirical novel “Holy Deadlock”, legal reformist A P Herbert’s fictitious solicitor advises a client on how he can hire a “well trained expert” to help stage a scene of adultery.

“As a rule, the gentleman takes the lady to a hotel - Brighton or some such place – enters her in the book as his wife – shares a room with her, and sends the bill to his wife. The wife’s agents cause inquiries to be made, and eventually they find the chambermaid who brought the guilty couple their morning tea.”

 

Coffee - grounds for divorce?

In 15th century Mesopotamia, a man could accept or reject a future wife according to how well she made coffee. However, once married, if her husband didn’t provide sufficient coffee for his wife, she could divorce him. The tradition still exists in Saudi Arabia that a wife can divorce her husband if he doesn’t bring her fresh coffee every morning.

The ancient Romans had a very simple divorce process. Couples only had to declare that they did not want to live together anymore in front of seven witnesses. The husband had to return the woman’s dowry, but only if she had not been found guilty of adultery.

There are still some archaic laws in individual US states regarding divorce, including:

  • A marriage may be annulled in Delaware if the couple got married as a joke or as a dare.
  • In South Carolina, if a man proposes to an unmarried woman just to have sex with her, he could be charged with misleading promises under the Offences Against Morality and Decency Act.
  • If a husband and his mother in law do not get on well in Kansas, his wife can file for divorce.
  • In Kentucky, you cannot remarry the same person more than three times.

By contrast, all 50 states in the US allow no-fault divorce. Seventeen US states will not allow the person filing for the divorce to blame their spouse in any way.

Long-lasting Hollywood marriages (at time of writing!)

  • Meryl Streep and sculptor Don Gummer (married 1978)
  • Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson (married 1988)
  • Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith (married 1997)
  • Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness (married 1996)
  • Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber (married 1998)
  • Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick (married 1997)

 

Considering divorce?

Call us to discuss your situation in complete confidence. We offer a free 30- minute legal consultation for qualifying clients, either in person or via Skype. For more details, and our terms and conditions, visit our free 30-minute consultation page.

Director Rita Gupta discusses why September is a key month when couples make the decision to get divorced.

Summer holidays are supposed to be relaxing, We’re all sold the dream of happy couples and families splashing in pools, lounging on beaches, enjoying time together. This is often compounded by countless social media and Facebook posts of the perfect family holiday. Sadly, the reality is often quite different, which may explain why September has overtaken January as the peak month for starting divorce proceedings.

A study by the University of Washington suggested this was often because:

“People tend to face the holidays with rising expectations, despite what disappointments they might have had in years past. They represent periods in the year when there's the anticipation or the opportunity for a new beginning, a new start, something different, a transition into a new period of life. It's like an optimism cycle, in a sense.”

Together 24/7

The other factor is that, unlike everyday life, couples are spending every hour of every day together whilst on holiday. In daily, life most couples work separately, so together time is limited to evenings and weekends. Even then, couples may have different hobbies or interests that keep them apart, or go separate ways to take kids to their different activities. Busy schedules can mask problems in marriage.

A week spent in a hotel room or villa, however luxurious, throws couples together for longer periods of time. This alone can bring underlying tensions bubbling to the surface. Add in a larger than usual consumption of alcohol, and what has remained unsaid until now may blow up into a major argument.

So, when on-the-brink couples return home, the cracks in their relationship may have widened to such a degree that divorce is the best option to choose.

 

Back to school

Another driver for filing for divorce is when children return to school after the summer holidays. Just as their children are starting out on a new school year, couples may feel it’s time to move on in their lives too.

Starting a divorce at the start of the school year actually offers children extra security and certainty. They will have the support of daily school life, their friends an their school in what will inevitably be an upsetting and emotional time in their lives as their parents separate.

