Divorcing? Read this
Bit of a grim topic, we know, but as divorce rates soar, we look at how to manage your break-up with minimal fallout.
Hmmm, maybe not ‘forever’ after all. I seem to have hit the age where every week I hear about another friend or acquaintance who is divorcing. Are you in that zone too? It’s awful to watch but clearly nowhere near as tough as going through it yourself, especially when there are kids involved. New figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the number of (opposite sex) divorces in England and Wales is at its highest level since 2009, with the year-on-year increase in splits at its peak since way back in 1985. And in 61 percent of cases, it’s women who are initiating proceedings.
With this in mind, I spoke to divorce expert Sue Andrews at Bucks-based BP Collins solicitors about how to split amicably (or at least try to). I know, I know, it’s a bit of a downer subject! But this stuff happens even in the gloriously frothy waters of Muddy Stilettos. If any of you are in the throes of divorce or contemplating your future solo, I hope it helps you towards happier times.
9 TIPS TO A ‘CLEAN’ DIVORCE
What’s the most common mistake divorcing couples make?
Often the problem is that individuals aren’t emotionally ready for divorce, they’re headlong into the process without thinking all the elements through. Clearly it can be a traumatic process, so where possible it’s important to try some counselling first, make sure it’s the course of action they really want to take, and be in the right frame of mind for it. A ‘clean’ divorce can only happen if there’s respect and trust and honesty – sometimes a difficult combination to achieve when there’s animosity, anger or sadness on one or both sides.
What if the divorce is getting ugly?
If you can’t trust each other on any level the process can get nasty and hugely protracted so it’s an obvious but important point that you need to choose your solicitor carefully. Find someone you have rapport with, who will fight your corner but will also manage expectations sensibly and keep relations on an even keel. Otherwise costs can rise as both parties become entrenched and more experts become involved. Avoiding the high court should be a priority.
What’s the current legal stance on who has the kids?
It’s no longer assumed that the mother will have automatic custody of the kids. The presumption these days is that children have equal rights to see both parents and vice versa. Obviously circumstances come into play – where the parents work and live, the flexibility of each parent etc. The onus is generally on the parents to make a civil fair agreement and actually 80% of them do just that. For the 20% of serious disputes, the courts will intervene and make an order.
How old do kids have to be to choose which parent to live with?
In an ideal world children shouldn’t be forced to choose between parents, but if they have very strong feelings, particularly from 12+ years, the court will take their feelings into account. The older the child is, the greater emphasis their views are given. By the time a child is 15 years old and over, no court will decide against their wishes.
Why use a mediator when you have a lawyer?
Mediation can be great where the issues are less complex, and when both of you are committed to achieve fair play. If you go down the mediator route, it’s important to make sure you choose one who understands the legal perimeters of what you can expect to receive or the ‘mediation settlement’ may be really unfair. For example, perhaps a wife who’s never worked might feel she’s not entitled to much money and so accepts a much lesser amount than she could expect to receive.
Mediation is less appropriate when there are complicated issues at stake – perhaps you need to make sure that your other half provides full financial disclosure. In these circumstance you could negotiate through solicitors or have a round table meeting to achieve a conciliatory outcome.
Is it still a 50/50 split for money?
The starting point is still to divide equally – the court sees a stay-at-home wife as equal to the breadwinner as they are joint efforts in a joint relationship. Inheritance money is treated differently to matrimonial capital though, so for example if £200k of inheritence money from one partner had been used to pay the mortgage it might mean a greater split to the partner who had put the extra in.
How much does the average divorce cost?
Well it’s only £550 for the physical divorce papers and a decri absolute costs about £2k, so not as much as you’d think. The expensive bit is sorting out the money and how amicable that process is. If it goes to court and a final hearing with lots of different experts involved that’s when the costs can rocket – an average one would be around £80,000 if it went to a final hearing! So it’s our job to try and avoid it getting to that point if at all possible.
How much can a divorced partner expect to receive in income?
The courts are much more stingy with maintenance these days and would expect an ex-partner to try and find work, unless that person has never worked before in which case they will take that into account. At the top end of earnings, someone used to spending £2000 on a handbag might have a nasty surprise – that kind of maintenance is less supported in the courts these days.
What if you suspect your partner isn’t playing fair?
If you think you’re heading for divorce and you don’t trust your partner to be honest, get advice early on. If money is being siphoned off, spent on someone else or being frittered or transferred, it can be added onto the settlement, so it’s a case of knowing your legal rights.
What makes a divorce solicitor’s heart sink most when dealing with a couple?
If you know the a solicitor on the other side is going to be difficult the warning bells go! Also if someone wants to play games, hide finances, make things tricky from the outset you know it’s going to be hard. That’s why trust and respect are the most important things to remind people of – they were married once, they cared for each other, and if they have kids, they’ll have to be involved in each others lives for years to come, so it’s about using soft skills to reach a settlement that both parties can accept, so they can move on with their lives.
BP Collins, Collins House, 32-38 Station Road, Gerrards Cross, Bucks, SL9 8EL. bpcollins.co.uk