Divorce is a bad time for everyone. It is stressful, it is (for some) heart breaking and it is expensive. Aside from the emotional trauma, separation and divorce create practical problems that need to be resolved. Most people going through a divorce worry about their future and their financial security. Unless you are lucky enough to have a great deal of money in the family pot, it will not be possible to maintain the standard of living that you had before the split – no matter how good your lawyer is. That is a frightening thought. We are all human, and it is tempting to turn a blind eye to financial issues, or to look at the numbers with rose tinted spectacles.
When Courts, and lawyers, are finalising matrimonial finances, we first work out how much capital there is, and what the family cash flow is like. In other words, how much money is coming into the family and how much is going out to meet living costs and expenses. Done well, this process enables everyone to make decisions about what they need and what they can afford. We look at current expenditure, and we try to work out what future expenditure will look like after the divorce. The parties themselves are instrumental in gathering that information, and the more accurate it is – the more likely you are to reach an agreement, and to end up with a settlement that works.
So, what can you do to help yourself?
• Get informed. In most marriages, one spouse takes the lead in running the household finances. If you are in the dark, find out more. You cannot take control of your situation unless you have the information that you need.
• Work out your budget properly. Most people guess what they spend on their day-to-day lives, and they tend to guess badly. The only way to make informed decisions about your future is to know what you spend – and what economies can be made. Look at a year of bank and credit card statements and work out the numbers. You may be surprised by the amount you spend on food and basic family activities.
• Take advice. Speak to your bank or lending companies if you are struggling to keep up payments. Find a good lawyer who is affordable bearing in mind the money you have. Will they agree to set up a payment plan so that legal fees can kept to a manageable level? Can your spouse be asked to help you to pay your fees?
• Be open and honest. Never give a court, your former partner or your lawyer misleading or incorrect information. Don’t hide anything. If you do it may be impossible to resolve your case fairly, and the outcome may be a financial settlement you do not like – or one that falls apart at a later stage.
Don’t put off dealing with your family finances. Delay rarely makes things better, and can make them a great deal worse.
Advocate Claire Davies
This article first appeared in Connect December 2019