Best advice for divorce settlements when you’re older

Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford filming outside ITV StudiosFeaturing: Eamonn Homes, Ruth LangsfordWhere: London, United Kingdom

Want to avoid having a messy split like Eamonn and Ruth?

How do you avoid having a toxic clash when it comes to going your separate ways? Divorce is never easy, but even harder when we are older, and there’s more at stake. We spoke to Ashley Le Core, Senior Associate at Stowe Family Law about the best advice for divorce settlements when you’re both a bit older, and maybe have more assets, and longer term joint or shared finances.

Sadly, divorces can be messy. No one ever expects to be in that situation, and the dream of having a smooth amicable end to years of commitment isn’t always fulfilled.

Over the last twenty years, divorce amongst marriages of thirty years and over, have steadily risen. In 2021, 1 in 4 divorces were of couples over 50. It’s tough feeling like you’re starting over later in life, but to even get there you have to navigate the division of assets and untangle the decades of intertwined life. Even knowing how to take the first steps to broach the topic may allude many.

Ashley Le Core of Stowe Family Law says “In terms of discussing a divorce with your partner, this can be a difficult process, especially if they do not know it’s coming. If you feel able to discuss it with your partner yourself, then perhaps pick a sensible time when you are on your own. If you don’t feel comfortable doing it alone, try to ensure that you have somebody you trust with you.

“It is understandable that you may feel anxious and upset about this conversation, particularly if you have been married for many years and are heading towards or in retirement and later-life plans with your spouse.”

Managing emotions

Ashley stresses that it’s important to try and keep things calm.

“When a marriage breaks down, we would always suggest mediation as a sensible first step. It takes a lot of the emotion out of the situation. Solicitors will always advise that if there is an amicable solution to be found, then it should be pursued. A mediator can give good advice as to what a settlement would look like, and can do that whilst working with the couple together, whereas solicitors of course do not work in this way.”

But if mediation doesn’t work, choosing the right person to represent you is vital. “When choosing a divorce solicitor, build a rapport with the person who is representing you,” says Ashley. “It is a very difficult time, so deal with someone that you feel has truly got your best interests at heart. A firm with good representation, good communicators and someone who is attentive is most likely the right solicitor for you.”

Read more – Divorce later in life – financial and emotional considerations

How does it all work these days?

“In terms of the solicitor’s role in navigating the divorce, the divorce process now is more straightforward, as it’s an online process. The solicitor will of course outline to you exactly what happens at every stage, and involve you accordingly, but instructing a solicitor means that all the preparation of documentation etc is dealt with by them, and simply approved by you.”

In terms of dividing the assets of the marriage, it is important you feel ready to commence that process. It can be very in-depth, and quite upsetting

Having this support and having the divorce online takes a lot of the stress out of a split, but at the end of the day, you’re still going to be haggling over the terms. So what’s the best way to approach this? Ashley advises caution and pacing yourself at this stage.

“In terms of dividing the assets of the marriage, it is important you feel ready to commence that process. It can be very in-depth, and quite upsetting (naturally). If you’re not in a good headspace when you go into that process, it can hinder the progress you can make. And if you are not yet over the end of the marriage, or if there is a lot of animosity, diving into that process too quickly may not be in your best interests in the long term.

“Practically, once you have filed for divorce, you can take as long as you need to organise your assets and finances. This must always be done before you apply for your final order (previously known as the decree absolute), but there is no time limit after your initial 20-week cooling period.”

image shows pink paper heart on black background. Paper heart is torn, representing heartbreak

Ensure you’re ready before entering negotiations

Where is a good place to start?

“In terms of financial planning post-divorce, the way in which the court works in this country is that the settlement will be reached based on what each spouse needs. As such, the court will only give to each spouse what they believe they need to continue a comfortable lifestyle moving forward,” explains Ashley. So there is little point filing for divorce and asking for the moon and the stars. But a roof over your head is the first port of call.

…if the marriage has come to an end, you are effectively starting a new chapter of your life.

“The most likely effect of the divorce is a feeling of unknown financial security. If there are enough assets at the end of a marriage to rehouse both people appropriately, then that financial security is there. However, if that’s not the case and it means that both people need to review their finances in order to consider themselves comfortable, things are more complex.

“Selling the family home does end up being one of the more stressful aspects of a marriage or relationship breakdown. Often it has been a property that the couple have shared for a significant period, and letting go of that can be exceptionally difficult.

“However, if the marriage has come to an end, you are effectively starting a new chapter of your life. To start that new chapter, you potentially need to cut ties to everything that was in place before, including a house. Whilst it may be a wish to try and retain the property, I always ask people how they would feel living in a property where they have a significant number of memories, and potentially not the nicest memories.”

It it worth having a pre-nup?

“The major positive of having a prenuptial agreement is of course to protect any wealth that was brought into a marriage. If one spouse was particularly wealthier than the other, it is common practice that prenuptial agreements (whilst not legally binding yet, in this country, but considered exceptionally persuasive) are very normal in cases such as these.

“When the marriage breaks down, the prenuptial agreement takes precedence and the individual who came into the marriage with more wealth should be able to have the majority of those funds returned. There are increasingly popular for those entering second or third marriages as a way to protect property and inheritance for children from the previous marriage.”

…you should regularly review the agreement, particularly when any significant changes occur to your finances

It’s important to keep checking in on this though, as things change. “The ‘con’ of having a prenuptial agreement is that they can become massively out of date. If you agreed one pattern at the beginning and then there are significant changes throughout the marriage, it can tie the couple to an agreement that might have been made a significant number of years ago.

“This is why you should regularly review the agreement, particularly when any significant changes occur to your finances, property, or children. If you do not have a prenuptial agreement, then the court will take the standard position. Which is that – depending on the circumstances as you are at the point of divorce (i.e., your ages, any children, earning capacity, assets, future) – they will look at what each person needs and decide accordingly.

“The usual starting point for individuals who have been married for a long period and who have children over the age of 18 or no children at all, is 50/50 of all the assets.”

How does a divorce affect pensions and investments?

“The divorce itself will not affect any pensions, but it is likely that if one spouse has a larger pension pot than the other, then they may well be expected to share some of that pension with their spouse as part of the divorce process.

…any assets that form part of either person’s asset portfolio will be considered as part of the matrimonial pot, although a split isn’t always 50/50

“Usually, a pension actuary would be instructed to address how those pension pots should be split to make it fair for each spouse, and that advice should be pursued.

“In terms of investments, any assets that form part of either person’s asset portfolio will be considered as part of the matrimonial pot, although a split isn’t always 50/50. One party may wish to ring-fence certain assets due to having only just received them. Or there may be issues arising from prenuptial agreements or other such arguments. But everything will be considered by the court before making an appropriate determination.

“It is therefore very important to be categorically clear when you end your marriage as to what all assets are, where they are, and the value. The court expects complete openness and honesty about all these matters in order to make an appropriate decision. And any attempt to be seen to be hiding or dissipating assets unnecessarily, the court will usually take a very dim view of.”

Starting anew

Finding your way through a divorce is never easy, no matter what stage of life you’re at. Approach it with patience and composure, and discuss things openly with your solicitor at each step. Being equipped with knowledge can give you some confidence going through this taxing time.

When things feel overwhelming or too distressing, remember the reasons why you or your partner came to this decision. At the end of it all, there’s a fresh start and an exciting future ahead of you.

 

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About Lana Hall
Lana can usually be found spinning her collection of records, or writing odd poems in her phone notes. Her mixer of choice is a ginger beer, and you’ll never find her away from the sea for more than a few weeks.

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