Divorce goes virtual, but complex cases will keep their day in court

A new online service should cut the stress of applying for a divorce according to the Ministry of Justice, but family law professionals say it’s likely to benefit only those with simple finances who are pursuing the DIY route.

The Ministry of Justice announcement of the nationwide scheme for online divorce applications follows a successful pilot earlier this year. While rejections average around 40% for paper applications, because forms have not been completed correctly or documents are missing, only 0.6% were rejected in the online submission pilot.

The move is one of the latest initiatives in a £1bn modernisation programme for the department, which will also see a reduction in the numbers employed in the courts. And while professionals have welcomed any simplification to the process, they say the increasing complexity of finances, particularly in second marriages, is likely to keep many couples in court, in pursuit of a fair share of assets when the marriage ends.

And the ‘fair’ share may not be the ‘equal share’ that is generally expected, particularly after a long marriage, with recent cases highlighting the attitude of the Courts in achieving a fair outcome, with the focus on needs and away from long term maintenance orders.

In KA v MA, a pre-nuptial agreement was a condition for the marriage, as the husband wanted to protect his accumulated assets to ensure they would pass to the sons of his first marriage. The agreement was made, but when the marriage failed the second wife asked the court to set aside the pre-nup, saying she had been pressured to sign it in those terms. The court did not set it aside, saying it had been entered into willingly, but in applying the test established in Radmacher v Granatino, they decided the pre-nup did not properly meet her needs. The result was that she was awarded a significantly higher contribution from her ex husband, but one that left his main wealth intact to pass on.

The Radmacher case was a landmark judgment by the Supreme Court, giving weight to pre-nuptial agreements. While such agreements are not automatically legally binding in England and Wales, the judgment set out that: 'the court should give effect to a nuptial agreement that is freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of its implications, unless in the circumstances prevailing it would not be fair to hold the parties to their agreement.'

Another recent judgment from the Court of Appeal has undermined the so-called ‘meal ticket for life’ of a joint lives maintenance order, with experts saying this is no longer something that divorcing spouses can be sure of securing from the English courts.

Waggott v Waggott involved the ex-wife of a very successful businessman, whose attempt to secure an increase in her annual maintenance payment backfired. She had been awarded a settlement of £9.76m which included £175,000 per year in maintenance for the rest of her life, which she appealed, asking for an increased share of the husband’s bonuses and a variation of the maintenance order to give her an extra £23,000 per annum. Her former husband cross-appealed, and the Court of Appeal agreed with him, ordering a three-year non-extendable term instead.

These two cases follow hard on the heels of the Court of Appeal ruling in Hart v Hart last year, which saw a wife awarded £3.5m, out of total resources of just under £9.4m, with greater weight given to the pre-marriage wealth of the husband. This was despite a 23-year marriage, where an expectation would be for an equal distribution of assets, but instead the wife’s settlement was based on a calculation of needs.

Said family law expert Jane Wheeler of Verisona Law. “These are high profile cases, involving big numbers, but they will have implications for other divorcing couples, however big – or small - the pie to be shared.

“Even with the most amicable of divorces, it’s to be expected that each side will wish to secure the best outcome in terms of asset sharing, and any uncertainty about how their individual situation will be judged means they are likely to be taking advice and having their day in court, rather than simply following the DIY online route.”

She added: “The assets and the family structures of divorcing couples tend to be more complicated these days. Many more couples are entering into second and subsequent marriages, and may have children from previous relationships who they wish to protect. Equally they may have built a business, or accumulated an asset base, and they want to hold on to that if the marriage fails. It’s reason enough to consider a pre-nuptial agreement, setting out what each person has brought into the relationship, as the courts will take that into account in understanding what was intended.”

Jane Wheeler is a family solicitor at Verisona Law, she can be contacted on 023 9224 6714 or by email to jane.wheeler@verisonalaw.com.


We have set out below a full list of the services our Family Department can provide whatever your circumstances. If you do however have a query which does not relate to any matter detailed below, please do contact our Family team who will endeavour to assist you.

