11 April 2019

Can we sort out our own finances when we divorce?

You might be surprised to learn that there are a significant number of couples who end their marriages without ever properly finalising the financial arrangements of their split.

Kevin Harris-James, a partner in our family law team, was recently involved in one such case that hit the national headlines where the lack of a formal court order cost the divorced husband dearly.

In the case of Briers v Briers, the parties married in 1984 and separated in 2002. Whilst the marriage was formally ended with a decree absolute in 2005, and Mr Briers had transferred the family home to his wife and paid her maintenance, in what he considered to be full and final settlement, no such settlement document was ever formalised. His fledgling business then became very successful, and eight years later, in 2013, the former Mrs Briers claimed a share.

Mrs Briers applied to the court for financial relief – a share of his assets – and much to her ex-husband’s dismay, the court agreed that she should be awarded £2.7m (30% of the assets), all of which had been acquired by the husband’s hard work since the end of the marriage.

Despite some very complex arguments by the husband’s barrister, the judge in the case accepted that it was reasonable that the wife had no concrete explanation for the delay in making her financial claims, other than the pressing demands of everyday life. The fact that Mrs Briers’ relationship had just broken down was not, he felt, a motivating factor in her application.

So the moral of the story is simple. If you think you have an agreement in place, just check you really do. The door is only really shut on claims once a formal court order is in place, and delaying that process could cost you dearly.

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About the Author
Kevin Harris-James, Partner, Head of Birmingham Office
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