The divorce process in England and Wales is made of the seven stages. It is fault-based and the majority of petitions are based upon what is known as “behaviour”. Once you have jumped through all of the necessary administrative hoops you are granted Decree Absolute.
What is the impact of finally being divorced?
Whether it is the cause for celebration or commiseration there are important legal aspects:
- You can no longer inherit from your former spouse’s estate. It is therefore important to update your will. If you are left anything in your ex-spouse’s will and they subsequently die it will be treated as if you pre-deceased them and therefore any property left to you will be cancelled. If you have left anything to your ex-spouse the same applies and the risk of leaving the whole estate to your ex-spouse means that you would die intestate.
- You will lose any entitlement to your ex-spouse’s pension. It is important to assess whether you need to make a claim for pension sharing or pension attachment order prior to applying for Decree Absolute.
- If the property you are residing in is the sole name of your ex-spouse you will need to vacate the property as you will lose your matrimonial home rights upon Decree Absolute. It is therefore important to resolve the matrimonial finances and ensure a Consent Order is drawn up outlining how the assets are to be divided upon divorce.
It is important that any agreement reached is made into a Court Order to ensure the agreement is binding and to limit any future potential claims. If agreement cannot be reached the Court can order a division of the assets and income based upon their decision as to what is fair. The court has a wide remit and is governed by judicial discretion.
Even after Decree Absolute the court’s powers in relation to matrimonial finances continue. If you do not have a Court Order your ex spouse can return to Court decades later provided they have not remarried and make a claim on your assets.
This has happened in the Wyatt v Vince case – the wife made a claim over 20 years after divorce – the husband was very wealthy and the wife was in poor financial circumstances. The Supreme Court have allowed her case to proceed. This highlights how important it is to apply for a clean break even if you have few assets.
So it is important to get advice and consider your long term best interests – even if you want to bury your head and pretend it is not happening to you. It is so much better to make an informed decision than to receive a shock later…