While the number of couples divorcing has decreased in recent years, the cohort of couples deciding to split in later life is on the rise. George Square Financial Management takes a look at the financial ramifications of divorcing later in life and identifies ways in which you can protect your assets.
The start of a new year notoriously brings a rise in divorce enquiries among solicitors and research indicates that pre-pandemic divorce valuations could have changed by as much as 30%, which may lead to some people receiving unfair settlements if valuations are not updated.
Splitting with a spouse in your forties, fifties or even later in life can bring with it many complications, particularly in cases where one partner has taken sole responsibility of finances over the course of the relationship.
Many people can find it tough to deal with the financial ramifications of a relationship breakdown, both in terms of understanding the value of joint assets and managing finances on a day-to-day basis once they set up home on their own. With this in mind, we’ve highlighted a number of aspects that those divorcing later in life should consider when getting a divorce and share advice on how to protect your assets in future relationships.
The ‘common law marriage’ myth
For many couples, the most important issue that will need resolving is dividing up the marital home. There is a long-held misconception that those who have lived together over a certain length of time have the same rights around property as married couples – known as ‘common law marriage’. However, this isn’t the case.
If you split up from the person you live with and you are not married, you are not automatically entitled to financial support or a claim against a property your former partner owns.
There are many instances of people who have been in long-term relationships where one partner has worked while the other dedicated their time to raising children, who have grown up. When the relationship breaks down, the latter may find themselves with no financial security and no claims against their former partner (it’s worth noting that claims can be made where any children are still minors, though any such claims are limited to providing for the children rather than the other party to the relationship).
Though there’s no such thing as common law marriage, the position is markedly different for cohabitees who have purchased a property together. In this case – or in many instances where one party previously held the property in their name and to which the other has contributed in some way – parties have the same rights as any other cobuyers would have.
For divorcing couples, the Court has wide redistributive powers to transfer assets from one of the spouses or registered civil partners to the other. This can take the form of transferring capital assets, ordering ongoing maintenance payments, or making orders about pensions. The Court will take several matters into account, including the assets, resources and needs of each party, the length of the marriage, and the standard of living enjoyed.
Pensions are often an individuals’ most significant asset after their property, and must not be overlooked in a divorce settlement. How a pension is divided in the event of a divorce will depend on your individual situations. Common methods include:
- pension sharing
- pension offsetting
- and pension attachment.
Read our article about what happens to your pension when you get a divorce here.
Those so-called ‘silver splitters’ who are in a new relationship and deciding to move in together must consider a number of factors. You’ll likely both have assets you’re bringing to the new partnership and perhaps children from previous relationships. If that’s the case, it’s not just your assets that need to be protected, but your children’s future inheritance as well. If you decide to buy somewhere together with your new partner, it’s important to agree upfront on who is putting what into the transaction. This should include:
- The deposit and contribution towards any mortgage
- Who will be responsible for that mortgage if one or other of you move out
- How that would be reflected in any final division of the sale proceeds if the relationship breaks down
If you’re purchasing a home together without a mortgage, then it’s even more crucial to document everything with your new partner, detailing what each party is paying, and that you intend to divide the property in the same proportions as you both contributed to it.
In both cases, it’s possible to have a solicitor draw up a formal deed, which protects both parties in the ‘what if’ scenario.
Should you contemplate a trip down the aisle at a later date, it’s worth seriously considering a pre-nuptial agreement (often referred to simply as a prenup). A prenup sets out what assets each of you has and how you each intend for these to be dealt with on any future divorce or dissolution.
Although prenups may not be binding, a document clearly setting out that the intention was that certain assets were to remain yours, and ultimately benefit your children, can be very persuasive for a court considering any future divorce proceedings.
Ultimately, no one can predict the future. But with the right legal advice and a pragmatic conversation with your new partner, you will be building your new relationship on a solid foundation, based on honesty and good communication.
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Sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan. Divorcing later in life can be a testing time; negotiating a fair financial settlement can often add to the stress. To start understanding where your retirement savings may stand after a divorce, please get in touch.