 

Sorted by Christmas

Many couples want to avoid the Christmas holidays becoming a re-run of the arguments they had on their summer holiday, or to live through another unhappy festive period with matters in limbo. So, they want to move forward with divorce proceedings in September in order to get the divorce ‘done’ by Christmas. Knowing that the divorce is in progress allows couples to plan child arrangement well in advance for the Christmas period, including who sends what days with whom, and where.

As experienced divorce lawyers, we can certainly make that happen, with the caveat that you should never compromise your financial settlement or child arrangements for the sake of speed or a date on a calendar. Some divorce cases take more time to resolve than others, as we work to ensure that the interests of children are protected and that full disclosure ensures the best financial settlements for you and your family.

 

New year, new you

An autumn divorce allows the whole family to start afresh in the New Year in their new, separate lives. The optimism of a new year helps couples mentally leave the upset behind in the past year, and move forward with more confidence. With the social whirl and possible extended family pressure of Christmas gone, all parties involved have a chance to reassess, regroup and plan ahead.

 

Court schedules

The courts and many law firms close over the Christmas and New Year period so waiting and issuing on January 2nd often isn’t the most efficient timing.

 

How LGFL can help

LGFL do not offer ‘quickie’ divorce for one simple reason - you never achieve the best settlement possible. A rushed divorce inevitably has to overlook certain elements in favour of a self-imposed or artificial deadline.

Instead, we offer a pragmatic and empathetic approach to divorce that combines time- efficient progress with in-depth scrutiny and a determination for accurate and full financial disclosure. We can also provide a collaborative law approach that can reduce the need for court hearings, and provide a less stressful experience for all involved. (For more details see our collaborative law page.)

 

Take the first step today

If you want to file for divorce and have much of your case resolved before Christmas, you need to act now, and come and see us for an initial consultation. We’ll talk through your situation, your family circumstances, and suggest ways to ensure your divorce proceeds as smoothly as possible. This will include advising you on the financial information you’ll need to collate, which will be central to securing the best financial settlement for you and your family.

St Basils Russia divorce cases in England

The High Court in London is poised to hear the biggest ever divorce case when Natalia Potanina make a bid to claim a share of her Russian oligarch ex-husband’s fortune. Having lost a legal battle in the Moscow courts, she has launched a bid for an estimated £5.8bn, just over one third of her ex-husband’s £15bn wealth.

Ms Potanina claims that she was by her husband’s side as he built his fortune during their 31 years of marriage. The couple split amid accusations by Ms Potanina that her husband had an affair with an employee who was 15 years his junior. Since his divorce, Vladimir Potanin has remarried and now has two children with his current wife, Ekaterina.

Leading lady divorce lawyer on the case

Vladimir Potanin had instructed eminent divorce lawyer Baroness Shackleton to represent him. This will give Shackleton a busy case load, alongside her current representation of Princess Haya bint Hussein in her court battle with husband Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai. (Needless to say, we very much agree with eminent lady divorce lawyers taking on high profile and complex divorce cases!)

 

Expensive parking…

In another case, millionaire Russian exile Boris Shemyakin lost a divorce case brought in the London courts with his estranged wife Elena Vasilyeva. This clears the way for her to make a claim against her husband in the English courts.

Mr Shemyakin, granted asylum in Britain eight years ago, has objected on the grounds that he and is wife reached a “final agreement” in Russia. A Russian court order awarded Ms Vasilyeva:

  • a £1m flat in Moscow
  • shareholdings worth £430,000
  • a parking space worth £38,000!

However, High Court judge Mr Justice Williams ruled that Ms Vasilyeva could claim for “financial relief” in England as despite the agreement it would be unjust to “close the door” on her claim. The couple disagree on how much Mr Shemyakin is worth, with his ex wife saying £115m and he saying between £3m and £4m.

 

Spend, spend, spend

Both cases are in stark contrast to much more amicable divorce of billionaire Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Bezos. The Amazon founder will pay his wife a divorce settlement of $38bn (£29bn) in Amazon shares. This will make MacKenzie Bezos the fourth richest woman in the world, although she has already pledged to give away “at least” half of her wealth “until the safe is empty”. Even after the divorce payout, ex-husband Jeff will still be the richest person on the planet, worth a cool $118bn.

