So, you’ve made the difficult decision to divorce your spouse, read on for the reality of what you need to consider for a fair financial settlement.
Who gets what is often the messiest aspect of a divorce. Despite the fact that there is statutory guidance for dividing up assets and income following a divorce, with emotions already running high and the prospect of running two households on previously joint assets, it’s vital that reaching a fair and equitable financial settlement is in everyone’s best interests.
In acrimonious cases, family courts thankfully have a wide discretion and can be quite creative in the way they structure financial awards to meet the parties’ particular circumstances, this also means that there are no absolute rules to dictate who should get what in each circumstance. Matrimonial assets will generally be divided equally between the parties, but there can be a departure from equality in order to ensure that the needs of both parties, and any children, are met.
Except for those married couples who have enjoyed considerable wealth prior to their separation, most people seeking to end their marriage will likely have to go through a period of significant financial adjustment post-divorce. If that is you, this article is for you. We spoke to Hannah Gumbrill-Ward, a solicitor at Winckworth Sherwood to give us a realistic understanding and her recommendations on points to consider when thinking about your post-divorce financial future so that you can reality check your expectations.
Be clear about gross and net income
Remember to factor in the difference between gross, net, and disposable income. While it is often tempting to quote income in terms of the larger gross figures, this can be misleading. Rather, income should be looked at as the net figure once tax, pension contributions and any other deductions have been made. You should also keep in mind that the net figure on a payslip is then going to be reduced further by rent/mortgage payments, council tax, utility bills etc, meaning that what is actually disposable income is significantly less.
Only account for actual income
Similar to the point above, where there is a discretionary bonus in play, the key word to remember is discretionary. It is helpful in these cases to see base salary and bonus income as separate, rather than conflating the two.
Remove any ambiguity of your own income
What is your own income capacity and are you maximising it? The days of long-term spousal maintenance orders are, for the most part, a thing of the past and spouses are expected to try to work towards financial independence so that there can be a clean break between them.
The equity in your home will only go so far
Housing: there is one financial pot – how far can you stretch it and how far do you need to compromise? The former matrimonial home is likely to be the most valuable asset available to you, and the net equity in it will need to rehouse both party’s post-divorce. This is likely to mean, especially if you are located in London or the South East where property prices are higher, that you need to downsize, relocate, or compromise on factors like a garden, off-street parking or living space.
Remember to account for any shortfall in retirement
Pensions: have you thought about retirement? Research has shown that women are disproportionately affected by pension poverty. While it is tempting to prioritise your immediate future when thinking about a financial settlement, do not forget about how you will support yourself in retirement and factor in any considerations.
As we all endure the cost-of-living crisis it is so important that you are not short-changed in the financial settlement in your divorce. Have a laser clear focus on what your financial needs are, if you don’t know what they are, do the work. It’s only by getting to grips with your finances that you can be sure that you will be tackling this next stage of your life with the building blocks for a future full of purpose and intent.