Divorce down as pre nups rise

The first working day in January is commonly known as Divorce Day, when family lawyers receive more enquiries than at any other time of the year, but they are more likely to be faced with ‘silver splitters’ than young couples these days.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that despite the recent rise in the number of marriages, the divorce rates have fallen to their lowest level for 40 years: 114,720 couples divorced in England and Wales in 2013, down almost three per cent on the previous year.  The statistics also show that marriages are more likely to survive the ‘seven year itch’ with divorce rates at the eight year mark nudging down by one per cent.
But for older people, it’s a different picture.  Over 60,000 people who divorced in England and Wales in 2013 were over 50, a rise of 11 per cent.

Alongside the slow-down in divorce for younger couples, the Law Society has reported a rise in enquiries for pre-nuptial agreements, with commentators suggesting it’s being driven by parents who are investing in housing to enable their children to get on the property ladder, but wishing to protect family money against any future marriage breakdown.

Family law expert Vanessa McMurtrie of Surrey-based solicitors Hart Brown explained:  “Older couples may have less to worry about in relation to the impact of divorce on children, but dividing finances will probably cause more concern, as they are more likely to be asset-rich and with valuable pensions.”

Recent figures from the family charity Resolution show that the majority of young people felt that it was better their parents divorced than stayed together unhappily, but they also wanted to be part of the decision-making process and have their views taken into account.

She added: “It’s a hard decision at any time of the year and at any stage of marriage, but perhaps the most important thing for any couple is to consider children first and to avoid finger pointing as they go through the process.  Collaboration and mediation can help to focus on achieving an outcome through positive negotiation.  It may be necessary to set out unreasonable behaviour in the divorce petition, but when it comes to dividing up the family finances, the Courts are generally not interested in the cause of the breakdown of the marriage or a spouse’s behaviour.”

The exception to this is when family law judges are obliged to take into account ‘gross and obvious’ conduct that ‘in the opinion of the Court would be inequitable to disregard’.  Recent cases that have put the spotlight on conduct include Vaughan v Vaughan in 2007, when the Court added back sums spent recklessly by the husband on gambling after the couple separated.  This was reinforced more recently, in US v SR (2014) when the High Court held that where a spouse has recklessly disposed of assets after separation they cannot claim as great a share of what remains, if there is clear evidence of so-called ‘wanton dissipation’.

This requirement was further spelt out in the 2015 case of MAP v MFP where the husband had become addicted to cocaine and despite rehabilitation, often relapsed. The wife argued that £1.5m should be added back as a result of the husband’s reckless and wanton expenditure on cocaine, prostitutes, alcohol and therapy after their separation, but the judge disagreed saying that while the expenditure may have been morally culpable and irresponsible, it had not been deliberate or wanton dissipation.

 

 

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

Share

Vanessa McMurtrie

Partner, Family

Vanessa trained and then qualified as a solicitor in 1991 with Hart Brown working in the Cobham office's family department for a decade. She then...

Partner, Family

Vanessa McMurtrie

Vanessa trained and then qualified as a solicitor in 1991 with Hart Brown working in the Cobham office's family department for a decade. She then worked for us on a part time consultancy basis while devoting more time to her family. During this period she was instrumental in implementing Hart Brown’s family department’s case management system and later, the quality system that led to the firm’s ISO 9001 accreditation.

In 2005 Vanessa returned to client work and joined Mackrell Turner Garrett where she stayed for ten years, before re-joining Hart Brown in 2015. Vanessa knows Woking and the surrounding area well and enhances the work covered at our Woking office as part of the family team.

Vanessa has been a Resolution member since 1991, committed to resolving disputes in a non-confrontational and constructive way. She has served on the Surrey Resolution committee since 2008. She is a Resolution accredited collaboratively trained lawyer and welcomes the opportunity to help separating couples adopt this process as an alternative to the more traditional options available.

Over the years, Vanessa has gained a wealth of experience in dealing with all the legal aspects of relationships coming to an end. She prides herself on being approachable and understanding as she helps her clients go through the legal process.

Head Office

Resolution House
Riverview
Walnut Tree Close
Guildford
Surrey
GU1 4UX

Your Local Office

Guildford - 01483 887766
Cobham - 01932 576789
Cranleigh - 01483 887515
Godalming - 01483 887766
Woking - 01483 887766

Hart Brown Solicitors is the trading name of Hart Brown LLP registered in England and Wales No. OC 425835 whose registered office is Resolution House, Riverview, Walnut Tree Close, Guildford, GU1 4UX and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) No. 658593. Members: N Maud, T Pearce, D Knapp, R Campbell and P Grimwood, Partners: J Crosby, L Harrhy, J Jupp, J Lamont, T Mandelli, V McMurtrie, E Moore, S Osborne, S Powell, G Sanders and E Wiggins.

Any reference to a partner in relation to Hart Brown LLP means a member or an employee with the title of Partner of Hart Brown LLP.

© Copyright Hart Brown LLP 2019 - All Rights Reserved. VAT registration no. 211372705