 

You owe me

However, a court order doesn’t always result in monies being paid. This time last year, Russian billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov was in contempt of court from refusing to pay his ex wife Tatiana £453m. Mr Akhmedov had been ordered to pay his ex-wife a 41% share of his £1bn fortune back in December 2016. Judge Mr Justice Haddon-Cave said that Mr Akhmedov has concealed assets and taken "numerous elaborate steps" to "conceal his wealth" and "evade enforcement of the judgment".

 

Expert divorce advice for high worth clients

At LGFL, we understand the complexities and intricacies of high worth divorce, and the hard work and sacrifices often made on both sides to amass a multi-million pound fortune. Call us for an appointment to discuss your situation at our highly discreet countryside offices just outside Reading, or to book a Skype or telephone call with one of our Directors.

Hand holding £50 notes for spousal maintenance

Should spousal maintenance be a 'meal-ticket for life', or a payment just to cover current requirements? At present, the law allows payment of spousal maintenance until the death of the payee. What’s more, a case in 2017 (Mills V Mills) saw a judge increase monthly maintenance payments to his former wife who he divorced over 15 years ago.

Baroness Hale, President of the UK Supreme Court, has said that:

“Research has clearly shown that a person who gives up work, even for a

few years, in order to concentrate on child care or other family responsibilities will never make up what they have lost. It is a dilemma for us all, but particularly for those in the professions who would dearly love to ‘have it all’.”

So, can any spouse really “have it all”? Director Rita Gupta delves a little deeper into this contentious subject.

Having it all v. having what’s realistic

We’ve all seen the headlines where a celebrity wife (and it is usually the wife) demands hundred of thousands per year to maintain the lifestyle they and their children are accustomed to. To many, these can seem excessive, but being wealthy is an expensive business.

At any level of income or wealth, the everyday realities are more pragmatic. There are mortgage repayments and maintenance costs for the family home to be paid, utility bills, food, activities and clothing for children, school fees, car insurance, family holidays, council tax, the list goes on. Then there is the need to provide children with the chance to experience new things and expand horizons through outings, adventures and sports, none of which come cheap.

 

The rising cost of living

What’s more, these costs are not fixed from the point of divorce onwards; mortgage rates can rise, and utility bills alone have risen by over 3% in the last year alone. Utility bills alone currently account for 5% of the average UK household income, according to MAS.

With an international perspective, the fall in the value of the pound abroad affects the price of European and other holidays. So it’s important that spousal maintenance is based on an accurate figure of ongoing needs, not just covering current costs.

That’s why at LGFL, we work for an accurate settlement that is rooted in the real world of rising costs, economic fluctuations and personal circumstances, which can of course change on both sides.

 

Flexible and realistic spousal maintenance

When you and your spouse divorce, you both can agree that maintenance payments will be automatically increased or decreased automatically year on year. Payments usually change in line with the retail or consumer prices index, to account for changes in the UK economy.

You can also agree a specified term for maintenance to be paid, such as until your youngest child has finished secondary school, or until one of you dies, or remarries. This is known as a Joint Lives order. You can also agree a fixed amount to be paid per month, or a percentage of the payee spouse’s income.
 

Can spousal maintenance agreements be changed?

You can agree between yourselves, initially through mediation, to vary payments, and then apply for a court order to make that agreement binding. If you can’t agree, one ex-spouse can apply to the court to change the amounts payable.

Courts have a range of powers to change orders or even terminate them. However, judges can differ in their approach to the concept of alterations to spousal maintenance claims.

In 2015, Lord Justice Pitchford ruled that the wife of a wealthy racehorse surgeon should go out to work, and not believe that she should be “supported for life”.