Divorce or Civil Partnership Dissolution

Whether you are the Petitioner or the Respondent within proceedings or whether you are simply contemplating the same we can provide guidance throughout the entire process. We can assist with:

  • Drafting of documents
  • Negotiations with the other party
  • Correspondence with third parties such as the Court
  • Advice face to face, by telephone, by email.

Pre-Nuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements

Whether you are planning to marry or indeed have now married and wish to formalise arrangements in the event of separation we can advise and assist with the following:

  • Drafting agreements
  • Negotiating settlement
  • Corresponding with all parties

Separation

Whether you are married or living together and in the event you decide to go your separate ways we can assist in formally documenting terms of separation. We can assist in the following ways:

  • Drafting Separation Agreements whether in contemplation of divorce or whether to simply record the split of a cohabiting couple
  • Negotiations with third parties
  • Providing you with advice whether face to face, by telephone or by email.

Arbitration

Arbitration is an alternative to resolving disputes through the Court. At Verisona Law we can assist in a number of ways either by assisting you through the Arbitration or by referring matters to our in house Arbitrator. We offer competitive arbitration rates and a member of our team will be happy to assist with any queries in this regard. Please see our current articles on Arbitration for more details about the process.

Cohabitees/living together

If you have chosen not to marry but wish to live together you may wish to formalise the arrangements and details for doing so. We can assist in the following:

  • Drafting cohabitation agreements/living together agreements
  • Negotiations with all parties
  • Advising you in person, by telephone or email as appropriate.

Divorce where Business are involved

We have extensive experience in dealing with breakdown of marriage where one or both parties are owners of businesses or indeed it may be the family business. We have experience in providing you with advice and signposting for business valuations and will ensure that the business as an asset is dealt with appropriately within any proceedings.

Pensions

In addition to being able to provide specialised advice in relation to Public Sector pensions our team at Verisona Law has vast knowledge concerning all pension arrangements and can ensure that they are dealt with appropriately within any divorce proceedings. Please seek advice from a member of our team.

Parental Responsibility

We are able to advise on all aspects of Parental Responsibility including:

  • Agreements / Orders
  • Exercising your Parental Responsibility rights and duties where appropriate
  • Arising out of Parental Responsibility we can advise on applications for a Specific Issue Order to the Court if appropriate.

If you have any queries concerning Parental Responsibility and its impact on you or indeed whether you have Parental Responsibility for your children, please seek advice from a member of our team.

Assisting through Mediation

Whilst we do direct a number of matters through Mediation, this does not mean that you cannot have legal advice throughout the process. We can advise and assist you through the Mediation process and arrange thereafter to draw up formally any agreement reached be this by way of a Consent Order in divorce proceedings or simply to record in an open document the agreement you have reached at Mediation concerning the subject of your dispute.

Property Disputes

Whether you are married or otherwise, or indeed simply have an interest in a property owned by another we can provide you with advice and assistance including;

  • Applications to the Court
  • Negotiations with all parties
  • Advising and assisting you face to face, by telephone or by email.

Collaborative Law

This is an alternative way to resolve family disputes without the involvement of the Court. The Collaborative process requires both parties to have a Collaborative Lawyer and endeavours to resolve any disputes by way of four way meetings. We at Verisona Law can assist you through the Collaborative process. If this is an avenue of resolving dispute that you would be interested in, please contact a member of our team.

Children

We at Verisona Law can provide you with advice and guidance concerning any disputes you may have relating to your child. This may be with whom the child lives, with whom the child spends time with, a specific issue concerning a child or steps that you wish to take to prevent something happening (Prohibited Steps Order). We can also advise you in relation to maintenance disputes with a third party guidance with dealing with the Child Maintenance Service. If you have a query with any issue concerning your child please contact a member of our team.

Change of Name

Please contact a member of our team if you are interested in changing your first or surname to discuss the drafting of a Change of Name Deed. We offer a fixed price for a Change of Name and we can provide you with further information upon request.

I went to Verisona Law because I had been unsatisfied with two previous attempts with other firms. Verisona gave that real sense of service, made.me feel like a client they were happy to assist at all times and ultimately gave the BEST advice and guidance. Dont waste money; go to Verisona FIRST!


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