This morning the British public was served with news of further evidence that Royal life is not the perfect fairytale many of us would like to believe in: Peter Phillips, the Queen’s eldest grandson, confirmed the split from wife Autumn and the impending divorce.
The couple got married in 2008 and have two children, aged 9 and 7. After 12 years of marriage, the couple have decided to terminate their marriage and go their separate ways. From the media reports, it appears that Autumn was the one to initiate the split and the divorce. It has further been reported that the couple will share custody of the children.
Divorce is always a private matter, so we will leave the exact particulars of this matter to the divorcing couple. However, since divorce is not only for Royals and with nearly half of all marriages in the UK ending in divorce, we thought we would have a look at what it means when 12 years of marriage, with children and accumulated assets ends.
I want to divorce. What now?
Decision to divorce rarely happens spontaneously, no matter what the media reporting in high profile cases such as the Royal family’s recent announcement would like us to believe. Of course there are cases that one of the partners is unaware of the other partner reaching a point where they are considering a divorce, but in most cases the knowledge that the marriage has reached its end will be there, even if unspoken and unexplored, the couple will know.
So, you have now reached that decision. No matter what the reasons are for seeking a divorce, no matter whether it was an easy or difficult decision to take and whether you spent whole of an hour considering it before making a decision or have agonised for years over it, you have now made the decision.
What should you know before getting the process started and what steps should you take? We have spoken to our top divorce lawyer to try and make things easier for you.
Our head of family department, Rakhi Singal has recently been asked to provide a quote for a piece by the Guardian looking at how much of reality about the divorce was there in the film ‘Marriage Story’. With her vast experience in family matters, we decided that she would be the perfect person to approach for this blog as well.
We asked Rakhi to provide us with one, most important advice for all those who are about to embark on a divorce.
“Plan it well,” Rakhi replied and then in her charismatic energetic manner launched into an explanation. “If a client calls me and says, I want a divorce, how do I go about it? That’s the first advice I give them. I know that most people who have reached that stage of wanting a divorce, come into it with a pre-existing emotional fatigue. They have battled whatever issued that had, they have spent a long time agonising over a decision and they are finally ready for it all to end. So the last thing they want to hear is that there is more thinking and planning to do. But if they want good advice that’s it. You cannot jump into untangling what in effect is years of intertwined lives without proper planning.”
We then ask the natural follow up question. Is it never possible to have an uncomplicated divorce, a quickie divorce so to speak?
“Sure it is,” replies Rakhi. “If you’ve only been married for a year or so, there are no assets or children to speak of and both partners agree on divorce and reasons for it, then it’s possible. But most divorces are not like that. This is why whenever I hear expressions such as a quick divorce, a simple divorce or my personal favourite, just a divorce, I sit the client down and explain to them what divorce means and what are all the areas that they will need to consider before they can have their clean cut from their old life. The thing about divorce is, the less thinking you do before starting it, the more complicated it will become and more it will drain you financially. It’s easy to think of the divorce as just filling in the forms, getting the decree absolute and that’s it, the marriage has ended. Yes, the marriage has ended, but you still have a host of issues that perhaps have caused the marriage to collapse, surviving it. So before starting the proceedings the most important things you will need to consider is: what the arrangements for the children will be like; how are we splitting the assets and how are we approaching the divorce. To do that, you absolutely need to speak to a good solicitor specialising in divorces. A good solicitor will help you understand what you can realistically expect to achieve, will help you negotiate an arrangement that works long term for children and assets and will act like a buffer that can keep the emotions that otherwise run high in divorces in check.”
With those words of wisdom from someone with years of dealing with practicalities of divorces, we will take a look at some fundamentals of divorce.
Do I need a reason to divorce?
The first question many people ask of themselves, once they have decided they wanted to divorce is whether they need to provide their reasoning for a divorce to the court. The answer to this is an unequivocal yes. In the UK, the law provides for specific reasons for a divorce. Unless your circumstances fit into one of those reasons, you will be denied a divorce.
Our lawyers often hear from clients’ lines like “But we both want a divorce, why should we provide any further reasoning.”
We understand that reasons for wanting a divorce are private and often not fully externalised, so it might be difficult to articulate them. Other times, people are worried that if they start reciting reasons, their partner might become defensive and what they hoped to be an amicable divorce will turn sour. This is where having top legal representation helps. Our lawyers are not only very knowledgeable in the law surrounding all aspects of marriage termination, but also have vast experience in dealing with the human factor involved in divorce proceedings.
In the UK, there are 5 grounds for divorce. A reform to allow for no fault divorce has been announced, but as of the day of this article, at least one of the below 5 grounds still needs to be satisfied for you to be able to successfully file for a divorce. These grounds are:
- unreasonable behaviour;
- two years separation with consent from the respondent; 4. five years separation, no consent required; or
You can read more on what these grounds mean here.
