A divorce may often, if not always, be a tragedy, particularly for any children who may be involved. When there is no alternative however can the cost, both emotional and financial, be reduced by how the husband and wife and their advisors, deal with the issues in dispute? This article will suggest 10 ways in which, in the writer's experience, the cost of a divorce can be limited.
1. Consider counselling
Has every possible step been taken to rule out the possibility of a reconciliation? Marriage counselling may not save the marriage, but at least the parties may be sure in their own minds that any chance of saving the marriage has not been passed by. Failing a reconciliation, counselling may help the husband and wife to come to terms with the decisions they, or their spouse, have made, and to look to the future.
2. Try mediation
Can a mediator help the spouses to resolve the issues in dispute? For example, if there are children, how are they to divide their time between the two homes? A mediator will not pass judgment, but will try to help the husband and wife to find a solution that they can each live with.
3. Don’t wage war
A specialist family lawyer with extensive experience in dealing with divorce can be an invaluable source of advice and guidance. However using a family lawyer to 'wage war' on your spouse, to prove a point, or to obtain 'justice', is an expensive form of therapy. The financial resources which were once available to fund one home, will now often be required to meet the costs of two separate households. This is not therefore a great time to be losing large chunks of capital to unnecessary legal costs.
4. Find a sensible way to divide the pot
What should determine the financial settlement, whether this is worked out between the husband and wife, or their advisors, is plain common sense. In most cases (perhaps excluding those involving vast amounts of cash), the priority is to make sure that the husband and the wife each has an affordable home. Where the children are to live must be everyone's paramount concern. So, the husband and wife each need a house or flat, usually with room for the children to stay, in which they can afford to pay the bills. This will inevitably feel modest by comparison with what was affordable before the split. Does one spouse need maintenance from the other to pay the bills, either long-term, or for a period while they find a job or care for young children? The children's main carer will be entitled to child support, and may need maintenance for him or herself in addition.
5. Take your solicitor’s advice
Clearly one spouse’s view of what is a fair split, may not be the other's. An experienced family lawyer should be able to advise you of the likely outcome if the issues have to be resolved at Court. There will be a range of possible outcomes since the judge will take into account all the facts of the case to decide what they consider to be a fair settlement. But your solicitor will be able to advise you as to whether what you hope to achieve is in fact realistic or not.
6. Think carefully before fighting
If the terms on which your husband/wife is prepared to settle the financial issues are not within the range of what might be ordered at court, the costs of using the court process need to be considered carefully. Yes, it may be unfair that your wife wants £3,000 more than you consider to be her fair share, but if you each spend £5,000 in legal costs to prove that point, everyone will be worse off. Using the court to resolve the financial issues must be considered the option of last resort, both financially and in terms of the stress both sides will inevitably suffer in the course of the process.
7. Don’t hide assets
The first stage in working out a financial settlement must be to get to the bottom of what assets are available. All the assets and income of each spouse are relevant, including the values of any pensions, trust funds and business interests. Trying to hide assets is usually unsuccessful, and inevitably costly as the advisors on each side trawl through documents trying to get to the bottom of a murky picture. Voluntarily providing evidence of asset values, recent bank statements and accountancy reports on the value of business interests, will probably benefit both sides in the long run.
8. Consider a pre-nuptial contract
Romantic they may not be, but following recent developments in family law, a pre-nuptial contract can provide each side with reassurance as to the likely outcome in the event of a split. Especially after a short childless marriage, the terms of a pre-nuptial contract, where both sides have been properly informed and advised beforehand, are likely to determine the financial settlement. They may be especially relevant where one party is worried about loosing assets inherited from their family, or built up over many years of hard work prior to the marriage.
9. Prioritise the children
In the emotional trauma of a marriage break-up it can be hard to focus clearly upon what is the best outcome for children. A more favourable financial settlement bought at the cost of causing stress and bitterness to each of their parents, may provide children with a better main home, or more income to fund their expenses, but is unlikely to help them to move forward with positive relationships with each parent. In working out how the child’s time is to be divided between the two parents, the priority must be what is best for the child, even at the expense of the parents each having a fair share of the child’s time.
10. Get the timing right
Think carefully about the timing of negotiations on divorce. Too soon, and one or both spouses may be too shocked or emotionally raw to think clearly or behave rationally. Dragging the negotiations out too long, however, will not help the spouses, or their children, to move on with their lives.
Finding an outcome that each spouse can live with, at the point they are ready to face negotiating, should help to limit the cost of the divorce.