“Mrs Wright has made no effort whatsoever to seek work or to update her skills...I am satisfied that she has worked on the basis...that she would be supported for life. It is essential... that she starts to work now.”

In the speech cited above, Baroness Hale took a more considered approach:

“My own view is that the goal of divorce settlements should be… to give each party an equal start on the road to independent living. But that equal start is bound to involve, for most couples, an element of compensation for the disadvantage, often the permanent disadvantage, resulting from the choices made by both parties during the marriage. Sometimes, but not always, the only way to do this is by open-ended periodical payments. To refer to this as a ‘meal ticket for life’ is indeed patronising and demeaning, but making an award for those reasons is not.”

 

A transition to independence

The Law Commission has stated that:

“The objective of financial orders made to meet needs should be to enable a transition to independence, to the extent that that is possible in light of the choices made within the marriage, the length of the marriage, the marital standard of living, the parties’ expectation of a home, and the continued shared responsibilities (importantly, child care).”

However, for many divorcees, financial independence isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The introduction of Universal Credit has caused particular problems for newly-single parents looking to return to work. A recent article on the MSN Money site highlighted the case of a working mum who has a good job, a 10-year-old daughter - and has had to resort to pay day loans after being switched from Working Tax Credits to Universal Credit.

 

Universal Credit and cash flow

The nub of the problem is cash flow, or more precisely, late payments. According to the article, under Working Tax Credits, monies were paid in advance, allowing parents to budget for childcare and monies to go almost direct from government to child care provider. However, under Universal Credit, payments by the parent/s must be made upfront, and claimed back one month later when proof of payment has been sent in.

This is one reason why this year’s summer holidays are particularly difficult for those reliant on Universal Credit. Childcare costs rise or suddenly appear for children normally at school during the parent’s working hours. Away-from-home holidays, treats, entertainment all need paying for, as does the perennial issue of new school uniforms for ever-growing children.

As the article’s author says:

“It is not easy to say that you are living in poverty; no one wants to stand up and admit that. We want to be proud, not seen to be struggling. It feels so insecure. … We are not asking for extra money, we’d just like the money we’re entitled to, to be accessible when – not after – we need it, at the point we need to pay, to stop the cycle of borrowing and, consequently, debt.”

 

Creating realistic spousal maintenance awards

At LGFL we help clients to delve deep into their finances to work out exactly how much they need for themselves and any dependent children to thrive, not just survive. We encourage both sides to provide full financial disclosure so that misunderstandings and misconceptions about the precise net worth of each party.

Also, whilst we always fight our client’s corner for maximum benefits, we also encourage realism about how much the payee can actually afford. There is little point in demanding large sums if the payee simply cannot afford them, resulting in resentment and hardship all round.

It’s also important to get it right first time as much as possible. A fully contested spousal maintenance application can cost a considerable sum, and the costs may actually outweigh any financial benefits gained for years.

 

LGFL: pragmatic advice, real world results

At LGFL, we offer a free 30-minute consultation for anyone considering a divorce, where you can talk through your situation and receive sound, legal advice. One of the reasons we offer this is to meet you, and for you to meet us. You need to see for yourself that we will always fight your corner and work tirelessly for the best outcome for you and your families. In turn, we need to know that you will work with us for the same outcome.

If you would like to meet and talk about your divorce financial settlement needs, or concerns over your current levels of spousal maintenance, call us.

 

It is crucial to get a grasp on your finances before any divorce proceedings start. This applies equally if you have a financial team working on your behalf, or whether it’s just you and your accountant.

If you want to reach a fair and reasonable financial settlement as part of your divorce, you’ll need to disclose your own assets, and in turn receive in turn full disclosure from your soon-to-be-ex-spouse.

In the second of her articles, Director Anne Leiper explains how full and open financial disclosure is important for any divorcing couple, regardless of their net worth.