Custody of Children, do I need a written arrangement?
As with the case of the Royal divorce, it is common for splitting couples to verbally agree that they will continue to be equally involved in the children’s lives. Of course there are more tragic situations where this is not possible and the children are thrown into the battle between the parents from the onset, but in most cases things start quite amicably in respect of child arrangements. And this is why all the best divorce lawyers would tell you this is the perfect time to coin out a written arrangement with your soon to be ex-partner.
Once the couple separates and the discussions about assets begin, the good-will, if there ever was such, starts to fade. This is when arguments about the children and what the couple had actually agreed to become more and more prominent. Moreover, it is easy to agree to a non-committal ‘We will keep things the same for the children’ when your life has not yet changed. But a year or two down the road when you perhaps have entered a new relationship, or have an exciting career opportunity that requires you to change your schedule, or perhaps to relocate, things will come to heed and conflict will appear.
Therefore, the best thing you can do before agreeing to anything in respect of child arrangements, is to speak to a solicitor specialising in child arrangements. A good solicitor will help you to understand where the hidden dangers lie, where the issues might appear, how to predict them and prevent them. You then can go to your partner with a clear plan and solid reasoning in respect of child arrangements. In many cases, the involvement of a solicitor might, in fact, make it easier to come to an agreement with your partner, as they know how to approach these things.
In any event, a written agreement that is preferably sealed by the courts in a Consent Order should be your must have when you are getting a divorce.
Assets: how do we split it?
Dealing with marital assets is possibly the most difficult and conflictual area in the divorce. The biggest danger here, much like with child arrangements, is if you agree with your partner on how to separate the assets without really understanding what you are agreeing to, what the implications of that agreement are.
We often see clients who in their eagerness to put a very difficult part of their lives behind, agree to a split of assets that is far from ideal or fair to them. Often enough, they do so without understanding the implications of what they agreed to. Other times, the couple might agree to a course of action in respect of an asset without clearly understanding how the process will work, thus agreeing to something that is either impossible or entirely unnecessary. A good solicitor will pre-empt such mistakes.
A fair and balanced asset separation is only possible if you have a clear understanding of what assets will need to be brought to the separation pot and how to identify these assets and quantify their values.
In general, there are two types of assets that will be looked at during a divorce: matrimonial assets and non-matrimonial assets.
Matrimonial assets are all those assets that have been accumulated during the family life. Therefore, normally the longer the marriage, the bigger the share of these assets. It has to be noted that matrimonial assets are considered to belong to both spouses in equal manner, irrespective if one of them contributed financially more than the other. For this reason, the starting point in splitting these assets is always 50/50. This principle can be departed from for various reasons, such as the needs of the other spouse, the children etc.
Non-matrimonial assets are those that the person already had prior to entering the marriage. Non-matrimonial assets are a more complicated matter. You need to know that they are not automatically excluded from the financial settlement and in many cases can be included in the pot. One of the more common examples is when one of the spouses uses proceeds from a home they owned prior to marriage, to purchase the matrimonial home.
There are many other aspects that make financial settlement a complicated affair. Our lawyers have seen it all, from spouses hiding significant assets from each other, to simply not knowing what they are entitled to. The advice always stays the same, speak to a solicitor before agreeing to an arrangement. Financial settlements need to be enshrined in a Consent Order issued by court for them to be enforceable.
Therefore, in any event you will need to contact a solicitor for that. Do it sooner rather than later and save yourself from possible mistakes.
Many people act on a misconception that getting a solicitor will complicate the matter, will make it more adversarial and will cost a lot. Nothing can be further from the truth. Sure, getting a bad one will cause all that and then some more, but getting a good solicitor will make you believe easy divorces are possible. Therefore, our recommendation is to not shy away from contacting solicitors before you start your divorce. Speak to them, ring several firms, speak to as many as necessary until you are sure you found the right one. It should never be about their rates, as a bad solicitor with lower rates might end up costing you more than a good one with higher rates. Conversely, higher rates do not automatically mean good service and best legal advice. The way to recognise a good solicitor is how involved they seem when they talk to you the first time, how knowledgeable they are, how realistic their promises are. If a solicitor is promising you the earth and the moon, it’s a good indication you should stay away from them. If a solicitor is too combative and promises you they will destroy your ex, no matter how good that prospect sounds to you at that moment, stay away, they will stock up conflict and you will end up paying extremely high legal fees without any clear benefit for you. Finally and simply, you also need to be comfortable with your solicitor, so trust that first impression.