With divorce rates predicted to spike as a direct result of couples being forced into lockdown with each other, divorce solicitor Anita Scorah from Cheshire law firm SAS Daniels says people should clue-up on their rights, especially as the Divorce Bill – heralded as the most radical change to UK divorce law – is likely to be delayed because of Covid19.
Anita says there are a number of key facts people need to be aware of:
- Filing for divorce is a simple enough process. So simple, in fact, that individuals often file the paperwork themselves. However, what most people fail to realise is that divorce papers on their own are the tip of the iceberg and do not take into account any financial arrangements.
- There is no such thing as a quickie divorce. Everyone – celebrity, royal, man or woman on the street – has to adhere to the same process and timeline.
- Currently, the UK divorce system is fault based and requires one person to initiate proceedings and make an accusation about the other’s behaviour if the divorce is to be started immediately. This must be supported by evidence of either adultery or unreasonable behaviour. If you want a divorce and aren’t able or willing to provide such evidence, you must live apart for two or more years before your marriage can be dissolved. This applies even if you and your partner have reached a mutual decision to divorce.
- The Divorce Bill that started going through Parliament in January will enable couples to mutually or individually cite irretrievable breakdown without the need to provide evidence. Its aim is to make the process less acrimonious and help protect children and those ‘locked’ in abusive relationships.
- For cohabiting couples, contrary to popular belief, no matter how long you’ve lived together and no matter how much you’ve contributed to the running of the household, you do not have the same rights as a married person. You don’t have automatic rights to your partner’s assets (savings, bricks and mortar, pension, business) if you separate. In fact, the legal position for unmarried couples can be extremely ‘complicated and seemingly unfair’.
- If you live with your partner but don’t want to marry, you would be well advised to have a Co Habitation Agreement drawn up by a solicitor. For a modest fee, such a document will help protect you and set out some financial ground rules.
- If your split is acrimonious, be careful how you go because the ‘loser’ will have to pay both sets of legal fees. These can mount up, especially if the proceedings have been particularly protracted and complex.
Unfortunately, the current Covid19 pandemic means that the new Divorce Bill is likely to be delayed by many months, if not years. Therefore, it is really important that people in unhappy marriages familiarise themselves with the current rules.
“Many people chose a DIY divorce, only to discover that it is purely an administrative exercise that doesn’t extend to their financial affairs. As a result, many are left in vulnerable situations. I can’t emphasise enough that if you are considering getting divorced, you must ensure your financial arrangements are also covered.”
Anita Scorah is a partner in the family law team at legal practice SAS Daniels Solicitors, which has offices in Macclesfield, Stockport, Chester and Conglton and represents people across the UK.