Divorce statistics published by the Office for National Statistics in 2011 show that since the mid-1990s the number of divorces has steadily fallen. Yet during the same period the number of over 60s divorcing has risen. Increasing life expectancy, the loss of stigma surrounding divorce and women’s greater financial independence are contributing factors to this trend. Here Helen Bradin, Partner at solicitors Bradin Trubshaw & Kirwan LLP, examines some of the issues facing couples who choose to part after sometimes decades of marriage.

Q: Since our children have left home I feel empty and am living with a husband I no longer have anything in common with. Should I be bold and go it alone?

Helen: Parents, most commonly women, frequently experience ’empty nest syndrome’ around the time their children leave home to go to university or when a child gets married. Feeling some sadness is only natural but it does not have to mean the end of your marriage. Now that your children have flown the nest you and your husband could draw up a list of things you’ve always wanted to do but never had time for. If you think that your marriage is worth saving then you could also consider relationship counselling – Relate, for instance, offers face to face, phone and online counselling – but you will both need to be committed to making it work.

Q: My wife and I have agreed that after many unhappy years together we should call time on our marriage. How will our finances be divided up?

Helen: In divorce proceedings each party must fully disclose their financial and personal circumstances. Withholding information or hiding details of money from a lawyer is most definitely inadvisable. Generally, most people are able to agree on how to divide their finances – this may include cash payments, transfer of property/assets, maintenance and pension sharing. For some couples a ‘clean break’ can be achieved which may entail, for instance, a lump sum payment, a property transfer and no ongoing maintenance. However if there are inadequate assets for a clean break or there are other grounds, maintenance payments from one partner to another may be needed. There are a range of considerations that will determine financial settlements such as pre-owned assets, inherited assets, jointly owned assets, the length of the marriage, the age of the parties, ability to earn, living expenses and role in the marriage (e.g. who is the breadwinner). Your solicitor will guide you through the process including when is the right time to settle your finances – doing so too early or too late could mean losing out.

Q: My wife and I are divorcing. Will my pension be affected?

Helen: After your home, your pension is quite likely your biggest asset so it’s important to understand what your options are. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland a court will take into consideration any pensions – including state, workplace schemes and personal pension plans – held by both you and your spouse when you split up. To achieve a fair division you first need to obtain an up to date valuation from your pension provider(s). There are then three ways that pensions can be shared. The first is ‘pension offsetting’ whereby all of your joint assets are taken into account and your pension benefits are offset against other assets – such as your house. So one of you may keep their pension benefits and the other given other assets, such as your home. Alternatively you can choose ‘pension sharing’ meaning that your pension is split by means of a Pension Sharing Order. The order defines the percentage to be given to your wife which is calculated on the pension’s transfer value the day before the order comes into effect. Your spouse’s pension is called a ‘pension credit’ and can be transferred to another scheme or she can join your pension scheme. Lastly, there is ‘pension earmarking’ (also called ‘pension attachment’) where part of your pension or a lump sum or both will be paid to your wife when you start to receive your pension. There are some drawbacks with earmarking such as the cessation of payments if you die first , meaning that your wife would have no further income. Your solicitor will be able to advise you on the best option for your circumstances.

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For advice on family and other legal matters contact Bradin Trubshaw & Kirwan LLP on 01543 421840 for a consultation or email hcb@btpsolicitors.co.uk