Avoiding the pitfalls of online divorce | Family law

Since the Ministry of Justice introduced a digital application process for divorce in May 2018 more than 70,000 people have applied for divorce online.  In this modern and digital age where processes are online or being capable of being done online it is unsurprising and indeed understandable that people will use the technology available to them to make the divorce process as easy as possible and to minimise their exposure to legal costs. What many people do not appreciate is that a relatively small saving in costs now could in fact end up costing them significantly more in the long run. 

What is often ignored, overlooked or misunderstood by divorcing couples is that whilst the online process will legally bring about an end to your marriage it does not address or indeed end the financial ties between spouses. Therefore it is extremely important for people to take expert legal advice in relation to the financial aspects of their divorce.

The financial arrangements of divorcing couples can often be complex and are unique to each couples situation. If a couple divorces without addressing their financial situation and does not have a Court order setting out their financial arrangements then a spouse could experience an unexpected financial claim from the other spouse years into the future.  Despite the passage of time, those financial claims will in fact remain valid and subject to adjudication.  In recent years the Courts have seen financial claims behind made more than 25 years after a couples divorce had concluded. Those financial claims were determined on the value of the assets at the date of the claim rather than the value of the assets 25 years ago.  A lot can happen over time, people may set up businesses which flourish, may inherit wealth or even win money. If future financial claims are made then a former spouse could end up benefiting from assets acquired or built up years after the divorce concluded.

Obtaining specialist legal advice from a Family Law expert prior to or during the divorce process will ensure that financial claims are dealt with properly and to prevent any future claims being made. In some circumstances, particularly where a married couple may have pensions, they could be advised to delay obtaining the Decree Absolute, which ends the divorce, until the financial arrangements have been finalised by way of a Court order. Unfortunately, many people will simply follow the online process and apply for Decree Absolute without having received legal advice putting themselves at significant financial risk or by leaving themselves in a position where they may lose an interest in a very valuable asset of the marriage.

The benefit of having a court order is that it can sever financial ties with your spouse and create a clean break by dismissing all future financial claims that either spouse has or may have against the other, now and in the future. It is for this reason why obtaining specialist legal advice is essential. Simply having an informal financial agreement with your spouse will not be legally binding or enforceable in the event of a future disagreement which is why obtaining a court order is vital to both parties.

Obtaining legal advice should not be viewed negatively. We are here to help and advise people in these situations so that they have a full understanding of their rights and so that they can be protected.  Whilst there will be a cost for receiving advice, it could be a fraction of the cost that will be incurred if you get this wrong. 

For some couples online divorces will be appropriate. If someone is considering using the online divorce procedure, we strongly recommend that you contact a Family lawyer for advice in respect of the financial aspects before you embark on the process.

For more information please contact Philip Rea, Associate Director on 0121 227 3365 or e-mail PRea@thursfields.co.uk

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