D-I-V-O-R-C-E – who gets what?

This month, I’m grateful to my colleague, Vijaya Sumputh, a specialist Family Law Solicitor at Curwens for her timely advice on the way some family assets are dealt with in divorce :

“According to a recent article in the Guardian, divorce enquiries are expected to rise more than 300% at the beginning of the year.  As Family Law solicitors, in this situation, we’re often asked the big question :  Who gets what?

The process of dividing the marital assets on divorce or family breakdown can be  emotional and complicated. What our clients want is a clear idea of what they may end up with at the end of this process, for example:

  • Who gets the matrimonial home?
  • Who gets the engagement ring?
  • Who gets the family pet?

Sadly, it’s not always possible to give a definitive answer to these questions, particularly in the early stages.

The Courts approach each case on its own individual set of facts – what might be right for one family, may not necessarily be right in all cases. The law in England and Wales is based on a discretionary regime which means there is a vast range of settlement options available in different circumstances.

There is no hard-and-fast rule, which is why it is important to take legal advice so that you have a better idea of the range of likely outcomes in your case.

Who gets the family home?

Often the family home is the biggest matrimonial asset and potentially the most emotionally significant one. Whether the house will end up being sold (and the net proceeds of sale divided) or transferred to one of the spouses, very much depends on the family’s needs.

In some cases, the family home may be kept by one spouse if that spouse is the primary carer for the children. Unless there is sufficient net equity in the property to re-house both spouses in a mortgage-free property, priority will usually be given to the spouse who needs to have the children living with him or her.

In some cases, the family home is kept by one party until a defined point in the future (such as when the children are all over 18) when the former family home can be placed on the market for sale at a price to be agreed by the parties (or if they can’t agree, as determined by a Court).

If, however, there are other assets that a Court can take into account, then one spouse may be able to retain the house permanently and pay other funds to the other person to “buy out” their interest.

When making any financial order, the court will look at a number of factors such as the length of the marriage, the age of the parties, whether they are working and what their earning capacity is, whether there are children, what each party’s needs are and what assets are available to meet those needs. It’s complicated, so do take legal advice.

Who gets the engagement ring?

The answer to this question can vary depending on whether the engagement ring was a family heirloom or perhaps inherited by one party. More often than not, engagement rings are retained by the wife to be passed down to one of the children.

As a general rule, the courts prefer chattels to be divided by agreement but if no agreement can be reached, the court can simply order all chattels to be sold and the proceeds divided.

Who gets the pet?

The family pet is mostly regarded as a member of the family but as the Courts will usually treat family pets much in the same way as any other chattel, we strongly encourage the parties to agree who will have responsibility for continuing to care for (and pay for) their family pet! ”

Vijaya Sumputh  –  0208 363 4444  –  Vijaya.sumputh@curwens.co.uk

www.curwens.co.uk

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“I’ll see you in Court!”

Recovering a trade debt 

There is a lot to consider before starting court proceedings in England & Wales:

  • The court has to deal with matters “justly and at proportionate cost.”
  • Do a cost/benefit analysis before starting proceedings, including the cost of enforcement.
  • Check the other party is good for the money – there’s no point incurring the cost of litigation if you can’t enforce the judgment.
  • Don’t start proceedings if you don’t intend to see them through. Unless it’s a small claim (less than £10,ooo) you’ll almost certainly be liable for the other party’s costs if you discontinue the claim.
  • Be careful about always threatening to sue if you don’t mean it – don’t just “cry wolf” – the word will get round to your contacts and damage your reputation.
  • Recovery of your legal costs depends on:
    • who wins or loses;
    • your conduct as well as compliance with court rules and orders (for example, a failure to comply with a pre-action protocol can have cost consequences even for the party that wins);
    • when the matter ends (whether before or after proceedings have been started);
    • the financial value of the claim and the “track” the claim is allocated;
    • how the claim is concluded (whether by agreement or at trial).

Reaching a settlement

Litigation can be disproportionately expensive to the sums being argued about, the outcome is uncertain, the court is only able to offer a limited range of remedies and litigation often destroys any prospect of the parties resuming a commercial relationship so consider alternatives -for example:

Negotiation

  • It might be possible to recover the debt or agree an alternative future course of action by opening a negotiation with the debtor.
  • This can be done verbally or in writing (which includes e-mails).
  • Parties usually negotiate on a without prejudice basis.
  • The without prejudice rule generally prevents statements made in a genuine attempt to settle an existing dispute from being used as evidence of admissions against the party which made them.
  • This rule means that, if the negotiation or mediation fails and the business then issues court proceedings, any statements that the parties made in a genuine attempt to settle the dispute (whether in writing or orally) will not be put before the court in the proceedings.

Mediation

  • Mediation is a flexible, voluntary and confidential form of dispute resolution in which a neutral third party helps parties to work towards a negotiated settlement of their dispute.
  • The parties retain control of the decision whether or not to settle and on what terms. 

Doing nothing

You can always simply write off the sum but before taking this step, consider the:

  • Size of the debt.
  • Likely cost of recovering the debt.
  • Importance of the current relationship between the parties.
  • Likelihood of maintaining an on-going commercial relationship between the parties.

norma.morris@curwens.co.uk

http://www.curwens.co.uk

http://www.justice.gov.uk