Elise Alma, Partner and Head of the Family team at Coodes Solicitors, says too many people are unaware of the risks of an online divorce.
In May 2018 the Government introduced a procedure for people to apply for a divorce online. While it is understandable that people want to save money where possible, a small saving now could end up costing significantly more in the long run.
While divorcing through the online procedure will legally end a marriage, it will not sever the financial ties between spouses. For that, you need expert legal advice.
It is entirely possible to reach a Decree Absolute and end your marriage without having done anything about splitting your finances. These unresolved issues can create problems years, or even decades, into the future. The online procedure does not provide any explanation about the consequences of finalising a divorce without resolving the financial issues flowing from it.
There is no online procedure for drafting and filing orders confirming financial arrangements. Such arrangements can be complex and unique to each person’s situation. Getting divorced without a final financial order can have adverse effects that can last for years or even decades. A lawyer would advise you about whether you need to defer having the divorce made final and absolute until you have finalised the financial arrangements.
There are a number of vital considerations when dealing with pensions during the divorce process. These include how the divorce papers are drafted to ensure you reserve the right to make financial claims, whether to delay applying for Decree Absolute to finalise the divorce and the effects of remarriage. Getting it wrong means you may lose an interest in a very valuable, and sometimes the most valuable, asset in the marriage.
A court order can sever financial ties with your spouse, creating a clean break, and this is where the services of a specialist Family lawyer will be vital. They can help you negotiate a deal, support mediation or simply draw up a workable, binding court order if you can agree matters with your former spouse yourself. Even though you can put an agreement into effect without an order, it will not be binding or enforceable without a formal court order – and pensions can only be shared by court order.
Matrimonial law allows the court to transfer assets between each of the parties, whether they were owned in joint names or by one party alone. It can also order that a pension owned by one party can be divided and a share given to the other party to provide them with a pension of their own even after the death of the original pension holder. There is a lot to take into account when working out a fair settlement between you, which is where having a good family lawyer who knows what they are doing can really help.
If financial matters are not dealt with at the time of the divorce, either party can make a financial claim at any time after Decree Absolute up to the point that they remarry. Depending on how the divorce papers were completed, sometimes claims can even be made after remarriage. Cases have been successfully brought even 25 years after the original divorce. In the event of a later application, the court will consider the value of the assets as they are at the time of the application, not the time of the divorce. That means that, while there may be some allowance made for the length of the separation, you could find yourself having to share an asset that has increased in value since your divorce without your former spouse having contributed anything at all towards it. If you have set up a successful business, for example, or your pension has increased in value, your former spouse could benefit.
Dealing with financial applications such a long time after the divorce can be time consuming and inevitably stressful. It can be complicated to unravel financial dealings after time has passed, as new partners can have contributed to property owned in a previous spouse’s name, or there may be assets that have been acquired during the intervening years that could be subject to a claim
The additional complexities can make it necessary to instruct a solicitor to help you deal with it all. The cost of unravelling years of changing circumstances can be significantly higher than taking the opportunity to sort it out at the same time as the divorce.
If you decide to use the online divorce procedure, we would strongly recommend that you ask a lawyer for advice in connection with the financial aspects of it before you obtain the final Decree Absolute. Alternatively, you may save stress, time and money by instructing a solicitor to handle the entire divorce process. It could well save you money in the long run.