5 min read

Divorce and your finances: A quick guide to the essentials

Divorce is one of the most stressful things that can happen in your life. Aside from the emotional toll, one of the main contributors to this stress is how hard it can be to separate a couple’s finances and divide up the things they own.

Couple reading through divorce papers with lawyer

To take some of the sting out of financial separation, here is our quick guide to the essentials you need to know when it comes to your money. But remember, there’s no substitute for proper legal and financial advice.

What happens to the house?

Home owners

Who gets the marital home? This is usually the biggest worry people have when facing a relationship breakdown. Marriage is seen as a partnership in the eyes of the law, so assets that have been built up during the marriage belong to both of you, including your home if you own it.

If you brought assets with you to the marriage such as a property you inherited, this may not be considered a matrimonial asset and might be treated differently. However, if you bought a house after you were married, this will count as a joint asset even if only one of your names is on the deeds.

If you split up, there are options which can keep both parties happy. Divorcing couples might sell a joint home and split the proceeds. One could buy out the other’s equity now or in the future. Or joint money could be used to buy a second property while keeping the existing house, if finances can stretch that far.

Renters

If you’re renting, you each have a right to stay in the home while you are still married, but after you divorce the key is whose name is on the tenancy agreement. If you are named as joint tenants, you both have rights to stay so you will either need to negotiate on who stays or end the tenancy.

Savings and debts

If you have savings, investments or pension pots built up while you were married, these will form part of your joint assets and either partner may have a claim on them. You may need to use some of your savings for living expenses, property expenses or buying a new car if one partner is keeping the family car, for example. So you will need to agree on how savings will be split.

If you have debts, these will need to be included in any agreement, and you may need to get help from an organisation like Citizens Advice before you start separating your finances, so one of you does not end up saddled with debt that might have been run up jointly but is only in one person’s name.

If you have children

If you have children and you end up hashing out your divorce in court, the judge will prioritise their needs and look at what offers them the most stability. This may be to remain in the family home with the primary caregiver, which might mean delaying the sale of the family home until the children are 18.

You will also need to decide how often and when each parent will see the children, and set maintenance payments. If you can’t agree this between yourselves, the government’s Child Maintenance Service can work out what is fair and chase up the payments if needed.

Reaching a settlement

If you and your partner can reach an agreement on how to divide your assets, you won’t need to go to court. But if you can’t agree, you may need to try a mediation service. If this doesn’t work, you can go to court and have a judge decide for you. Usually their starting point will be an equal division of assets, but they will also take into account;

• Your ages
• Standard of living
• Ability to earn
• Each of your roles in the marriage, whether breadwinner or main carer for children, for example.

The higher earner may need to pay maintenance to the other partner to cover living costs for a certain period.

Cut the cost

You can cut the cost of divorce by going the DIY route rather than hiring a solicitor. You can download a divorce application form online, submit it yourself and just pay the court fee. You can also save money by agreeing the terms of your divorce between yourselves without taking legal advice, but this might not be the best option if the divorce is acrimonious or your affairs are complex or involve business interests.

You would also need to involve a solicitor to make any agreement final and legally binding. Some solicitors or family lawyers offer a free initial consultation or 30 minutes free advice, so take advantage of this.

You may be entitled to legal aid in some circumstances, or help with court fees if you are on a low income or you receive benefits. The Pensions Advisory Service can offer you free advice online or on the phone to talk you through the options for your pension during a divorce.

Useful tools

The Money Advice Service has a free calculator spreadsheet to help you organise your money during a divorce. Filling in the detailed spreadsheet will help you get a clearer financial picture, taking into account all the assets and debts in the relationship.

Other organisations that can help you are Citizens Advice and the Department for Work and Pensions’ Sorting Out Separation website.

Written by Hannah Smith – Financial Journalist

 

Note: Whilst we take care to ensure Talking Finance content is accurate at the time of publication, individual circumstances can differ so please don’t rely on it when making financial decision. The opinions expressed within this blog are those of the author and not necessarily of OneFamily.