Picture the scene: you and your spouse have agreed on a divorce in an amicable way. Besides the fact that you have both had to come up with particulars of “unreasonable behaviour” to initiate the proceedings (as a no-fault divorce without waiting for a period of at least 2 years of separation is not yet possible in this country), you have agreed the child arrangements and all of the finances between you, including an understanding that there will be a clean break. The discussions between you were very civilised and you are both happy that you were able to come to a sensible agreement.
Apart from waiting for the decree absolute to come through the letterbox in due course, there is no need for further legal intervention, right? After all, it is all dealt with and agreed.
Years later, you and your ex-spouse have moved on and gone your separate ways. It was as amicable as possible. The kids are now grown up (and there was sensible co-parenting throughout) and you each have new relationships. You are now running a very successful company and living the life you always wanted. All is bliss.
Until your ex-spouse breaks up with their partner. Suddenly they are unhappy and not as financially stable as they had been (they are no longer receiving the generous sums of money and other gifts that they were accustomed to receiving from their partner). Your ex is now jealous of your relationship and your business success. They come to you and ask for more money. You refuse – after all, you had agreed a clean break – they can’t possibly ask for more, surely?
Unfortunately you did not formalise your agreement in a Consent Order, which is a Court Order incorporating the terms of your agreement in a legally binding document. Your ex makes an application to the Court and suddenly you are forced to provide up to date financial disclosure and re-open the negotiations for a financial settlement. It doesn’t seem to matter that it has been years, that you thought that you had an agreement and that you have heard neither hide nor hair from your ex until now.
In the recent case of Mr and Mrs Briers, which was commented on in the press, there was reportedly a period of some 10 years between the divorce being finalised and an application being made to the Court by Mrs Briers to determine the finances. The Court ruled favourably for Mrs Briers and awarded her £2.7m. It is understood that Mr Briers is likely to appeal this decision.
However, a Consent Order will provide you with some level of protection against an application being made by your ex-spouse in these circumstances. A Consent Order is a Court order which formalises your financial settlement and makes it legally binding. If you seek legal advice after you have potentially agreed a financial settlement, a solicitor can provide you with advice in relation to the fairness of any proposed agreement and draft the relevant documents to be filed with the Court for a Consent Order to be made.
Whilst it may seem like throwing a spanner into the works (after all, it was so amicable when you agreed the financial position together), taking legal advice can ensure that you don’t forget or fail to deal with anything (after all, what about the timeshare in Spain or the joint savings account you set up 15 years ago – are you sure you dealt with everything?). A solicitor is not there to stir up trouble, but to provide you with the legal advice that you may need – we want to support amicable solutions wherever possible. Formalising your agreement aims to potentially protect both parties and give you both some certainty moving forward, reducing the possibility of court proceedings looming in the future.