Every January, the press take great pleasure in writing about Divorce Day, which is considered to be the most popular day for divorce petitions to be filed with the court. It is fair to say that most family lawyers see an uplift in enquiries at the start of the new year, when in many cases couples have stayed together for the sake of their children, spent Christmas together, and then choose to action their separation more formally once the Christmas decorations have been packed away.
However an issue that has possibly also affected and influenced peoples’ decisions to action their formal separation or divorce, are the increased costs that everyone has been faced with in this present cost of living crisis. Potential clients are becoming increasingly reticent and concerned to initiate proceedings, with many taking advice and then telling us that they want to sit tight, believing a divorce or separation to be ‘unaffordable’ at the moment.
Certainly, mortgage costs have increased exponentially, and house values have simultaneously slumped, with the property market on its knees. The prospect of dividing one house into two and of paying a mortgage at current interest rates, is a very real worry for people. It makes it even harder for them to fathom and deal with the situation than it naturally is in a ‘good’ financial climate.
Some people choose to emotionally separate but not formally move apart and deal with their financial arrangements. This arrangement is often something that we would advise against. Whilst some may believe that they would prefer to wait until asset values increase, the family business picks up, or until the house prices go up, this can be a false economy. Certainly, once a couple (or even one party) has made the decision to separate, staying in a marriage or relationship at that stage can be very claustrophobic and stressful, and can also seriously impact the mental health of children involved in the midst.
It is true to say that this arrangement will also only work if there is complete trust between the separating couple. If there is not, and one of the couple has the majority control of the finances, there is every chance that money might be over-spent, moved around, the ownership of assets changed… It is crucial to deal transparently with financial disclosure in the event of a financial separation and divorce, but if one party is intent on making this difficult, and if they have been given even more time to action any such dealings with any delay in formally sorting out the financial separation, it will make it much harder, and much more expensive, to unpick the truth and work out what a true representation of any financial outcome ought to be.
Prolonging the inevitable might not be the best financial decision in the long term, particularly if pensions need to be divided. We have seen drastic fluctuations in pension valuations recently. Whilst that of course affects everyone across the board, formally sharing pensions on divorce sooner rather than later at least provides some certainty to the recipient party that they have full control of their share of what is often the most significant asset of the marriage or partnership, after the family home, even in a volatile market.
The timetabling of the way in which a person chooses to handle their personal life, and the huge decision of ending a relationship with all the emotional difficulty that comes with that, is entirely their decision. As family lawyers, we must be mindful of the potential pitfalls that come with waiting, which we will always discuss with them honestly but mindfully. Divorce is not something that ought to be, nor is it usually rushed in to, especially when children are involved. In the event that we are instructed to assist, when someone decides to press ahead, our aim is to advise pragmatically from the outset to try to preserve a good working relationship with the other party and/or their solicitor, and give advice that is sensible from the outset in terms of preserving your costs position. If, therefore, one of the big concerns is proportionality in dealing with the case sensibly and cost effectively, and that is what is putting a potential client off from formally actioning their separation, we can certainly assist. At the very least, anyone who is considering divorce and is concerned about the costs or potential outcome, should get legal advice early on to discuss the pros and cons.