Last year, divorce solicitors up and down the country reported a marked increase in the number of relationships failing to survive the pressure of COVID-19 lockdowns and home working.
Now, as the emergence of a new strain of coronavirus brings further chaos into our lives, the head of one of the region’s largest family law teams warns that a new strain of domestic catastrophe is threatening financial ruin for divorcees.
Nathan Wright, a partner at GHP Legal, reports a ‘worrying’ surge in enquiries from people unaware that they needed to do any more than obtain a Decree Absolute from the Court in order to sever all ties with a former spouse and enjoy eternal financial freedom.
He says, through misconception people are finding themselves facing financial claims from their ex, long after they have moved on, and in some cases after they have remarried.
“A surprising number of people wrongly believe that once they obtain a Decree Absolute from the Court dissolving the marriage, matters are finalised”, says Nathan, who heads up one of the region’s largest family law teams, with offices in Wrexham, Oswestry, Chirk and Llangollen.
“However, the Decree Absolute only dissolves the marriage, leaving the parties free to remarry should they so wish. What people fail to realise is that ending the divorce process does not end the spouses’ financial responsibilities to one another.
“The financial responsibility you have towards your spouse can only come to an end with a ‘clean break’ Order from the Court. Even if you have no assets, in your sole name or in joint names, it is still important to obtain a financial clean break Order.
“Without a clean break Order, if for example you were to come into any money by way of a surprise windfall or inheritance, your husband or wife would technically have a claim against that money and would be well within their rights to apply to the Court for a share of it.
“Similarly, if you have a pension, without a clean break Order your spouse can apply to the Court to ask for a share of that pension when you become entitled to start drawing it down, even if the divorce has been finalised by a Decree Absolute.
“Even more worrying is the fact that your former spouse can apply to the Court for a share of your finances after you die. So, if you have not obtained a clean break Order from the Court, even if you have subsequently remarried and many years have elapsed, your estate could be dragged through the Courts by your ex trying to get a share of your money.
“Every divorce situation is different, however, and there are a multitude of financial considerations and implications to be taken into account before applying to the court. Further, what you put in your divorce papers can ultimately have a significant impact upon how the Court approaches the division of your assets.
“Sadly, the temptation of trying to save money by applying for an online divorce without seeking proper legal advice is becoming more commonplace. As divorce lawyers, we are now being approached on a regular basis for help to pick up the pieces of financial catastrophes that could so easily have been avoided.
“For many, getting a divorce will be the most important financial transaction they will ever make. Most solicitors offer individually tailored, fixed fee advice about separation, children and finances, so getting that advice before proceeding with any application to the court could be a cheaper and wiser option than finding out after the divorce that you are still financially responsible for your ex.