 

How to account for your finances in 30 minutes

If you don’t know where to start with disclosing your finances, the Money Advice Service (MAS) have produced a handy downloadable spreadsheet that guides you through the process of accounting for all your financial assets.

Whilst the 30-minutes completion timeframe is wildly optimistic, it does lay out a sound action plan that anyone divorcing, billionaire or otherwise, should follow:

  • Draw up a budget and control current spending (divorces do cost money even when amicable)
  • Plan for costs, legal fees and “the likely expense of running two households” or more
  • Calculate your worth in terms of Property, Assets and Debts
  • Work out support arrangement costs, including child maintenance, private school fees, etc.

Saving up for your divorce

Whatever your income, it's always advisable to out money aside for your divorce. Use the MAS Quick Cash Finder to find out how much you spend on regular items such as lunches, coffees, gym membership, clothes, etc. It is astounding how these seemingly small items do add up, and savings here can also be considerable. This is particularly useful at a time when maintaining a sufficient cash flow will become important.

We doubt Jeff Bezos would bother counting his coffees, but the principle is sound for most of the rest of us!

 

Plan for legal fees

Any divorce in England and Wales incurs reduced fees from the court, which are set by the government. In addition, you should budget for your legal team’s fees, which will vary according to the complexity of your finances, family situation, financial setup and level of current contact with your spouse. (See below on how our transparent billing could save you money.)

 

Calculating your net worth - property

The value of a property will depend on market forces, but in terms of your divorce, it’ll also depend on:

  • The amount of any remaining mortgage
  • What’s left to pay off, by when and by whom
  • Any early repayment costs or fees
  • Subsequent selling costs

Again, the MAS spreadsheet will guide you through the process of calculating this. Calculating your debt is also very important, not just for an accurate figure of worth but to ensure you can continue with repayments after you separate.

 

Child maintenance costs

If you have dependent children, you will need to calculate how much child maintenance might be due by the non-resident parent. Needless to say if you’ve never had to pay this before, you’ll need to know what is the ‘going rate’ before entering into negotiations. The Child Maintenance Options website has a handy calculator that will give you a ballpark figure that we can take forward into negotiations.

 

Paying for pets

Remember, any pets are classed as chattels, which is a term to describe any item of property apart from land. So you’ll need to factor in who gets the pets, including valuable animals such as stud horses, livestock, racehorses and polo ponies, and the ongoing cost of keeping them. For more details, see our article: “Who gets the dog?”

 

The true cost of good advice = priceless?

Please don’t be tempted by online, ‘quicky’ or ‘cheap’ divorces. As experienced divorce lawyers, we have seen people give away so much they were entitled to simply by filling in their forms incorrectly or not taking time for proper legal advice. It saddens us that even just 30 minutes invested in talking to us and gaining invaluable insights could have ensured a totally different outcome.

As a new client, you may be entitled to our free, no obligation 30-minute consultation to discuss your divorce. You can also extend the consultation by prior arrangement to an hour or more if you wish. Call us, email us or fill in our reservation form online.

 

Why pay for professional legal advice

In any divorce, taking advice from an experienced family law firm such as LGFL will, literally, pay dividends. We know exactly how to ensure you get a full and fair settlement, and how to ensure your ex has made a full and frank disclosure of their assets. We can also help you protect your assets and your future from inflated claims made by your ex-spouse. Let’s be honest, the more you are worth, the more you stand to lose…

 

Transparent fees for your divorce

At LGFL, we are committed to transparent pricing for all legal action, including divorce. You are always fully informed of costs, with no hidden fees, and no unexpected charges. Our costs are usually based on the amount of time we spend working on your behalf, based on our standard hourly rates.

We fully itemise all work we do on your behalf, including complete details of what has been done. You can ring and ask for your outstanding bill figure and costs of any work in progress, at any time.

