Till Divorce Do Us Part (Quick Guide for Women)
October 16, 2012 in Family & Relationships
By Imanuelae Eke
When we think of marriage we think love, fairy tale weddings and lifelong bonds. Contracts on the other hand we associate with business and services. Contracts bring to mind documents with clearly defined terms and conditions including the consequences of any breaches. We know how long they will last and are given the option to renew or cancel at the end of the term. Marriage and civil partnerships don’t work like this so there’s a tendency to overlook the fact that they are also contracts. They represent a legal union of two people and their assets which is intended to last a lifetime; they also carry serious consequences if terminated prematurely, that is before death.
The increasing rate of divorce attests to the fact that love is often not everlasting. In the space of 60 years, the number of divorces in the UK has quadrupled. Currently the UK has the highest rate in Europe and for every marriage per year, there is also a divorce, this is where the oft quoted “50% of all marriages end in divorce” comes from.
Whether anticipated or not, divorce is painful, no matter how bad things get it’s still difficult to severe the mental and emotional ties. Regardless, it seems that many women are choosing this course as 68% of all divorces are initiated by us. It is very important therefore that we know what to expect so we can limit the damage. No one says ‘I do’ with the expectation that things may come to an end one day but as cynical as it sounds, maybe we should – while we’re still in love and feeling magnanimus.
It should be noted that in the UK civil partnerships are legally treated the same as marriages so though ‘divorce’ maybe a misnomer in this regard, the principles remain the same.
The legal union is created by signing the register; it’s very often quick, easy and relatively cheap. Severing the union is much more involved. It’s a three step process – the submission of the divorce petition, applying for a Decree Nisi and finally applying for the Decree Absolute. These processes costs around £500 but £500 may well end up being a drop in the ocean of total legal fees.
It is estimated that the average cost of a divorce is £13,000. A decent solicitor will cost approximately £250 per hour so it is not surprising that most of this constitutes solicitors fees. It may therefore prove astute to stipulate that the costs are split between both parties at the onset if you can.
Contested Divorce (spouse doesn’t want a divorce)
If your divorce is contested it is highly likely that you will need a solicitor. If you want to avoid the costs associated with a contested divorce you can opt to wait for five years to file. You won’t need your spouse’s consent. But five years is a long time to wait and there is a defense. If your spouse can prove that the divorce will cause him or her financial hardship it will not be granted. You must also be able to prove that you have been separated for the five year duration.
Division of Marital Property
Most contentious and the area that accumulates the most court time is the division of marital property. If you can negotiate a financial agreement with your partner a solicitor can draft this into a ‘Consent Order’ but if the judge deems it unfair it will be rejected. If you cannot reach an agreement then prepare for war.
Also understand that the court will not give a baboon’s shiny pink behind what actions led to the split. Whether your partner was unfaithful or abusive it has no bearing on sharing the marital property equitably. Women naturally assume a person’s behavior will be taken into consideration and it is often seen as a gross injustice that this is not the case. It can leave many of us feeling hard done by.
Another thing that takes women by surprise is spousal support. If you earn substantially more than your partner the court may decide that you either pay a lump sum upfront or make regular payments towards your spouse’s maintenance. As a feminist I applaud this, however, as a woman I understand that this can often be perceived as an insult added to the injury of whatever grievances led to the divorce in the first place.
Pre-nup or not?
So, as unromantic as it sounds, before marriage (three months before to be precise) and depending on your assets and potential earnings you may deem it wise to set aside the rose-tinted spectacles in favour of reading glasses. A pre-nuptial agreement can provide financial protection for both parties. Legal professionals must be engaged to ensure that the agreement is fair and enforceable so it does cost money upfront but ultimately may end up saving you tenfold in expenditure and grief. If you’re lucky you will never need it but there’s no harm in being prepared.
And another thing, women assume that the biological mother will automatically be granted custody of their children. Well, this is simply not true anymore. I’m not saying that court officials don’t bring traditional views to court but in fact the law itself is rather equitable. It states that custody is awarded based first and foremost on the ‘child’s welfare.’ So, if you’re a busy working mum whose spouse has been more involved with the school runs, the children’s social activities and childcare you may well lose custody in a dispute and in this case you will also be required to pay child support. The best option in this case is to negotiate for joint-custody. Custody and child support matters are one of the few areas that pre-nups cannot cover.
So while we may go into a marriage or civil partnership for love with the conviction that it will last forever the reality may prove to be quite different. The increasing rate of divorce is a fact and we’d be remiss not to plan for every eventuality.
If you do find yourself facing legal costs relating to divorce you may be eligible for legal aid. You can check your eligibility at legalaidcalculator.justice.gov.uk.