With new legislation announced in February 2019, as of 6 April 2022 couples can jointly apply for a no-fault divorce.
This does not mean that the previous ‘five conditions’ petitions that allowed one of a couple to ask for divorce are overwritten. In fact, only some of the terminology will change - with less Latin as well - meaning that not all divorces have to apportion blame at outset.
What it does provide is the ability for a couple to separate on better terms. With the pressures and circumstances of Covid-19, escalating living costs and returning to the workplace it is no wonder that we as individuals feel the strain and this can put pressure on a marriage.
Even with this evolution of process a divorce will still be a lengthy affair and take six months or more, even if both parties agree to the first steps.
The application is only the first step and getting those elements that could be most contentious sorted out will be key. This can focus, rightly, on short term and long term care for children but also ensuring there is a fair split of assets between divorcing parties.
As such it may be that having a plan and tough conversations early may make any issues down the line less of a challenge.
There is an ability to put in place pre-marital or pre-nuptial agreements that can provide some level of security for both parties at outset.
Even for those couples not getting married co-habitation agreements can be invaluable to protect everyone.
This is especially so in one income households.
Reaching out to suitable family solicitors can make a real difference and provide a starting point for discussions on separation.
Money now vs money later
In England and Wales all assets in the marriage can be brought to the table for settlement including pensions, rental properties, overseas assets, and those that are less liquid.
As life is getting more expensive, due to rising prices and inflation exceeding current wage growth, understanding income, benefits available and tax efficiency is key.
Post-divorce there will be two sets of living costs and rent/mortgage to be paid placing a fresh burden on both parties and watching any excess cash flow dwindle or even disappear to meet these expenses.
If some assets are split by a pension sharing order these will not be able to be accessed until reaching normal minimum pension age at 55 (rising to 57 from 2028). This can help in planning for later life but does not put food on the table now.
Retirement planning and financial education
Often in a marriage a job can be assigned to one partner or another and it may be that one partner lacks financial knowledge. Not everyone knows the difference between a pension, ISA or bond and the minutiae of their functions.
Seeking professional advice from an early stage so that you are aware of options and values allows you to plan living costs now while reassessing a retirement strategy that may have less income dedicated to it in the short term.
It can also provide protection. Post-divorce a Will normally becomes null and void, often couples have joint life assurance policies that they may need to yield or rebroke in order to provide protection.
Reaching out to solicitors, accountants and financial advisers at a changing life event like this is key and at Mattioli Woods we are always happy to take the time for a coffee and a conversation to see where we can help.