 

Expert financial settlement advice from LGFL

For more details on our bespoke, pragmatic and transparent approach to divorce:

High net worth for divorce

At the beginning of this month, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, finalised his divorce settlement to ex-wife MacKenzie. According to the law in Washington USA, assets acquired during marriage are to be divided equally. Bezos has a reported net worth of more than $157 billion, so his ex stands to gain a lot. An awful lot.

However, as a US lawyer pointed out:

“The major thing for billionaires is that most of the time, their assets are very complex and mostly illiquid — with Bezos, a lot of his assets are linked to Amazon stock.”

In the first of two articles for high worth couples on the brink of separating, Director Anne Leiper looks at the implications of financial disclosure for divorce. She also explains how her expert advice and determination for full disclosure can save you considerable time, money and stress.

Your business is his business?

The settlement agreed between Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos highlights one of the issues I deal with on a regular basis - joint financial involvement in a family business or group of companies. This ranges from a couple both being on the Board, to joint shares ownership, and companies/properties registered in a single spouse’s name.

That makes high worth divorce settlements much more complicated. Indeed, the same applies for divorce settlements for any marriage or civil partnership where your finances are intertwined with your business interests.

Both spouses must ensure they fully disclose all their assets at the start of any divorce process, in order to reach a robust, reliable and reasonable settlement. If new assets are disclosed (or uncovered) at later stages, things can get very awkward indeed.

 

Divorce and your company’s value

The divorce of high profile figures within a company can also have a detrimental effect of the company’s worth too. Bezos retained 75% of his shares in Amazon (59.1 million shares), still making him the wealthiest man in the world, whilst his wife retains 25%. Crucially, MacKenzie relinquished all her voting rights to her ex, so he still has control over the company. Perhaps it’s this openness that has seen Amazon’s shares rise 20% this year, rather than dip as some expected.

 

Defining your assets prior to divorce

So, what is the process of sorting and defining your financial assets? If you have a pre-nuptial agreement that lays out the basics, this is a very good place to start. It enables both parties to say “I came to this marriage with £xm”.

In a pre-nuptial agreement, there is usually agreement reached over how these and subsequent assets are to be allocated in the event of a couple separating. (If you’re not married, a cohabitation agreement can achieve the same.) Whilst a pre-nup is not currently legally binding in the UK courts, it is a significant factor the court will take into account.

 

What’s included in full financial disclosure

Financial settlements rely on complete and full disclosure by both parties of all monies and assets, including:

  • Cash in current accounts
  • Property, whether owned individually or jointly
  • Businesses owned
  • Savings
  • Investments
  • Pensions -workplace, state and private
  • Company shares
  • Personal assets such as jewellery, art, cars, etc

If you consider that your partner has not disclosed all their assets, whether intentionally or not, we will investigate further. If disclosure is not forthcoming, we can go to court to obtain orders to force disclosure. The court has the power to order your ex to fully disclose their assets. If you later discover assets that were not revealed at the time of the Consent Order, it can be expensive and difficult to go back to the court later and ask for more money.

Remember, disclosure works both ways. You may consider that you already know what your spouse owns (or not), or consider that parts of your financial affairs are simply none of their concern. As above, non or partial disclosure could result in legal action from your spouse.

 

Getting your financial agreement sorted

The good news is you can agree a financial divorce settlement without going to court. AT LGFL, this is the route we always advise. You can use mediation to come to an amicable and mutually agreeable solution that is tailor-made for you, your family and your situation.

With our help as experienced family lawyers, a legally binding agreement known as a Consent Order can be drawn up that works for both of you. This method keeps your divorce financial details out of the public domain (and hopefully, the press too). You can also include non-disclosure clauses.

If you can’t agree, then the process will have at least provided considerable information for any subsequent court hearing and ruling. It is a condition that you will have at least met together to consider mediation before you go to court (unless you are separating from an abusive partner).

At LGFL, we relish high worth divorce cases, applying our considerable expertise and experience to sort through any complex maze of financial arrangements and structures. Call us to discuss your situation in complete confidence either in person or via Skype if you are living or working abroad.