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When divorce gets complicated

Ten reasons why divorce proceedings can become complex

For the lucky few, divorce can be relatively simple – deciding who gets what and going through the legal formalities, without too much undue pain beyond the regret that the relationship has ended. Often however, there are other influences, like childcare and money, that add strain and complexity to divorce proceedings.

When things get tough, it’s important to have the right legal support on your side, to handle a challenging situation smoothly, compassionately and efficiently. An experienced divorce solicitor will be able to advise you as to your entitlements, negotiate on your behalf objectively, mediate effectively and if needed, fight your corner.

Here our specialist divorce solicitors share their extensive experience of the elements that can make a divorce more challenging.

1. Property and other assets

When it comes to property, investments and valuables, deciding who gets what can cause serious ructions – particularly if you both want to keep the same items.

Unless you’ve already set up a pre or post-nuptial agreement creating a fair division of family assets may require very delicate negotiations.

To start with, your family home is  possibly your most expensive joint asset, and you both have emotional ties to it as well as a financial stake in its value. It can be difficult to find a fair way to determine who stays in the home and how much money goes to the person who is ‘bought out’. Often both partners will want – and feel they’re entitled – to stay in the property.

If you have children, their needs will be of paramount importance to the court. Including where they are to live.

You may also have joint investment and pension products. It’s important to consider the ‘true’ value of these assets and take expert advice.

2. Family businesses

divorce involving a business can take time and careful negotiation to work out who is entitled to what. Valuing the business interests can be a difficult task in itself and this is before the negotiations as to how that value impacts how the marital assets are divided

If you or your spouse owns a business, you own a business together, or run or work in the business together there are a number of issues that may need to be considered:

  • The business may be the main source of income for one, if not both spouses, and the children.
  • A spouse who is a shareholder or has a role in the business may need to be removed from it.
  • If the business has been in the family for some time, such as a family farm, the financial interests of other family members will need to be taken into account.
  • A spouse with no involvement in the business or ownership rights may still have a claim against it.
  • Whether or not they have been involved in the business, one spouse may feel their contribution to it should be considered. For example, a parent who has stayed at home with the children to allow the other to focus on the business.

As a last resort, the court has the power to transfer shares, or even sell the business if necessary, in order to settle the matter.

3. Hidden assets

Throughout the divorce process, you and your spouse must fully and truthfully disclose your financial situation. If you do not, you could be penalised with a reduced share of your joint assets and the consent order set aside.

If you believe that your spouse is hiding assets – or has already hidden them away – perhaps in an offshore account, or in property you’re not aware of, tell your solicitor. They will insist on full disclosure, and can help you prove whether your spouse has held anything back. If necessary they will employ a forensic accountant to investigate your partner’s finances.

4. High net worth

The more money and assets a married couple has, the more complex the divorce is likely to be, as there will be a wide range of property and assets to locate, identify, value and share out. For example, you might have trust funds, international property or convoluted business interests. You are also likely to have complex tax liabilities, perhaps even spread over different countries.

The court is also more likely to start from a position of splitting assets 50/50 where wealth is high.

If you are a high-profile couple or part of a famous family, you may also want to protect your privacy and avoid adverse publicity.

5. Debt

The flipside of wealth is debt. It’s possible that as well as dividing up your assets, you’ll also have to split your outstanding debts or determine who’s debts they actually are.

Some of these debts may have been accrued by one of you before you were married, or you may have incurred them during your time together. Either way, they are a common trigger for financial disputes and recriminations, and should be handled very sensitively.

6. Access to children

If you have children or step-children in your marriage, your divorce is inevitably going to be more fraught than if there were just the two of you to consider. It will throw up all kinds of questions:

  • Which of you will take care of the children day to day?
  • Will this parent need extra income for child care?
  • What will the arrangements be for the children to see the other parent?
  • Will there be a shared care arrangement, or is one of you seeking sole custody of the children?
  • Will the arrangements fit around both your work commitments?
  • Are there any serious concerns over the child’s welfare, such as allegations of domestic violence or drug use; and how will this affect arrangements for the child? Will you seek supervised contact?

These are difficult, emotive subjects for both partners, and of course for your children. If you believe things will get complicated, you’ll need the support of a legal team with the right experience to negotiate the best result for your children’s welfare.

7. Child maintenance

Following your divorce, you may need to make or claim regular child maintenance payments to support your children’s everyday needs. This can either be agreed between you, ordered by the court or claimed through the Child Maintenance Service.

This website has a useful tool to help you calculate the appropriate level of support for your children. However, there are circumstances where a higher amount of child support is needed, such as if one parent earns much more than the other, if the child is in private education or has special needs.

8. Spousal maintenance

Like arrangements for children, spousal maintenance can be a sensitive area of a divorce settlement.

For example, if you were dependent on your spouse’s income during the marriage, spousal maintenance payments are designed to help you manage after the divorce. However, your spouse may resent this, particularly if they feel court has set the amount too high. They may question why they should have to keep providing for you when the marriage is over.

On the other hand, you may feel they owe it to you because of the time you spent looking after their home and bringing up the children, particularly if you gave up a well-paid job to do so.

(Or, of course, you may be the indignant partner who is having to pay up.)

If you fail to resolve this issue, the court will decide what’s fair, looking at both your ages, health, future earning potential and job prospects. They’ll also take account of how long you’ve been married.

9. International borders

If either or both of you have assets, property, investments or businesses in countries other than the UK, these will add international divorce considerations to the proceedings and any settlements.

If one of you wants to move overseas with the children you must get permission from anyone with parental responsibility. If this is not forthcoming, you will need the permission of the court. If you don’t, you could be arrested for abduction.

10. Other people

If your divorce has been sparked by infidelity, the ‘other man’ or ‘other woman’ may have now become the new partner. If so, feelings of anger and resentment towards them can seriously colour the wronged spouse’s attitude to the divorce and any settlements.

If you are on either side of this situation, it’s better to step back and let your solicitor take the lead in negotiations. Having a new partner involved may change what you and your ex-spouse could expect to claim against the matrimonial assets, and if the divorce turns into a bitter battle, nobody wins and children, in particular, can get badly hurt.

New partners may not be the only ‘other people’ embroiled in a divorce or custody battle. For example, you or spouse may believe the other’s parents are a bad influence, or a potential danger to your children and wish to limit their access or visitation rights. If you feel this way, make sure your solicitor understands exactly why you want to take this step. Let them work towards getting a fair outcome for everyone.

And finally, don’t forget the power of social media these days. If you’re going through divorce, take care not to post anything which might harm your case.

Contact a specialist divorce solicitor

For advice on any aspect of divorce and separation, contact a specialist divorce solicitor now on 0800 652 8025 or contact us online.

Further reading

You might also be interested in the following:

  • Dividing your home contents and personal belongings – Divorce or separation is undoubtedly a very difficult and confusing time. The division of the contents of the former matrimonial home and personal belongings is often an added complication in what is already a stressful and emotional experience.
  • Ten tips on saving money in a divorce – If you’ve come to the decision to end your partnership, be sure to read our tips below before calling in the lawyers.
  • Guide to international divorce – If the marriage then fails, going through an international divorce can be a complex process as the laws that might apply to your situation vary from country to country.


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Rayner Grice


Rayner advises on the issues that arise for an individual following the breakdown of a relationship in relation to divorce/civil partnership dissolution, their financial affairs and their children.
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