No fault divorce is nearly here. Will it save you money? In all likelihood, yes.The changes to the law don’t specifically have anything to do with finances. But they do provide an opportunity to reduce your divorce expenses. In this blog we look at why that’s the case, and what to do if your soon-to-be-ex isn’t playing fair with money.
A quick history tour
The biggest change ‘no fault’ divorce brings isn’t in the specific terminology, or changes to the process. It’s in what it all signifies. And to understand the significance we need a brief run through the history.
The Matrimonial Causes Acts of 1857 and 1937 allowed ordinary people (not just the wealthy) to divorce if there were eligible grounds such as cruelty, insanity, adultery or desertion. There was no possibility of divorce without one party being at fault. And the system was often rigged against women.
The 1969 Divorce Reform Act was the first step towards a ‘no fault’ system. It allowed couples to divorce without fault, but only after a minimum of two years if both agreed, or five if only one wanted divorce. And this meant that many divorcing couples still had to prove fault if they wanted to move on with their lives without waiting. One still had to petition for divorce against the other. And if one of the parties refused to divorce, the other had to wait five years – often using legal representation to try and get the situation moving.
A fresh approach
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 completely takes fault out of the system for the first time. And takes an application from one person as evidence the marriage has irretrievably broken down. No more waiting for years or outlining evidence of unreasonable behaviour.
For the first time, the working assumption for ALL divorce applications is that it’s in everyone’s best interests to collaborate and focus on the future. It’s not about evidencing what went wrong and justifying reasons to the court. It’s about acceptance and moving forward.
This is a huge shift in tone. And that shift brings with it a move away from conflict. A move away from ‘take them for all they’ve got’ towards ‘let’s get divorce done as calmly as possible’.
And this change in tone is significant for your money.
The problem with the old system
There were two main problems with the ‘fault’ system, as far as your finances are concerned. One was the message it sent about blame. If the divorce petitioner felt their ex-spouse was at fault for the divorce, it logically followed they wanted the system to provide recompense.
In reality, that’s not how the court system works. Financial remedy orders aren’t made on the basis of who behaved badly, who needs to be punished and who needs to be compensated. They are made on the basis of need or sharing principles. Despite this, many of my clients, and other divorce petitioners, come to divorce determined to feel vindicated by ‘their day in court’. This attitude adds tension to the negotiation process, and ultimately ends up costing you more.
The other problem is that a divorce journey that starts out with blame, indignation and resentment tends to be more protracted. Rather than both parties looking for areas of agreement and points in common, they seek points of conflict. This has the more unscrupulous lawyers rubbing their hands in glee. The more of a back and forth you create with your ex-spouse, the more billable hours they can rack up.
No fault divorce moves away from this approach. It extinguishes the idea that the divorce court has any role in punishing the rights and wrongs of the marriage. And it encourages a calmer, more amicable approach to divorce wherever possible.
What if your ex-spouse is determined to pursue conflict?
The no fault system frames the whole process of divorce as a more collaborative one. Does that mean your soon-to-be-ex will get that memo? No. So what do you do if your ex-spouse is determined to try and blame you and make life as difficult as possible?
I have written a guide to divorcing a high conflict ex here. That covers a range of options you can choose to navigate the divorce process with more safety and support around you.
When it comes to your money, the answer lies in getting all the details in place. Don’t rely on guesswork or estimates. Don’t take their word for it, even if they are adamant. Do your own budget based on your current lifestyle. That doesn’t mean going for the bare minimum. If you are used to living with more than the bare minimum you are entitled to continue to do so, if the finances allow.
Making good use of time
Make good use of the twenty week cooling off period. Get to know your numbers and have the documents to support you in case your ex-spouse tries to dispute them. What are your assets worth? What debts do you have? Are your annual living costs and are these likely to change in your separated circumstances?
Just as importantly, spend some time getting to know your values. Yes, it’s unfair and infuriating they are not playing ball. Yes, it can make you want to scream and to get your own back. But think about the bigger picture. Soon enough you’ll be out of this marriage and in your independent life. What do you want that life to look like? Have that vision in mind and be guided by those values – not the petty squabbling your ex-spouse is attempting to control you with.
Armed with your red lines when it comes to costs, needs and values, get the mediation, or hybrid mediation, ball rolling. Mediation isn’t about emotional processing, it’s about reaching workable solutions. Mediators and solicitors are there to keep your conversation on track. So have your numbers with you. Be prepared to be flexible where needed, but hold firm on what matters.
Save money with The Absolute Academy
You do not need to instruct a solicitor as soon as you decide to divorce. That remains the case as no fault divorce becomes law. You may not need a solicitor at all – which can save you thousands.
When you join The Absolute Academy you get step by step toolkits on Getting Divorce Ready. You get a community of women who are on the divorce journey with you, and have a wealth of experience to share. And you get my knowledge and expertise to guide you.
All for a monthly cost that’s around the same as a solicitor’s hourly fee!
The doors are open to The Absolute Academy today. Come and join us and get your divorce done with as little emotional and financial cost as possible.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com