There are lots of reasons why things you own may not be split equally, or 50:50, when you divorce
Recently, I’ve had quite a few emails, either through the ‘ask the experts’ section, or just directly, from women who assume that everything they own will be split 50:50 with their husband (or civil partner) when they divorce. It’s easy to see why you might think that, but it’s rarely the case (except in Scotland, where the divorce law is different).
How things you own are split – the principles
The main consideration, when you get divorced in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, is how much you and your husband or civil partner need to live on after the divorce or dissolution of your civil partnership.
• If you have children: their needs will come first. This means that the value of the family home may be split unequally to ensure that the parent who has the children for the majority of the time (assuming care of children isn’t split equally) has somewhere to live.
• If you don’t have children: your individual needs will be paramount. This means ensuring that you each have somewhere to live and that you can support yourselves.
If you get divorced in Scotland, the starting point is that property and assets (such as savings, investments, cars etc) that you acquired during your marriage is split equally. However, property and assets that you already had before you got married are rarely included. There are some exceptions, such as a property that you bought before you got married but planned to live in after you were married.
How things are split, the practice
In England and Wales, very few divorces actually go to court. Most are negotiated – either with the involvement of family lawyers or through mediation.
• As part of the negotiation, the value of different assets may be ‘offset’ against each other.
• This may be done so that property doesn’t have to be sold and/or investments and pensions don’t have to be cashed in.
SAVVY TIP: Even though different assets may be offset against each other, it’s still worth making sure they are properly valued and that you’ve taken advice about how they will be offset. I’ve seen many cases where wives have been discouraged from trying to get a percentage of the pension. Often the pension may be one of the most valuable assets. There's more in my short video on Pensions and divorce
As an example, your ex husband may decide not to make a claim against your pension, in return for being able to keep an investment property you own jointly.
SAVVY TIP: Although some investments and policies will be divided equally, that’s not the starting point during divorce. The starting point is to make sure you and your children are provided for and, once your needs have been met (assuming there’s anything left over) to divide the rest.
The importance of advice
Because money, property, pensions and investments are rarely divided 50:50 (except in Scotland, as outlined above), it’s important to take advice. If you and your ex want to reach an agreement between you, that’s fine. But I get lots of emails from women (and I’m sure there are men in a similar situation) who’ve been told by their ex that they’re not entitled to make a claim on the pension/house/investments. From the information they provide in the emails, that’s rarely the case.
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