When you are separating, a real concern for many couples is what the financial outcome of the split will be. Questions about, whether you'll be able to keep the house? or whether your children will have to change schools?, or can you afford to pay the bills?, and what will happen about pensions? are the kind of questions we are often asked.
If you and your partner are married or in a civil partnership and can't agree on how to split property and sort out your finances you can apply to the courts for a financial remedy.
The courts are able to make a range of orders for cash payments, transfer of property or other assets, maintenance and pension sharing. The position is not the same for unmarried couples who have been living together.
We would encourage you to come and see us for an initial meeting, so you fully understand your options. For most people a session with a mediator will be best before making an application to the court. We would work with you alongside that process. Mediation isn’t right for everyone, or sometimes things drag on or you just cannot reach agreement, so a court application is then necessary.
After an application has been issued
You and your partner will be required to:
- Complete a Form E which is a document setting out all your financial details
- Produce copies of documents, such as bank or building society statements, payslips, valuations and accounts.
The court sets a First Directions Appointment (FDA) before a District Judge about 12 weeks after you apply to court. The judge will identify the issues and make orders to get the information needed to sort them out, for example to value your assets. This has to be twelve weeks after the application is issued.
If things aren't sorted out at the FDA the next stage is the Financial Dispute Resolution appointment (FDR). You and your partner both attend this court hearing, where the District Judge, will encourage reach of you to reach an agreement on your finances and will usually indicate what he or she thinks would be a reasonable outcome. We will support you in preparing for the hearing and at court.
Only if the issues cannot be sorted out will there be a final hearing at a later date heard by a different District Judge who will hear evidence, consider the documents and give a judgment. It can be several months before a date for a final hearing. But it is possible to reach an agreement and submit a note of that agreement, called a consent order, to the judge for approval at any point. Most cases do resolve without a final hearing, which is expensive and stressful.
Some couples financial arrangements can be settled with a 'clean break', which means a lump sum payment and/or property transfer and no ongoing maintenance. A clean break ends the financial relationship between you and you partner. But support will still be payable for any dependent children. Sometimes there are not enough assets or another reason meaning regular maintenance payments from one person to the other is needed and then a clean break won’t be possible, these can be open-ended (during joint lives or until the person receiving the payments remarries or enters a new civil partnership) or for a fixed period of time.