January 18, 2016

Is it divorce season?

The media have begun calling the first Monday after the Christmas holidays ‘Divorce Day’, associated with the increase in divorce enquiries.

Be it the enforced fun of the Christmas celebrations, or the idea that January should be the month of resolutions and new beginnings – ‘I’ll exercise more, quit sugar, get rid of the surplus (including my spouse if the time has come!)’, January is divorce season.

Often, couples have been struggling with the marriage long before the holiday season, but try to hold it together for the sake of the children and have one last happy Christmas as an intact family, but by January, if it's still not working, they know it's time to move on.

The decision to get divorced is often the outcome of a long process, and I find that clients tend to put a lot of emphasis on what is merely the first step of the way. At a practical and emotional level, this is certainly a huge step especially as it almost inevitably leads to one of the spouses leaving the family home. However, there are legal and financial consequences that can follow almost immediately and that can fall off the radar unless professional advice is taken.

For example, in the midst of it all, spouses can fail to see that a combined income which used to support one household now has to support two, and can have unrealistic expectations of what their standard of living will be once a financial settlement has been reached. Getting legal advice at the outset helps to set realistic expectations as to how capital and income will be split, and ultimately streamline any negotiations.

As a family solicitor, we often find sometimes spouses choose not to take legal advice before starting divorce proceedings. While this might be appropriate in very straightforward cases, legal advice can genuinely be helpful and most cost-effective in the long run. Even when a divorce is amicable and an agreement on finances has been reached, it is always worth having the terms of that agreement looked at, especially if one of the parties had always been in charge of dealing with finances throughout the marriage. It might be that what is presented as fair and reasonable turns out in fact not to be so once all the assets are considered. I’ve come across clients who were not aware that they had a claim to a share of a property owned solely by their spouse, or that they had a right to a share of their spouse’s (sometimes substantial) pension.

It is often incorrect to assume that solicitors’ fees will mount up to tens of thousands of pounds in every case. Yes, this can happen if Court proceedings have to be initiated because the parties cannot agree. However, if both parties are sensible in their negotiations, the role of a solicitor can be limited, and valuable in steering parties willing to cooperate towards a fair outcome.

Although January seems to be a very popular month (another peak is in July/August), there is no such thing the as ‘the best time’ to get divorced. Most people will try and make their relationship work; once it becomes clear that there’s nothing more they can do, that is the ‘best time’ to contact a divorce solicitor.

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